Thursday, September 21, 2006

Educate, Agitate, Organize - Remembering Dr. Ambedkar in San Francisco

Educate, Agitate, Organize
Remembering Dr. Ambedkar in San Francisco
A Presentation by Ann Dennehy and Viradhamma - September 20

On Wednesday the San Francisco Buddhist Centre had an evening at their weekly Sangha night celebrating Dr. Ambedkar. This is perhaps the first of a series of such events around the FWBO/TBMSG commemorating the anniversary of Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism in October 1956. Ann Dennehy has sent this report from San Francisco:

I was very inspired by Bhante’s book, which I read a few years ago, and was amazed at how few people had ever heard of this tremendous man, his accomplishments, and his connection to us through Buddhism. So, as the October anniversary of the Great Mass Conversion approaches (October 14th), Viradhamma and I decided to lead an evening sharing stories about Dr. Ambedkar and his legacy.

We began the evening with a meditation around a beautiful, simple shrine Megan Curran had created with Dr. Ambedkar in mind. After a short tea break and equipment set-up we began our presentation. I spoke first, drawing mostly from Bhante’s book Ambedkar and Buddhism’ and taped lectures and from Christopher Queen’s article in a 1993 ‘Tricycle’. My presentation was in six parts:

1. An overview of Dr. Ambedkar
2. Untouchability and the Caste System
3. Dr. Ambedkar's Personal History/Vision for a New Society
4. The Indian Independence Movement- Political and Social Change in India
5. Why Buddhism?
6. The Great Mass Conversion - 400,000 people

At various points in the presentation I had other members of the Sangha read quotes from and about Dr. Ambedkar, so it felt like Dr. Ambedkar’s message was all around us.

The second part of the presentation was Viradhamma and his slides from his trip to India last year. As he spoke he said how this journey had changed his life. His passion and excitement were contagious. The pictures he had, mostly of people he had met, made the evening very personal. It gave a human face to the Dalit community, the Buddhist Sangha in India, and Ambedkar’s tremendous influence. It was inspiring to hear from Viradhamma, through his photos and his stories how much respect and admiration the Dalits have for Dr. Ambedkar, and how his call to ‘educate, agitate, organize’ continues to echo throughout India, and across continents to us here in California.



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