Saturday, September 23, 2006

Western Buddhists gather to support Ambedkar


"Bringing together so many Buddhists from radically different traditions was a major feat in itself. In the past the Network of Buddhist Organisations has brought different Buddhists together to look at their differences. This event was remarkable in that it brought them together to look at and address the issues in the real world - issues facing the Dalit communities of India". This was the comment of Dhammarati from FWBO about the conference "The Dhamma Revolution in India: 50 years on" organised by the NBO and Karuna Trust.

The conference was held in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the mass conversions to Buddhism initiated by the famous Dalit leader Dr Ambedkar. Speakers who arrived from India spoke about the wave of fresh conversions – expected to be in the hundreds of thousands - anticipated on the occasion of this golden jubilee. Indian Buddhism had been almost wiped out up until 1956, yet due to almost exclusively to Ambedkar there are now more than 10 million Buddhists in India. However this new Buddhist community still faces deprivation and exclusion as a result of the caste system.

The conference was attended by over 60 including representatives of the FWBO, the Karuna Trust, Soka Gakkai International, the Network of Buddhist Organisations and the Network of Engaged Buddhists, Dhagpo Kagyu Mandala from France, the Amida Trust, Sangha Seva, the Western Chan Fellowship, the UK-based Federation of Ambedkarite organisations, Dalits from India as well as individuals from other Buddhist organisations in the UK. Among others they heard presentations by Manidhamma (TBMSG), Subhuti (FWBO), Ian Findlay (Open Way Zen), and Claire Bertschinger (the SGI nurse who inspired Live Aid). Speakers emphasised the urgent need for more Buddhist teachers and organisations to get involved with the Dalit Buddhist movement, also the desire to work together to make Ambedkar and his work much better known in the West.

Workshops looked at the issues around the self-empowerment of the Dalits and the need to take the Dhamma to these communities. In addition there was a concert given by the sitar virtuoso Baluji Shrivastau who identified himself with the work for the Dalit cause. "I feel honoured to take part in this momentous event" he said to the packed shrine room of the North London Buddhist Centre.

Saul Deason and Suddhaka



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