Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dalai Lama Speaks out on Caste

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the World Buddhist Leaders CouncilIt is reported in the Asia News the Dalai Lama has "called on Indian Buddhist Dalits to transcend the Hindu caste system that exists in India and instead fight this vice". He made the comments on December 22nd, at the World Buddhist Leaders Council organised at Sarnath.

The Tibetan refugees are in a difficult position in India. They are there on the sufferance of the government and therefore have to be careful not to upset anyone. Seeking converts has always been a controvesrial practice in India. On the one hand many Hindhus will claim that they consider the Buddha to be an avatar of Vishnu, and that Buddhism is therefore simply a brand of Hinudism. On the other hand some Hindus feel threatened enough by the conversion of many Dalits to Buddhism that laws have been passed in some states of India to make it difficult or impossible to convert, which perhaps proves the point that they do not really consider Buddhists to be Hindus after all.

With the recent 50th anniversary celebrations of Dr. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism, and the subsequent conversion of millions of his followers to Buddhism, awareness of the plight of Dalits in India is at it's highest for many years. The caste motivated brutal murder of a family in Maharastra also highlighted that despite the good work of Dr Ambedkar and his followers, caste discrimination and hatred has not been eliminated from India.

FWBO News contacted the office of the Dalai Lama for further comment but has not received a reply as yet. The news has been cautiously welcomed by some Indian Buddhists. They note for instance that he refers to differences among Indian Buddhist groups being the cause of violent clashes, but question the veracity of this. They also point out that the raison d'etre of converting to Buddhism is to leave behind their status as oppressed (ie Dalit) so that refer to them as "Indian Dalit Buddhists" is a contradiction in terms since it echoes the caste distinctions they have rejected.

On the whole the Dalai Lama's statement must be seen as a good sign for our Buddhist friends in India, and one that we hope to bring you more news of.



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