Buddha or Gautama Buddha; Siddhārtha Gautama, or sometimes simply referred to as Sidhartha was the sage who mostly taught in the eastern part of India and on whose teachings Buddhism is based. He is believed to have lived anytime between 4th and 6th century B.C. The literal connotation of the word Buddha is someone who is awakened or enlightened. His teachings were the most radical of his time that challenged the then existing dominance of the Brahmins. The whole new spiritual path called Buddhism is built on the foundation of the inspiring and guiding principles that Buddha taught more than thousand years ago. In the course of time, Buddhism offered itself as an antithesis to Hinduism; but at the time when it originated, it made valuable contributions to the human life by giving perhaps the most liberal and as we would call in today’s time, most secular principles to guide and direct the human mind and soul. Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and his 8-fol path are very much relevant even today. Buddhist principles like right view, right thought, right speech, right action and right effort are useful in all time for all people in any part of the world. But, we have to accept the fact with an open approach that in spite of the eternal relevance of the Buddhist principles; Buddhism has undergone a lot of change, good or bad, only the time will decide.
DR Ambedkar converted himself into Buddhism. Along with DR Ambedkar, his one hundred thousand followers embraced Buddhism who are called Neo-Buddhists. The whole new branch of Buddhism called neo-Buddhism is nothing but a political face of a section in the society. If it was not the case, then there would not have been the whole quota politics of SCs. What an irony! People take pride in calling themselves ‘Backward’. People and communities are out there to be tagged themselves as “Backward” to avail the benefits that come with the backward identity. Politicization of Buddhist religion in India had a very serious negative impact. The whole provision of reservation in the Indian constitution is very controversial and the debate on this issue is never-ending.
Anyway, coming back to Buddhism, as mentioned earlier, Buddhism offered itself as an antithesis to Hinduism. Buddha completely discarded the idea of idol worship. When Hindu upper cast like Brahmins were taking advantage of the system of idol worship which was full of rites and rituals, to strengthen their dominance, Buddhism provided the masses with a new liberal spiritual path of worship. But when Ambedkar’s followers (neo-Buddhists) embraced Buddhism to get rid of the Hindu Dalit identity; did they totally understand the teachings of Buddhism? When Buddhism is based on the idea of non-idol worship; Neo-Buddhists are worshiping the images of Ambedkar in the rallies on his birth and death anniversaries. Ambedkar who fought throughout his life against the Hindu practice of idol worship, his own followers are “Worshiping” his images. When Buddhism was chosen by Ambedkar to get rid of class-discrimination under the Hindu fold; Neo-Buddhists are also being discriminated today against the Buddhists. Also, all Buddhists are not Dalits of Hindu upper cast who converted themselves into Buddhism. There are Buddhist monks and nuns (Bhikkus and Bhikkunis) who have been traveling in different parts of the world since ages to spread the message of Lord Buddha. For these traditional Buddhists the emergence of Neo-Buddhism has led to some kind of identity crisis.
Therefore, when one critically analyzes the transformation that Buddhism has undergone with coming up of Neo-Buddhism; the picture that one sees is not so well. When we worship the images of the man who fought against idol worship, when we use religious identity to get the political benefits, when we are discriminating among ourselves when we actually come from that background which is known to have fought against all sorts of discrimination, then we really need to think, do we really deserve to be called real Buddhists. Moreover, in the end I would say that on this occasion of Budha Pornima all true devotees of Buddha should pray to the almighty that in order to truly follow and walk on the path that Buddha suggested to the mankind, we should be able to grasp the true meaning of the principles and teachings of Buddhism.