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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
Marathi and Hindi. That book was a guide, and people began to read it and study it in groups.” In Ambedkar’s day there were virtually no Buddhist teachers in India, but “people flocked around the Sri Lankan and Bur- mese Buddhists—anyone who could offer Buddhist teachings,” Dahiwale says. “If they found a bhikkhu, they would gather around and try to understand what Buddhism is. In fact some of the people from the Ambedkarite movement, in the 1950s, became monks in India, ordained in a Sri Lankan tradition.” Still, the process that Ambedkar set in motion was incom- plete. From 1956 until the early eighties, there was little con- tinuing education or practice available to millions who had converted. But the right seeds had been planted. “Babasaheb Ambedkar had created the Bhartiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India, in 1955,” Dahi- wale says. “The first mass conversions were held under their auspices. But for the most part, these were local initiatives. The start of this movement was grassroots and Indian-led. There were no teachers or prominent leaders; ordinary people took the initiative. Even though Dr. Ambedkar was not there, his inspiration was there. People tried to do what they could. Mainly they were very poor, facing discrimination, but they tried to keep the flame alive.” This network of local viharas and practitioners, scattered across Maharastra state and other parts of India, allowed the young English monk Ven. Sangharakshita to connect with the Dalit Buddhist movement. Sangharakshita met with Ambed- kar several times, and when he happened to be in Nagpur on the evening that Ambedkar died in Delhi, he was asked to be a speaker at a meeting of condolence. “By the time I rose to speak—standing on the seat of a rick- shaw, and with someone holding a microphone in front of me— about 100,000 people had gathered,” Sangharakshita says. “By rights, I should have been the last speaker, but as things turned out I was the first. In fact, I was the only speaker. Not that there weren’t others who wanted to pay tribute to the memory of the departed leader. One by one, some five or six of Ambedkar’s most prominent local supporters attempted to speak, and one by one they were forced to sit down again as, overcome by emotion, they burst into tears after uttering only a few words.” From this moment, Sangharakshita says his sense of personal responsibility was clear. “During the decade that Students attending a ten-month leadership program in basic Buddhism and social action at Nagaloka Photos alan senauke 67 spRing 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly