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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
world away from California, I feel completely at home. The ordinariness is amazing: sitting with friends in the middle of an urban jungle. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity In 1991, when I came to work at Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Berkeley, engaged Buddhism was outside the mainstream. Twenty years later, countless centers and groups are involved in prison work, chaplaincy, feeding the poor, and organizing against war. We have come to see this as a responsibility that flows from the bodhisattva vow to save all beings. But from the start, Ambedkar’s Buddhism incorporated a vision of a compassionate society and social liberation, far beyond the introspective caricature that some have of Buddhism. So it is natural that an Indian Buddhist movement, rooted in the most oppressed segment of society, would see the oneness of personal development and social transformation. In an All-India Radio broadcast two years before his con- version, Ambedkar said: “Positively, my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philos- ophy has its roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.” Fraternity is the cutting edge of Ambedkar’s Buddhism and the new Buddhist movement. Fraternity is sangha, the community of practitioners, and the wider community of all beings, and as such, it is linked to equality. However, frater- nity is a challenge for the Dalit community. It challenges them just like race, class, and diversity challenge Western Buddhists. The social realities of India draw clear lines between all the religions—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and Buddhist; between caste and noncaste; and, most critically, between the many Dalit groups themselves within the system of “graded inequality,” each group scrambling for the tiniest privileges of social position, economic opportunity, and political power. Fraternity is what connects us. And we know this is hard work. The Manuski Project is “action central” for Dalit social work. Its mission has four main aspects: transcending caste barriers; fighting social discrimination; developing Dalit women leadership; and building solidarity. A network of related organizations has developed in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujurat, and Tamil Nadu. Projects include education for both children and adults, civil rights work, and earthquake and tsunami relief. Free inquiry and gender equality are points that Ambed- kar identified as the essence of Buddhism—“I measure the progress of a community,” he said, “by the degree of progress which women have achieved”—and women now lead many of the social projects. In slums and poor villages, Ambedkarite ➤ continued from page 69 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spRing 2 0 11 88