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Buddha or Karl Marx? – Dr Ambedkar

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Dr. Ambedkar’s speech at the closing session of the Fourth Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in the State Gallery Hall in Kathmandu (Nepal) ,on  20th November 1956.           

BUDDHA OR KARL MARX ?

 President, Your Reverences, Ladies and Gentlemen .  

I  am sorry that, having come to Nepal to attend the Conference, I have not been able to participate in its proceedings in the way in which a delegate ought to participate, but I am sure, I am  physically a very ill man, and I am quite unable to bear the stress and strain of the Conference proceedings.  It is, therefore, not out of any disrespect for the Conference that I have been usually absent, it is because of my personal condition that I could not do justice to the task of the Conference.  It is perhaps because of my absence from the Conference that I was asked by way of compensation to address you this afternoon.  I consented to do that, but even here there have been rather surprises flung upon me.  I had not enough notice that I was to speak here.  And when I was asked what subject  I would speak on, I mentioned the subject of ‘Ashisa in Buddhism’.  But I find that a large majority of the people attending this Conference are desirous that I should speak on ‘Buddhism  and Communism’ a subject to which I, in a very passing sentence, referred at the general meeting, first General meeting.           

I am quite prepared to agree to the suggestion of the change of subject.  Although, I must say that I am not quite, on the spur of the moment, prepared to deal with such a large, enormous, and it I may say so, a very massive subject, a subject which has had half the world in grips, and I find that it has held also in its grip large number of the student population even of the Buddhist countries.  I look upon the latter aspect of the matter with grave concern.  If the younger generations of the Buddhist countries are not able to appreciate that Buddhism supplied a way which is better that what is supplied by the Communist wqay of life, Buddhism is doomed.  It cannot last beyond a generation or two.  It is therefore quite necessary for those, who believe  in Buddhism, to tackle the younger generation, and to tell them whether Buddhism can  be a substitute for Communism.  It is then only that Buddhism can hope to survive.  We must  all remember that to-day a large majority of the youngers in Asia look upon Karl Marx  as the only prophet who could be worshipped.  And they regard, I need not say much about it, large part of the Buddhist priesthood  as nothing but the yellow peril.  That isan indication which the Bhikkus must take up, must understand, must reform themselves in order that they could be compared with Karl Marx.  And Buddhism could compete with it.  Now, with this introduction.  I propose to give you a few salient points in Buddhism  and in Marxism  or Communism in order to show you where the similarity of ideals lies, where the differences arise between Buddhism and Marxism.  And thirdly, whether the Buddhist way of life of reaching the goal which communism has, is a lasting one, or whether the communist way of bringing about the goal is the lasting one.  Because, there is no use in pursuing a certain path, if that path is not going to be a lasting path.  If it is going to lead you to jungle,  if it is  to lead you to anarchy, assured that the path that you are asked to follow is slow, may be devious, may be there are detours, but it ultimately makes you land on a safe, sound ground, so that the ideals you are pursuing are there to help you, to mould your life permanently and for ever, is much better, in my judgment to follow the slower path, and the detour us path rather than to rush up and to take what we call short cuts.  Short cuts in life are always very dangerous, very dangerous.  

Now let me go to the subject.  What is the theory of Communism ? What  does it start with ? Communism starts with the theory that there is exploitation in the world, that the poor are exploited by the rich because of the property that they hold, and they enslave the masses, that enslavement results in suffering, in sorrow, in poverty. That is the starting point  of Karl Marx. He uses the word ‘exploitation’. What is the remedy that Karl Marx provides ?.  The remedy that Karl Marx provides is that in order to prevent poverty, suffering ofone class, it is necessary to prevent private property.  Nobody should possess private property, because it is the private owner who appropriates or misappropriates, to use the technical language of Karl Marx the surplus value which the workers produce, the worker does not get t6he surplus value which he produces.  It is appropriated by the owner.  And Karl Marx  asked the question – why should the owner misappropriate the surplus value which is produced by the efforts of the working man ? His answer is that the only owner is the State. And it is because of this that Marx propounded the theory that there must be the dictatorship of the proletariat.  That is the third proposition that Marx  enunciated that Government must be by the exploited classes and not by the exploitation class, which is what meant by dictatorship of the proletariat.  These are fundamental propositions of Karl Marx, which have the basis of Communism in Russia. It has undoubtedly been expanded, it has been added too, and so on, But  these are the fundamental propositions.  

Now let me, for a moment, go to Buddhism and see what the Buddha has to say about the points made out by Karl Marx. As I told you, Karl Marx begins with what is called exploitation of the poor.  What does the Buddha say ? How does he begin ? What is the foundation on which he has raised the structure of his religion ? That Buddha too, 2000 or at any rate 2400 years ago, said exactly the same thing. He said, “There is ‘Dukkha’ in the world.” He did not use the word, exploitation’ but he did lay the foundation of his religion on what is called ‘Dukkha’. There is ‘Dukkha’ in the world. The word ‘Dukkha’  no doubt has been interpreted in various ways. It has been interpreted to mean rebirth, the round of life, that is ‘Dukkha.’ I do not agree with that.  I think there are lots of places in the Buddha literature where the Buddha has used the word ‘Dukkha’  in the sense of poverty.  Therefore, so far as the foundation is concerned, there is really no difference at all.  It is unnecessary for the Buddhist people to go to Karl Marx to get that foundation. That foundation is already there, well laid, well laid. It is the first proposition with  which the Buddha begins his sermon-the Dharma-Chakra Paribartana Sutta. Therefore, to those who are attracted by Karl Marx, I say, study the Dharma-Chakra Paribartan Sutta and find out what the Buddha says.  And you will find sufficient satisfaction on this question.  The Buddha did not lay the foundation of his religion either on god, or on soul, or anything supernatural as to that.  He laid his finger on the fact of life-people are  living in suffering.  Therefore so far as Marxism or Communism is concerned, Buddhism has enough of it.  And the Buddha has said it 2000 years before Marx  was born.  With regard to the question of property, you will again find some very close affinity to the doctrine of the Buddha and the doctrine prepeached by Karl Marx. Karl Marx said that in order to prevent exploitation, the State must own the instrument  of production, that is property.  Land must belong to the State,industry must belong to the State, so that no private owner intervenes and robs the worker of the profits of his labour.  That  is what Marx  said.           

Now let us go to the Sangha, the Buddhist Sangha, and examine the rules of life the Buddha laid down for the monks.  What are the rules that the Buddha laid down ? Well, the Buddha said that no monk shall have private property.  Ideally speaking, no monk can own property.  And although there might be a few lapse here and there, I have noted that in some countries the monks own some property. Yet in the large majority of the countries the monks have  no property- no property at all.  In fact the Buddhist rules for the Sangha are far more severe than any rule that the communists have made in Russia.  I take it, it is a mute subject, nobody has yet discussed it and come to any conclusion.  What object did the Buddha have in forming the Sangha ? Why did he do it ? Going back a little into the history, when the Buddha was engaged in propagating his religion, what we to-day call the ‘Paribrajikas’, they were existing there long before the Buddha was there. The workd Paribrajika’ means a displaced person, a person who has lost his home.  Probably during the Aryan period, the different tribes of the Aryans were warring against one-another as all tribal people do.  Some broken tribes left lost their moorings and they were wandering about.  And it is those wanderers that were called Paribrajikas.  The  great service that the Buddha did to these Paribrajikas was to arganise them into a body, to give them rules of life what are contained in the ‘Vinayapitaka’.  In the rule, the Bhikku is not allowed to have property.  The Bhikku is allowed to have only seven things-a razor, a lota for getting water, a bhikshapatra, the three chibaras, and the needle for sewing things.  Well, I want to know if the essence of property of Communism is to deny the private property, can there by any greater and more severe rule, as regards private property, that is to be found in the ‘Vinayapitaka’?. I do not, I do not find. Therefore, if any people or any youngsters are attracted by the rule contained in the communist system of rules that there shall  be no private property, they can find it here.  The  only question is to what extent can be applied this rule of denial of private property to society as a whole.  But that is a matter of expediency,time, circumstances, development  of human society.  But so far as theory  is concerned, whether there is anything wrong in abolishing private property, if Buddhism will not stand in the way of any body  who wants to do it, because it has already made this concession in the organization of the Buddhist Sangha.           

Now we come to another aspect of the matter, and that aspect is, what are the ways and means which Karl Marx or the Communists  wish to adopt in order to bring about Communism ?  That is the important question.  This means that the Communists wish to adopt in order to bring about communism by which I mean recognition of Dukkha, the abolition of private property, the means that they wish to adopt  is violence and killing of the opponents. There lies the fundamental difference between the Buddha and Karl Marx. The  Buddha’s means of making the people  to adopt the principle is by persuation, by moral teaching, by love.  He wants to conquer his opponents by inculcating in them the doctrine that love can conquer anything, and not power.  That is where the fundamental difference lies – that the Buddha would not allow violence, and the communists do.  No doubt the communists get quick results, because when you adopt the means of annihilating a man, he does not remain to oppose you.  You go on with, your ideology, you go on with your ways of doing things. The Buddha’s way, as I said, is a long way, perhaps the surest way.  There are two or three questions which I have always asked my communist friends to answer.  They establish by means of violence what they call the dictatorship of the proletariat.  They deprive all people, who have property, of political rights. They cannot have representation in the legislation, they cannot have right to vote, they must  remain what they call second great subjects of the state, ruled, not sharing in the ruling authority or power. When I asked them whether you agree that dictatorship is a good method of governing people, they say, “ No, we do’t” we don’t like dictatorship.” Then  we say, “How do you allow it?” But they say, This is an interim period  in which dictatorship must be there” You proceed further and ask them, “What is the duration of this interim period? Twenty years ? Forty years ? fifty years ? Hundred years? “No answer” They only repeat that the proletariat dictatorship will vanish, somehow automatically.  Very well, let us take the thing as it is that dictatorship will vanish.  Well, I ask a question, “What will happen when dictatorship disappearas? What will take its place? Will man not need Government  of some sort ? “ They have no answer.  Then we go back to the Buddha and ask this question in relation to his Dhamma. What does he say ?  The greatest thing that the Buddha has done is to tell the world that the world cannot be reformed except by the reformation of the mind of the man and the mind of the world.  If the mind accepts the communist system and loves it loyally and carries it out it is a permanent thing, it does not require force, it does not require a soldier or a police to keep a man in order. Why? The answer is, “The Budhhas has energised your conscience to such an extent that your conscience itself is acting as a sentinal in order to keep you on your path.  There is no trouble when the mind is converted, the thing is permanent. The communist system is based on force. Supposing tomorrow the the dictatorship in Russai fails, and we see signs of it, what would happen ? I really liked to know what would happen to the communist system.  As I see it, there  would be bloody warfare among the Russian people for appropriating the property of the state.  That would be the consequence of it.  Why ? Because they have not accepted the communist system voluntarily.  They are obeying  to it because they are afraid of being hanged. Such a system can take no roots, and therefore in my judgment, unless the communists are able to answer these questions, what would happen to their system? When  force  disappears, there is no use of persuing it, because if the mind is not converted, force will always be necessary.  And this is what I want to say, in conclusion, that one of the greatest things Ifind in Buddhism is that his system is a democratic system.  He told the Vajis when the Prime  Minister of  Ajat Shatru  went to ask the Buddha, the Ajat shartu wants to conquer the Vajis, and he said he won’t  be able to  do it until the Vajis follow their ways of their age-old system.  It is unfortunate that the Buddha  did not explain in plain terms what he meant.  But  there is no doubt  about it that what the Buddha was referring to was the democratic  and the republican form of Government, which the Vajis had.  He  said, so long as the Vajis were following their system, they would not be conquered.  The Buddha, of course, was a great democrat.            

Therefore, I say, and I have been , if I may say so, if the President will allow me, I have been a student of politics, and I have spent  a great deal of time in studying Karl Marx, Communism and all that, and I have also spent a good deal of time in studying the Buddha’s Dhamman, and after comparing the two I came to the conclusion that Buddha advise with regard to the great problem of the world namely that there is Dukkha, that the Dukkha must be removed, that the Buddha’s  method was the safest and the soundest, and I advise the younger generation of the Buddhist countries to pay more attention to the actual teachings of the Buddha.  If I may say so in conclusion, if any peril arises in the Buddhist country to the Dhamma, the blame shall have to be cast upon the Bhikkus, because I personally think that they are not discharging the duty which devolves  on them.  Where is the preaching ?Who preaches the Buddha’s religion to anybody for the matter   of God? The Bhikku is living in his cloister taking his meal, one meal no doubt, and sitting quietly, probably he is reading, and most probably  I find them sleeping, and in the evening having little music. That is not the way of propagating religion.  My friends, I want to tell you, I do not want to criticize anybody, but religion, if it is to be a moral force for the regeneration of society,  you must constantly din it into the ears of the people.  How many years a child has to spend in school ? you  do not send the child to school on a day to grow  into learning.  To get education, the child has to go to school every day, sit there for five hours and study constantly.  It is then and then alone that the child gets a little  saturated with what is called knowledge and what is called learning.  Here the monastery is not a state.  The Bhikkus do not call for the people to the monastery on any single day and deliver a sermon to them on some subject of moral education.  I have never seen it.  I went to Ceylon and I told some people that I was particularly anxious  to see how the Bhikkus preach.  They told me that they have got ‘Bharna” Bharna” some word they use, which I subsequently learnt  it meant ‘Vanaka” They took me at 11 o’ clock to one place to a small little squeare thing as big as this, a table and I sat on the ground. A Bhikku was brought in with a cross on his head dress. Severalmen  and women brought water and washed his feet and he came up and sat there. He had a ‘Pankha” with him, you see, God only knows what he said.  Of course he must have preached in Singhalese.  It was not more than two minutes, and after two minutes he departed.           

You go to a Christian Church.  What happens? Every week people assemble there. They worship and some priest delivers a sermon on some subject from the Bible in order to remind the people what Jesus told them that they should do.  You will be probably surprised, most of us are, that 90 per cent of Christianity is copied from Buddhism, both in substance and form.  You go to Rome, see the main Church and you will be reminded of the big temple which is known as “Vishwa Karma” at Beirut.           

Vishabigne, who wrote a book on Buddhism, was a missionary in China, had expressed his great surprise as to how this similarity occurs between Buddhism and Christianity.  So far as the outlook, he darted not say that the Buddhism copied Christianity, but he would not admit that Christianity  copied Buddhism.  There is so much  of if, I think, time has turned and we must now copy some of the ways of the Christians in order to propagate religion among the Buddhist people.  They must be made aware every day and all the time that the Buddha’s Dhamma is there, standing by them as a policeman to guard those who go the wrong way.  Without that this religion  will remain probably in a very decadent state.  Even  now that I find it even in the Buddhist countries its condition is very decadent.  But its influence is there, no doubt about it.           

I wanted to tell you one very interesting epilogue which I saw in Burma.  I went to Burma, I was called for the conference and they took me to show how they  were going to reconstruct the villages.  I was very happy.  I  went with them and the Committee had planned to reform the villages.  Their streets as usual were crooked  bent here, and bent there, nothing systematic. So the Committee put down iron pillar and lined ropes that this street must go this way.  In good many cases.  I found that the lines drawn by the Committee went across portion of the house of a certain gentleman or it went across a portion of a piece of land which was owned by a private individual.  When Iwent and saw and asked them, “How are they going to manage? Have you got money.” I said, “ to pay for the property that you are going to take ?”   They  said, “Nobody wants money.” Everybody  said, “ If you want it, take it.” Why is this? While in my country there would have been bloodshed if you take a little piece of land from somebody without giving him compensation.  But there it is.  Why ? Why were the Burmese so free with their properties, so free ? Why did they not care for it ?  It is because the Buddha has taught  “Sarvam Anityam.” Everything, you see, is impermanent.  Why fight for impermanent things ?  It is alright if you want the land, take it.  Now, ladies and gentlemen, I do not think I can continue any further, nor is  necessary for me to continue.

 I just wanted to give you a point of view from which to look at. Do not be swallowed by the Communist successes.  I am quite confident that if we all become one tenth as enlightened as the Buddha was we can bring  about the same result by the methods of love, of justice and goodwill.   Thank you very much.

Compiled by

Chakradhar Hadke

N.B.: Immortal Audio and written script (45min.) both are available, is a great achievement indeed.

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