Buddha & Marx Pt. 2: Dr. Ambedkar’s Marxism

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar undertook a ten year study of Buddhism, primarily of the Pali cannon, but also the Mahayana texts, which formed the basis of his book, The Buddha and his Dhamma. He also undertook, like the Dalai Lama, a study of Marxism, culminating in his written speech, “Buddha or Karl Marx.”, excerpted below. Like the Dalai Lama, Ambedkar also distinguished between historical forms of socialist totalitarianism, which failed, and Marx’s writings on socialism. Ambedkar noted, as did Stuart Smithers, that Marx’s analysis was not moralistic, but “scientific”, in the form of the social sciences, primarily economics and history.

“Buddha or Kar Marx”, from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. 3:

The Marxian Creed was propounded sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century. Since then it has been subjected to much criticism. As a result of this criticism much of the ideological structure raised by Karl Marx has broken to pieces. There is hardly any doubt that Marxist claim that his socialism was inevitable has been completely disproved. The dictatorship of the Proletariat was first established in 1917 in one country after a period of something like seventy years after the publication of his Das Capital the gospel of socialism. Even when the Communism—which is another name for the dictatorship of the Proletariat—came to Russia, it did not come as something inevitable without any kind of human effort. There was a revolution and much deliberate planning had to be done with a lot of violence and blood shed, before it could step into Russia. The rest of the world is still waiting for coming of the Proletarian Dictatorship. Apart from this general falsification of the Marxian thesis that Socialism is inevitable, many of the other propositions stated in the lists have also been demolished both by logic as well as by experience. Nobody now I accepts the economic interpretation of history as the only explanation of history. Nobody accepts that the proletariat has been progressively pauperised. And the same is true about his other premises.

What remains of the Karl Marx is a residue of fire, small but still very important. The residue in my view consists of four items:

(i) The function of philosophy is to reconstruct the world and not to waste its time in explaining the origin of the world.

(ii) That there is a conflict of interest between class and class.

(iii) That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another through exploitation.

(iv) That it is necessary for the good of society that the sorrow be removed by the abolition of private property.


That language is different but the meaning is the same. If for misery one reads exploitation Buddha is not away from Marx.

On the question of private property the following extract from a dialogue between Buddha and Ananda is very illuminating. In reply to a question by Ananda the Buddha said:

“I have said that avarice is because of possession. Now in what way that is so, Ananda, is to be understood after this manner. Where there is no possession of any sort or kind whatever by any one or anything, then there being no possession whatever, would there, owing to this cessation of possession, be any appearance of avarice? ” ‘There would not. Lord”.

‘Wherefore, Ananda, just that is the ground, the basis, the genesis, the cause of avarice, to wit, possession.

31. ‘I have said that tenacity is the cause possession. Now in what way that is so, Ananda, is to be understood after this manner. Were there no tenacity of any sort or kind whatever shown by any one with respect to any thing, then there being whatever, would there owing to this cessation of tenacity, be any appearance of possession? ‘ ‘There would not. Lord.’

VI EVALUATION OF MEANS: Buddha’s Democracy v. Marx’ Dictatorship of the Proletariat

As to Dictatorship the Buddha would have none of it. He was born a democrat and he died a democrat. At the time he lived there were 14 monarchical states and 4 republics. He belonged to the Sakyas and the Sakya’s kingdom was a republic. He was extremely in love with Vaishali which was his second home because it was a republic. Before his Mahaparinirbban he spent his Varshavasa in Vaishali. After the completion of his Varshavasa he decided to leave Vaishali and go elsewhere as was his wont. After going some distance he looked back on Vaishali and said to Ananda. “This is the last look of Vaishali which the Tathagata is having “. So fond was he of this republic.

He was a thorough equalitarian. Originally the Bhikkus, including the Buddha himself, wore robes made of rags. This rule was enunciated to prevent the aristocratic classes from joining the Sangh. Later Jeevaka the great physician prevailed upon the Buddha to accept a robe, which was made of a whole cloth. The Buddha at once altered the rule and extended it to all the monks.


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