Bhalesain: Buddhist Approach to Conflict and Peace

Engage! welcomes Pravin Bhalesain M.Tech. (IT), IIT Roorkee as a new author to our publication. Bhalesain has kindly submitted his article, “Buddhist Approach to the Political Conflict and Peace: A Comparison between Communist and Buddhist Methods”.

This is a full-length academic journal article, originally published in a collection of papers proceeding from the The International Buddhist Conference on the United Nations Day of Vesak Celebrations 4 – 6 May 2552/2009 Thailand

It’s a comparison of a Marxist approach to inequality and conflict resolution versus a Buddhist approach to inequality and conflict resolution. This paper draws on the thinking of Dr. B R. Ambedkar and his analysis of caste, and the comparison of Buddhism to Communism. After the introductory statement, the rest of the article can be access “below the fold.”

You can contact Pravin Bhalesain at for questions and comments on his paper.


Firstly, do we really need to think about Buddhist approach to political conflict? Majority people identify Buddha’s teaching only as spiritual teachings or teachings for personal enlightment or happiness. Some people feel very absurd even to talk on Buddhism and Politics.

Secondly, is it possible to have any comparison between Buddha’s teachings and the ideology propagated by Karl Marx? Marx and Buddha are divided by 2381 years. Buddha was born in 563 B.C. and Karl Marx in 1818 AD. Karl Marx is supposed to be the architect of a new ideology-polity a new Economic system. The Buddha on the other hand is believed to be no more than the founder of a religion, which has no relation to politics or economics.105

While answering the first question I would like to quote Prof. Richard Gombrich 106 : “I shall argue that Buddhism has a clear and cogent vision of the relation between religion and politics and that the Sangha and politicians have quite different parts to play; but that to say simply that Buddhism must be kept out of politics is dangerous and absurd.”

Before we answer the second question we should understand that even though Communism (Karl Marx) was born in Europe, it has destroyed and greatly impacted the Buddhist populations and Buddhist majority countries compared to European countries and any other religions. Especially in the 20th century Communism has swiped Buddhist majority countries. One can see the situation in Tibet, China, Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, and Myanmar, some parts of India or other South Asian countries. So even if people like it or don’t like it; the comparison between Communism and Buddhism is necessary. The socio-political awakening for the Buddhist world is must; without socio-political awakening the Buddhist Tradition will not survive, the situation is Asian especially South Asian countries has forced Buddhists to answer Communism.

105 Buddha Or Karl Marx , Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 3
106 Buddhism and Nonviolence, Prof. Richard Gombrich, United Nations Day of Vesak, 2007

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

The dominant forms of Communism, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism and Trotskyism are based on Marxism. In India Naxalism is an informal name used by the Brahmanical Media for Communist Movement based on Maoism. Communists trace back their roots to Karl Marx so this comparison is primarily based between Communism of Karl Marx and Buddhism.

What could a Marxist learn from the Buddha? What can Buddha teach a Marxist? None-the-less a comparison between the two is an attractive and instructive. Marxists keep back their prejudices and study the Buddha and understand what he stood for I feel sure that they will change their attitude. It is of course too much to expect that having been determined to scoff at the Buddha they will remain to pray. But this much can be said that they will realize that there is something in the Buddha’s teachings which is worth their while to take note of.

Reasons behind Political Conflict:

Inequality is one of the major reasons behind political conflict and destruction of peace; it can be economical inequality, social inequality or both. Two major reasons which give birth to inequality are Class Struggle and Caste Struggle. Class Conflict and Caste Conflict are roots for inequality that causes instability, conflict between nations as well as individuals. Class Struggle has certainly impacted billions of people all around the world and in addition to Class Struggle the Caste Struggle has affected more than a billion people in India and other countries.

Class Struggle: Division of labour is necessary for civilized society and it has created two classes, Owners and Workers. Along with these two classes the status of a person is defined as upper class or lower class in society. Owner’s class and workers class have conflict.

Caste Struggle: Hindu Social Order is based on Chaturvarna 107 , Caste System and the principle of Graded Inequality. Caste is decided by birth and it divides people irrespective of their real and present nature of work. Caste has very firm grip on peoples mind along with the hate cultivated towards each others castes. There are thousands of castes such as Bania, Chamar, Bhangi, Brahmin etc. Chaturvarna is the parent of Hindu Caste System. The relation between Chaturvarna and Caste is out of scope of this paper. Compared to Class System the Caste System is very strange.

107 Rig-Veda, Book No. 10, Paragraph 90, Verse No.12. Also quoted in Bhagavad-Gita Chapter 4 verse 13


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development
 Difference between European Class System and Hindu Caste System:

Class system is a division of labour. But a person from worker class with his virtue and efforts can go to owner class or vice versa. Social status such as upper class and lower class exists. Even though both the classes exist there is a social dynamics of change. Once a person becomes upper class his status in society changes and if he falls down then also his status changes. Rich can become poor and poor can become rich; accordingly their status changes.

Class division has social dynamics associated with it but that is not the case with Caste division. Caste has some unique features such as: 108

  1. Caste divides Labourers
  2. Caste disassociates work from interest
  1. Caste disconnects intelligence from labour
  2. Caste devitalizes by denying to him the right to cultivate vital interestand
  3. Caste prevents mobilization

Caste division is not merely division of labour but it is a division of labourers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs division of labour but in no civilized society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of labourers into water-tight compartments. Caste System is not merely division of labourers – which is quite different from division of labour – it is a hierarchy in which the divisions of labourers are graded one above the other. In no other country is the division of labour accompanied by this gradation of labourers. 109

If a person born in Brahmin Caste leaves his priest job and becomes worker class (or in Vedic terms a ‘Shudra’) still he possesses his high status in society as upper caste. If a person born in Brahmin Caste does a scavenging job still he regarded as upper caste. Now if a person born in Bhangi Caste leaves his ancestors scavenging job and with his virtue and hard efforts do other job and becomes a part of owner’s class still he remains a lower caste and is looked down by rest of the caste Hindus. His status is society does not change also he also carries deep inferiority complex in mind about his lower caste status. This is how caste system is different from class system.

Most of the time people are confused to understand the difference between Varna and Caste especially Brahmin Varna and Brahmin Caste. Also people don’t pay much attention to Shudra Varna, cultivation of Shudra Mind and the principle of Graded Inequality; preached and penetrated in the minds of people by Brahminism. Shudras become social police of Brahmanism.

108 Philosophy of Hinduism, Dr. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 3, p. 67 109 Ibid p. 67

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

The term “Brahmanism” is interpreted by Dr. Ambedkar as, “Let us work hard to uproot Brahminism the spirit of inequality to be misunderstood when I say that Brahminism is enemy which must be dealt with. By Brahminism I do not mean the power, privileges and interests of the Brahmins as a community. That is not the sense in which I am using the word. By Brahminism I mean the negation of the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity. In the sense it is rampant in all classes and is not confined to the Brahmins alone though they have been originators. The effects of Brahminism were not confined to social rights such as inter-dining and inter- marrying. It denied them also the civic rights. So omniscient is Brahminism that it even affects the field of economic opportunities. ” 110

Thus the social dynamics of Varna is lost and Caste fuses deep inferiority complex in peoples mind irrespective of their Class status as owners or workers. Caste denies civic, social and economical rights. There is no social dynamic for any change associated with upper to lower caste. These are the differences between European Class System and Hindu Caste System.

Inequality, Class Struggle, Graded Inequality and Caste Struggle causes political conflict. Peace of mind and peace in society is lost. If we want to solve political conflicts and to bring peace few questions arise. Can we use Communism to end Class Struggle? Can we use Communism to end Caste Struggle? Can we use Buddhism to end Class Struggle? Can we use Buddhism to end Caste Struggle? Which is better solution Communism or Buddhism? Communism and Buddhism both talk about equality. Both has there methods to end inequality so the comparison between their methods is necessary.

Comparative points between Communism and Buddhism – Remains of Marxian Creed:

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. 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: 111

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

110 Dr. Ambedkar, Presidential speech to GIP Railway Depressed Class workmen’s conference held at Manmad, Nasik, 12th Feb 1938

111 Buddha Or Karl Marx , Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 3


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

  1. That there is a conflict of interest between class and class.
  2. That private ownership of property brings power to one class and sorrow to another through exploitation.
  3. That it is necessary for the good of society that the sorrow be removed by the abolition of private property.

Comparison between Buddha and Karl Marx:
Taking the points from the Marxian Creed which has survived one may now enter upon a comparison between the Buddha and Karl Marx.

(i) On the first point there is complete agreement between the Buddha and Karl Marx. To show how close the agreement is I quote below a part of the dialogue between Buddha and the Brahmin Potthapada. 112

“Then, in the same terms, Potthapada asked (the Buddha) each of the following questions:

  1. Is the world not eternal?
  2. Is the world finite?
  3. Is the world infinite?
  4. Is the soul the same as the body?
  5. Is the soul one thing and the body another?
  6. Does one who has gained the truth live again after death?
  7. Does he neither live again, nor not live again, after death?” And to each 
 question the exalted one made the same reply: It was this.

“That too, Potthapada is a matter on which I have expressed no opinion “. 28. ” But why has the Exalted One expressed no opinion on that?” (Because) ‘This question is not calculated to profit, it is not concerned with (the Dhamma) it does not redound even to the elements of right conduct, nor to detachment nor to purification from lust, nor to quietude, nor to tranquillization of heart, nor to real knowledge, nor to the insight (of the higher stages of the Path), nor to Nirvana. Therefore it is that I express no opinion upon it. “

(ii) On the second point I give below a quotation from a dialogue between Buddha and Pasenadi King of Kosala: “Moreover, there is always strife going on between kings, between “nobles, between Brahmins, between house

holders, between mother and son, between son and father, between brother and sister, between sister and brother, between companion and companion. . .” Although these

112 DIgha NikAya I, 9. Potthapada Sutta

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

are the words of Pasenadi, the Buddha did not deny that they formed a true picture of society. As to the Buddha’s own attitude towards class conflict his doctrine of Ashtanga Marga (eightfold path) recognizes that class conflict exists and that it is ; the class conflict which is the cause of misery.

(iii) On the third question I quote from the same dialogue of Buddha with Potthapada;

“Then what is it that the Exalted One has determined?” “I have expounded, Potthapada that sorrow and misery exist!” I have expounded, what is the origin of misery. I have expounded what is the cessation of misery: I have expounded what is method by which one may reach the cessation of misery.

30. ‘And why has the Exalted One put forth a statement as to that?’

‘Because that questions Potthapada, is calculated to profit, is concerned with the Dhamma redounds to the beginnings of right conduct, to detachment, to purification from lusts, to quietude, to tranquillization of heart, to real knowledge, to the insight of the higher stages of the Path and to Nirvana. Therefore is it, Potthapada that I have put forward a statement as to that. ‘

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.’

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


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

(iv) ‘On the fourth point no evidence is necessary. The rules of the Bhikkhu Sangha will serve as the best testimony on the subject.

According to the rules a Bhikkhu can have private property only in the following eight articles and no more. These eight articles are: 113

Three robes or pieces of cloth for daily wear 1. Lower garment called Antarvaska 2. Upper garment called Uttarasang 3. Covering garment against cold called Sanghati and 4. A girdle for the loins 5. An alms-bowl 6. A razor 7. A needle 8. A water strainer.

Further a Bhikkhu was completely forbidden to receive gold or silver for fear that with gold or silver he might buy some thing beside the eight things he is permitted to have. These rules are far more rigorous than are to be found in any Communist ruled Country.

Communist and Buddhist Means:

If for misery one reads exploitation Buddha is not away from Marx. What are

the means for annihilation of misery, sorrow or exploitation? Communist

means are (1) Violence and (2) Dictatorship of Proletariats to achieve their

goals. Buddha preached different means those can be decided in Four Parts. 114

Part I – Pancasilas – A part of the misery and unhappiness of man was the result of his own misconduct. To remove this cause of misery the Buddha preached the practice of Pancasila. The Pancasila comprised the following observations: (1) To abstain from destroying or causing destruction of any living things (2) To abstain from stealing i.e. acquiring or keeping by fraud or violence, the property of another: (3) To Abstain from telling untruth: (4) To abstain from lust: (5) To abstain from intoxicating drinks.

Part II – Ashtanga Magga (Eightfold path) – A part of the misery and unhappiness in the world was according to the Buddha the result of man’s inequity towards man. How was this inequity to be removed? For the removal of man’s inequity towards man the Buddha prescribed the Noble Eight-Fold Path. The elements of the Noble Fight-Fold Path are: (1) Right views i.e. freedom from superstition: (2) Right aims, high and worthy of the intelligent and earnest men; (3) Right speech i.e. kindly, open, truthful: (4) Right Conduct i.e. peaceful, honest and

113 The Buddha and His Dhamma, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_buddha/05_01.html 114 Buddha Or Karl Marx , Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 3

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

pure; (5) Right livelihood i.e. causing hurt or injury to no living being; (6) Right perseverance in all the other seven; (7) Right mindfulness i.e. with a watchful and active mind; and (8) Right contemplation i.e. earnest thought on

the deep mysteries of life. The aim of the Noble Eight-Fold Path is to establish on earth the kingdom of righteousness, and thereby to banish sorrow and unhappiness from the face of the world.

Part III – Nibbana – The doctrine of Nibbana is an integral part of the doctrine of the Noble Eight-Fold Path. Without Nibbana the realization of the Eight- Fold Path cannot be accomplished. The doctrine of Nibbana tells the difficulties in the way of the realization of the Eight-Fold Path. The Buddha called them the Ten Asavas, Fetters or Hindrances, they are Ten in number.(1) First hindrance is the delusion of self. So long as a man is wholly occupied with himself, chasing after every bauble that he vainly thinks will satisfy the cravings of his heart, there is no noble path for him. Only when his eyes have been opened to the fact that he is but a tiny part of a measureless, whole, only when he begins to realize how impermanent a thing is his temporary individuality can he even enter upon this narrow path. (2) Doubt and Indecision. When a man’s eyes are opened to the great mystery of existence, the impermanence of every individuality, he is likely to be assailed by doubt and indecision as to his action. To do or not to do, after all my individuality is impermanent, why do anything? – are, the questions which make him indecisive or inactive. But that will not do in life. He must make up his mind to follow the teacher, to accept the truth and to enter on the struggle or he will get no further. (3) Dependence on the efficacy of Rites and Ceremonies. No good resolutions, however firm will lead to anything unless a man gets rid of ritualism: of the belief that any outward acts. any priestly powers, and holy ceremonies, can afford him an assistance of any kind. It is only when he has overcome this hindrance that men can be said to have fairly entered upon the stream and has a chance sooner or later to win a victory. (4) It consists of the bodily passions (5) The ill will towards other individuals. (6) Suppression of the desire for a future life with a material body (7) Desire for a future life in an immaterial world (8) Pride and (9) Self-righteousness. These are failings which it is most difficult for men to overcome, and to which superior minds are peculiarly liable a Praisaical contempt for those who are less able and less holy than themselves. (10) The tenth hindrance is ignorance. When all other difficulties are conquered this will even remain, the thorn in the flesh of the wise and good, the last enemy and the bitterest foe of man. Nibbana consists in overcoming these hindrances to the pursuit of the Noble Eight-Fold Path.

Part IV – Paramitas (States of Perfection) – The doctrine of Paramitas inculcates the practice of ten virtues in one’s daily life. These are those ten virtues— (1) Panna (2) Sila (3) Nekkhama (4) Dana (5) Virya (6) Khanti (7) Succa (8) Aditthana (9) Metta and (10) Upekkha. Panna or wisdom is the light that removes


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

the darkness of Avijja, Moha or Nescience. The Panna requires that one must get all his doubts removed by questioning those wiser than him self, associate with the wise and cultivate the different arts and sciences which help to develop the mind. Sila is moral temperament, the disposition not to do evil and the disposition to do good; to be ashamed of doing wrong. To avoid doing evil for fear of punishment is Sila. Sila means fear of doing wrong. Nekkhama is renunciation of the pleasures of the world. Dana means the giving of one’s possessions, blood and limbs and even one’s life for the good of the others without expecting anything in return. Virya is right Endeavour. It is doing with all your might with thought never turning back, whatever you have undertaken to do. Khanti is forbearance. Not to meet hatred by hatred is the essence of it. For hatred is not appeased by hatred. It is appeased only by forbearance. Succa is truth. An aspirant for Buddha never speaks a lie. His speech is truth and nothing but truth. Aditthana is resolute determination to reach the goal. Metta is fellow feeling extending to all beings, foe and friend, beast and man. Upekkha is detachment as distinguished from indifference. It is a state of mind where there is neither like nor dislike. Remaining unmoved by the result and yet engaged in the pursuit of it.

Such is the gospel the Buddha enunciated as a result of his enlightenment to end the sorrow and misery in the world. It is clear that the means adopted by the Buddha were to convert a man by changing his moral disposition to follow the path voluntarily. What the Buddha wanted was that each man should be morally so trained that he may himself become a sentinel for the kingdom of righteousness.

Comparison between Communist and Buddhist Means – Violence as a means?

Take violence. As to violence there are many people who seem to shiver at the very thought of it. But this is only a sentiment. Violence cannot be altogether dispensed with. Even in non-communist countries a murderer is hanged. Does not hanging amount to violence? Non-communist countries go to war with non- communist countries. Millions of people are killed. Is this no violence? If a murderer can be killed, because he has killed a citizen, if a soldier can be killed in war because he belongs to a hostile nation why cannot a property owner be killed if his ownership leads to misery for the rest of humanity? There is no reason to make an exception in favour of the property owner, why one should regard private property as sacrosanct.

The Buddha was against violence. But he was also in favour of justice and where justice required he permitted the use of force. This is well illustrated in his dialogue with Sinha Senapati the Commander-in-Chief of Vaishali. Sinha having come to know that the Buddha preached Ahimsa went to him and asked:

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

“The Bhagvan preaches Ahimsa. Does the Bhagvan preach an offender to be given freedom from punishment? Does the Bhagvan preach that we should not go to war to save our wives, our children and our wealth? Should we suffer at the hands of criminals in the name of Ahimsa?”

“Does the Tathagata prohibit all war even when it is in the interest of Truth and Justice?”

Buddha replied. You have wrongly understood what I have been preaching. An offender must be punished and an innocent man must be freed. It is not a fault of the Magistrate if he punishes an offender. The cause of punishment is the fault of the offender. The Magistrate who inflicts the punishment is only carrying out the law. He does not become stained with Ahimsa. A man who

fights for justice and safety cannot be accused of Ahimsa. If all the means of maintaining peace have failed then the responsibility for Himsa (violence) falls on him who starts war. One must never surrender to evil powers. War there may be. But it must not be for selfish ends.

There are of course other grounds against violence such as those urged by Prof. John Dewey. In dealing with those who contend that the end justifies the means is morally perverted doctrine, Dewey has rightly asked what can justify the means if not the end? It is only the end that can justify the means.

Buddha would have probably admitted that it is only the end which would justify the means. What else could? And he would have said that if the end justified violence, violence was a legitimate means for the end in view. He certainly would not have exempted property owners from force if force were the only means for that end. As we shall see his means for the end were different. As Prof. Dewey has pointed out that violence is only another name for the use of force and although force must be used for creative purposes a distinction between use of force as energy and use of force as violence needs to be made. The achievement of an end involves the destruction of many other ends, which are integral with the one that is sought to be destroyed. Use of force must be so regulated that it should save as many ends as possible in destroying the evil one. Buddha’s Ahimsa was not as absolute as the Ahimsa preached by Mahavira the founder of Jainism. He would have allowed force only as energy. The communists preach Ahimsa (Non-Violence) as an absolute principle. To this the Buddha was deadly opposed. 115

Dictatorship of Proletariats or Democracy as Means?

115 Buddha Or Karl Marx , Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 3


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

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 Mahaparinibbana 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 Bhikkhus, including the Buddha himself, wore robes made of rags. This rule was enunciated to prevent the aristocratic classes from joining the Sangh. Later Jivaka 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.

Once the Buddha’s mother Mahaprajapati Gotami who had joined the Bhikkhuni Sangh heard that the Buddha had got a chill. She at once started preparing a scarf for him. After having completed it she took to the Buddha and asked him to wear it. But he refused to accept it saying that if it is a gift it must be a gift to the whole Sangh and not to an individual member of the Sangh. She pleaded and pleaded but he refused to yield.

The Bhikkhu Sangha had the most democratic constitution. He was only one of the Bhikkhus. At the most he was like a Prime Minister among members of the Cabinet. He was never a dictator. Twice before his death he was asked to appoint some one as the head of the Sangh to control it. But each time he refused saying that the Dhamma is the Supreme Commander of the Sangh. He refused to be a dictator and refused to appoint a dictator.

What about the value of the means? Whose means are superior and lasting in the long run?

Can the Communists say that in achieving their valuable end they have not destroyed other valuable ends? They have destroyed private property. Assuming that this is a valuable end can the Communists say that they have not destroyed other valuable end in the process of achieving it? How many

people have they killed for achieving their end? Has human life no value? Could they not have taken property without taking the life of the owner?

Take dictatorship. The end of Dictatorship is to make the Revolution a permanent revolution. This is a valuable end. But can the Communists say that in achieving this end they have not destroyed other valuable ends? Dictatorship is often defined as absence of liberty or absence of Parliamentary Government. Both

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

interpretations are not quite clear. There is no liberty even when there is Parliamentary Government. For law means want of liberty. The difference between Dictatorship and Parliamentary Govt. lies in this. In Parliamentary Government every citizen has a right to criticize the restraint on liberty imposed by the Government. In Parliamentary Government you have a duty and a right; the duty to obey the law and right to criticize it. In Dictatorship you have only duty to obey but no right to criticize it. 116

Communists and Religion:

Below is the excerpt from the “Buddha or Karl Marx” by Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar:

“The Communists themselves admit that their theory of the State as a permanent dictatorship is a weakness in their political philosophy. They take shelter under the plea that the State will ultimately wither away. There are two questions, which they have to answer. When will it wither away? What will take the place of the State when it withers away? To the first question they can give no definite time. Dictatorship for a short period may be good and a welcome thing even for making Democracy safe. Why should not Dictatorship liquidate itself after it has done its work, after it has removed all the obstacles and boulders in the way of democracy and has made the path of Democracy safe? Did not Asoka set an example? He practiced violence against the Kalingas. But thereafter he renounced violence completely. If our

victor’s to-day not only disarm their victims but also disarm themselves there would be peace all over the world.

The Communists have given no answer. At any rate no satisfactory answer to the question what would take the place of the State when it withers away, though this question is more important than the question when the State will wither away. Will it be succeeded by Anarchy? If so the building up of the Communist State is a useless effort. If it cannot be sustained except by force and if it results in anarchy when the force holding it together is withdraws what good is the Communist State.

The only thing, which could sustain it after force is withdrawn, is Religion. But to the Communists Religion is anathema. Their hatred to Religion is so deep seated that they will not even discriminate between religions which are helpful to Communism and religions which are not; The Communists have carried their hatred of Christianity to Buddhism without waiting to examine the difference between the two. The charge against Christianity leveled by the Communists was two fold.

116 Ibid


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

Their first charge against Christianity was that they made people other worldliness and made them suffer poverty in this world. As can be seen from quotations from Buddhism in the earlier part of this tract such a charge cannot be leveled against Buddhism.

The second charge leveled by the Communists against Christianity cannot be leveled against Buddhism. This charge is summed up in the statement that Religion is the opium of the people. This charge is based upon the Sermon on the Mount which is to be found in the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount sublimates poverty and weakness. It promises heaven to the poor and the weak. There is no Sermon on the Mount to be found in the Buddha’s

teachings. His teaching is to acquire wealth. I give below his Sermon on the subject to Anathapindika one of his disciples.

Once Anathapindika came to where the Exalted One was staying. Having come he made obeisance to the Exalted One and took a seat at one side and asked ‘Will the Enlightened One tell what things are welcome, pleasant, agreeable, to the householder but which are hard to gain.’

The Enlightened One having heard the question put to him said ‘ Of such things the first is to acquire wealth lawfully.’ ‘The second is to see that your relations also get their wealth lawfully.’

‘The third is to live long and reach great age.’ ‘Of a truth, householder, for the attainment of these four things, which in the world are welcomed, pleasant agreeable but hard to gain, there are also four conditions precedent. They are the blessing of faith, the blessing of virtuous conduct, the blessing of liberality and the blessing of wisdom.

The Blessing of virtuous conduct which abstains from taking life, thieving, unchastely, lying and partaking of fermented liquor.

The blessing of liberality consists in the householder living with mind freed from the taint of avarice, generous, open-handed, delighting in gifts, a good one to be asked and devoted to the distribution of gifts.

Wherein consists the blessing of Wisdom? He know that an householder who dwells with mind overcome by greed, avarice, ill-will, sloth, drowsiness, distraction and flurry, and also about, commits wrongful deeds and neglects that which ought to be done, and by so doing deprived of happiness and honor.

Greed, avarice, ill will, sloth and drowsiness, distraction and flurry and doubt are stains of the mind. A householder who gets rid of such stains of the mind acquires great wisdom, abundant wisdom, clear vision and perfect wisdom.

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

Thus to acquire wealth legitimately and justly, earn by great industry, amassed by strength of the arm and gained by sweat of the brow is a great blessing. The householder makes himself happy and cheerful and preserves himself full of happiness; also makes his parents, wife, and children, servants, and labourers, friends and companions happy and cheerful, and preserves them full of happiness. The Russians do not seem to be paying any attention to Buddhism as an ultimate aid to sustain Communism when force is withdrawn.”

The Russians were proud of their Communism. “But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangha was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism without dictatorship a miracle which Lenin failed to do.

The Buddha’s method was different. His method was to change the mind of man: to alter his disposition: so that whatever man does, he does it voluntarily without the use of force or compulsion. His main means to alter the disposition of men was his Dhamma and the constant preaching of his Dhamma. The Buddha’s way was not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. His way was to alter the disposition of men so that they would do voluntarily what they would not otherwise to do.

It has been claimed that the Communist Dictatorship in Russia has wonderful achievements to its credit. There can be no denial of it. That is why I say that a Russian Dictatorship would be good for all backward countries. But this is no argument for permanent Dictatorship. Humanity does not only want economic values, it also wants spiritual values to be retained. Permanent Dictatorship has paid no attention to spiritual values and does not seem to intend to. Carlyle called Political Economy a Pig Philosophy. Carlyle was of course wrong. For man needs material comforts. But the Communist Philosophy seems to be equally wrong, for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Society has been aiming to lay a new foundation was summarised by the French Revolution in three words,

Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. The French Revolution was welcomed because of this slogan. It failed to produce equality. We welcome the Russian Revolution because it aims to produce equality. But it cannot be too much emphasized that in producing equality society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty. Equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. It seems that the three can coexist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all.”

Buddhist Approach as compared to Communist Approach:

Communist methodology to end Class Struggle and bring equality consists of,


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development 1. Dictatorship of Proletariats and

2. Violence

Under communist revolution and rule millions of people have to loose their life. Communist method brings equality but at the cost of sacrificing liberty and fraternity. Also once the Dictatorship of State fails there will be anarchy and masses suffer. If mind is changed, if the mind accepts the communists system and loves it loyally and carries it out, it is a permanent thing; it does not require a soldier or a police officer to keep a man in order. 117 But transformation of mind is not achieved through communist methods.

Communists certainly don’t have answer for Caste Struggle. Class division is for division of labour but Caste division is not merely division of labour but it is a division of labourers. Caste is a disease of mind but the Communists don’t believe transformation of mind voluntarily. Only with physical force the transformation of mind is not possible. They have not understood the difference between Class System and Caste System. Situation of Communism in India is pathetic. Dr. Ambedkar states precisely that, “Communism in India is another bunch of Brahmin boys”. Capitalism and Brahminism are the enemies of equality. Communism can provide some

solution to Capitalism with its own disadvantages as discussed above but Communism is futile to give any solution to Brahminism and Caste System.

Communists reject all religions without understanding difference between Christianity and Buddhism. I would like to quote Dr. Ambedkar who did not turned to Communism even though he has all necessary reasons to become Communist, “Religion is a very necessary thing for the progress of mankind. I know that a sect has appeared because of the writings of Karl Marx. According to their creed, religion means nothing at all. Religion is not important to them. They get a breakfast in the morning of bread, cream, butter, chicken legs, etc.; they get undisturbed sleep; they get to see movies; and that’s all there is. This is their philosophy. I am not of that opinion. My father was poor, and therefore we did not get comforts of that kind. No one has ever lived a life as hard as mine! How hard a man’s life can be without happiness and comforts, this I know. I agree that an economic elevation movement is necessary. I am not against that movement. Man must progress economically. But I note an important difference in this matter. There is a difference between buffalo, bull, and man. Buffalo and bull must have fodder daily. Man also must have food. But between the two the difference is this: the buffalo and bull have no mind; man has, along with his body, a mind. Both have to be cared for. The mind should be developed. The mind should become cultured, and that culture has to be developed. I want no sort of relationships with people from a country where it is said that there is

117 Buddhism and Communism, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Fourth World Buddhist Conference, Kathmandu, Nepal, 20th November 1956

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

no connection between man and his cultured mind except for his body. I do not need any such relationship. Just as a man’s body should be healthy, the mind also should be cultured.” 118

Buddhist Approach:

The promotion of rationalists and egalitarian Buddhist interpretations has become necessary to fulfill the needs of the modern world along with the spiritual flavour of Buddhism.

Buddhism and Non-violence:

The doctrine of Ahimsa (non-violence) needs proper interpretations. Prof. Richard Gombrich puts his thoughts on Non-violence as, “Note that I am not arguing for pacifism. This is where the difference between the public and the private sphere becomes crucial. If someone attacks me, I may decide not to respond, even – in the words of Jesus Christ – to turn the other cheek. But if a population has elected me to look after their interests, and they are attacked or threatened with attack, the situation is different: I have a responsibility to protect them. Countries need defense forces to deter attack, and potential aggressors need to know that those forces may be used. There is all the difference between aggression and defense, between initiating violence and responding to it. Here we return to the greatest Buddhist ruler, the emperor Asoka. In his thirteenth major rock edict he told the world how much he regretted having waged war on the people of Kalinga. He hoped never to have to do such a thing again. But he also warned his neighbors that while he would “tolerate what could be tolerated” (his words), they should not provoke him. That surely is the right way for a government to minimize violence.” 119

Rule of Law is necessary but the minds of people should be cultivated in Buddhist upbringing as morals and ethics at the centre. Extremism of non- violence may be disaster for innocent people when it comes to protect them so Middle Path should be followed. The difference between non-violent methods and cowardly methods should be well understood. Protection of innocents is the duty and responsibility of all.

Socially Engaged Buddhist Methods:

118 Historic Conversion Ceremony Speech, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Nagpur, India, 15th October 1956

119 Buddhism and Nonviolence, Prof. Richard Gombrich, United Nations Day of Vesak, 2007


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

After the world’s historical conversion ceremony at Nagpur on 14th October 1956 where half a million people converted to Buddhism and also took 22 vows; Dr. Ambedkar wrote a reply dated 30th October 2009 to Devapriya Valisinha, General Secretary, Mahabodhi Society of India as, “It was a great event and the crowd that came forward for conversion was beyond my expectation. Thank Buddha, it all went well. We have to consider ways and means of imparting the knowledge of Buddhism to the masses who have accepted His Dhamma and will accept it to my word. I am afraid the Sangha will have to modify its outlook; and instead of becoming recluses, Bhikkhus should become, like Christian missionaries, social workers and social preachers.”

Dr. Ambedkar believed that Bhikkhus should not be renouncers in the sense of withdrawing from the world. They should be socially and politically committed to justice. He was attracted by the Mahayana concept of the Bodhisattva, who delays his own liberation out of compassion for less fortunate or less advanced beings. Furthermore, the Bodhisattva ideal lends itself more easily to modern concepts of democracy, human rights and social justice, for it can easily be seen as a compassionate activity in favour of the oppressed and the fight against social and political injustice. Salvation is conceived in terms of the struggle for emancipation and dignity of the oppressed classes of Hindu society. 120

Could the Buddha answer Karl Marx?

Yes. Buddhists can certainly answer Communists. Buddhists already have equality, morals and ethics in their doctrine. To impart the knowledge what the Buddha taught the Buddhists have to do certain improvement and changes in their present methodology to promote Buddhist teachings.

Does Buddhist have answer for Caste Struggle?

Yes. Caste is a disease of mind. Buddha preached transformation of mind. Buddhists should promote rationalists and egalitarian interpretations to counter Caste. Also Buddhists should understand that, “Shudras are social police of Brahminism”. In last few years Buddhism has seen big growth in India but the Buddhists must understand the advice of Dr. Ambedkar that Caste Hindus must not pollute Buddhism with Caste. Buddhists should stress importance of promoting casteless Buddhist tradition.

120 Buddhism and Politics, Ian Harris p. 93, published 1998. Originally quoted in “Politics and Ambedkar Buddhism in Maharashtra” by Timothy Fitzgerald

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

Adoption of Democratic Constitutional Methods:

Buddhists should support Democracy. They should promote Constitutional provisions to bring Buddhist principles in practice. If a Communist State falls, it has happened and it will happen in other Communist rules states, the Buddhist should take initiatives to establish a democratic Constitution enriched in Buddhist principles such as Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice. Buddhism can stand with the secular principles. The Buddhist revivalist Dr. Ambedkar is the architect of Indian Constitution who took care to embed maximum Buddhist principles in the free India’s secular constitution. Also he gave protection to Religious and Linguistic minorities including weaker sections of society such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. He did provisions for the upliftment of the Backward Classes. Then he converted to Buddhism and asked his followers to become Buddhist Missionaries. The political rights are temporary and can fall in short time so along with the Constitutional provisions the Buddhists should promote Buddha’s teachings in every contemporary society.

Promotion of Lay Buddhist Organizations:

In Modern world lay Buddhists carry greater responsibility. They should support the Sangha. It is not the only responsibility of the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis (Monks and Nuns) to promote Buddha’s teachings but also

equally lay people should become active in reaching the suffering masses with love and compassion within their maximum possible capability. Lay Buddhists should run social projects to help people and involve maximum people in Dhamma Activities. Buddhist believes in cultural unity so lay organizations should promote cultural activities. There is a need to develop Lay Buddhist priest order to support basic rituals in common people’s life. Buddha Viharas should not be merely meditating centres but those should become centres for study, debate and discussion centres on Comparative Religions, Communism and Social Issues etc. Systematic and organized propagation of Buddha Dhamma by the lay Buddhist is a necessity. Morals and Ethics can not be taught as law but those need to be cultivated and propagated in an organized and institutionalized manner.


Communists should keep back their prejudices and study the Buddha and understand what he stood for. They should understand difference between Buddhism and other religions. Economical and Social Inequality causes Class Struggle and


| Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development

Caste Struggle that gives birth to political conflict. Communism is not a proper solution even for Class Struggle as it brings dictatorship of proletariats and believes in violence as the only means. Communism can give equality but not liberty and fraternity. Communism is futile to give any solution to Caste Struggle; also the Communists are not clear with the basic that, “Shudras are social police of Brahmanism”.

Communists forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangha was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism without dictatorship a miracle which Lenin, Mao and other communist leaders failed to do.

Oppressed and poor people are quickly attracted to Communist theories. Maoism which is derived from Communism has won in Nepal and already rocking many states in India. Caste Hindus should learn that Communist revolution has already taken millions of lives in different countries and it is strengthening in India to answer Casteism. It is time for them to understand Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar’s advice to adopt Buddhist methods to solve their Class struggle and Caste struggle.

Bodhisattva Dr. Ambedkar advised that, “Any religion that can not provide an answer to Communism will not survive. The only religion in my view, that can serve as an antidote to Communism is Buddhism.” 121 also he showed in his book “Buddha or Karl Marx” how Buddhism can answer Communism. His advice is still relevant because Communism had a big impact over the world, especially over the Buddhist world. Buddhists should interpret Buddha’s teachings to counter Communism.

Doctrine of non-violence should be interpreted keeping the safety and security of innocent public in mind. Countries need defense forces to deter attack, and potential aggressors need to know that those forces may be used. There is all the difference between aggression and defense, between initiating violence and responding to it.

The ocean of Buddha’s teachings should not shrink only to personal salvation, non-violence (Ahimsa) and meditation rather we have to develop wider understanding of the Buddhist Tradition to answer Communism and political conflicts. Buddhists should develop understandings on political, economical and social issues and should implement Buddhist approach to solve such issues. Teachings of Buddha related to the economical, social, and political issues needs propagation.

121 Dr. Ambedkar’s speech dated 5th Feb 1956 at the function organized by Mahabodhi Society of India in Delhi

Buddhist Approach to Political Conflict and Peace Development |

Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. The Buddhists should take initiative in promotion of socially engaged methods along with traditional spiritual methods. Buddhists should develop comparative understandings with Communism and with other religions. People should understand that instead of applying Communist Methods to end political conflicts, Class Struggle, Caste Struggle, Inequality and Graded Inequality they can apply Buddhist Methods. That can help them to find solutions to end political conflicts as well as to bring peace.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s