Ambedkar Buddhism

Christopher S. Queen

in Buddhism

Published online January 2014 | | DOI:

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Ambedkar Buddhism, or Navayana (“new vehicle”) Buddhism, began on 14 October 1956 in Nagpur, India, when nearly 400,000 Dalits, formerly known as Untouchables, converted from Hinduism. Led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (b. 1891–d. 1956), the anti-caste activist, lawyer, politician, and scholar, the new Buddhists soon numbered in the millions, growing most notably in the populous states of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh but also in poor villages and urban neighborhoods throughout India, and among Dalit expatriates abroad. Ambedkar believed that the ideals of universal human rights, self-reliance, and non-violent struggle (expressed in the slogans “liberty, equality, fraternity” and “educate, agitate, organize”) are grounded in the Dhamma, the ancient teaching of the Buddha. As Ambedkar gained recognition as a founding father of the Republic of India and principal draftsman of its Constitution, his Navayana Buddhism came to be identified as a form of socially engaged Buddhism, paralleling movements for self-determination and economic justice in Tibet, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. Further parallels to the Humanistic Buddhism of China and Taiwan, the Nichiren-inspired New Religions of Japan, and many engaged Buddhist organizations in the West have been analyzed by scholars. Ambedkar Buddhism is not well represented in mainstream Buddhist Studies, however, possibly because its focus on social change appears at odds with the traditional Buddhist emphasis on personal transformation. Some scholars regard Ambedkar’s Navayana and other engaged Buddhist movements as a “fourth yana” or practice vehicle, in contrast with the individual path of Hinayana (Theravada) Buddhism, the messianic and missionary spirit of Mahayana Buddhism (including Pure Land and Zen traditions), and the ritualism and scholasticism of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Article.  6569 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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