1st December 2011
Ambedkar’s Buddhist liberalism and rejection of communism
While Ambedkar came from a classical liberal mould (e.g. see my blog post here), his sympathies for the concept of "equality" derive from a particular interpretation of Buddhism (a view that Dalai Lama might not necessarily agree with). Nevertheless Ambedkar did not let his preference for equality over-ride liberty, a perspective rooted in his interpretation of Buddha's message.
The Buddha was not just a democrat but wanted people to think for themselves. That significantly influenced Amebedkar's worldview which was therefore largely classical liberal although he might have preferred some level of redistribution.
His essay which I discussed yesterday shows some of the tensions he faced in arriving at a consistent worldview. Ambedkar notes, though, that Buddha supports the acquisition of wealth. That is an important point, for the Buddha did not require perfect economic equality:
His [the Buddha's] 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 honour.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.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.
Later in the essay Ambedkar grapples with (economic) equality and even makes sympathetic remarks about the Russian revolution. He concludes, though, by extricating himself from this preference and distancing himself from communism.
The Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangh was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism I 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 Buddhas 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 emphasised 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. [Source]
While Ambedkar is still (broadly speaking) a classical liberal, his clarity of thought in this regard was less than B.R. Shenoy's.