Buddha Purnima Celebrations in India See Enthusiasm Among Newly Converted Buddhists

The new converts aim to spread awareness of Buddha's teachings in India and promote a culture of scientific and critical thinking, moving beyond stereotypes.
Buddha Purnima Celebrations in India See Enthusiasm Among Newly Converted Buddhists

On the occasion of the first Buddh Purnima after many recent conversions to Buddhism in India, enthusiasm among the new converts is high.

Conversion to Buddhism has been linked to greater access to education and a move towards urban areas to avoid discrimination. Conversion rates have begun to increase recently, with the Swayam Sainik Dal conducting large-scale conversion ceremonies in Gujarat.

Newly converted individuals speak about feeling empowered against the discrimination they faced in Hinduism. Few plan to propagate Buddha's teachings to the Dalit community to spread awareness to oppose caste oppressions.

The new converts hope to spread awareness of Buddha's teachings in India and encourage scientific and logical thinking instead of sticking to stereotypes.

Conversion path shown by Baba Saheb

In 1935, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar publicly denounced Hinduism, the religion of his birth, citing its discriminatory practices and his disillusionment with its caste system. He proclaimed, "I was born a Hindu, but I solemnly guarantee that I shall not die as a Hindu."

Subsequently, in 1956, Ambedkar, along with approximately 500,000 of his followers, underwent a mass conversion to Buddhism in Nagpur, India, which initiated the Navayana movement.

Since the Navayana movement, the proliferation of Buddhism in India has been slow but steady. According to the 2011 Census conducted by the Government of India, Buddhists composed 0.7% of the Indian population. Maharashtra, Ambedkar's home state, has the highest proportion of Buddhists, accounting for approximately 6% of the state's total population.

Sandeep says that Buddhism is a path to Urbanization and Education
Sandeep says that Buddhism is a path to Urbanization and Education

Conversion to Buddhism: Path to urbanization and education

Sandip, a Buddhist journalist from Maharashtra, asserts that converting to Buddhism leads to greater access to education. Subsequently, individuals tend to migrate towards cities as exhorted by Ambedkar, as there is less discrimination in urban areas. Those who have not undergone conversion, such as the Mahars in rural regions, may experience discrimination. Studies have demonstrated that conversion to Buddhism positively correlates with better performance on indicators such as education and employment opportunities.

Swayam Sainik Dal: Providing new impetus to conversion

Despite the slow expansion of Buddhism in India, recent years have seen an increase in conversion rates. On the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, a Gujarat-based organization called the Swayam Sainik Dal converted thousands of individuals to Buddhism in a ceremony held in Gandhinagar.

The organization is also planning to host events on a large scale for the upcoming celebration of Buddha Purnima. Jagdish Baudh, a sainik at Swayam Sainik Dal, affirms that they are organizing programs in various districts and tehsils all over the state, particularly in areas where Buddhism has not yet reached.

During these events, they will educate people on why Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and why others should follow suit.

Urvashi believes that conversion to Buddhism makes oneself more aware and  empowered against atrocities
Urvashi believes that conversion to Buddhism makes oneself more aware and empowered against atrocities

Newly Converts: Feel empowered against atrocities

Urvashi, a 23-year-old woman from Ahmedabad, recently underwent conversion to Buddhism at the Gandhinagar event on April 14th. She remarks that this is the first Buddha Purnima after their conversion and that she plans to attend a Swayam Sainik Dal program in Ahmedabad, where a Buddha statue will be unveiled. Urvashi will also be preparing Kheer, a sweet dish, with her family to celebrate the occasion.

Urvashi officially completed the necessary formalities to convert to Buddhism. She explains that she, along with her family, was compelled to convert due to the abundance of discrimination they faced in Hinduism.

She recounts that in their villages, they were prohibited from entering temples, sitting on chairs or cots, and touching water taps. Instead, they were provided water through a pipe from a distance.

She states that adopting Buddhism has heightened her sensitivity and awareness, and that those who are aware are subject to less maltreatment.

Dhaval Solanki, a new convert to Buddhism and a volunteer for SSD, discloses that his organization is conducting a rally in Ahmedabad, on Buddha Purnima, during which participants will be adorned in white attire and carrying Panchsheel flags.

He plans to propagate the manavtavadi (humanist) ideals of Gautam Buddha through Dhamma Prachaar. He intends to engage with the Dalit community, teach children about Buddha Vandana, and convey the message that Babasaheb Ambedkar is not the only Mahapurusha or great soul in society; Gautam Buddha is also exemplary of a powerful figure. He highlights that Dhamma is indispensable for gaining strength.

Regarding the efforts of Brahminisation of Buddha, Dhaval believes that if 50% of the SC/ST/OBC population becomes familiar with Buddha's thoughts, Brahminisation will cease because of their awareness.

Professor N. Sukumar, from the Department of Political Science at Delhi University believes that the decision to convert has socio-cultural and political ties. He asserts that when individuals adopt Buddhism, they free themselves from Brahminical Hinduism, and this is a way of resisting the insults that they experienced under the Hindu religion.

Therefore, it is not surprising that conversions to Buddhism are taking place in different parts of the country, including Delhi, Gujarat, Nagpur, and elsewhere. Those who convert are more overjoyed since they feel a personal connection to Buddhism.

Professor N. Sukumar
Professor N. Sukumar

Buddhism: The need of the hour

Rajendra Pal Gautam, a former cabinet minister and founder of the NGO Mission Jai Bhim, oversaw the conversion of at least 10,000 individuals in a Delhi event held last year. However, the event sparked controversy after some politicians objected to the 22 vows recited during the ceremony.

During a procession of the Buddhist Shobha Yatra along the Red Fort in Delhi, Rajendra Pal Gautam spoke to The Mooknayak and highlighted the relevance of Buddha's teachings in today's world, especially given the war between Russia and Ukraine and the communal tension in India. He believes that Buddha's teachings, which promote peace, harmony, and brotherhood, are critical for progress in India and for upholding humanitarian values.

Rajendra Pal Gautam,
Rajendra Pal Gautam,

Furthermore, Gautam asserts that India is moving toward a path of Buddhism, as evidenced by the unearthing of Buddhist symbols and idols through excavations. He suggests that the country was once a Buddhist nation, and implementing the teachings of Buddha will contribute to India's growth and development.

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