Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 – 1956) is a unique figure in the annals of socially engaged Buddhism. Born to a family of the Untouchable (Dalit) Caste in India, Ambedkar went on to become a beacon of liberation to the Indian people and helped to revive Buddhism in that country.
Throughout his childhood and youth, Dr. Ambedkar encountered discrimination and oppression in the educational, political, and social structures of India. He persisted in his studies, and became the first person from the Untouchable Caste to be admitted to the University of Bombay in 1917. Ambedkar went on to earn degrees in economics, political science, anthropology, and law.
Throughout his legal career, he was a very effective advocate for other members of the Untouchable Caste, and he had a prominent role in drafting India’s constitution upon that country’s independence in 1947.
Though he studied Buddhism throughout his life and had a strong affinity for it, Dr. Ambedkar did not formally convert to Buddhism until just before his death in 1956.
Dr. Ambedkar’s vision and work is carried on today by a number of NGO’s, including Jambudvipa, an organization based in Pune.
This quote comes from a speech Dr. Ambedkar gave in October 1954:
Positively, my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: liberty, equality and fraternity. Let no one however say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has its roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, the Buddha.