Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits and The Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK invited Professor Meena Dhanda of CTTR as a guest speaker at the 128th birth commemoration of Dr Ambedkar at the House of Lords on Tuesday 7 May 2019. The following is the text of the speech delivered by Professor Dhanda.
Dr Ambedkar on Religion and Morality
Honourable Chair, Reverend Lord Richard Harries, distinguished guests and fellow admirers of an exemplary human being: Dr B.R. Ambedkar, a superb jurist, an untiring champion of social justice, an uncompromising seeker of truth, a kind soul who taught us to follow the great Buddha in acknowledging the various causes of suffering and dedicate our lives to uprooting them. We are here to remember Dr Ambedkar’s contributions and it is my task today to share the essence of his thoughts on religion and morality.
Babasaheb extolled moral uprightness. As he writes in The Buddha and his Dhamma, Dhamma is first and foremost morality. Religion on the other hand, especially when ritualistically followed, he took to task for the hypocrisies it generated and the inertia it induced. He challenged the supposedly unchanging and supposedly infallible command of Religion with a capital R. He wrote: ‘Every religion preaches morality but morality is not the root of religion. It is a wagon attached to it. It is attached and detached as the occasion arises’ (Ambedkar 1957, p.322). In contrast ‘Morality is Dhamma and Dhamma is Morality’. Dhamma is social, essentially so. In Dhamma the need for morality does not arise from the ‘sanction of God’ but directly from the need for man to love man. ‘The purpose of Religion is to explain the origin of the world. The purpose of Dhamma is to reconstruct the world’ (Ibid.).
Rather than the rituals and sacrifices embedded in Religions, Ambedkar considers morality itself as ‘sacred’. The reason he gives for making morality itself ‘sacred’ is that there is a social need to protect what he calls “the best”. The best, however, he does not equate with the fittest. The best may actually be the weak, the ones who are in need of protection. Therefore, Morality as Dhamma, must impose restraints on the fittest to stop them from infringing on the rights of the weak.