On April 14, 2007, amidst thousands of faithful followers of the great Indian patriarch Dr. B.R. Babasaheb Ambedkar, father of both the Dalit Buddhist movement as well as the Indian Constitution, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje performed prayers and a pithy speech to the masses as the Chief guest during the 116th birthday celebration in Mhow, the birthplace of Dr. Ambedkar. Invited by the Chief Minister and state government of Madhya Pradesh, His Holiness once again gave blessings and guidance to the Indian Buddhist community, who had traveled from all over India to celebrate the life of Dr. Ambedkar on this auspicious occasion.
Though the exterior of this sangha may give the impression of typical Indian customs and dress, do not be deceived. Dr. Ambedkar skillfully used the teachings of Lord Buddha to liberate the lower castes of this Indian hierarchy, also known as the "untouchables", from the oppression and injustices they faced. Dr. Ambedkar had first hand experience with these troubles, being one of the very first "untouchables" to rise above these barriers and receive a first-class education, both in India and abroad. He later went on to be a great scholar unparalleled by many of his higher caste contemporaries and eventually became a strong voice in the newly formed free India for the downtrodden people of the Indian caste system. Disgusted with the treatment he had received throughout his life as an "Untouchable", even after proving his value as a scholar, Dr. Ambedkar converted himself and an estimated 380,000 lower caste Indians to Buddhism in Nagpur on October 14th, 1956.
Despite the motive of conversion being partially sociopolitical, this movement of Buddhism has been steadily gaining spiritual momentum since that first conversion in 1956. Though religiously devout to Lord Buddha and his teachings, the people have been lacking a purely spiritual guide to create a more cohesive Buddhist development in India. Since April 2005, when His Holiness was first invited to Mumbai for a conference organized by this sangha, the followers of Dr. Ambedkar have been turning to His Holiness to help fill this role as spiritual guide and exemplar of the Buddhist path.
On Friday April 13th His Holiness landed in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. He was greeted by a crowd gathered to pay homage to the guru. With flowers and chants of Buddhist prayers the people prostrated to Karmapa as he made his way through the airport. Karmapa was then offered tea and a short rest before he mad his journey to the hotel about 45 minutes away. Inside the airport lounge, there were several important VIPs waiting to meet with His Holiness and receive his blessings, including a state minister from Madhya Pradesh. Once outside, shouts of "Jai Bikkshu!" and "Jai Karmapa Ji!" were raised with fists pointing victoriously in the air. His Holiness gave his blessings to the crowds gathered outside before he was ushered to the vehicles waiting for his transport.
After reaching the hotel, His Holiness had little time for rest as he was giving audience to many people fervently waiting for his blessings. Karmapa was interviewed by several major newspapers and television reporters which filled the airways and presses for the next two days with news of the event. His Holiness had the opportunity to reach an audience not usually available to him and gave some general advice for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. "Religion should be practicable, easy to comprehend and engage, so that it gives solace and happiness as a byproduct of practice."
On Saturday April 14th His Holiness arrived onsite in Mhow to pay his respects to the newly constructed Stupa, which commemorates the life and achievements of Dr. B.R. Babasaheb Ambedkar. Despite being in the final stages of construction, the four-storied marble stupa was adorned with many colorful garlands and the crew had worked hard to prepare the site in advance for this event. Upon His Holiness' arrival to the site, the crowds swarmed in for the darshan, to glimpse the guru, in a frantic attempt to receive blessing from His Holiness. As His Holiness approached the Dr Ambedkar bust, which is placed at the front entrance of the stupa, many dropped to the floor in respectful admiration to His Holiness while others were reverently kissing the ground after each of his footsteps towards the statue. With marigold flowers abound, Karmapa made his way to place garlands on the statue of Dr Ambedkar, a sign of respect in Indian culture. Afterwards, His Holiness slowly carved his way through the thick mass of people taking the time to give blessings along the way on route to the main event held just one city block away from the stupa.
Photos and report: Derek Hanger
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