For the last 5-10 years I have watched in marvel at the mass conversions in India from Hinduism to Buddhism. It was explained to me that many of the converts are Dalits, (the "untouchables") or members of the lowest caste. I can see why someone who is treated as less-than simply for being born into a certain caste would seek the freedom from caste through Buddhism. Buddhism tells us that we are all equal and interconnected, thus, how can we treat any other being as less than us when they are apart of us? That would be like treating ourselves in the same manner and who wants to see themselves as inferior to others? Another conversion recently took place, which saw 11,000 Hindus and Christians convert to Buddhism:
Express News Service, Jan 25, 2010
Ahmedabad, India -- Cose to 11,000 people, including those from the Koli and Kshatriya communities as well as Christian families, embraced Buddhism at a function in Saijpur Bogha here on Sunday. Buddhist monks from Bhante Pragnyasheel administered the pledges to the new converts. The Ahmedabad district collector, however, said no conversion could be effective unless an official permission was granted.
James: I have read from other conversions that the Hindu dominated government often refuses to acknowledge these conversions away from Hinduism. One Dalit spoke of the demeaning caste system and said, "I have hidden my roots. But often on trains people ask about my background, what my father did, where I am from. When I tell them my caste they stop asking questions. In fact they stop talking to me. Buddhism means I can simply say I am not a Hindu. I do not have a caste." It is a sad irony that the country, which gave birth to Buddhism so often now resists the practice of it today by some of its citizens. However, the trend toward an Indian neo-Buddhism doesn't seem to be slowing down. Seeing how both religions believe in karma, you'd think that the Hindus who behave this way would think twice before speaking ill of those converting to Buddhism and treating them as inferior.
Let me be clear, however, that I am not condemning the religion of Hinduism. I find it to be a very vibrant, peaceful, enlightening and beneficial religion. I incorporate some Hindu mystical teachings into my Buddhist practice. However, I can not condone the caste system that is still adhered to by many despite it being technically illegal. Nor can I condone the government not recognizing people having the right to convert to Buddhism. In one region of India, Gujarat, the BJP government there amended a law to state that Buddhism and Jainism are simply extensions of Hinduism. Yes, there are many similarities, but also important differences and I find it unsettling that such a huge democracy as India would take such a rigid stance on religious freedom. As well as that so many Hindus resisting such conversions when Hinduism is said to be a religion of religious tolerance and openness.
I have done a fair bit of research into this subject and it seems that in many cases the resistance to Dalits and others converting to Buddhism is because of political views rather than true religious objections. It is my hope that the majority of the Hindus in India are much more tolerant and secular than those who object to Buddhist conversions. Especially when there are so many different expressions within Hinduism. Why tolerate all those variations but not a fellow, Indian born religion of Buddhism? You'd think it would be a more tolerated religion because of its Indian roots, if nothing else.
~Peace to all beings~