‘Violence is never a solution’
by Neeta Kolhatkar, DNA India, October 18, 2008
Mumbai, India -- Dharmachari Lokamitra, 61, became a member of the Western Buddhist Order in London in 1974. Four year later, he moved to India to be with his spiritual guru Sangharakshita, and has lived here ever since.
He is involved with various programmes to help disadvantaged people and has started a trust for this. Here he talks about his journey into Buddhism and its relevance today
On becoming a Buddhist
I grew up in London and come from a Christian background. I remember as a child being taken by my grandparents to a Quaker Christians meetings but I never really considered myself to be a Christian in any meaningful sense.
In the late 1960s, I got interested in meditation. I saw it as a way to improve the mind. There were Christian, Muslim, Hindu as well as Buddhist meditation teachers. Since I knew a little about Buddhism, it made more sense for me to go to a Buddhist meditation teacher. After learning the basics, I began to deepen my study of the Buddhist faith. The more I learnt, the more I felt deeply attracted to it.
I then left my job as a school teacher in London to move to India to be a part of the Buddhist centre at Nagpur. Under the guidance of my teacher, my journey into Buddhism had just begun.
Relevance of Buddhism
I began following Buddhism at a very personal level. Having said that, the teachings of Buddhism are relevant to macro-issues such as nuclear disarmament and racial discrimination. Initially, I didn’t see this side of mine being influenced by Buddhism but gradually I realised that Buddhism covered these aspects too. One very basic teaching is that you cannot really work on yourself unless you work on the world and vice versa. So when I understood this in 1976, it brought the inner and outer aspects together and that has remained with me ever since.
Non-violence and relevance of Ambedkar’s teachings
For the last 30 years or so that I have practiced Buddhism, I have moved from theory to practice. The relevance of non-violence has only got stronger. Violence solves no problems, only generates of them. I think that is simple enough for most to see. I work very closely with people who are followers of Dr Ambedkar.
We must never forget that Dr Ambedkar came from one of the most oppressed sections of society but very quickly saw that that violence was not the way forward; that one must raise your levels of consciousness, and spirituality and take responsibility for one’s own actions. These aspects can’t be seen in isolation. There has to be a social, political and educational change. Having said that that, I am surprised at how little is known about Dr Ambedkar abroad. That’s beginning to change. In India, every political party attempts to leverage his name. I do not think that real helps understand the man and his teachings.
Social change and Dalits
The Dalits who followed Ambedkar face material problems — lack of education, employment, and above all, discrimination. There are so many pressures on them. My experience shows that given a chance, people respond very positively. As far as the Dalits go, there is social support to some extent in the old caste system but not necessarily if you become a Buddhist.
There are many who have lost all social support from their community once they converted to Buddhism I would say that the poor find it easy to engage in Buddhist practices more fully than the more middle-class. Coming from a middle class living in London, I can see that in my middle class friends in India. While the middle class may wonder whether or not they should go for a meditation class, for the poor it is a matter of their whole identity and their whole existence.
Obviously one wants to communicate with a whole cross section of people and I feel my energies are best used for the masses. I think India will be inhibited, held back or crippled economically until it learns to absorb these people in the mainstream. We need major changes in politics and government for this.
What keeps me going is how much people respond to Buddhist practices and how much the people I am working with have been able to change their lives. We have undertaken many projects at the Nagpur centre — 70-80 community projects in slums. These are run by the people who live in slums and know poverty first-hand. No running water, no sanitation, social vices all around them. Through Buddhism, they are trying to change their lives, through Buddhism they are trying to help others change their lives. This is what keeps me going and keeps my faith alive.