Dr. Ambedkar’s Decision to Reject Sikhism and Embrace Buddhism

Dr. Ambedkar, shrine, pagoda, gate-5076014.jpg


In 1936, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a prominent social reformer and the architect of the Indian Constitution, contemplated converting to Sikhism. Born into a lower-caste family in 1891, Dr. Ambedkar faced discrimination and inequality, which motivated him to fight social injustices. His involvement in Indian politics and role as the architect of the Indian Constitution demonstrated his dedication to equality and social justice.

Babasaheb studied all the world religions. Every major religion had God at the Centre and Man subordinate to God. The salvation of Man lies in Worshipping God. Dr. Ambedkar explored different religions to find a faith that would inspire his vision of a society that practices equality and respect for all human beings. However, he eventually decided to reject Sikhism and instead embraced Buddhism. This article explores the reasons behind Dr. Ambedkar’s rejection of Sikhism and his subsequent choice to adopt Buddhism.

Dr. Ambedkar and Sikhism

Dr. Ambedkar admired Sikhism and its resilient community. He appreciated their hard work, courage, and refusal to tolerate injustice. To understand Sikhism’s values of solidarity and compassion, he sent a Sikh to study the religion in Amritsar. Despite their sufferings, the Sikhs remained devout, disciplined, and unwilling to tolerate oppression.

In 1935, while defending his views on Sikhism in “A Warning to Untouchables,” he highlighted its principles of liberalism, equality, and determination. He mentioned that the Sikhs followed the doctrine of warriors but later changed his opinion, stating that few understood and practiced the principles of Sikhism.

His first encounter with Sikhism occurred during a round table conference in 1935. Dr. Ambedkar was impressed by Master Tara Singh’s fearlessness, prompting him to study the Sikh religion. However, Sikh leaders refused to support Dr. Ambedkar’s movement against untouchability, leaving him disheartened and feeling used for political gains.

Dr. Ambedkar explored Sikhism in 1935. He saw potential but was dissatisfied with its current practices. As for Islam & Christianity, he considered them inappropriate for India. He rejected Islamic dogma & considered it infinitely much worse than the caste-ridden Hinduism. Dr. B.R., Ambedkar was of the Opinion that Hinduism is no religion but a Political gimmick of Brahmins to keep the Dalits exploited forever.

Reasons for Rejecting Sikhism

While Dr. Ambedkar was initially drawn towards Sikhism, he eventually decided against converting to the faith due to several reasons:

1. Caste Discrimination

Dr. Ambedkar rejected Sikhism as it did not provide a haven for the lower class, despite its teachings of equality and justice. He sought acceptance for untouchables in the religion but was unsuccessful. He wanted the lower-class Sikhs to have power in the Gurudwara and for oppressive customs against women to be reformed. However, his efforts were undermined by pressure from higher classes and religious teachings.

One of the primary reasons for Dr. Ambedkar’s rejection of Sikhism was the continued existence of caste discrimination within the Sikh community. Despite Sikhism’s teachings of equality and social justice, Dr. Ambedkar observed that caste-based discrimination persisted among Sikhs. As an advocate for the rights of the Dalit community (formerly known as untouchables), Dr. Ambedkar could not align himself with a religion that perpetuated social inequality.

Dr. Ambedkar also fundamentally disagreed with the caste system in Sikhism. Sikhism does reject the traditional Hindu caste system and preaches that all people are equal in the eyes of God. However, the old caste system is still very much in place within the Sikh community. Jats and Khatris make up 80% of the Sikh population, and almost all political and religious leadership positions are filled by these two groups. This means that the power and influence within the Sikh community are tightly controlled by a very small section of the population.

2. Monotheist vs Atheist

Dr. Ambedkar strongly disagreed with the fundamental principles of Sikhism, particularly the notion of a singular divine entity, leading him to embrace atheism firmly. In addition, he vehemently criticized the hereditary structure and undeveloped system of Sikh authority. Dr. Ambedkar believed that the restriction of Guruship to specific social classes within Sikhism created a concerning dearth of social equality and hindered the chances for individuals from lower classes to aspire towards such a prestigious title

3. Lack of Social Reform

First, Dr. Ambedkar criticized Sikh society for not practicing social equality which, according to him, was very dear to the Sikh Gurus. He blamed Sikh society for not following their Gurus who had readily adopted the principles of social justice. Secondly, Dr. Ambedkar found that Sikhism had its own kind of caste system. Sikhism is against the caste system but Dr. Ambedkar argued that it was a mere assertion because equality was denied in the very tenets of Sikhism which recognized only the Four Castes…!

Dr. Ambedkar believed that Sikhism, like other religions, had failed to bring about significant social reform in India. He felt that the existing religious systems had not done enough to challenge the oppressive caste system and address the deep-rooted social inequalities prevalent in Indian society. Dr. Ambedkar sought a religion that actively advocated for social justice and equality, which he found in Buddhism.

4. Lack of social equality

Dr. Ambedkar felt strong skepticism about social equality in Sikhism, and that was the main cause which propelled him to switch off from Sikhism.

5.Differences in religious philosophy

Dr. Ambedkar says that “Sikhism is built upon gurus, and that gurus were aware of God because He was in them…I am not aware of God because He is in me, too.” This suggests more of an inward journey in finding God, as opposed to following a person in whom God resides. The personal aspect of faith and the emphasis on God being in all who love and serve others is central to Dr. Ambedkar’s rejection of Sikhism.

Reasons for Embracing Buddhism

After rejecting Sikhism, Dr. Ambedkar found solace and inspiration in Buddhism. Benefiting from the 22 vows Ambedkar had composed, Buddhism also had far fewer restrictions than Sikhism, which suggested the fact that he was far more attracted to Buddhism than Sikhism. The concept of only devoting himself to God was not present in Buddhism and thus when he eventually converted to Buddhism, he was very much at peace with it as not only were his political views embodied within the faith but also the fact that the faith allowed for him to continue with his life and yet also live by the faith. Sikhism, with the fasts and the strong guidelines, would have meant his lifestyle changing slightly but Buddhism was very different; it was a much freer way of living and with no personal God, there was also less moral commitment.

Here are some of the reasons behind his decision to embrace Buddhism:

1. Teachings of Equality

Buddhism’s core teachings of equality and non-discrimination resonated deeply with Dr. Ambedkar’s vision for a just and egalitarian society. Buddhism rejects the notion of caste and emphasizes the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, regardless of their social background. Dr. Ambedkar saw Buddhism as a path that could help liberate the oppressed and marginalized communities from the chains of caste-based discrimination.

Buddhism offered significant social benefits for the Dalits, and in advocating a message of universal responsibility and morality. With a clear emphasis on social improvement and general well-being, the grounds for Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism are considerably evident. His decision, a turning point and a farewell to the Hindu caste system, was well documented, and in his explanation for conversion, Ambedkar outlined his justifications, placing great emphasis on the notion of social egalitarianism.

2. Emphasis on Social Reform

Buddhism places a strong emphasis on social reform and actively advocates for the eradication of social inequalities. Dr. Ambedkar believed that Buddhism provided a framework for addressing the deep-rooted injustices in Indian society. He saw Buddhism as a means to empower the marginalized communities and create a more equitable and just society.

Buddhism emphasizes self-salvation and metaphysical analysis. Dr. Ambedkar saw righteousness, justice, and morality as central to Buddhist philosophy. This aligned with his experiences and views on class conflict and economic disparity in India. He recognized Buddhism’s focus on individual transformation.

The Eightfold Path believes wrongdoing can be overcome and happiness attained by following the path. Dr. Ambedkar found Buddhism to be a means to confront the problem of caste oppression in India. He saw in Buddhism a spiritual and practical resource for social change and the liberation of the oppressed.

At its core, Buddhism preaches that all men are equal and the society should be based on freedom and equality for all. It teaches us that all human beings were equal and the society should be based on freedom, justice, and equality. The law of Dhamma, or Dhamma Raja, was the first law of social justice in the world which was established by the King after embracing Buddhism. Buddhists believe that only by practicing real equality and showing kindness to every living being, we can create a peaceful and harmonious society.

The ideal society as understood by Dr. Ambedkar from Buddhism is based on liberty, equality, and fraternity. This means individual freedom must be guaranteed. In such a society, there will be no place for social oppression, inequality, and dehumanization.

3. Influence of Emperor Ashoka

Dr. Ambedkar was greatly inspired by the legacy of Emperor Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and worked tirelessly to promote social welfare and religious tolerance during his reign. Ashoka’s commitment to social justice and his efforts to propagate Buddhism resonated with Dr. Ambedkar’s own aspirations for a more inclusive and compassionate society.


Dr. Ambedkar was very impressed by this concept of Dhamma and according to Buddhism, the ruler must show equal love to all subjects and compassion and welfare for all. It is explained by Buddha that the ruler must provide suitable welfare and happiness to all human and animal beings. Secondly, the ruler must show sympathy and consideration to all. Thirdly, the ruler must show impartiality to the community in distributing the overall welfare and happiness. And finally, the ruler must act rationally and kindness in a suitable and consistent manner.

Dr. Ambedkar’s decision to reject Sikhism and adopt Buddhism was driven by his unwavering commitment to social justice and equality. While Sikhism initially appealed to him, the persistence of caste discrimination within the Sikh community led him to seek a religion that aligned more closely with his vision for a just and egalitarian society. In Buddhism, Dr. Ambedkar found a path that not only rejected the oppressive caste system but also actively advocated for social reform and equality. His conversion to Buddhism marked a significant milestone in the history of social and religious reform in India.

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!