Searching for Buddhist Followers, Finding Kindness & Humility

-Malloy Hennigar, PhD Candidate in Religion 

Hennigar, above, in India

I arrived in Nagpur in June to conduct pre-dissertation research, hoping to meet Buddhist followers of Dr. Ambedkar. I planned to visit both Deekshabhumi, the place where Ambedkar’s mass conversion ceremony is commemorated by a gigantic stupa, and Nagaloka, an Ambedkarite Buddhist training center, but of course; the reality of my experiences in Nagpur far exceeded any of my plans.

Through the referral of a friend of a friend, I met Deesha, a cousin of an alumnus of SU’s i-School. I met her for dinner, jetlagged and disoriented, but happy to have someone to meet in a new city. After I told her why I was in Nagpur and about my interests, she told me that she and her family are Buddhists. While I felt extremely fortunate to have met someone who was a member of the religious community I was hoping to work with, I was even more humbled by the generosity that she and her family showed me by inviting me to meet their family and friends, to show me the important Buddhist sites around the city, and even to a wedding.

Having found the Buddhist community in the city of Nagpur more active and diverse than I had expected, I then spent a week living with more amazing young Buddhists at the Buddhist training center, Nagaloka. There were about 125 students living on site, 50 of whom were women. These women had travelled to Nagpur from their homes in Bihar, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and even Tamil Nadu and Kerala to learn more about the teachings of the Buddha and Ambedkar and practice meditation through either a nine-month training program or three-year bachelor’s degree. Giving up all technology and most contact with the world outside, the students devote themselves to their studies and Buddhist practice from 5:30 AM to 10 PM.

Thanks to the continued support and resources of the South Asia Center, I gained my first experiences of the excitement of building connections and uncovering even more questions through rich and fruitful fieldwork experiences that I will continue to build on as I continue my dissertation research in the years to come.