Purpose and role:

Aryaloka is trying to create an ideal society in India, based on the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, as taught by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar[1].  In such a society every human being will have the opportunity to fulfil their genuine needs, and they will not be discriminated against on account of their background or beliefs.  Although this may be a very distant goal for India, Aryaloka is committed to playing its part in trying to bring it about.

One of the most conspicuous problems in modern Indian society is the extent of poverty.  The level of disparity between rich and poor is one of the largest in the world.  Children from deprived backgrounds find it virtually impossible to obtain a good quality education, and thus the cycle of inter-generational poverty continues.  Aryaloka contributes to breaking this cycle of poverty by providing career training, mainly in computer education[2], to young adults[3] from deprived backgrounds.

Aryaloka opened up it’s first branch in year 2000 and 2nd branch opened up in year 2005 and 3rd branch opened up in year 2009 at various parts of Nagpur city in Maharashtra state of India. And 4th branch open up in year 2014 at Raipur in Chattisgarh state. Really it’s a big step to expand its branch in other state of India. So far nearly 10000 students learned various kinds of IT courses from basic to advance i.e. MSCIT (Maharashtra State Certificate course in Information Technology) includes MS-office, Internet, Computer typing, DTP (desktop publishing), Graphics design (Photoshop, Corel draw), Hardware networking course and runs special batches for English speaking, life coaching skills.

About 80% of those who’ve been through its courses get jobs related to what they learnt at Aryaloka.

Aryaloka has a greater number of women students than men[4].  This is deliberate, and is a reflection of the fact that in India job prospects for women from disadvantaged backgrounds are extremely poor.  Many girls do not complete their education, and are married off at a young age.  The young women who attend Aryaloka’s courses provide an example to the wider society.  They are role models for their siblings and the community they come from.

As well as the training that is made available to day students who commute from their homes, Aryaloka runs six month residential courses for 20 students per year, based in Nagpur.  Those on Aryaloka’s residential courses live in single sex communities, and run their own affairs within their community.  Through this experience they learn various life skills.  They also develop friendships that generally endure after their courses have finished.

Students on the residential courses are not only given career training, but also training in personality development and self-defence, and guidance in Buddhism and meditation.  Providing guidance in Buddhism and meditation is in line with Dr Ambedkar’s view that religion is necessary bringing about social change[5], and that Buddhism is the most appropriate religion for the modern world[6].  In providing guidance in Buddhism and meditation, Aryaloka draws on the resources of the Triratna Bauddha Sangha.

The number of people (1000 young students every year ) Aryaloka is able to help is obviously extremely small in comparison with the number of people in India who suffer social and economic degradation.  But for those few who do benefit from Aryaloka’s training, the effects are usually life changing.  There are also consequential benefits for their families.

As well as benefiting students who attend its training courses, Aryaloka endeavours to provide ideal working conditions for its staff and workers.  Aryaloka currently has 24 workers, of which 13 are full time.  The number of staff is expected to increase in the years ahead as in future Aryaloka has planned to expand its branches in other worst and poor states of India i.e. Chattisgarh, Orisa, Bihar etc.

Working conditions at Aryaloka
One of the reasons for establishing Aryaloka was to provide wholesome livelihood situations.  This begs the question, “what are the characteristics of an ideal livelihood situation in modern day India?”[7]  It is good to have these characteristics clearly formulated, as an aspirational goal, even if it is extremely difficult to meet all of them in full.

Based on experience within Aryaloka, and observation of the shortcomings of private and government sector workplaces in India[8], it is considered that an ideal workplace will have the following characteristics:

1.    The “business” operation conforms to the principles of Buddhist ethics, as outlined in the pañc-śīl and the positive counterparts of the pañc-śīl.

2.    The organisation provides something that is linked to the individual workers’ ideals.[9]

3.    There is potential for workers to be creative and learn new skills.

4.    Workers do not feel unduly stressed by their work[10].

5.    The workplace has an emotionally supportive atmosphere.

6.    Workers feel uninhibited about suggesting improvements and making criticisms.  They are confident that any criticism will be received in a mature way and not lead to them being personally disadvantaged.

7.    Workers remuneration is sufficient for them, and their immediate dependents, to live a decent life.  (It is not easy to say how much money is required per month for a decent life because of people’s circumstances vary.  But workers should definitely not be living in poverty, and on the other hand they should not have a higher level of remuneration than is generally given for comparable work in other organisations.)

8.    Workers have a generous holiday allowance.  This enables them to have a good balance between their work and leisure activities, and attend Buddhist retreats if they wish to.

How Aryaloka’s workplaces measures up to the above characteristics

At Aryaloka a conscious effort is made to observe the five precepts (pañc-śīl).
The training provided is clearly aligned with Dr Ambedkar’s vision, so workers operate with a sense of idealism.  Any surplus money is ploughed back into Aryaloka so that it can grow, and thereby help a greater number of people in the future.
Teaching staff need to keep up-to-date with worldwide changes in IT.  All workers are encouraged to continuously develop their management and behavioural skills.
Aryaloka operates in an environment where finances are tight, and there is a certain amount of uncertainty.  But staff are given mentoring, and emotional support from co-workers, so they do not generally become stressed by their work.
Aryaloka has received feedback that it has a positive atmosphere on each of its campuses.
Every effort is made to create a culture of trust and openness.
Workers remuneration is set according to their need, skills and ability, as well as the availability of finance.  No Aryaloka worker receives higher remuneration than would generally be given for comparable work in other organisations.
The holiday allowance for workers to go on retreats 2 times in a year for 7 to 10 days.
Aryaloka operates as a Trust[11], with all Trustees being members of the Triratna Bauddha Sangha.  This ensures that activities are in line with Buddhist principles, and that the Buddhist training offered on residential courses is not watered down over time.

Each of the three branches have their own local manager.  There are also managers in charge of particular functions of Aryaloka’s activities.  Managers try to strike an appropriate balance between making decisions themselves, based on their experience, and collective decision making among all workers.

Recruitment of students for the six months residential courses
The students selected for the six month residential courses are young Buddhists who are keen to develop a career, learn about the Triratna Baudha Mahasangha, and experience single sex community living.  They are chosen from States outside Maharashtra to trained them in IT skills and some get work experience at Aryaloka Computer Education. And the students that have entrepreneur qualities are encouraged to open up the centres in their areas. There are less and rare opportunities available in outside Maharashtra in some other poorer states i.e. Bihar, Chattisgarh, Orisa, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarpradesh etc.

Student fees/friendly learning environment
Students on residential courses are not charged a fee.  Other types of students those are from slums and most disadvantage background, who commute to one of the campuses on a daily basis, are charged a small fee as a exam fees.  If a student cannot afford to pay anything they are usually given the training free-of-charge. There are other kind of students from rich families joined the courses and these students contribute total fees helps to subsidies poor students. Mixing of rich and poor students from different castes background in friendly learning environment overcome the barrier of rich, poor, castes, religion and all kinds of discriminations.

Staff recruitment
Senior staff are recruited directly by Trustees, while junior workers are recruited by local Aryaloka managers.

Staff are not expected to be Buddhists.  Indeed Aryaloka has a young Muslim woman worker in Nagpur.  She is a valued member of the team.  Recruitment of non Buddhists is seen as an extension of the Buddhist principle of universal mettā, and Dr Ambedkar’s principle of “fraternity”.  On the other hand, nobody is appointed to work at Aryaloka unless they have a sympathy for human values and enthusiasm for Aryaloka’s goals.

The recruitment process selects, or tries to select, the most suitable applicant for the particular job that is available.  If a blood relative of an existing worker applies for a job, this does not give them an advantage, not does it count against them, in terms of the selection process.

[1] These principles have been elucidated by Dr Ambedkar elsewhere, for example in section 14 of his work The Annihilation of Caste 1936.
[2] Aryaloka provides other types of training too, such as tuition in English language.
[3] Although the focus is on young adults, and on computer and animation training, it is possible that in the future Aryaloka could also become involved in teaching younger students, and teaching a wider range of career skills.
[4] About seventy percent of the students are female.
[5]  The Annihilation of Caste 1936.
[6] The Buddha and the Future of His Religion,  May 1950.
[7] The so-called Team Based Right Livelihood businesses established under the auspices of the Triratna Buddhist movement in the UK and western world arose under a different set of social and economic conditions.  Many of those businesses have downsized or closed over recent years.
[8] Indian society expects young adults to marry and have children.  For many it is very difficult to find good secure work.  Conditions of work for menial workers are very poor in terms of health and safety, job security and pay.  There is no welfare system to protect those in poverty.  Generally jobs in private sector are stressful and provide little time off, while government jobs tend to be dull.  Working as an officer in the Indian Administration Service (IAS) is a good profession because it involves some policy making, but it is very difficult to become an IAS officer.  Working as a tutor in a tertiary education college, such as a University, is also a good job with generous holiday allowance.  Primary and secondary school teachers often complain that they spend a lot of time bogged down in bureaucratic administrative tasks.
[9] The sense of altruism will be heightened if workers know that any profit made by the “business” will either be given to worthy charities (such as Buddhist Centres), or ploughed back into the “business” so that it can grow, and thereby help a greater number of people in the future.  There should be no shareholders who become rich from dividends earned from profits.
[10] This can be difficult to assess because there are considerable differences between individuals in terms of the sorts of situations that make them anxious and stressed.
[11] Among Aryaloka’s Trustees, two come from the same family and both are order members of Triratna Bauddha Sangha.  This is quite legal in terms of Indian Trust law.