Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne founded the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka in 1958, and developed a bottom-up development process to help communities to empower themselves through self reliance, community participation and a scientific approach and lift themselves up. In 1972 he resigned from his job to work full time as a volunteer to this day.
Right from its inception he called Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement as an implementation of Buddha’s Teachings for Sustainable Development and Peace. He demonstrated in practice how the Teachings of the Buddha could be applied to the advancement of Spiritual, Moral, Cultural, Social, Economic and Political life of the community. Teachings like Four Brahma Viharas, Four Sangraha Vastus, Dasa Raja Dharma and Dasa Paramita, Sapta Aparihaniya Dharma, Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path and Teachings in numerous sutras he very cleverly introduced into the day to day life of 15,000 village communities including non-buddhist communities like Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities. Based on the Buddha’s Teachings he developed with his colleagues a Theory and Practice to awaken all – Sarvodaya – at six levels : Paurushodaya (Human Personality Awakening), Kutumbodaya (Family Awakening), Gramodaya (Village Community Awakening), Nagarodaya ( Urban Community Awakening), Deshodaya (National Awakening) and Vishvodaya (World or Universal Awakening).
Today Sarvodaya, being active in 15,000 villages spread through out the 25 Districts, has become the greatest peace force in the country, bringing all the people into a Sri Lankan identity based on the Noble Teachings of the Buddha accommodating people of all other faiths in the real Buddhist spirit.
With the help of a great Sri Lankan scholarly monk, the late Ven. Pandit Henpitagegera Gnanasiha, he established in 1972 a Community Leadership Training Institute for Buddhist Monks where hundreds of Buddhist monks were trained for community service. With the Gandhi Peace Prize money he established Vishva Niketan, A Universal Home for Peace and Meditation from where hundreds from all walks of life benefit. A Sarvodaya Institute of Higher Learning has been established with 12 campuses in different parts of the country to train village leaders including monks and other religious leaders for development and peace. Sarvodaya being the oldest and largest civil sector development, welfare and peace organization in Sri Lanka helps other similar people’s organization in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Dr. Ariyaratne has also trained many volunteers from other countries. They have gone back to their own countries and under different names Sarvodaya programs are implemented. There are Sarvodaya incorporated bodies in USA, UK, Japan, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Nepal, India, Pakistan, etc.
An indefatigable worker for humanity, Dr. Ariyaratne spends most of his time today helping village communities to build their own alternative economies based on Buddha’s guide lines and he calls this Artha Dharma Vidyawa, Economics with an Ethical Foundation. Similarly he has launched a Deshodaya, National Awakening Programme to recruit and train one hundred thousand community leaders to build Grama Swarajyas (Self Governing Village Communities) based on the seven principles that Vajjins and Lichchavies followed which was praised by the Buddha Himself. Over three thousand villages with a population of over half a million are silently but effectively trying out these two programmes very successfully in spite of ill-effects of globalization and power political struggles outside their communities.
Dr. Ariyaratne is invited by both governmental and non-governmental organizations from around the world to share his knowledge on People’s Participatory Development, Empowerment of the Poor, Education and Ecology, Alternative Economics and Politics, Peace and Interfaith understanding and Role of Buddha’s Teachings in the modern confused world.