Born in 1931 in the South of Sri Lanka, Dr. Ariyaratne had his primary education in the village school, secondary education at Mahinda College, Galle, and his higher education at Vidyodaya University. He started his teaching career at Nalanda College, Colombo, and while still a teacher there he took forty high school students and twelve teachers on an educational tour to an outcaste village. During this memorable visit, Dr. Ariyaratne guided his students and fellow teachers along his vision of sharing labour, thought and energy with the villagers and helped them develop their village. This first shramadana work camp marked the beginning of the Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement.
Right from its inception he called Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement 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).
For over sixty-three years, Sarvodaya has continued its service as the largest non-government movement in Sri Lanka and Dr. Ariyaratne has received many national and international awards in recognition of his commitment to the nation and its people. He received the highest national award, the Sri Lankabhimanya Award, from the President of Sri Lanka in 2007 and many International awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award (Philippines) 1969, King Baudouin Award for International Development (Belgium) 1982, Niwano Peace Price (Japan) 1992 and Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize (India) 1996 for his contribution to Human Wellbeing and Peace. Dr. Ariyaratne was also honoured with a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) degree from Sri Jayewardenepura University and a Doctor of Humanities (D.H.) degree from Amelio Aguinaldo College of Medicine in the Philippines.