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Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement Founder and Buddhist Leader Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne Has Died in Sri Lanka, Aged 92

Sri Lankabhimanya Dr. Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne, 1931–2024. From

The socially engaged Buddhist leader and founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, sometimes hailed as the “Gandhi of Sri Lanka,” died on Tuesday. He was 92 years old. His passing leaves a profound legacy of spiritual leadership, social empowerment, and compassionate service.

According to media reports, Dr. Ariyaratne, the father of six children and a devout Buddhist who was active in Sri Lankan politics and community development throughout his life, passed away at a private hospital in Colombo while undergoing treatment.

As the most prominent and internationally renowned socially engaged Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Dr. Ariyaratne built the foundation for the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a grassroots humanitarian organization that has been active throughout Sri Lanka since 1958, and that has grown into the nation’s largest and most broad-based community-development NGO. 

Sarvodaya Shramadana, a self-governance movement, takes an integrated approach to development based on community participation, self-reliance, and sustainability, and founded on the concept of “sharing of labour, thought, and energy for the awakening of all.” In promoting spiritual and cultural development, the movement has built a successful rural economic empowerment program based on micro-finance and developing entrepreneurship, benefiting more than 15,000 underprivileged communities in Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lankan media reported that final funeral rites for Dr. Ariyaratne would be conducted in Colombo on 20 April, with full state honors, in line with instructions agreed on by Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and Sarvodaya Shramadana officials.

Dr. Ariyaratne’s remains will lie in state at the headquarters of Sarvodaya Shramadana in the municipality of Moratuwa until noon on 20 April, before being borne by funeral procession to Independence Square the Sri Lankan capital. Final religious rites will then be held, followed by cremation at 4 p.m.

In an official notice dated 17 April, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement announced:

It is with deep sorrow that the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement informs the public of the passing away of Sri Lankabhimanya Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, the Founder of the Sarvodaya Movement.

The remains will lie at the Sarvodaya Headquarters, Damsak Mandira, No. 98 Rawatawatte Road, Moratuwa, on April 17th, 2024, from 1800hrs onwards until Saturday, 20th April 2024 1200hrs.

The funeral procession will proceed from the Sarvodaya Headquarters to the Independence Square-Colombo, where State honours will be rendered, followed by final religious rites. The cremation will be conducted at 1600hrs.

We express our gratitude for your kind support and understanding during this period of mourning and grief.

May He Attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

Sri Lankabhimanya Dr. Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne, 1931–2024. From

A former high school teacher at Nalanda College Colombo, Dr. Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne was born in southern Sri Lanka in 1931. He studied economics at university and was later made an Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.).

The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement first took root during a charitable camp in Sri Lanka’s Kurunegala District in 1958 that Dr. Ariyaratne organized, along with 40 high school students and 12 teachers from Nalanda College Colombo. The workshop conducted various social services and led to the formal establishment of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, with the underlying goal of fostering a just, sustainable, and compassionate social system aimed at supporting the fundamental needs of the community through individual and collective enlightenment informed by traditional principles of Theravada Buddhism. Today the organization is one of the world’s largest volunteer development movements, with in excess of 3,000 paid employees.

In a 2017 interview with Dr. Ariyaratne, BDG contributor Shuyin notes that to view the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement as merely a rural development program or social movement is to short-change its higher objectives: 

“Sarva” means All and “Udaya” Awakening. At the core of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is the affirmation that all human endeavors should be directed at awakening on many levels—personal, family, community/group, society, and world. Hence, all of Sarvodaya’s initiatives are mindful of the goals and processes of inner cultivation by which man can transcend his attachment to craving for material possessions, to eschew violence and hatred, and to overcome ignorance.*

Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님). Image courtesy of Jungto Society

In response to the news of Dr. Ariyaratne’s passing, the revered Korean Dharma master and socially engaged Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, founder of the volunteer-based Buddhist community Jungto Society and international humanitarian organization Join Together Society (JTS), and patron of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), shared a public statement:

I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, the founder of the Sarvodaya movement and the world leader of socially engaged Buddhism, and I express my sincere condolences.

May he rest in peace.

The influence of engaged Buddhism achieved by Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne has been a great inspiration to me and the volunteers of the Jungto Society.

The Jungto practitioners and I have long remembered and practiced the teachings he gave us when he visited the Sujata Academy in India and Jungto Society in Korea.

Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne has passed away, but his teaching and practice will remain with us forever, helping many practitioners achieve the Buddhadharma.

Please rest in Nirvana.

We’ll continue with his legacy of engaged Buddhism around the world.

Dr. Ariyaratne received numerous local and international honors in recognition of his lifetime of work benefitting others through peace-making and community development, among them: the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1969; the King Baudouin International Development Prize for 1982–83; the Gandhi Peace Prize from the government of India in 1996; and the Niwano Peace Prize in 1992. Dr. Ariyaratne received the Acharya Sushil Kumar International Peace Award for 2005, and in 2007 the government of Sri Lanka bestowed on him the nation’s highest civil honor, conferring the title Sri Lankabhimanya.

Every human being, particularly the Buddhist, must think of the well-being of all as our objective. If we are to realize Bodhi or the highest levels of intelligence that any human mind has the capacity to attain, we have to serve all living beings and help them overcome physical, mental, and emotional suffering. This truly is the bodhisattva ideal. This is our supreme goal and it may be called total personal awakening. — Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne*

* A Moment with Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne (BDG)

See more

Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

Sarvodaya founder Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne passes away at 92 (Daily News)
Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne passes away (Daily Mirror)
Final rites of Dr. Ariyaratne to be performed with full state honours (

Related features from BDG

A Moment with Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne
Being a Social Architect in Sri Lanka: An Interview with Dr. Charika Marasinghe

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