Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne: Buddha's teachings can change the world

- through Henry Oudin

Published on

Portrait of the "Little Gandhi of Sri Lanka", a great man.

Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sri Lankan Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne is the founder and president of Sarvodaya Shramadana, a movement inspired Buddhist which promotes human-centred development and the empowerment of individuals. In Asia, he is nicknamed the "Little Gandhi of Sri Lanka". Ahangamage Tudor Ariyaratne shares with the Mahatma the same veneration for ahimsa, this inner attitude of non-violence, non-harm and respect for all forms of life, found in Buddhist, Hindu and Jainist philosophical texts. . Ahimsa is the cornerstone of the movement that Ariyaratne founded sixty years ago, in 1958.

Born in 1931 into a well-to-do family, the one whom the Sri Lankans affectionately call "Ari" or "Ariya" does not appear to be a revolutionary. It's hard to imagine that this small man, with soft eyes and neatly combed white hair, who bows respectfully before you with his hands clasped at chest level, could be at the origin of one of the most important participatory democracy movements around the world. Since 1958, Ariyaratne has never ceased to want to build a community of village community republics, free from the institutionalized violence of the globalized economy and market societies. He never ceased to give political power back to the people by focusing on what in the West is called “empowerment” and local participatory democracy. “The voice of every villager must be heard and taken into account,” he insists.

A non-violent economic and social alternative

In line with the autonomous and self-sufficient villages of Mahatma Gandhi, Sarvodaya Shramadana has given six million Sri Lankans, that is to say a third of the island's population, the strength to take their destiny into their own hands. Today, more than half of the villages on the island organize themselves autonomously. "By building a road together, we build ourselves", insists AT Ariyaratne who has made this formula one of his favorite aphorisms. Opening of wells, construction of roads, canals, schools, community centers and health centers financed by self-managed banks and microcredits: all this work is organized and carried out by the villagers themselves with the help of many volunteers, thus generating self-esteem and confidence in the individuals involved. Since 1958, Sarvodaya Shramadana has been working to build a non-violent economic and social alternative to the capitalist system, "this heretical model which destroys forests, creates deserts, depletes natural resources for the benefit of a small minority", denounces the Sri Lankan leader. In the villages that have joined the movement, cooperation takes precedence over competition, interdependence and sharing over individualism and withdrawal.

“By building a road together, we build ourselves. »

As early as 1983, the date of the outbreak of the civil war that ravaged the country for more than twenty-five years, Ariyaratne set up twinnings between Tamil villages and Sinhalese villages in an attempt to re-establish links between the communities. Collective meditations sometimes bringing together hundreds of thousands of people have been organized. These would have contributed to changing the "psychosphere" of the country, underlines Joanna Macy, specialist in deep ecology, doctor of philosophy and Buddhist, who has devoted a book (1) to Sarvodaya Shramadana. This respected voice of the movements for peace, social justice and a healthy environment says his admiration for Ariyaratne, this "man who decided to take seriously the teachings of the Buddha and believed that they could change the world".

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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