Henepola Gunaratana was born December 7, 1927 in the small Sri Lankan village of Henepola. He was ordained as a monk at the age of 12, and received his education at Vidyasekhara Pirivena, a monk's school at Gampaha. He received upasampada when he was 20, in Kandy. He received his higher education in Sri Lanka at Vidyalankara College in Kelaniya and the Buddhist Missionary College (an affiliate of the Maha Bodhi Society) in Colombo.
He also served as a religious advisor to the Malaysian Sasana Abhivurdhiwardhana Society, Buddhist Missionary Society, and Buddhist Youth Federation. Following this he served as an educator for Kishon Dial School and Temple Road Girl's School. He was also the principal of the Buddhist Institute of Kuala Lumpur.
Bhante Gunaratana came to the United States at the invitation of the Sasana Sevaka Society in 1968 in order to serve as the General Secretary of the Buddhist Vihara Society of Washington, D.C.. He was elected president of the society twelve years later. While serving in this office, he has conducted meditation retreats and taught courses in Buddhist Studies.
^Seager, Richard Hughes (1999). "Major Traditions". Buddhism in America. Columbia University Press. p. 152. ISBN978-0-231-10868-3. "One of these is Henepola Gunaratana, a Sri Lankan monk who leads the Bhavana Society, a practice center located in the Shenandoah Valley of West Virginia, based on Theravada monasticism but incorporating American adaptations. Born in Sri Lanka in 1927, Gunaratana was ordained at the age of twelve, trained as a novice for eight years, and then took full ordination as a bhikkhu. After completing his education, he left Sri Lanka to work as a missionary in India and then as an educator in Malaysia. He first came to the United States in 1968 to serve at the Buddhist Vihara Society in Washington. Once there, he earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in philosophy at American University, where he served as Buddhist chaplain, and taught courses on Buddhism at Georgetown, the University of Maryland, and elsewhere. In 1980, he was appointed the president of the Buddhist Vihara Society. In 1982, he founded the Bhavana Society, for which he served as president. During the 1990s, he was a prominent figure in the Insight Meditation movement overseas."
^Prebish, Charles S. (1999). "North American Buddhist Communities". Luminous passage: The practice and study of Buddhism in America. University of California Press. p. 151. ISBN978-0-520-21697-6. "Ven. Henepola Gunartana founded a monastic center in West Virginia known as the Bhavana Society."