Sunday, February 22, 2009

Remembering the late Godwin Samararatne the Meditation Teacher of Nilambe, Sri Lanka.

On the 22 March, it will be nine years after the death of Godwin Samararatne. I still think of him when ever I am faced with a problem, for which I cannot think of a solution. Godwin could look at a problem with more clarity as his mind was not clouded with defilements of the sort that I had to deal with.

The problems in our every day lives which seem complex and complicated are most often simple and not so complicated as they seem to be, if we could learn to look at each one of these problem as a whole, with an un-fractioned mind. Godwin had an un-fractioned mind . Therefore he could look at a problem with his whole mind, understand the cause of it and find a solution.

Godwin was able to take me out of predicaments from which I could not have extricated myself on my own. But these situations dealing with those problems of every day life created a friendship between us that lasted unto his death.

I accompanied him with Francis Story in my friend Karalliadde’s battered old car when the two of them were investigating into cases of re-birth. I went with him to Kanduboda, when his friend Bhikku Seevali was ordained under Venerable Sumathipala. We also went together for Venerable Seevali’s higher Ordination in Kurunegla, in a place where Venerable Maliyadeva had lived.

This privilege of being very close to him , sharing his thoughts and participating in some of his activities prepared me to follow his foot steps in meditation. I learnt more about the teachings of the Buddha, reading the books he lent me, attending lectures, and meeting people along with him.

He had a wide range of interests. He did not restrict his reading only to books on Buddhism, other religions, and philosophies. He could be quite at home discussing English classics or Modern Fictions. I remember him talking at length on Collin Wilson and his book the Outsider. He also liked reading Jiddu Krishnamurthi. His mysticism fascinated him. He stimulated my reading habits, creating an interest in looking for books following these philosophical traits.

When I was selected for Foreign Service, it was Godwin who encouraged me to accept the appointment, when I was hesitating for personal reasons. It was thereafter that Godwin was transferred to the Kandy Municipal Council Library. I had by then left to London to study Law, but nevertheless kept in touch with Godwin writing to him regulerly.

When I heard from him next he had left the Kandy library, and accepted the offer of the management of the Nilambe Meditation Centre, which was situated on a land presented by Late Mr.M.B.Alahakone, together with the buildings to house the Centre.

together with the buildings to house the Centre. I had by then married and settled down in France.

On my visits to Sri Lanka I did not fail to see Godwin at Nilambe. I did several retreats with him. Godwin was then a well known teacher of Meditation with his reputation gone beyond the frontiers. He was being invited to Switzerland, Italy, UK and Singapore and South Africa to give lectures and conduct meditation sessions. When ever he visited the countries of the West he telephoned me. As he was busy during the day we arranged to call each other in the night.

Some times it was very late when I called him and the person with whom he was staying in Switzerland was not very pleased with the midnight calls, but had agreed to put up with them as it was a diversion for Godwin. Some times he stayed with Dr. Mirko Fryba, Godwin was gentle, polite but not very orderly in arranging things. He once told me trying to hide his laughter that Dr.Fryba taught him how to fold his trouser correctly once he had taken it off ,and put it on the clothes rack before going to bed.

When Godwin took the trains to UK after his visits to Geneva, Dr.Mirko Fryba with whom he was staying had come to see him off at the station and waited until the train left the station. Godwin is very generous, and always willing to sacrifice his comfort for the sake of others, Dr. Mirko Fryba knowing this had given him “strict” instructions before the train started off that the seat had been reserved for him in the train and that he should not part with it to make a generous gift of it for the comfort of another.

Dr.Mirko Fryba-now Ven.Kusalananda

Once when he was on his way to UK after his visits to Geneva, he broke journey in France to stay a few days with me. He told me that it was quite a change to just relax without having a schedule to follow. My son was nearly two years, and Godwin loved to play with him. We went to the near by park and went for walks, Godwin carrying my son piggyback. I went with him to Mont Matre, the Sacred Heart Church, and watched the artists painting on the road side. When he left us we missed him very much.

Later on when I met him at Nilambe he was an accomplished teacher of meditation. I had visited him several time at Nilambe. I had the good fortune of doing a retreat with him the last time I saw him, alternating it with another retreat with Venerable Rahula. Godwin was a good teacher of meditation. He allowed the meditator to follow the practice on his own pointing out essentials of concepts and reality at daily interviews.

Some times Godwin was invited by a Professor in the University of Peradeniya to meet a group of people at his home, where Godwin conducted discussions on Meditation..

I accompanied him to these discussions once or twice. On one of these occasions the Professor presented to Godwin a young man who had a serious illness and had a few weeks or months live. I saw Godwin speaking to that young man with so much of kindness, tender interest and giving him so much of himself that the young man reacted with smiles and laughter as if he had been given a new lease of life. I saw Godwin extremely at peace with himself, while making the young man happy and almost hopeful.

The “metta” or loving kindness is the theme of meditation at his Nilambe Meditation Centre. Metta or Loving kindness was an innate characteristic of Godwin . He did not get ruffled over problems. When I was talking to him, I saw him closing his eyes to be absorbed into a moment of mindful silence. He was nevertheless very alert and remained present at the moment without letting the mind wonder away. At such moment, I thought he had perhaps attained several stages of mental perfection.

Godwin often told me that the best way to understand Dhamm is to read the Sutta-the discourses of the Buddha. Following his advice I read quite a lot on Buddhist teachings, and even read the Abhidhamma Pitaka. When I think of Godwin now with a little more knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha, and having written a book on Mind and Meditation, it seems to me that Godwin had more than what I perceived in him. He did not impose himself on a meditator .

I could think this way of only two teachers of meditation with whom I had the privilege of being in close contact. One was Godwin and the other the late Venerable Amatha Gavesi of the Pallekelle Samatha Vipassana Meditation Centre. When I asked Venerable Amatha Gavesi what he thought of Godwin, he said that Godwin reflects his inner peace.

Meditation is the turning point of a disciplined path of a virtuous living. Godwin was a disciplined being who followed the path diligently to reach the stage to meditate for the purification of the mind for emancipation from suffering. That was his ultimate goal, and he had no other ambitions in life.

In that path of purification the mind reaches its zenith of purity overcoming the ten obstacles or fetters first by completely shedding the concept of I, me and mine( sakkaya ditthi)

In Godwin one perceived that he had abandoned that attachment to a self. He was indeed a selfless being who would go any distance to relieve the suffering of another. When I was informed of my brothers sudden illness and that he had been taken to hospital, I wrote to Godwin. He put off his other commitments to visit my brother in the hospital. He wrote to me immediately after to give details of his condition. He was so compassionate that he would go all the way to help others who he thought needed help.

He had dedicated his whole life to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, not deviating for an instance from his devotion to the Triple Gem (vicikiccha). He adhered to no other religious views (silabbata paramasa). He had no attachment to religious rights and rituals, directing his mind to the goal of meditation. He may have attained the first stage of the purity of the mind of a stream entrant (sotapanna).

These mental attainments are difficult to be perceived by a layman or any one whose mind has not attained the level of the mind of a Noble One-an Arahat, but nevertheless one may guess these attainments, rightly or wrongly , from observable behaviour of the person. Godwin was not bent on satisfying his sense desires(kama raga). One could observe in him a certain laxity in dress, his tastes were elementary, and one noticed a careless simplicity in choice of worldly pleasures which he did not seek to satisfy.

Godwin was a being with out hatred, anger or ill will (vyapada). That purity of his mind almost seeped out into the area surrounding him and one was comfortably at ease in his company. He seemed to have over come the first five fetters or obstacles to mental purity. His mind may have reached the stage of a once returner (sakadagami) , and may have even reached the next stage of a non-returner an Anagami.

Had Godwin’s mind reached further development even beyond that of an Anagamai ?

Reflecting further with these thoughts in my mind, I remembered that Godwin was not conceited at least as we the ordinary laymen understand “conceit” (mana). Did he crave for material(rupa raga) or immaterial existence(arupa raga) ?

However, his mind seemed peaceful and calm showing an absence of restlessness (uddhaccha).

A keen observer listening to his explanation of Dhamma, reading his writings, or watching his discussions of Dhamma elucidating difficult problems as simply as possible for any one to understand, accompanied with his delightful humour, may have justly suspected that his mind showed signs of coming out of the clouds of ignorance (avijja) to allow the light of wisdom to glow.

On certain occasions he gave the impression of knowing what was in the mind of a person coming to see him. Could we take all these as evidence that his mind had evolved to reach the realm of an Arahant- a Noble One ?

A saintly person reaching higher stages of Meditation may go through physical suffering as a result of the fruition of a past unwholesome kamma, draining out remaining defilements from the mind for it to be release into Nibbana.

The Buddha suffered from acute diarrhoea after taking a meal with cooked mushrooms offered by Cunda the blacksmith, of which he died, or attained parinibbana.

Venerable Sariputta had severe abdominal pains and fell ill with dysentery before he passed away in the house where he was born.

Venerable Moggallana on the other hand suffered being beaten up by bandits who “pounded his bones until they were as small as grains of rice”

Therefore, could we assume that we saw in Godwin a saintly being dying with physical pain , perhaps in expiation of a past unwholesome kamma that reached its fruition by way of a liver failure ?

Once a friend told me that some visitors to Nilamba had seen in the nights coloured lights that appeared over the roof of Godwin’s “kuti ” which suddenly disappeared as if it had entered into the room. Some thought Godwin was visited by the deities-divine beings. When I asked Godwin whether he had an explanation, he closed his eyes and shrugged his shoulders with a smile.

May he attain Nibbana !

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Meditation Teacher Godwin Samararatne -the Man I knew

He was a meditation teacher, loved and respected by all who knew him. His fame went beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. He worked with European Psychiatrists of the Jungian school, and with them he was involved in experimental application of Buddhist meditation methods for the treatment of psychiatric patients diagnosed as suffering from neurosis. He assisted Mr. Francis Story, and then Professor K. N. Jayatillake, in rebirth investigations and was later invited by Professor Ian Stevenson, to follow up the cases of rebirth in Sri Lanka, he had included in his well known book ‘ The evidence for Survival from Claimed Memories of former Incarnations.’

He was a very popular Meditation Teacher and travelled extensively in Europe, India, South East Asia, USA and South Africa, conducting retreats. His retreat in Ixapo in South Africa early this year was to be his last.

He was not interested in politics, though his sympathies were with the left. However, when late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, was still in the UNP, and perhaps considering the formation of a new political party, is said to have consulted many leading personalities in different walks of life in Sri Lanka, and Godwin was one of them he consulted. After the discussions, the Minister had offered to provide electricity to the Nilambe Meditation Centre, which Godwin had refused on the ground that he would like to preserve the primitive, other-world atmosphere in Nilambe which is more congenial to meditation.

I met Godwin Samararatne for the first time at the Matale Municipal library some where in 1959. That meeting was to be a long friendship, which was to last until his death. We were constantly in contact through correspondence, telephone calls whenever he was in Europe, and long conversations when we met. His last letter to me from Sri Lanka is dated 22 February, 2000- exactly one month before he died.

He spoke less and listened more and provoked others to talk. He was very clever at picking a word and make a pun of it, laughing mischievously like a child. He was one of about fifteen or twenty Government Servants travelling from Kandy to Matale by train, who had the second class compartment all for themselves. He took part in all fun and frolic, that was going on, and laughed while others were caught in their mischief, which sometimes ended just short of fist fights. He was full of humour and never a spoil sport. Nevertheless, he was careful to stay away from mischief himself, though he was sometimes a sly instigator.

He whetted my interest in religion. He read a lot on religion, philosophy, psychology, extra sensory perception and novels like those of Colin Wilson, Herman Hess, Albert Camus and those great Russian writers. He was even then when I met him, a meditator. He remained the epitome of meditation unto his last. I sometimes, visited him at his home, on the Peradeniya Road, Kandy, on Sundays, and saw how he talked and discussed with numerous friends that dropped in to see him, on subjects varying from politics to religion, letting others, for the most part, do the talking. He did not try to impose his opinion on others. Even in discussing a question of Dhamma, he did not flaunt his knowledge, when the other person was wrong, he tactfully put a counter question that showed his error. He was not judgemental, when others were critical, Godwin always pointed out a good quality in the person in question. This he used as an axiom in his Dhamma talks, later, at the Nilambe Meditation Centre — "you should not always give ‘minuses’, you should also give ‘pluses.’"


His pleasing unaffected comportment with his friends, he extended to others he respected. I have seen him with Venerable Nanaponika, Venerable Piyadassi, and with Francis Story. Even with them he had that ease of conversation and a quiet interrogative manner of speech to get them to talk at length on a subject. Late Venerable Seevali was a very close friend of Godwin, from his school days at the Dharmaraja College, Kandy. When Venerable Seevali was to be ordained, I accompanied Godwin to the Kanduboda Meditation Centre in Kelaniya, where the ceremony took place. And later for his higher ordination we went to the Maliyadeva Forest Meditation Centre, somewhere near Kurunegala. Godwin too, would have liked to have donned the robes of a Buddhist monk but I thought it was because of his love for his mother that he wished to remain a lay meditator. Venerable Seevali later went abroad and died there of a heart ailment. Godwin was deeply saddened by his death. Despite his detached attitude towards life he could be moved by the news of someone’s death. Death had taken away his father when he was yet a child, and his elder brother and his wife, in a tragic accident.

When I was selected for an appointment in Paris, I was hesitating to accept the post for family reasons. When I asked Godwin for his opinion, he said it is better that I go and not regret later. From Matale, he was transferred to the Kandy Municipal Library and resigned from there to take charge of the Nilambe Meditation Centre, at the request of Mr. M. B. Alahakoon, who constructed the buildings and provided all the material support to the Centre. Godwin became a popular and much sought after meditation teacher, and was invited to conduct retreats at various Meditation Centres in Europe — Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland and U.K. Conducting retreats in these places far apart from one another was a physically exhausting exercise, however dedicated he was to the cause. During one of these visits he was able to get a visa to France, to come and stay with me, on his way from Germany to London. I was to meet him at the Gare du Nord Railway Station in Paris.

As scheduled, the train by which he was to come arrived, but Godwin was not in it. I thought he had missed the first train and decided to stay for the second. That too arrived, but there was no sign of him. I was worried not knowing the cause of his delay. But, finally from the third train, to my great relief, I saw the tall figure of Godwin emerging from a compartment, tired and worn out, but still with that unfailing smile on his face. He told me, hardly able to stop laughing, that he had been arrested by the Swiss Frontier Police. The policeman had apparently asked for his visa to Switzerland, through which the train was passing. The policeman spoke only French and Godwin only English, there was none in the compartment who could help one or the other. He was taken to the police station, for further questioning. Godwin kept his broad smile and repeated that he cannot understand French. Quite exasperated the policemen took him back to the station and put him in the next train to Paris.

The few days he spent with me he really enjoyed. There was no getting up early in the morning, or sitting through meditation session, and making Dhamma talks. He was relaxed, and played with my baby son. The children took to him very easily and they loved him. We went to Sacrecoeur Church in Montmatre. He was fascinated by the wayside artists painting portraits of those sitting for them. At the Church Notre Dame de Paris, which was almost empty, he thought it a good place in its sacred silence, to meditate. We sat down and waited in silence watching the great gothic structure with its beautiful windows.

The day he left us, my wife and I, accompanied him to the railway station, from where he was to take the train to London. He said that every next visit to Europe for retreats, he will come and stay with me for at least a week just to relax, (provided of course, I had improved my cooking). It was never to be as he was unable to get a French visa, however much he tried !

Magic Touch

Later, he told me of an incident in that train to London. He was seated in the train in his characteristic manner, with his arms folded, and eyes closed, when someone tapped on his arm. He looked up, and saw the anxious face of a woman. She told him, showing an aged gentlemen seated in a corner seat on the other side opposite to him, that he was her husband and they were travelling to London, to take treatment to him, for his headaches, probably migraine. He had observed Godwin from where he was seated and told her that he was sure, " ‘that man’- showing Godwin, "can cure my headache", and she asked him whether he could help. Godwin gave his seat to the woman and went and sat by the side of the man, and having spoken to him for a while, told him to take a deep breath, and then breath normally, and inhale conscientiously, saying to himself ‘Bud’, and exhale conscientiously, saying to himself ‘dho’, and asking him to continue, went back to his seat. When he got down at the Victoria Station in London, the old couple came to him, and said with gratitude in their face that his headache had disappeared.

I followed a few retreats with Godwin at Nilambe. What I liked there was the liberty given to the meditator, to meditate at his or her own pace without forcing them to follow a method or a system. Evening discussions were a stimulating deviation from the days silence and meditation sittings. Godwin did not like making long Dhamma talks on a subject. He allowed the meditators to talk and selected a subject as the discussions proceeded. The main theme for discussion was ‘ loving kindness’. This covered the whole aspect of human behaviour, and was cleverly manoeuvred to bring out into open discussion, problems among meditators, any acts of indiscipline he had observed during the day, or complaints or abuses of freedom. He often said that the retreats abroad, were well organised, and when the time came for his Dhamma talk at the end of the day, he was given a subject, and was provided with an alarm clock to time his talk for one hour. But, he said he preferred the disorder in Nilambe, through which positive results emerge.

Though he was of the Theravada tradition, he sought to accommodate meditators of all traditions in his retreats and introduced ‘choiceless awareness’, leaving the traditional ‘in and out breath’ as an object of meditation to those who were comfortable with it.

He stressed the necessity to cultivate ‘aloneness’, during a retreat, and live without creating psychological wounds in oneself, and quoted J. Krishnamurthi, " innocent mind is a mind which cannot hurt oneself, and therefore incapable of hurting others."

Though he was happy to be in Nilambe, which he told me on several occasions, his responsibilities restricted the time he could devote for meditation. In his later years he had the ‘habit‘ of closing his eyes, in the course of a conversation or in listening to someone. Godwin told me an anecdote concerning this ‘habit’ of his. An American who was meditating with Godwin at Nilambe, had met a meditator from another meditation Centre. Speaking about his teacher, this latter meditator said, that his teacher is very clever, and has a third eye, and they are all open all the time. And the meditator from Nilambe said to him, mine too, he is very clever, but he has only two eyes and they are both closed, most of the time.


Godwin came to be known not only among the Buddhist circles in the West, but also among the Western psychiatrists. This was because of his involvement in the field of application of Buddhist meditation for the treatment of psychiatric patients diagnosed as suffering from neurosis. In an interview given to Stephen Coan, a journalist from South Africa, Godwin said "when they come to see me, in the frst place I give them an opportunity to speak out....then I try to build up a friendly relationship, and then they describe the neurotic symptoms. I tell them not to consider it as a mental illness, not to consider themselves as different from others....The third thing I try to communicate with them is some aspects of meditation. I encourage them to be their own psychotherapists so to speak - to work with the symptoms and states of mind that seems to affect them."

When he was still working as a librarian, and engaged in investigating into cases of memories of previous lives, he assisted Mr. Amarasiri Weeraratne, who was using hypnosis to study previous life memories by regression of selected subjects. Later on Godwin himself became an adept at it, and had successfully regressed several persons.

He was a meditator calm, gentle and serene, but he was also, a handsome and an attractive man, and he had his share of problems with the opposite sex. He was even proposed marriage by a woman who was already engaged to be married. This was, before he became a full time meditation teacher at Nilambe. Unexpected as it were, Godwin summoned his experience as a meditator to act with utmost tact, first, not to hurt her feelings, and second to dissuade her from acting foolishly. He used his gentle persuasion to change her mind, and parted good friends.

Not as serious, but to a lesser degree, were the experiences he encountered when he was conducting retreats abroad, and they were altogether new to him. In retreats a time is set apart every day for personal interviews and the meditators discuss their progress, or difficulties in meditation with the teacher. But to these retreats, there are those who come with the hope, that through meditation they can find a solution to their emotional problems. Godwin was taken by surprise at an interview in one of his first retreats abroad, when a woman meditator in tears, almost hysterically, spoke of her pains, anguish, frustration and fears she goes through, and taking hold of his hand, held tightly onto it, pleading with him to help her. Godwin spoke to her calmly, and gently, and releasing his hand laid it gently on her head, and then asked her to go and relax. After that, when similar situations occurred he was armed to deal with it - place his hand gently on the head, and stay silently for a few seconds. Some of them found in this act a healing power. All emotions are, after all mind made.

An Indian meditator had once told him that his first name Godwin was too Christian for a Buddhist meditation teacher, and therefore he should change his name to Jayadeva. When he told me this I suggested ‘Anagarika Jayadeva’ Godwin shrugged it off with a smile.

My attempt so far was to describe the man, who I knew as Godwin Samararatne, and the words were easy to find. But to describe, the meditator that he was, a being of great spiritual stature, the words are inadequate. Where-ever he was, he created a fertile void, a pregnant emptiness, around him, where all barriers melted away. He infused the environment with gentle compassion, such that his friends became your friends and yours his. That was the inexplicable phenomenon he was. His kindness, selfless benevolence, and genuineness, influenced those he came in contact with, and without exaggeration, they became different, their attitudes changed, there was an irresistible desire to be like him, think like him and act like him. He was generous. He gave, but did not take. He lived simply and carried no baggage. He traversed his chosen path — the path of a Bodhisatwa.

May he attain Nibbana.