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 !

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