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Afterword: Recollections of Godwin's Last Days

by Upul Gamage

After he returned from his teaching tour in South Africa in February 2000 Godwin could not stay at Nilambe because he was seriously ill. He was invited to stay at the house of his good friends Mr and Mrs Wickramaratne where another of his good friends Dr Jayasinghe was able to frequently visit him. One day I got a call to tell me that Godwin was suddenly much sicker and weaker and he had been taken to Kandy Hospital. Then I went with another long-standing meditator from Nilambe called Paul to see him at the hospital. When we got there he was in a coma and was taken into the Intensive Care Unit that night.

He was there for several days and after many tests the doctors told us that there was no hope for his recovery. Everyone was very disappointed because none of us expected such a quick departure. We felt that our joyful time with Godwin, our spiritual friend and guide, was now going to be over for ever. But suddenly Godwin regained consciousness and everyone was so happy. I was able to stay with him at the hospital, but he was always thinking about my comfort and wanted to arrange a bed for me to sleep on at night, instead of a chair.

While I was with him at the hospital I was able to discuss some interesting spiritual matters with him. I asked him what he had experienced during his coma. I asked this because I had heard many times that people experienced astral travel and meetings with divine spiritual masters when they were in a coma. I also knew that Godwin had been involved in much research into psychic powers, and such events as encounters with spiritual masters in other planes and recollections of previous life experiences. He had also carried out some research into the hypnosis of psychic people who had these experiences, and he had asked me to participate in this. But Godwin told me that he had experienced none of these things during his coma: no astral travel, no meetings with masters, no visual experiences, but he had only vaguely heard some traditional Buddhist chanting.

I told him that most people had given up hope that they would ever be able to see or speak to Godwin again, but now they were very happy that he had come out of his coma. I asked him how he felt about things himself. He told me that he was really disappointed. I felt that disappointment in his voice, too. He explained about this. He said that he had done a lot of research with Professor Ian Stevenson and Professor Haraldson to investigate re-birth. He thought that death was not the end, that life continues after death and he had managed to convince other people of this. But then he said that he did not know what really happens after death. He told me that he had had the great intention to experience death consciously so that he would know what was happening during death and what the next stage was. But he hadn't been able to carry out this investigation because he had been unconscious and he didn't die.

I then asked him what he thought about this experience and how his thinking and way of life were now affected. He answered in a very deep voice: "Upul, this is a very good lesson for me. All the time I encourage others to be aware and to live consciously from moment to moment, and I try to do that myself. Therefore I did not expect to be unconscious and unaware when I was ill. If I live longer I will stop teaching and will intensify my own practice." Then I noticed that after a couple of days Godwin regained his awareness, detachment and equanimity, as before.

After that he was able to return again to the home of his good friends Harilal and Visakha Wickramaratne on Rajapihilla Mawatha. Although not fully recovered, he seemed to be getting better. Before, when people asked about his situation he would respond by asking them how they were. Then they would feel too embarrassed to ask for further information about Godwin's own health condition. But if people persisted in asking him for more details, he would say very little.

Once he told a small group of us that he was experiencing a terrible headache, but he could manage because of his awareness. He thought that if someone had such an extreme headache without mindfulness, he or she might go crazy. But none of us could sense that he was experiencing such pain because of his serene expression.

There were so many visitors coming to see him: monks, nuns, local people and foreigners. Some wanted to do chanting, some to give blessings, perform pujas, ceremonies and other rituals. All these were intended as healing therapies to help Godwin. The Wickramaratnes' house was becoming a kind of temple. I could not understand how Visakha managed it all, but I noticed that she was always so friendly to all the visitors. She offered home-made fruit juice drinks to everyone but at the same time, with Harilal's support, she managed to politely maintain Godwin's rest.

Godwin has a niece, Sriyani, and for some of that period Godwin stayed her house, just outside Kandy. From morning to evening the days he stayed there were like public holidays. People seemed to come there in busloads. Godwin wanted everyone to be fed, so they were all invited to have breakfast or lunch with him. Sriyani carried out an unbelievable working meditation to cater for everyone. Later I asked her how she felt about working so hard to prepare tea and meals for such a large number of people coming to visit Godwin. She said that she had enjoyed providing that service as an appreciation of her uncle's immeasurable service to others.

After a while Godwin decided to go to the Nilambe centre for a few days. Perhaps he wanted to see this paradoxical paradise for the last time. I brought him very carefully by van up to the centre. All the residents where happy to see him, but at the same time felt sadness and, perhaps, regret. Some had thoughts like: "Oh, what has happened to our Master? He has so much pain. Because of us he did not care about his own physical health. In a way, we are responsible for his situation."

There were many meditators at the centre at that time, but no one disturbed him, not even the long-term residents. He stayed resting in his room most of the time and after a couple of days I asked him if he would be able to come to the meditation hall to speak with the meditators for a short while. "No" and "cannot" were not in Godwin's vocabulary and he agreed to come for half an hour. I told everyone about this special occasion and they all came to the meditation hall.

There was a deep noble silence in the hall and Godwin walked slowly and carefully to his seat next to the shrine. He gave a short talk about the importance of meditation and then there were a few questions. Someone asked him if he would lead a short loving-kindness meditation. With a kind, gentle smile he replied that he thought that in this situation he should be receiving loving-kindness rather than telling others about it. After a few minutes of silence, he stood up very carefully and went back to his room, while many people bowed down to him.

After a few days at Nilambe, I took him back to the Wickramaratnes' house and a few days later we took him to Kandy hospital for some tests. Visakha, Dr. Janaka and I were talking casually together and Godwin was joking with us to keep us happy when suddenly he began to have a fit. We held him, but no one could stop the spasms, and he relapsed into a coma again. Eventually one of his doctor friends at Peradeniya Hospital, Dr Dangadeniya arranged for him to be brought there and placed in the Intensive Care Unit where many machines and devices were connected to his body. I was not allowed to stay in the ICU but stayed just outside. The doctor's explained that Godwin's kidneys were no longer functioning and there were other complications as well. They said that even if he recovered he would be suffering a lot, however they would not switch off any of the machines unless his body died. I noticed the graphs on the machines were gradually becoming more and more shallow. I was allowed into the ICU and when I gently touched his head I felt there was so much warmness there.

The next morning on March 22nd the doctors told me that it was no longer necessary to keep the machines on. I then phoned his close friends and family and the meditation centre and passed the message on. After that I went to see the hospital director to make the necessary arrangements for Godwin's body to be taken away for the funeral. She told me that Godwin was such a wonderful person. He had donated many things to the hospital for the patients' welfare and used to give counselling to psychiatric patients. He had also been a very good friend of hers.

Visakha Wickramaratne and Felix, one of Godwin's brothers, were the first to come to the hospital, but other friends and relative soon followed. We discussed the funeral arrangements and agreed that Godwin's body should be taken to the Lewella Meditation Centre just outside Kandy for people to view and pay their last respects. Godwin had told us that if he died at Nilambe, the funeral should be held there; if at Harilal and Visakha's house, hold it there; if he died in hospital in Kandy, hold it at the Lewella Centre. He said this because he did not want to stress people with a lot of work for the funeral arrangements - just do it wherever he was, that was his simple message.

After the public viewing and paying last respects the actual funeral was held at Mahaiyawa Cemetery with a large number of people in attendance. We agreed to conduct the funeral in a simple way by practising noble silence. While we were all in deep silence, suddenly someone started speaking in a loud voice. We all opened our eyes and wanted to know what was happening and who was speaking. We saw it was a lay mediation teacher speaking loudly and quickly about everything except Godwin. I realised that people were getting irritated and someone asked me why I was allowing the person to speak like this. I said that no one allowed him to speak, he was doing it voluntarily. Then they suggested that he should be stopped, so I said that was not what we learnt from Godwin. "Let's try to listen to Godwin instead of this speaker. He used to sometimes invite controversial speakers to peaceful discussions so that we could learn from our reactions," I reminded them. So we just sat quietly and personally I think that most people at the funeral were able to listen to Godwin's last silent teaching.

Upul Gamage,
Nilambe Meditation Centre,
Sri Lanka.