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Tributes to Godwin

In Memory Of Godwin Samararatne

(by Peter van Leeuwen, Rotterdam, Holland, 24th March 2000)

On Wednesday the 22nd of March my voice-mail gave me the message of Godwin's demise, at 7.30 AM that day. Spring was not even one day old.

Some time earlier Godwin had been admitted into the hospital because of an inflammation of the liver. His situation appeared to be very serious and he was nursed in the Intensive Care Unit and wasn't able to talk. Things improved quickly, however, and after being tended in the general ward he was allowed to go home. Once there he was still very weak and could only speak for five minutes at a time before having to take rest again. One of the actual symptoms was sudden fatigue.

Suddenly his situation deteriorated again and he was admitted into the hospital once more. Soon he passed away.

Two years ago Godwin came to Holland for a retreat. Even then his liver was causing him problems. He was often very tired. When we went for a walk I asked him about it and the answer was that he would usually go for a short walk when feeling tired and afterwards he would feel more refreshed and stronger than ever.

I met Godwin for the first time about eight years ago. Approximately 6 months earlier I had left Holland for a trip around the world. I didn't know what I was searching for, but also under the influence of writers such as Jack Kerouac since my early years I had felt a certain restlessness. During that journey the first words I wrote in my diary were, "I'm on my way home." When reading these words again after all those years, I realise they are true. I was searching for my real home.

During six months I was wandering through Turkey, Pakistan and India. They were months of various impressions but didn't seem to actually bring me closer to my goal. Somewhere in a hotel room in the South of India I had to admit that I could not go on like this any longer. I didn't have enough energy anymore to follow the travel guide and again visit another ancient temple or another very interesting tourist place. Things that apparently were the cause of much joy or amazement to my fellow tourists didn't really affect me at all but rather made my own inner emptiness and loneliness even more evident.

Through a Dutch student who was doing research about Ashrams in India, I got into contact with the living Hindu traditions. I went to visit an Ashram in the neighbourhood and here I met many like-minded souls who, just like me, were looking for inner peace. Some of them had found it with the Guru of that Ashram, others didn't. I found myself familiar with the last mentioned party. What I had learnt was that I was searching for something alive that would join with my own experiences.

I decided to take some rest on the beaches of Sri Lanka, despite the knowledge that I would never find that rest under external circumstances ? only within myself.

I never saw those beaches. In the plane I met a young German who, like me, had reached a deadlock in India. He was on his way to a meditation centre in the hills of Sri Lanka for a retreat. In the hotel where we spent the night we met a young woman who had just come down from there. My travel companion went to the centre the next morning. I wanted to go to the beach first, but already followed him the next day. After a four hours journey by train, a bus trip of an hour and a tough climb I arrived in a sweat at Nilambe Meditation Centre.

Not much was said during my first talk with Godwin. He asked about my meditation experience. I didn't have any. When we were sitting together on the bench in front of the kitchen. I asked him what he was doing and he answered, "I'm scanning you." I felt it was o.k. and also experienced some mixture of surrender and nervousness. Also in our next conversations we actually didn't say much. He gave simple instructions and seemed to have a lot of confidence in the process I underwent. And I shared Godwin's confidence, but lacked his patience.

As far as meditation techniques were concerned, Godwin only presented me with the minimum: concentration practice focussing on the breath, sounds or sensations in the body. Only after several months I got to know about the existence of Buddhism and Vipassana meditation. However, already on the very first day he gave me his message and continued to repeat it tirelessly. He told me to be my own best friend.

Gently Godwin guided me along this path, towards that treasury of my own heart. A path that went through a jungle of emotions and thoughts, and only occasionally did I meet a calm pool. He tried to teach me to not think of these things as my own and to not judge myself because of them. To see my thoughts and emotions as the clouds in a clear blue sky, which I cannot call mine: ‘the mirror-like mind.' A metaphor that Godwin liked to use and which sticks in my mind was the one about the host. A host will welcome his guests, look after them very well and wave them goodbye when they leave.

Godwin preferred to see himself as a spiritual friend. He knew how to present his vision of the spiritual path such that it was of value for the Westerners, without alienating himself from the Eastern people. His travels to the West were like a holiday for him. Here he was able to move more freely, sometimes even literally, and experience less of the pressure of the Eastern tradition.

I will always remember Godwin as a man whose presentation of Buddhist meditation practice links up with, or even expresses, my own experience without doing injustice to the teaching. A man with a lot of experience on the spiritual path. A man with a fine sense of humour a lot of knowledge about the Western and Eastern ways of thinking. But above all a man with so much love. compassion, understanding and integrity. Godwin was the kindest man I ever met.

May he be well. May he be happy. May he be peaceful.