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Godwin Samararatne: Friend and Teacher

by Paul Köppler
(Austrian Meditation Teacher and Chairman of the Association of Buddhism in the West)

I never knew before, and I think I will not know again, a man who could give so much but was, at the same time, so modest and so simple that while being with him I never had the impression of being in touch with a bodhisattva. Yet in reality he was. Wherever he happened to be he was there for others in a way, and everybody got the feeling that he was a good friend. I knew him for about 20 years and he was, indeed, a good friend, a kalyana-mitta in the deepest sense. That means a person who by his life gives you an example of what it is to live mindfully.

When I met him for the first time I remember very well that the person who introduced him said that his name meant "god" and "win", and I think he had the perfect name. He was a "win" for everybody and he was pure metta (love), one who was loved by gods and humans. I have heard that his mother sometimes called him "Goodwin" and that name is also perfect. He was not a monk but he lived like a monk without belongings, and every year he came with the same clothing, very simple. But he also liked to buy things, but never for himself, always for "his" children, poor children and relatives in Sri Lanka.

He knew a lot about international literature and was well educated, but he very seldom spoke about his own life. Rather, he was very good at listening and asking other people about themselves. I was very impressed by the fact that he was never dogmatic and never claimed to belong to any Buddhist group or tradition. He had no title, no honours, and he did not cling to any Buddhist school. His source was the word of the Buddha especially in the way the Venerable Nyanaponika translated it. It seems that he had found the essence of Buddhist teaching by his own research into his own mind and heart, and I think he had brought this ability to understand the Dhamma from another life into this short life.

Another quality was his sense for joy, for humour. He could smile in such a wonderful way, that just to see it made you smile also. Sometimes, when he told a funny story while giving a Dhamma talk, he would laugh so much that he stopped talking for a while. He also loved children and their laughter and he was never disturbed by them or by animals. In fact I think that nothing at all could disturb him.

One day when he was visiting us we had to cross the border between Austria and Germany and as we had a caravan fully loaded we had to stop and our passports were taken for inspection. Godwin would sometimes make a joke about his "bad visa-kamma". On that occasion he said: "Now we can only practice metta for the people working here." And the miracle happened - after half an hour our passports were returned and we were allowed to cross the border without any trouble.

He was a teacher who lived what he talked about, and I never met a person from Asia who understood so well the workings of the western mind. Sometimes he said. "When I tell my people from Sri Lanka how I teach in Germany, they will think I am crazy." For many years I had the great fortune to be his assistant, translator and teacher of body-work during the retreats he gave in Germany. Whenever I sit now alone in front of such groups and try to help people and teach, he is dwelling in my heart and speaking with my tongue.

His talks were always very simple and easy to understand, but deep and profound. He offered us a great variety of "tools", for every situation in daily life. And his whole teaching was about how to integrate Dhamma in daily life, how to work diligently with the material that life gives us. I liked very much his teaching about the "monsters" in us. During a meditation retreat he liked to ask the meditators: "Now, tell me, where are your monsters today? Not here, that's good. But be aware that they will come when you leave. So maybe you can invite them now, to make friends with them."

Another important tool he taught was to encourage people to look deeper, to use awareness to see the characteristics of life and to ask important questions like: "What will last? What can I hold on to? Who is doing this or that? What am I?"

His energy is still here, I feel his gentle presence and hear his words like "Can you hear the birds? Just listen to the birds ... "

I think the right way to remember him is to use the tools given by him to overcome sorrow, anger and fear and to lead a joyful and mindful life.

Paul Köppler,
Bonn, Germany