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Letter to Godwin

by Paul van Hooydonck
(Ehipassiko Buddhist Centre, Antwerp, Belgium)

Dear Godwin,

It was December 1995. I had just spent 6 months crossing India on a Vespa scooter. In south India I met a Buddhist monk and had long conversations with him. He gave me the address of the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre in Sri Lanka. He said: "Meditation is a way to see clarity in confusion". I thought: "That's what I need. I'll go there, meditate for a week and then I'll see things clearly".

I took an overcrowded bus from Kandy to Nilambe junction and as I climbed the mountain up to the Centre and stopped before the gate, I thought: "If I take one more step, there will be no way back". And so it turned out to be.

I arrived in the dark and was welcomed in the office by a German man called Helmut who is now Bhante Anuruddha and lives in Burma. Once settled in my room I felt something sticky and moist at both of my feet. They were full of blood because of 3 leech-bites.

My journey could begin and it has been going on ever since - for 14 years now. You played a big role on that journey. From the first encounter, your calmness, gentleness, listening abilities and non-judgemental attitude struck me. You were a good listener. You didn't use a lot of words yourself, but you listened with attention and interest.

Often it seemed to me that there was nobody there, residing in your form. Nobody with an opinion on things, a viewpoint, an agenda, just voidness, emptiness, an empty listener.

The evening discussions led by you were attuned to both Sri Lankan and western people seeking psychological support and struggling with a variety of issues. During the years I've known you, thousands of people from all over the world came to seek for your guidance. Personally, your advice helped me to accept things as they were, at the same time clearly pointing to the Dhamma as a standard. I respected you. I loved you - as did many people.

I became more involved in the Centre over the years. I taught yoga, ran the office, gave evening Dhamma-talks. I explored other Buddhist traditions in different parts of Asia and the West, but always returned to the silence, beauty and gentle approach to meditation of Nilambe. In other parts of Asia I had come across "spiritual concentration camps", places where you hardly sleep, geared to a very strict and severe practice. But Nilambe and you yourself stood for "the gentle way".

Then you became sick. When you felt your end was getting nearer, you came to Nilambe to say goodbye to us. You could hardly walk alone or sit up straight without support. I remember your last words: you looked at us and asked:

"Can you make meditation a priority in your lives"?

You know what, Godwin? I did.

In March 2000 I was going down to Kandy, together with Upul. Driving the van, he received a phone call from the hospital. Your situation was critical. We went to see you in the Kandy General Hospital. Your family was there. I spent a few moments with you alone. When nobody could hear me, I said: "Thank you, my beloved teacher. You are and always will be an example for me." We said goodbye. Later, when I was back in Nilambe, we received the news that you had passed away and I attended your funeral at Lewella, together with many other people.

Many things changed in my life since then: I ordained as a Buddhist monk, founded the "Ehipassiko Buddhist Centre" in Antwerp, Belgium and disrobed 6 months ago. Now, every year I bring a group of Belgian meditators to Nilambe for 1 month.

Now that I am leading a flourishing meditation centre in the West myself, I often think of you as a source of inspiration and guidance. I have had many teachers, but you had the greatest impact on me. Not because of your words, but because of who you were and because of your way of being. You were the embodiment of karuna (compassion) and metta (loving kindness). So, when my good friend, Dennis Candy, asked me to write some words of appreciation about you, I didn't hesitate for one moment. "Remembering Godwin", the perfect title for a book on your teaching.

In the meditation room of the "Ehipassiko Buddhist Centre" in Belgium hangs a picture of you with this text in Dutch:

"Godwin Samararatne, eerste meditatieleraar van het 'Nilambe Meditation Centre' in Sri Lanka. Zonder hem had Ehipassiko nooit bestaan." That translates into English as: "Godwin Samararatne, meditation teacher of the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre in Sri Lanka. Without him, Ehipassiko would never have existed".

Thank you, my kalyana mitra (spiritual friend),

Paul van Hooydonck,
Ehipassiko Buddhist Centre,
Antwerp, Belgium