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Godwin Samararatne: A True Hero

by Robert Jordi
(Swiss Yoga and Meditation Teacher)

In 1985, twenty five years ago, Godwin Samararatne was already known in Sri Lanka as a meditation teacher who was living on the top of a hill at Nilambe Meditation Centre. As a result of the recommendation of people who had been to the centre for training in mindfulness, in 1986 I went to this beautiful place and met Godwin for the first time. Immediately I was impressed by the calmness and the smile of this man. I felt at ease and made the intention to stay for a longer period of time at the centre. So I did stay for one entire year at Nilambe after many years of travelling and living in different Ashrams and Buddhist Meditation places.

Godwin's meditation instructions were not complicated. When we were practising in a group in the meditation hall for one and a half hours, Godwin allowed us to practise sitting, standing and walking meditation. He gave very practical guidelines, emphasising the functioning of meditation as a healing and transformation process. In the group discussions in evenings he did not usually give a long talk, but rather answered the questions of the practitioners. He gave us what he called "tools" to assist in our training in mindfulness and loving-kindness.

Sometimes it happened that nobody would raise a question in these periods, but Godwin did not say one word and we would just listen to the silence during the whole period until he concluded the non-discussion with a few words of loving kindness. But if there was a question (about emotions, for example) then Godwin would make the suggestion that we should just accept anger, fear and so on, instead of repressing them.

Here it is worthwhile to point out that Godwin was not just talking about this acceptance, for he himself was able to keep an equanimous state of mind not just during meditation periods but continuously, even in any difficult situations. In fact, there was not a single occasion when I saw him reacting with anger, and it seemed that even his humour did not leave him until he passed away. Once, while staying for a planned rest for three days at my home in Bern, on the very first day Godwin got a phone call that he had to leave immediately for teaching on a retreat in Germany (this was because of a mistake by the retreat organisers). Even though Godwin had to rush off for a one day trip again, he was giggling about it. That way, instead of building up tension about the new situation, both of us were giggling.

Unique in his teaching approach, and giving his example by living a noble life, Godwin did work also in Kandy, assisting people in a psychiatric clinic and helping others with their problems. For example, he discussed with couples about dealing with and solving difficulties in their relationship, not to mention his help to many others in need. He did his entire work without asking for money. If people gave a donation, he would not keep the money for himself, but would spend it to reduce any suffering around him - just like a flower spreading its fragrance all around, without expecting anything in return.

 Finally, the easiest way to give a summary of Godwin's life is by quoting the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau 250 years ago when he wrote an essay on true heroism. His description of the virtue of heroism helps me to reflect on a quality that Godwin was actually living:

The true hero "accumulates a great quantity of sublime virtues which are rare in their combination, and even more rare in their expression. More rare because this heroism is uninterested in any personal merit, having as its only aim the happiness of others and receiving their admiration as its only reward."

Robert Jordi,
Bern, Switzerland