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This is a selection of poems written by meditators in the course of their time at Nilambe Meditation Centre: whether inspired by Godwin himself, or the experiences of the centre’s spirit and daily life, or by its marvelous setting in nature, high up above a tea plantation, just below a ridge covered with pine trees, surrounded by natural woodland and grassland, and enjoying wide views out over the rolling hill country of central Sri Lanka.
One well-travelled meditator described Nilambe as the most beautiful meditation centre in Asia; and Godwin very much encouraged meditators to explore and relate to the natural surroundings. What other meditation centre had ‘Watching the Sunset’ on its daily schedule? And he also encouraged meditators to express their experiences in art, writing and poetry.
Many of the poems were offered directly to Godwin – and then the idea came to put out a book for people to write in and read. The following are some of the results, echoing the spirit of Godwin and Nilambe.
Inspired by Godwin and Nilambe
The misty breakers clash on peaks.
The ocean surges through the trees.
Inside the meditation hall, I think:
"The mountains are but waves."
But ah, those liberated ones who sang the psalms;
They saw, they saw 'The ALL', illuminated in a flash,
The waves, the mountains, light and wind
Inside, outside - a boundlessness.
Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu
I must confess, it was a habit
long since dead in me;
not the naked homage
but the ornamenting of it with Pali verses,
incense, flowers and lamps.
Yet here at Nilambe at chanting time
the hall becomes a glowing hush
with something far more palpable
than an aura round a candle flame
or the fragrance of a flower.
The simple shrine becomes a blaze of light
and in the centre Buddha smiled.
"Can you feel ..." he seemed to say,
"the meaning of that stanza now?"
And I recalled to mind the lines
that had so baffled me before;
"More beautiful than forest and sylvan shrines
or parks with lotus ponds ..." so ran the verse,
'is man's humanity.'
As we gently chanted sadhu, sadhu, sadhuuuu"
We were as one, bathing in the crystal waters
of the Triple Gem.
I dragged this bag of bones
Up the hill to NILAMBE.
So high up in the cloud-land.
I walked and talked,
Sat and thought,
And sometimes I even tried to catch the moon,
but like a fool, it slipped through my hands!
Days slowly passing by...
Days slowly passing by;
Mist covering hills
then disappearing into sun's rays;
And the morning birds
singing their songs
always in time -
(unlike anything else in Sri Lanka!)
With his begging bowl
sometimes empty, sometimes full -
(he or bowl?)
Saffron-cladded monk with a bald head
climbing Nilambe hill
By the reservoir
At one with Nature -
see birds skim over water
snapping at voidness.
In mirror-like lake
what image is reflected?
Only passing wing.
Lotus floats unmoved
as wind ruffles lake's surface -
anchored in deep mud.
Heavy cloud gathers -
birds awing swoop all around
in frantic dance.
Nilambe Poems - For Godwin
These silent mountains
repose like pregnant women
filled with warm poems.
Each evening the same and ancient sun
bows and reluctantly withdraws behind
the same old mountain. And yet
never is the sunset twice the same.
The tireless sky-god with invisible brush
paints coral, amber, pearl and gold
curtains, cushions, paths and snowbanks
on silk that languidly dissolves as the stars
appear in their predicted places
and the moon.
How many times the sun has set
And I didn't even watch!
How many unrepeatable sunsets remain for me?
I was led...
I was led
into the forest
on the tiger
being seen there:
what a close look
at fear of mind
and trust of spirit.
For Leelasena - 'the small cook'
I heard you singing -
Lunch was good.
For Peter - 'the fat cook'
There is the laughter,
there are the moods:
On the ridge...
On the ridge
Standing still, facing the pine wood -
The wind is howling through the trees
But I am standing firm at the roots
With the valley sloping down behind.
Beneath the tress tall grasses bend.
I wonder at the power of the wind
Translated into green waves of movement
And a whistling call.
I cannot face the valley,
I must face the wind.
I long to feel it whole in me,
I know when sound, smell and sight together fuse.
The eagle flying overhead
Tips its wings for the second time,
Dipping into the wind in the trees.
My breath follows its wing
Until it disappears.
I stand rooted in the shadows of wind and bird...
For a long time...
For Godwin - 22nd April 2000
(One month after Godwin's passing away)
High green wormy paradise
Here I am again,
Legs crossed, drinking tea,
Exhaling, sharing blood space
With creepers and fliers.
Again by night - small bright candles.
Again by day - myriad bird songs,
Distant mountains, meandering river.
Thank you, Godwin. I remember
Your beautiful crooked smile.
Now silence, teach silence,
Now peace, teach peace.
For Godwin - 7 April 2000, Evening Meditation
Curling of smoke round
Candle flames: flickering light:
The drumming of rain.
Two photos catching
At Godwin's living presence:
Catching at my throat.
See Godwin's cushions
Empty - yet carrying still
His missing presence.
Everything has changed -
But nothing has changed, sitting
In quiet candle-light.
The croaking of frogs
Succeeds the beating rainstorm:
World is washed afresh.
If Godwin were here...
If Godwin were here
Gracing his memorial bust
He'd smile, wouldn't you?
Have you ever noticed
Big, long, hairy ears?
Maybe like Buddha's
Those yogi's ears
(Or like Yogi bear).
How many secrets
have been cautiously whispered
in those ears?
How many sad stories?
like satellite dishes
to the sorrows of this world.
Godwin, why do you have
Such big ears?
Beauty of morning
promise of sun:
the heart jumps -
- Silence -
You tell me
I am no good
'I' am gone -
then what will you say?
You will be happy
The Place Where the World Always Whispers
Rising and falling, rising and falling
like sound and silence
like the inwardness of winter
and the outwardness of summer.
Sitting, we see the undulations of our lives
as the train weaves its way slowly
to the foothills of the great mountain
through darkness and light
through tunnels and bright valleys.
Looking out we see the landscape
folding and unfolding like a great fan
that opens and closes;
looking in we stumble through the doors
and windows of our lives, finding fragments
of forgotten time.
Looking out we see a landscape vanishing,
receding into the horizon
as the train moves ever upwards;
looking in we slip into a nether world
of silence and forgotten dreams.
THUS, I pray
May you discover the deep joy
embedded in life's ceaseless change
may your pain be washed away
in the streams that flow to the vast ocean;
and may your thoughts, like leaves, fall
gently earthwards and be swept away
by the wind, there in the place where
the wind always whispers - Nilambe
Peaks rise from the mist
like islands, as an ocean
strives to reclaim the land.
2 o'clock in the night...
2 o'clock in the night.
Sweet Nilambe is fast asleep.
A single candle burns in the night -
Ardent yogi, 'Goenka freak'?
No, just Benga sharpening sharpening his brand new pencils.
Deep in the night...
Deep in the night,
Sick in my bed,
A single bird sings.
Who is lonely?
And so I shall go back into the world
And carry with me as much peace and open-heartedness as I can.
After all -
I have been forged in thunder and guarded by eagles
Surely I am equal to the task?
Godwin and gadfly,
Rainstorm and blood-worm;
Weeds hold the soul together.
Nilambe, it's whispered...
Nilambe, it's whispered,
May be the place
Of the Buddha's return.
Listening to sounds...
Listening to sounds;
Who is the listener, to
Whom belongs the sounds?
A place more tranquil...
A place more tranquil
I have not seen.
A place more beautiful
I have rarely been.
Fireflies flitter by
Like fallen stars.
Animal life, both day and night
No sound of cars
To break the calm
Before the storm.
In my sorrow
I shall leave Nilambe tomorrow
But Nilambe will surely never
leave my heart.
Thank you, Nilambe
For helping to create
This work of art.
and a singing
in softness enfolding
your perfumes of night,
dancing the earth to sleep
dancing all breath to sleep.
Be well little creature,
Neither the beginning, nor the end...
Neither the beginning, nor the end,
Many have trod the path on their journeys,
Many have felt grief and taken joy.
Neither the silence, nor the hubbub
Just nature and her soothing sounds
Calling us to be at peace.
Neither the answer, nor the question
But many have learnt
As I have learnt.
The energy is high...
The energy is high, the moon is round,
the vibes, the love, the unity is encompassing.
So many different people living together, meditating,
sharing, learning, trying to understand their world.
Sweet sounds, the flickering of candle light,
the Buddha's smiling face, words of inspiration.
I feel glad to be one of them, I've chosen
to be here, in life's greatest challenge,
Even though most of the time I doubt myself
I'm actually heading in the right direction.
We are all really, yet most of us don't
realise which way to go. We've all been
suffering for far too long, and now the exit
has been revealed, the way out.
The door to freedom, the window to our hearts:
It's all possible; every moment we're one step closer.
Sitting in the meditation hall...
Sitting in the meditation hall
- quiet, feeling little pain in my legs;
"Shall I move or not yet?"
Breathing in, breathing out, mindfully;
"Be aware of your thoughts."
Yes, I'm absolutely aware of the fact that
My thoughts are running wild - mindfully.
So do I - running wild -
running into the woods, until the rock;
standing at its top - facing the wind,
shouting out all frustration, telling it all
to the wind. Throwing my shirt away,
the wind touching my skin gently
heals my pain, my sores.
I feel I'm becoming lighter:
I begin to fly, playing with the wind,
being in the hawk that flies above.
The first time in my mind's calming down;
the first time I feel like 'just being',
pure and intense,
I wonder whether this could be called
First Day at Nilambe
Talk of silence
the echo of no speech.
Less willing to be somewhere else
with something else happening
to open eyes, heart, mind,
to what is
A solitary bird sings...
A solitary bird sings as daylight breaks:
A pure note, uncontaminated by the need for confirmation,
She sings because it is her time, her nature to sing
at the break of day.
Sitting in meditation in the twilit hall, I listen to
her note and wonder:
Might I ever find such purity of intention, being
amidst, or beyond, the endless succession of thoughts,
images and self-concerns which constitute my being, my 'self'?
Am I ever natural uncontaminated being?
What, for instance, if one day I broke into spontaneous,
heartfelt song here at daybreak, just because it was in
my nature at that moment to do so?
"Meditators don't disturb the peace and silence of others."
At the end of my song wouldn't I be anxiously and
self-consciously awaiting their verdict, whether
directly or subtly given?
And in the full light of day my 'natural' self would
slink away and hide itself shamefacedly.
Unlike the bird, who when day ripens turns naturally
From song to feeding, resting - simply Being.
Jeanne Mynett (25-02-1996)
Transformation - Nilambe Style
We come with the wounds we cannot heal;
We come with our fears, the hurts, the hatreds, the guilt accumulated through our lives;
We come with our 'monsters' of anger, greed, ambition, aversion, grasping;
We come with all our illusions - our demands on life, our ideas of how things 'ought' to be,
our criticisms and self-criticism, our minds full of concern.
We come when our lives, or our minds - are falling apart; when old patterns of being no longer work for us;
We come when we know that our old lives are empty, seeking something new and meaningful;
We come when we have had enough of travelling, and need somewhere to set down our feet, and sort out our minds.
We come looking for space, for calm, for peace, for spiritual experience.
We are not prepared for the painful replaying of our old wounds; the uncontrollable resurgence
of our negative mind states, for seeing our faults and mistakes even more clearly in the mirror of our new relationships here.
We are taken by surprise: we are not so free as we had hoped, not so clam and peaceful. There is no 'quick fix' after all - ten days of meditation and all will be well.
Seeing ourselves, seeing our lives, as they really are - it is not always pleasant or ain-free. And our bodies pain us, too, with their entrenched tensions and holdings.
Long hours of being alone with ourselves teach us how unfriendly we are towards our own self, or how bored with it, always seeking outside distractions.
And others are not as kind, friendly and considerate as we would wish, don't do things 'our way', don't even seem to notice us; hurt, anger and upset so quickly arise.
Where is my clam and spiritual virtue now? Perhaps this 'spiritual life' is not for me after all!
Slowly we come down off our pedestals: our high spiritual idealisms and 'models' drop away as we experience more and more our essential humanness.
Slowly we come to see and even accept our faults and weaknesses, our injuries and woundedness, our 'monsters' and our guilt, our fundamental ignorance and confusion.
They do not disappear, as we had hoped and assumed they would, rather, we change in our way of relating to them. No longer resisting or denying them, we offer them a space in which to come and go; we explore them and make discoveries, we suffer our suffering and laugh at our absurdities.
And in relating to others, too, we allow them more space to be as they are in themselves, and not according to our models of perfection.
We come to see that final Enlightenment is a long way down the line - but contentment,
happiness, a free and loving heart can be NOW!
Jeanne Mynett (June 2001)
I sit on my cushion...
I sit on my cushion, with awareness - breathing in, breathing out, sitting: endlessly repeated. A fly buzzes around my head; I open my eyes. Opposite I see a row of seated Buddhas-to-be. Some I know their names, others only their faces. Who will finish up the enlightened ones, I wonder? Thinking, thinking ....
My eyes and attention pass beyond, through the open windows - hot, icy-blue sky, brilliant sunlight. I gaze at the splendidly illuminated bush behind Sami's head, the leaves aglowing and translucent green. With awareness I penetrate these leaves, see their chlorophyll combining with the energy of the sun to produce the food the bush needs: photosynthesis I recall with wonder. And transpiration - secretly renewing the earth's oxygen supply, isn't it? Long buried memories of school biology lessons! My attention switches to the nest of the weaver birds hanging directly opposite. I have watched the comings and goings- are there yet any eggs in the nest, I question, eager and curious. Then my eye catches the deep pink glow of bougainvillea blossoms outside Godwin's room - what insects are they attracting by their brilliantly-coloured petals? And is there a scent also? And I trace the loops of a butterfly's flight - to what purpose these loops, or is it pure joy? Wherever my eyes alight I look deeply and question - and my heart fills with the beauty and wonder of it all.
"Keep the attention fixed on the breath and the posture," the monk instructs. "And watch what thoughts are sneaking in by the back door."
NO - I throw wide open the front door and welcome them in, these thoughts of beauty and wonder. I may never become one of the enlightened ones this way, overcoming suffering. But I will have seen deeply and appreciated the glowing jewels of beauty, goodness, joy and wonder scattered over and through this suffering world. Thank you!
The Day I Died
Today I was born once more
into a world that was
dark and unformed;
in peace I sat,
breathing, sensing, being;
and the first voice I heard
was that of a bird
whose song of life
made my heart so light and happy.
Another voice also was there
addressed to those
who were born
before it asked:
is it possible
to heal the wounds
to be whole again?
Today I was born once more,
and was astonished
when dark gave way to light:
the rays of the sun
coming through the trees
brought warmth to the world,
and my heart lifted up in praise.
and as I walked this earth
I learned to look with care
at the nature of things around,
at the loveliness of passing form,
placing my trust
in the process of life and death.
Today I was born once more
and at noon I looked up
and saw the clouds
- so delicate and soft -
as they passed overhead;
and I saw that
the blue of the sky beyond
was not scarred by their passing,
and my heart was filled with Joy
for I also
became like the heavens
with great space inside,
there things arose,
and had their time,
and went on their way again.
Today I was born one more
and as evening came in
the sky took on another hue,
of yellow, and gold, and red,
the colours of fall
have their own beauty,
and I saw that
we all partake of these things,
and then in my heart
love was born.
and I wanted to share it
for I understood that
all creatures are from
the same source,
so from my silence
my speech arose
and it also led back there
giving thanks for this gift of life.
Today I died once more
To all that had gone before;
to sorrow and joy,
to learning and growing,
to being at one with another,
and my heart was empty and clear.
In the dark of night,
as I faded from life,
there te moon so bright shone forth,
and I closed my eyes in peace,
not knowing about the 'morrow.
Nowhere to Hide
There is nowhere to go
and nowhere to be but here,
so why not relax
and be present to what is.
No movement of denial,
no holding what is passing
simply being true
and truly being simple.
This is the best place to be:
all life has led up to it,
so why not trust the moment?
Let tomorrow come when it will.
When there is only here and now
then what else is there?
Breathing, sensing, being;
and the immense silence beyond
- isn't that enough?
Oh, Nilambe, what is your secret...
Oh, Nilambe, what is your secret?
The lotus blooms in the mud,
Peace and serenity are found in the forest.
Life is for living with happiness and joy;
To attain that goal Nilambe shines as a beacon.
The teaching of Lord Buddha taught and lived
at this meditation centre.
Life begins in the womb of the mother, but
the way of life is taught here.
Oh, Nilambe, what is your secret?
All who come here return with an inner peace and joy.
What a most fantastic world
I've ever seen.
Your life may melt like wax
but it gives light to the world.
Remember, the light can shine only in the dark: -
You too can shine in the society of evil.
There are a variety of religions in the world
but they all of them teach only one essence:
'Do good and avoid evil.'
May all of us understand this and attain everlasting peace.
Letting go ...?
Serene beauty - unblemished and incomparable;
The right path, well balanced;
They soothe the heart and soul.
Gazing at 'me' and extending loving kindness
For hours and hours - Amazing!!
Being aware ... Letting go ...
Oooommm ... Oooommm ... Oooomm:
Feel the cool breeze,
'eyes closed', she said.
Inhaling - exhaling;
Feel the rhythm of 'Gentle yoga'.
True, simple and calm existence:
Heart, soul and body bound by the spell of
Being aware ... Letting go ...
Impossible to let go of this SERENITY!
Beautiful places such as Nilambe...
Beautiful places such as Nilambe should be training camps.
Train in these places to be soldiers of the Revolution:
The Revolution of Consciousness.
Then retreat no more, and march from these places in your droves -
Into the cities, the slums, the workplaces, the institutions,
The hearts of those that dwell in darkness, and, with a cry of joy,
Bring about the changing of minds.
between teetering towers
of tea estate
and the constant
greatness of wind,
I cannot help but suspect
even the landscape
want us to wake up.
Kelly Anne Graves
Between the tangles
of the bamboo tree,
A single corner
of the clear
Kelly Anne Graves
Triangles of bone and cloth
tuck feet against blue mats
before the red-headed rooster
declares his name.
And in darkness
bodies like wicker chairs
creak their hellos to the
With muscles wrapped across form
and knots tied at junctures
the Great Effort
Kelly Anne Graves
from the path
from the path
Kelly Anne Graves
The insects keep
Leech - I'm learning to love you,
Leech - But I don't love you yet.
Leech - I'm learning to love you.
How far? How far can I get?
Look at the trees...
G: Look at the trees, they grow
Without expectations, so tall and strong
S: And they grow and they grow
Rain comes, wind comes:
They just stand there and face it.
Many years ago, two of us
Standing together after yoga
In the meditation hall, chatting quietly.
Suddenly a stillness, a presence
Was there, smiling, arms folded
As was his way.
How he got there I shall never know,
But he was just there, still, quiet,
So unobtrusive he almost
Wasn't there at all. I wonder
Sometimes when I'm in the hall
If he's still there, smiling, arms folded
As was his way.
The Spirit of Nilambe
It's in the birdcalls
And the frog and insect calls too.
It's in the gentle breeze
And the wind that rushes up the hill.
It's in the sunsets, the views
And the walks.
The meditation hall overflows with it
As does his room and chair.
It's in Upul and Paul, Jeanne and Dennis
And many others.
It's in the peace, the silence
And the stillness.
It's the spirit of Nilambe,
The spirit of Godwin.
May he rest in the peace, the silence
And the stillness
He made available
To so many others.
There is nowhere on earth
Where the birds sing like this
And where the gentle breeze
Caresses one's cheeks like this.
There is nowhere on earth
Where the sun shines like this.
The stillness, the silence, the peace
Are all unique.
It is Nilambe.
It is, quite simply,
An evening in Nilambe
The gentlest of rain falling,
The slightest breeze,
Far, far off birdsong,
And a peace,
And a stillness,
At the very heart of everything.
A morning of light
A morning of light.
The song of an unseen bird
Bends the ears of grass.