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Great Guru Godwin, as a Gentle Guide on the Path to Liberation
by H. B. Jayasinghe
(Family Physician and Consultant Clinical Hypnotist, Kandy, Sri Lanka)
Like a vivid dream, I can still recall my first ever encounter with our great guru Godwin. It was almost 35 years ago when my car stalled amidst a huge traffic jam and a gush of pedestrians crossing the road near the Kandy clock tower. A saintly figure attired in full white suddenly appeared from the crowd with a serene, compassionate smile and inquired in an unbelievably soft and kind tone if I needed any help. Judging from his outward appearance, body language and facial expression, I was more than convinced that he was no ordinary human being. The very next moment he offered a helping hand and the car started. When I turned back to show my gratitude and thank him profusely, to my intense dismay he had already disappeared into the crowd, exactly the way he appeared.
This incident made a tremendous impact in my mind and the non-verbal message he gave me was "When someone needs a helping hand, voluntarily offer your help expecting nothing in return, not even a word of thanks." Although I was genuinely desirous of meeting him, I failed to do so for a couple of years until one day I was introduced to the world famous meditation master Godwin Samararatne at the house of Harilal Wickramaratne. To my great surprise and astonishment I found that he was none other than the person whom I was searching for during last two years. He was attired in the same white clothes, seated on a cushion in meditation posture with the same unique, unassuming, compassionate, serene expression with half closed eyes.
What made him a great meditation master renowned the world over was his remarkable inherent ability to grasp and comprehend the most intricate aspects of the Dhamma, and to convey them in a non-traditional, remarkably lucid, concise, and most effective communicating style. His pleasant mode of presentation of Dhamma with sharp clarity and extreme simplicity but absolute profundity was both astonishing and incomparable. He practised what he preached and preached what could be practised, a rare feature which made him a great teacher of the highest order.
When asked about his unique teaching techniques, Godwin responded with immense humility and gratitude to the Buddha, saying that it was the Buddha's teaching that he was following. This was in obvious contrast to some of the free-thinkers who were well known to preach Buddha's words of wisdom but with no reference, respect or gratitude whatsoever to the Blessed One. When this was pointed out, and our guru's attitude was admired and appreciated, his response was that even great philosophers like J. Krishnamurti showed the utmost gratitude and respect to the Buddha. Endowed with the highest confidence in the Buddha, his advice was to look at the Blessed One in any difficult situation and to find out how he would have responded to that situation.
He was recognized and respected as one of the most able meditation masters in the world because he was not only a gentle guide but, more importantly, was a genuine follower of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Undoubtedly he was one with Right View. His right view was not simply owing to faith or traditional acceptance or theoretical knowledge of the four noble truths, rebirth, kamma, and the world beyond, but was due to an experiential understanding achieved by him with factual investigation and evaluation. In addition, he had gathered remarkable experiences with regard to a world beyond the visible one. Near Death Experiences (NDE), Out of Body Experiences (OBE), and Interlife were the other areas that were close to his heart. When he was asked about the significance of the seventh-day almsgiving following someone's death, his explanation was that the 'entity' existing after death tends to feel relieved. Hypnotic regression researchers, too, share this experience.
When inquired about his experiences with extra-celestial beings he narrated how a small illuminated floating object, the size of an orange, regularly approached the meditation centre at Nilambe, late in the evening at the commencement of the meditation session and, at the termination of the session, floated away from the centre.
With regard to instances where human beings were reborn as animals, he responded that Dr. Ian Stevenson had come across a case where a human being was reborn as a rabbit but the case was not reported for want of scientific corroboration. When he was informed about an instance where a human being was reborn as an elephant, in a lighter vein he inquired about the language with which the elephant communicated.
His knowledge and commitment to rebirth research had been enormous, and he was instrumental in organizing the first ever international conference on rebirth with the participation of twelve experts from various disciplines from different parts of the world at the University of Peradeniya in the year 2000, although unfortunately he could not participate in this important event owing to his terminal illness. The proceedings of this conference have been published in his memory as "Trends in Rebirth Research". In his rebirth research work he had come across several cases suggestive of good kamma leading to pleasant results and bad kamma leading to painful and unpleasant results. In whatever discussions held on these fields, his contributions were found to be always significant, pertinent and sometimes startlingly profound, and enlightening. With the extensive experience he gathered over several decades on these phenomena, in close association with world authorities such as Ian Stevenson and K. N. Jayatillake, he not only became one with the Right View but also was equipped with valuable experience to guide others in developing their Right View.
Unquestionably all his intentions were of the right type, namely intentions of renunciation, good will and harmlessness. He never claimed ownership of anything in the world and lacked any personal belongings. In fact his life was one of complete renunciation, and had developed to perfection (Nekkhamma parami). He did not have a fixed dwelling to live in. Wherever he happened to be at a particular time, that place was considered as home. Whatever he used at a particular moment he used it with utmost care, concern and respect with no feelings of ownership. As a person living in a materialistic society, the extent to which he could renounce was most remarkable. All his material needs were limited to a few items carried in the light sling bag hanging from his shoulder. It invariably contained a book or some reading material on Dhamma or a small gift to be given to someone. He never believed in material gain and found no difference between the toys enjoyed by the children and the material comforts enthralled over by the adults.
Intentions of goodwill were persistently reflected in his kind and gentle words, his unassuming, sincere, soothing smile, his non-verbal refined expressions, his gentle body language, and his friendly deeds. Anger, annoyance or irritability arising out of ill will had never been observed in him by anybody at any time. It is most remarkable to recall several occasions where he continued to remain undisturbed and unperturbed, calm and composed, without the slightest degree of irritation or annoyance even when someone had made intentional attempts to arouse anger in him.
As recommended in the Metta Sutta, he was surprisingly equipped with all those qualities that someone should possess in disseminating loving kindness to others. His remarkable ability to follow every step of the noble eightfold path successfully was observed by many, and the extent to which he was committed to being upright and perfectly upright in pursuing the path was most astonishing. His compliance, gentleness and humility generated from the depths of his heart knew no bounds. He was contented and easily supported and had never been a burden to anybody. He had only a few duties and those, too, were not for his personal glorification or gratification but purely for the welfare of others. His livelihood was unbelievably simple, comparable to that of a true bhikkhu. His senses were observed to be exceptionally well controlled at all times. He was prudent and cautious in all his words and deeds, so that he had been virtuous at all times. His conduct was always composed, cultured, refined and gentle. He was not attached to any relation or family and moved from place to place like a swan in the sky, selflessly relieving the suffering of others all the time. He never pursued the slightest thing for which others would censure him.
His intense selfless love for others, radiating outwards from the depths of his heart as a genuine concern for their well being and happiness, was also most remarkable. His loving kindness appeared to have no boundaries, and had developed to perfection (Metta parami). At times some people took undue advantage of this extreme degree of kindness taking it as a weakness. When this was pointed out, he would remain unshaken with his gentle, saintly, serene smile and would recall how Nyanaponika Maha Thera responded to similar situations, quoting him: "I can afford to commit a mistake on the side of loving kindness, but I cannot afford to make a mistake on the side of aversion."
At all times he radiated intentions of harmlessness. His compassion was unique, unreserved, immeasurable, and had been cultivated to the level of perfection. His compassionate concern for others knew no boundaries and he would move from place to place, day and night relieving their suffering. He had the courage to change what could be changed, the patience to bear what could not be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference between the two and remain unworried and unsullied, at all times.
Whatever he spoke, he did so within the parameters of the Right Speech, or else he maintained noble silence. Being truthful at all times, with absolutely no deceiving intent, consistently his speech had been one of right speech and he never engaged in falsehood even in jest. He had developed truthfulness as a perfection (Sacca parami).
No one ever witnessed him engaging in slanderous speech causing dissension. Whenever there were family disputes or division among friends, he made all attempts to unite them. He was enormously gladdened by concord and rejoiced in unity. His compassionate, kind words always promoted friendship and harmony. He never reacted or retorted. He always responded positively with his characteristic compassionate smile and a soothing kind word. He never spoke harsh words. No one had ever witnessed him scolding, reviling, reproving or degrading anybody angrily with bitter words. Sarcasm or any form of offensive speech had never been observed in him. He never ridiculed anyone or laughed at others, but laughed with others with delightful humour, and unassumingly simple childlike cheerfulness.
Not only did he refrain from gossip but also discouraged and cautioned others from engaging in such speech. Even after his advice, if someone continued to engage in frivolous speech, he would not get offended but instead would cross his arms, close his eyes and remain quiet, or non-verbally would indicate to others to 'switch off' from the conversation and concentrate on their breath.
As a true son of the Buddha, his speech was always found to be truthful, timely, non-spiteful, gentle, and spoken with a good intention. Either he spoke about Dhamma or he observed noble silence.
His right action with exemplary virtuous life developed to perfection (Sila parami) had been determined by two predominant factors. The first of these being the boundless compassion and loving kindness that were spontaneously generated from the depths of his heart. This automatically promoted right action preventing him from harming living beings or taking their lives. The second factor was the extreme degree of sense control and cautiousness in all his words and deeds which was clearly evident in him as the prerequisite for the dissemination of loving kindness, as mentioned earlier. This was further augmented by the wise consideration, mindfulness and clear comprehension that he persistently practised.
This explains why our guru Godwin skilfully deviated from the customary approach and allowed virtue to evolve spontaneously through loving-kindness and compassion, instead of enforcing virtue as a prerequisite in the practice of meditation. When queried about this, his response was that he, too, recognized the importance of virtue, but if it were to be enforced as a prerequisite to meditation it would not be long lasting, and would not be conducive to spiritual progress. Further it would have been unacceptable to most of the non-Buddhists and would have acted as a barrier. His alternative approach was to allow virtue to evolve spontaneously through the loving-kindness, compassion, wise consideration, mindfulness and clear comprehension that he encouraged. Then it would be more acceptable to people, and the results would be long lasting, and conducive to spiritual progress.
In fact, the latter three factors alone would have been adequate for the purpose. This is indeed in direct conformity with the Buddha's teaching: "When wise consideration (yoniso manasikara) prevails, mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati sampajanna) will prevail. When mindfulness and clear comprehension prevail, sense control will prevail. When sense control prevails, the three ways of good conduct prevail. When three ways of good conduct prevail, the four foundations of mindfulness prevail. When the four foundations of mindfulness prevail, the seven factors of enlightenment will prevail. When seven factors of enlightenment prevail, Liberation by Supreme Knowledge will prevail." (Anguttara Nikaya, Dasaka Nipata, Yamaka Vagga, sutta 61,62) This clearly demonstrates that his approach was much more rooted in the original teachings than the customary methods, because instead of emphasizing virtue as a prerequisite he emphasized more on the nourishing factors or the factors that lead to virtue. It implies that virtue really develops by nourishing its roots, namely wise consideration, clear comprehension and mindfulness, loving kindness and compassion.
The quotation, "Protecting oneself, one protects others, protecting others, one protects oneself" from the Sedaka Sutta of Satipatthana Samyutta in the Samyutta Nikaya, to which he often made references, adds another dimension to his way of life and his profound teaching techniques. He protected himself from the dangers of samsaric existence by practising the four foundations of mindfulness, and in doing so he obviously posed no harm to others, thus protecting them in turn. He protected others by the development and cultivation of forbearance, non-violence, loving kindness and compassion, and in doing so they obviously posed no harm to him, thus protecting him in turn.
He was absolutely honest and his generosity had been developed to the level of perfection (Dana parami). When moved by compassion he would give everything in his possession without the slightest thought about himself. There were instants where he had given whatever cash he had in his possession to needy people and was then compelled to come back by walking because he did not retain even his bus fare with him. Every time he went abroad he brought at least a small gift for every single person he knew. Sometimes he brought things for people whom he did not even know, but would not bring anything for himself, other than some books.
All those who knew Godwin knew that he led an unquestionably pure life of chastity. Since his life was one of complete renunciation, any need to make a decision about Right Livelihood never occurred to him. He led an extremely simple life being no burden to anybody, discouraged wrong livelihood and advocated his followers to earn their living in a righteous way.
'Effortless effort', was the term he often used for the development of Right Effort. His explanation was that excessive effort would lead to restlessness (worry and flurry) and too little effort would lead to dullness and drowsiness. Therefore his recommendation was to strike a balance. When the five hindrances (sensual desire, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and worry and doubt) were present his advice was just to note their presence making no effort to get rid of them and when they are absent, also to note their absence in exactly the same way.
His predominant practice and teaching was centred round Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration and was practised as 'moment to moment awareness' or 'choiceless awareness' observing everything occurring in the present moment with no attachment or aversion. The basic object of concentration had been breathing which he referred to as 'our friend'. While watching the breath, his advice was to be choicelessly aware of whatever disturbances or distractions might arise, as well as feelings, thoughts or matters pertaining to Dhamma, and to see them as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not involving a self, with no attachment or aversion. Then to bring the awareness back to the breath again and again, just like bringing back a wandering child again and again in a gentle manner. Although this method (Sukka vipassaka) was not meant for achieving any psychic powers, it was one of the direct ways to deliverance, taught by the Buddha and is practised by some of the most venerated contemporary meditation masters. The Buddha had stated that a large majority of the bhikkhus had achieved arahathood by this method although they were void of any psychic powers.
When the Buddha was once asked as to why his disciples were so pleasant looking, with radiating serenity, his response was that it was owing to the fact that they were living in the present moment, without wandering either to the past or to the future. This is the obvious explanation that could be offered to the extremely pleasant features and the radiating serenity persistently evident in our guru Godwin, who, as a true disciple of the Buddha, lived in the present moment and based his teaching on the importance of living in the present moment leaving no room for the proliferation of thoughts (papanca).
His tolerance for pain was quite extraordinary. How he responded to an extremely painful extensive burn injury sustained on his face was most surprising. No ordinary human being would have ever remained as calm and composed with the same serene smile as he did. Like a well instructed noble disciple, he did not sorrow, grieve, or lament; he did not weep and did not become distraught. He would have felt only the bodily feeling, and not a mental one. He would have been struck only with the first dart, and not with the second dart, according to the Buddha's teaching. Whenever he visited someone in excruciating pain he would instruct with immeasurable compassion: "Be with the pain; make friends with it; make space for it; don't get the mind involved with the physical pain. Let it be 'the pain' and not 'my pain', and you will find it tolerable."
Although he was a living embodiment of all these noble qualities, he never claimed to have achieved any specific status or possess any special powers. He lived an unassumingly simple life amongst the ordinary people, like an ordinary human being. His not so famous saying 'Enlightened people behave like ordinary people and ordinary people try to behave like enlightened people' may be quite relevant to understand who he really was.
May he attain the bliss of Nibbana.
H. B. Jayasinghe,
Kandy, Sri Lanka