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Recalling Tributes to Godwin
(by close friend Mrs. Visakha Wickrameratne,
on the occasion of Godwin's 7th death anniversary at Nilambe Meditation Centre)
Venerable Sirs and Friends,
Upul has asked me to speak a few words giving my recollections of Godwin. I have put down my reflections on paper so that I can share it with you, with no hassle or memory lapses.
Most of you here knew him well. The others would have heard of him or read his teachings or listened on tape to his discourses. When Upul gave me this task the first thing I did was to sit down quietly and reflect on the good old days, when Godwin was so much a part of our lives and our family had such close associations with him - as a dear friend and a loved and respected teacher. I had the added good fortune of being his relative as well.
Thinking of Godwin the picture that unfolded before my eyes was of a simply-dressed person, in white, grey or cream, with a cloth bag slung over his shoulder, and a beaming smile on his face getting down from the van, amidst the chaos and confusion caused by our dogs barking in welcome. There was already a large crowd waiting patiently until 4.30 for our Tuesday meditation class to begin. We had a crowd free of any distinctions of race or religion. Most of them were Sinhalese but we had a few Tamils, Muslims, Westerners, Easterners, Hindus, Christians and Catholic novices from the Ampitiya Seminary, who were attracted to Godwin's teaching. Because of his great sense of wit and humour we found the classes fun. Our classes were animated discussions with varied and contradictory points of view being expressed. I can picture Godwin in his good-natured way saying: "That is an interesting question" or "that is an interesting point of view" not wanting to hurt anyone. Teaching us couldn't have been an easy task, for many of us were quite ignorant, or too stubborn to see the truth, grasping onto our own false views and opinions. He didn't give up though, but patiently attempted to guide us to the truth. Meditation was conducted not so much as a strict discipline but as an interesting journey of exploration into our own minds - a journey he took us along for many many years and who knows, the journey in samsara I hope has been shortened for us.
I felt I should give a balanced account of Godwin and so my mind probed for any limitations, any frailties, any negativity in him as he was a human being just like us. I just couldn't find any. Perhaps in his youth he may have worked with some weaknesses and then emerged as a sound wholesome human being - the Godwin we knew. He wasn't a practical man when it came to the guiles and materialism of modern life. Dear Elspeth who lived at this Meditation Centre once remarked that he was like a lamb amidst the pretensions of society. An incident comes into my mind: he made research into rebirth, Buddhist tradition and practices in Sri Lanka associated with the Sangha and the laity that was extensive and he was associated with many Professors of foreign Universities dealing with these subjects. One day he was quite amused as much as I was angry that a person with whom he worked jointly had omitted his name from the published book although it was agreed they were going to be co-authors (there were others of course who were very appreciative of Godwin's contribution and ackowledged it).
He taught by example. Not only did he teach the Dhamma, he lived it. A great tribute to him were the large numbers who sought for guidance in meditation as well as those in need of help for their psychological problems. Being a lay teacher he understood everyday life and was able to cope directly with problems faced by people. He talked, he listened. Many feel the need to communicate, especially those who have a problem and want to share it. He was always there to listen to them. He never turned away, however sick and tired he was. He had the ability to draw the "fiends" as he called mental problems out into the open and he advised people to make friends with them so that the fear of the unknown would be gone. If fiends become friends you would be able to deal with them, he pointed out. He always told us that once we recognise our disease and accept the fact we have it, the medicine is in our hands and we can cure ourselves. I witnessed the efficacy of the psychotherapy he used to give comfort and solace to those, especially young people, who found living a problem, unable to face the realities, tensions and the trauma of modern living. I read somewhere that the living need charity more than the dead. He was a true kalyana mitta.
I remember a young friend of his from overseas who was in dire need of psychological help sending an SOS wanting desperately to speak to Godwin, but Godwin was already in hospital and in a critical state. The news we next received was that this friend had taken his own life. Had he had the opportunity to speak to Godwin, I wonder whether he might have had the chance of another go at life.
His ability to communicate in both English and Sinhala was a great advantage that he had. As a result he was not only able to convey the Buddha Dhamma, the practice of Buddhist meditation and mind culture to the Sri Lankan people but carry the message to foreign lands with him. He was a revered teacher in many parts of the world and had so many invitations to conduct courses that he had to turn some of them down.
He didn't live in isolation. He enjoyed company as much as others enjoyed being with him. He was a very welcome guest wherever he went. He was an important person no doubt sought after by many from all parts of the world, but a lovely quality was that he was such an unassuming person and never pushed himself forward into the limelight. One day Godwin came in laughing that he had been considered for the award of the Man of the Millenium by the University of Cambridge. We were all excited. He merely threw all the documents that had to be sent back to them with information into the waste paper basket. Dharmaraja College, where he had studied, was one time felicitating its distinguished old boys and he was nominated as one which amused him as he hadn't thought of himself as being in that category.
He was unassuming, soft spoken and gentle. I remember the incident when Prof. Parakrama was murdered, and on being informed of this my husband Harilal rushed to Nilambe and found Godwin calmly seated in the police jeep waiting to be taken for questioning, not protesting at all till Harilal rescued him by assuring the police officers that this was the resident teacher of the Centre and moreover that he was the teacher of their superior officer as well.
Godwin had the remarkable quality of being at home anywhere, may it be in his own home, or at Nilambe, Lewella, in his friends' homes or anywhere in the world amongst the distinguished and the not so distinguished. He fitted in like a glove. Paradoxically he was homeless as well, as anywhere was home. Some of his friends told me of this incident in Switzerland when his bag containing his documents and money had been stolen while he was on a train. He had to spend a night in jail until his Swiss friends rescued him the next morning. He had laughingly explained that his mind couldn't be stolen and so he spent a good night in his temporary home, the prison cell, watching his unstolen mind.
I found Godwin very special in that he understood human nature in all its diversity and complexity. There was humility in the way he interacted with all. He was never judgmental. He didn't consider himself always right nor that he was the sole authority on anything. He didn't force his views down unwilling throats. He respected and was willing to consider and accept the views of others. He never looked down on anyone from a position of superiority. He communicated with people of any level of understanding - intellectuals, professionals, housewives, the elderly, the youth, children of all ages - he could respond to them all. It was amazing. He loved the company of children and they loved him. To my little daughter - who is not so little anymore - he was always her "holy father" and he declared he was the president of her fan club - they teased each other like this. Rudyard Kipling's words come to my mind: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch, ...You will be a man, my son!" - this was so true of Godwin.
He was a versatile man of many interests. While he was the Librarian of the Municipal Council Library and his brother Felix was Librarian of the British Council, both brothers used to attend the discussions on English Literature of which they were very knowledgeable. One day at one of the private literature classes when I asked Godwin whether he could help me out with a discussion of R.K. Narayan's 'The English Teacher' with reference to his philosophy of spiritualism, which was new to me, he agreed, and it looked as though he had taken the students on a really interesting mystical journey as I found them so engrossed in what he had to say.
He enjoyed going on excursions to places of religious and cultural interest in Sri Lanka. We thought these trips would be good for him to relax. The obvious hadn't occurred to us that he was always a relaxed person with a meditative frame of mind. Meditation was a part of him.
I recollect an incident where Godwin was watching the Sri Lanka vs. Australia match on TV. He was a cricket enthusiast and had played for Dharmaraja College in his student days. There he was cheering away for Sri Lanka and someone asked him why he was getting so emotional. His simple answer was that once he goes from there he would leave the match and the emotions behind and wouldn't be carrying them with him. I recall the incident from the Buddhist texts of the young monk carrying a woman across the river and at the disapproval of the elder monk. The young monk remarked that he had left the woman on the shore while it appeared that the elder monk was still carrying her. Godwin had no artificiality and pretence. He was very human and spontaneous.
I don't think I have ever come across another person as kind and compassionate as Godwin was. In all his activities his foremost quality was compassion. Even as he lay in hospital I was amazed at his memory which obviously stemmed from his interest in and caring for people. There were so many who came to see him and I couldn't believe it, he knew them all by name, what their children were doing, what exams they were sitting for, whether the daughter had had her baby and whether her son had returned from England and so on.
A few hours before he lost consciousness he noticed a man in his ward lamenting that he had been discharged but had no way of getting back home as his relatives hadn't come and he had no money to go home on his own. Godwin's immediate response was for me to give him the money and he was full of joy when he saw the man leaving with a smiling face. He always thought of others. He never thought in terms of I, me and mine. I remember the numerous gifts he received, many from overseas and he distributed them all. There was once an embarrassing instance when a gift given to him found its way back to the giver! But all his friends understood his nature. No one misunderstood. Another incident flashes across my mind. Elspeth once brought him a very expensive rain coat, specially selected by her for him from England. The next day she found one of the workers wearing it in the heavy rain and there was Godwin holding his old umbrella.
His friends abroad were surprised when I told them that Godwin was not only a spiritual teacher but was widely involved with social service and that he helped many with his own funds. He did it all with no advertisement. Helen Minder from Switzerland who was here when he died decided to set up a fund in the name of her revered teacher, to continue the work he had begun of uplifting the lives of poor people. This work is being ably done in Godwin's name by the dedicated and unstinted support of Jeanne Mynett here at the Centre who finds the much needed funds and Herbert too who is involved with fund raising. They, along with the untiring efforts of Malini Wijekoon, Upul's mother and Mahesh at the Lewella Centre keep this work going.
When thinking of Godwin, Shakespeare's words come to my mind. "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Godwin was a glowing example of a man who achieved greatness through his stature of being a great human being with unlimited stores of compassion with the deep need to comfort suffering humanity.
To me his greatest achievement was that he exemplified a life that a layman could live. His meditation was started in his home. On one side was the busy main Kandy road and on the other side was the railway line. He didn't have the ideal conditions of peace and quiet, but achieved the peace and quiet of his mind in spite of it. He epitomised the saying that "peace is found in the market place, and not in the mountains." He gave us the message that we, being laymen, could still tread the meditative path in our busy lives and homes. This was his greatest gift to us.
The large crowds that visited him in hospital - so many that they had to be sent in batches - and the large numbers who came to pay their respects at his funeral were a glowing tribute to a teacher and a friend held in great esteem. May his goodness help him on his journey out of suffering.
Thank you Upul for giving me this opportunity of sharing my recollections of Godwin with all of you. I must end by speaking of another lasting achievement of Godwin's. He used his wisdom to leave behind him an able young guru to take his place. So we have Upul to continue his good work.