March 22nd 2010 marks 10 years since the passing away of Godwin
Samararatne. Godwin was the first meditation teacher at the
world-renowned Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre near Kandy and was one
of Sri Lanka’s most highly regarded lay meditation and Dhamma teachers
in recent decades.
The eminent American monk, Bhikkhu Bodhi, has written the following
words in appreciation of Godwin:
“As a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, Sri Lanka has secured
its place in the international Buddhist arena primarily through its
distinguished monastic order, which has included some of the most
erudite and eloquent monks of the modern world.
However, in addition to its monks, Sri Lanka can also boast of a
corps of outstanding lay Buddhist teachers who have achieved
international renown as scholars, thinkers, preachers, and spiritual
Among these are Anagarika Dharmapala, who spearheaded the Buddhist
revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the
Buddhist scholars G.P. Malalasekera, O.H. de A. Wijesekera and Lily De
Silva; the philosophers K.N. Jayatilleke, David Kalupahana, Y.
Karunadasa, and P.D. Premasiri; and the social activist and proponent of
peace, A.T. Ariyaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement.
Belonging to this same current of eminent lay teachers was a quiet,
thoughtful, and serene resident of Kandy named Godwin Samararatne, with
whom I had the fortune to be closely associated during my twenty-three
years living in Sri Lanka.
I first met Godwin within two months of my arrival in Sri Lanka, in
late 1972, when I was visiting the great German elder Ven. Nyanaponika
at the Forest Hermitage.
At the time, Godwin was working as librarian at the Kandy Municipal
Library, but his keen interest in Buddhism, psychology, and human
spirituality often drew him to the Forest Hermitage to borrow books and
discuss ideas with Ven. Nyanaponika.
For close to twenty years, Godwin had been the resident teacher at
the Nilambe Meditation Centre in the lovely Sri Lankan hill country.
He had also taught meditation at the Lewella and Visakha Meditation
Centres (two affiliates of Nilambe), in Kandy itself at the University
of Peradeniya, at private homes, and at the Buddhist Publication
Society. But Godwin did not belong to Sri Lanka alone.
He belonged to the whole world, and he was loved and esteemed by
people around the globe. Thousands of people from many lands came to
Nilambe to practise under his guidance, and they also invited him to
their own countries to conduct meditation courses and retreats.
Thus for over two decades Godwin had become an international Buddhist
figure, constantly in demand in countries ranging from Europe to
Singapore and Hong Kong. He was also a regular visitor to South Africa,
where he conducted his last meditation retreat just months before his
What was so impressive about Godwin was not what he did but what he
was. I can say that Godwin was above all a truly selfless person, and it
was this utter selflessness of the man that accounts for the impact he
had on the lives of so many people. I use the word “selflessness” to
describe Godwin in two interrelated senses.
First, he was selfless in the sense that he seemed to have almost no
inner gravitational force of a self around which his personal life
revolved: no pride, no ambition, no personal projects aimed at
He was humble and non-assertive, not in an artificial self-demeaning
way, but as if he had no awareness of a self to be effaced. Hence as a
meditation teacher he could be utterly transparent, without any trips of
his own to lay on his students.
This inward “emptiness” enabled Godwin to be selfless in the second
sense: as one who always gave first consideration to the welfare of
He empathized with others and shared their concerns as vividly as if
they were his own.
In this respect, Godwin embodied the twin Buddhist virtues of
loving-kindness and compassion, metta and karuna.
Even without many words, his dignified presence conveyed a quietude
and calm that spoke eloquently for the power of inner goodness, for its
capacity to reach out to others and heal their anxiety and distress.
It was this deep quietude and almost tangible kindness that drew
thousands of people to Godwin and encouraged them to welcome him into
their lives. The trust they placed in him was well deposited, for in an
age when so many popular “gurus” have gained notoriety for their
unscrupulous behaviour, he never exploited the confidence and goodwill
of his pupils.
Though Godwin taught the practice of Buddhist meditation,
particularly the “way of mindfulness,” he did not try to propagate
“Buddhism” as a doctrine or religious faith, much less as part of an
exotic cultural package. His inspiration came from the Dhamma as a path
of inner transformation whose effectiveness stemmed primarily from its
ability to promote self-knowledge and self-purification.
He saw the practice of meditation as a way to help people help
themselves, to understand themselves better and change themselves for
the better. He emphasized that Buddhist meditation is not a way of
withdrawing from everyday life, but of living everyday life mindfully,
with awareness and clear comprehension, and he taught people how to
apply the Dhamma to the knottiest problems of their personal lives.
By not binding the practice of meditation to the traditional
religious framework of Buddhism, Godwin was able to reach out and speak
to people of the most diverse backgrounds. For him there were no
essential, unbridgeable differences between human beings.
He saw people everywhere as just human beings beset by suffering and
searching for happiness, and he offered the Buddha’s practice of
mindfulness as an experiential discipline leading to genuine peace of
heart. Hence he could teach people from such different backgrounds -
Western, Asian, and African; Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim; Sri
Lankan Theravadins and Chinese Mahayanists - and all could respond
readily to his guidance.
If it was not for a chronic liver condition that he had patiently
endured for years, with hardly a word of complaint, Godwin might well
have lived on to actively teach the way of mindfulness for at least
But this was not to be, for in late February of the year 2000, almost
immediately upon his return from a teaching engagement in South Africa,
his illness deteriorated and a month later claimed his precious life.”