Publishing Godwin

The following, which I wrote last year, was recently published in Remembering Godwin, a selection of talks by Godwin Samararatne and some appreciations of his life and teachings, edited and compiled by Dennis Candy and Sampath Dissanayake, by the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Trust Board to commemorate Godwin’s 10th anniversary in 2010.

I first met Godwin on my initial visit to Sri Lanka in 1990.  I had arrived in the country from an ashram in Southern India with just two addresses for meditation centres.  The first one hadn’t worked out very well as the teacher was conceited, rude and uncompromising, and being used to a welcoming hand in India I had almost decided to give up on a country that I was unfamiliar with and whose hosts appeared to be so unfriendly (the teacher was not a Sri Lankan who, as I later found out, are almost without exception as hospitable as their Indian counterparts).

Still I had the second address and rather than give up I decided to go along and see.  From the beginning Godwin was so humble, open and friendly the contrast could hardly be greater, and I quickly settled in at the Nilambe Centre near Kandy.  In those days Godwin was mainly teaching choiceless awareness, a meditation technique that, at least in the way Godwin was teaching it, was based as much on the teachings of J. Krishnamurti as on those of the Buddha.  Godwin asked me to try it, and immediately I could see that all the many benefits I had gained from my meditation practice in India had only been a by-product of the practice I had been doing there, and that this was a direct way, simply looking straight at the mind, without interference or objectives.  I dropped all other practices for the next few years, and concentrated on developing this one.

As meditation was my main interest in those days I asked Godwin if I might tape some of the evening group discussions with him, to which he readily agreed.  Everyone who attended Godwin’s retreats either at Nilambe or abroad will be familiar with the group discussions he used to conduct, but in those days, owing to political violence and instability in Sri Lanka, there was sometimes only Godwin, myself, and one or two other people present at the Centre, and the discussions were more or less one-to-one.

I spent about 3 weeks making the recordings and about 3 months transcribing and re-editing them!  It was quite a labour of love as I worked them up to try to cover all of Godwin’s main teachings, but it was well worth it as I was excited about the new insights I had gained and wanted to share the teachings with others.  Eventually the transcripts were ready and I sent out photocopies of them to friends worldwide.  The response was very good and I continued working on them over the next couple of years as I spent more time in Godwin’s presence and understood his teaching better. That was my first literary involvement with Godwin and his teaching, and at the time I had no idea what it would presage for the future.

My second involvement was in 1995, when Godwin was invited to attend the J. Krishnamurti centenary celebrations in Madras (now known as Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, an offer he was more than happy to accept.  The Gathering and Dialogue lasted for seven days, and he was very excited about it when he returned.  He had the idea to prepare a newspaper article about the conference, and he asked me and Jeanne Mynett to help him write it up.  This was the first time we had worked together on such a project, and Godwin more or less roughed out what he wanted to say and Jeanne and myself put it into presentable English – Godwin was a great communicator, probably one of the greatest communicators I have ever met, but his style was conversational and personal, and literature has more stringent demands which we endeavoured to meet.

I had earlier decided to ordain as a Theravada monk and was very honoured indeed that year when Godwin and a group of friends from Nilambe drove down to the Kanduboda International Meditation Centre (at Delgoda, about 35 kilometres east of Colombo) to attend my ordination.  Godwin was well-known at Kanduboda, and his best friend had earlier ordained there and had become famous as the English Meditation Instructor, Ven. Sivali, a monk whose memory was still revered in the Centre when I was there, even though he had passed away more than a decade earlier.

Over the next few years I rarely visited Nilambe and had little contact with Godwin as I pursued my early monastic training at the Kanduboda Centre and at branch centres around the country.  Although my training period was very necessary, of course, I am sorry that the way it worked out I had so little time left to be with Godwin.  The next time I saw him was at the end of 1999 in the Lewella Meditation Centre, just before his final teaching trip to South Africa.  I was very shocked to see how poorly he had become – when he walked across the room it struck me that he looked as though he was trying to walk on air and every small jolt to his body must have been painful.

I questioned Jeanne as to whether his decision to go abroad at this time was really the right thing to do, but she very sensibly pointed out that Godwin enjoyed his trips enormously, and besides he had much less to do when he was abroad than when he was in Sri Lanka, owing to the endless stream of people who came to seek his instruction and advice whether he was in town at the Lewella Meditation Centre or in the main centre at Nilambe.

It just so happened that I was in Lewella again when he returned from South Africa in February 2000.  He was very frail and very tired and I am sorry to say he was obviously dying, though how little time he had left at that point none of us realised.  After a few days I had to return to my monastery at the Island Hermitage near Galle, and I left early one morning.  As soon as I arrived there I received a call from Ven. Analayo, who was the resident teacher at Lewella, saying that Godwin had been hospitalised.  I was unable to return to Kandy at that time and Godwin died only a couple of weeks later.

It seems odd now that we didn’t think of the obvious at the time, but it was in fact only a couple of years later, in 2002, that a Swiss friend of Godwin’s, Helen Minder, started a project to collect Godwin’s teachings.  She asked Jeanne to re-edit the talks that were being transcribed in Germany.  It was a good choice as Jeanne knew Godwin’s teachings well, having spent the better part of her time since 1989 in Nilambe with Godwin.  She was able to fill in the gaps when necessary and restructure the talks into a literary form without losing Godwin’s “voice” in the process.

There was one thing that Jeanne lacked however, and that was any ability with computers.  By that time I was already very familiar with computer work, having prepared a number of my own works for publication, and I also had a fledgling website of my own, something still rare in those days amongst monks.  Jeanne therefore asked if I could help correct the transcripts and get them into a publishable state, something I readily agreed to do, as I felt that Godwin’s works were able to reach people in a way that my own more studious works couldn’t.

The tapes that we worked on in those days were originally published on Helen Minder’s Help for Sri Lanka website, but when Helen had to abandon that work around 2004, Jeanne had the bright idea to start a website dedicated solely to Godwin’s material.  As I had the necessary skills we divided the work up and I became the webmaster, and Jeanne the general editor.

It was really only at that time that we made more efforts to collect, transcribe, and publish Godwin’s work, something which is still being pursued to this day, though the amount of material left is diminishing.  We also sought to collect other memorabilia like photographs, audio tapes, etc.  In 2006 we published Meditation for Everyday Life, a collection of retreat talks given by Godwin at the Waldhaus in Germany in 1998 (published by Buddhist Cultural Centre, Dehiwela, Colombo).

The following year we were looking to publish The Gentle Way of Buddhist Meditation, a re-presentation of Godwin’s Retreat Talks in Hong Kong in 1997 which Jeanne had been working on for a long time.  I had learned in Sri Lanka that the only way to get the work published successfully was to oversee it myself, and so when the book was accepted for publication for free distribution by Inward Path in Penang, I agreed to travel to Malaysia and see the publication through, which was completed successfully in a beautiful edition by May of 2007.

One of the main supporters for the publication was Ven. Dhammika’s Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Singapore, so as soon as it was published I took down a share of the copies to Singapore.  This was a very auspicious trip as while I was there we found two whole sets of Godwin’s talks on cassette that had been made during his visits in 1991 and 1992, as well as a few others that were undated.  Up and till then we had only a couple of talks on record that were in anything like a publishable state of preservation, but here I found about twenty and most of them in good condition.

In the early years of preparing Godwin’s talks for publication I had helped Jeanne with some of the editing of the transcripts, before learning that she was making such a good job of it, it hardly needed anything more than a quick read through to polish them up a little.  Editing the audio tapes was a much more difficult task though, as Godwin sometimes left things unstated, occasionally a dialogue would flounder, and I came across many other things that would have been easily corrected on paper, but took a lot of patience to sort out on live recordings.  The task though was accomplished over a period of time, and the re-edited tapes went on to form the basis of the audio section of the website, which also quickly became the most popular page that was being visited.

In 2008 we were joined in our work by Peter van Leeuwen, an old friend of Godwin’s who helped organise some of his European tours, who had fortunately had the foresight to record Godwin’s retreats in the Netherlands.  He has transcribed and re-edited talks Godwin made in the Netherlands in 1996 and 1998, and they are now available in a book entitled Learning through Meditation (Published by Nilambe Meditation Centre to commemorate Godwin’s 9th Anniversary), and as audio files on the website.

More of Godwin’s works are being prepared for publication (Awaken Publications in Singapore have just this year (2009) published a beautiful edition of Discovering Meditation, which was re-edited from Godwin’s talks in the Waldhaus, Germany in 1996) and it seems that the longer we go on the greater number of people we are able to reach with his teachings.  I sometimes regret that we didn’t undertake the collecting, preserving and publishing of the material that was available at an earlier stage, as some that we collected later had decayed with time, and digitalising the material earlier would have saved much more.

It is also unfortunate indeed that Godwin only saw one or two small articles published in obscure publications during his lifetime.  But at least we have the satisfaction of having preserved so much of his teachings for his old friends, who would have only their fond memories otherwise; and we have also been able to pass on his still relevant teachings to a new generation, who never had the good fortune to meet him.


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