Author name: Christopher

Christopher Titmuss, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, teaches Awakening and Insight Meditation around the world. He is the founder and director of the Dharma Facilitators Programme and the Living Dharma programme, an online mentor programme for Dharma practitioners. He gives retreats, participates in pilgrimages (yatras) and leads Dharma gatherings. Christopher has been teaching annual retreats in Bodh Gaya, India since 1975 and leads an annual Dharma Gathering in Sarnath since 1999. A senior Dharma teacher in the West, he is the author of numerous books including Light on Enlightenment, An Awakened Life and Transforming Our Terror. A campaigner for peace and other global issues, Christopher is a member of the international advisory council of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. . Poet and writer, he is the co-founder of Gaia House, an international retreat centre in Devon, England. He lives in Totnes, Devon, England.


Paul Koppler, the founder and guardian angel of the Waldhaus Retreat Centre, Nickenich, an hour from Bonn, Germany and I were talking over lunch last week about the practice of Naikan Therapy. We have a mutual friend, Franz in

Austria, who has been a Naikan therapist for more than 25 years leading Naikan retreats, often every other week.

Naikan Therapy enables people to take total responsibility for their feelings, perceptions and views in matters of a relationship, and to transform their attitude towards another person. It is truly a Buddhist therapy.

Naikan means in Japanese inside looking and was founded by Ishin Yoshimoto in 1953.

A participant sits a seven day Naikan retreat. He or she is provided with a small room, pen and paper, and only leaves the room to go to the toilet and shower. The Naikan teacher goes to the room daily, perhaps two or three times, to listen to the person’s reflections. The participant has three questions to reflect on and has nothing else whatsoever to be committed to.

The Three Questions

  1. What have I received from __________ ?
  2. What have I given to __________ ?
  3. What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?

These questions apply right up to the present time in the retreatant’s life. The person generally takes the most important person in their life and explores the relationship within the context and discipline of the three questions. The practice enables the person to come to a realistic view of the relationship and the necessary give and take required.

Naikan helps the individual take full responsibility for their attitude, motivations and enables him or her to recognise the support and care that the other person has offered. The practice is to end the problems in the relationship due to seeing the other primarily or equally at fault.

1. What has the person given me? The retreatant might list all the details of what the person in his or her life has offered, shared or sacrificed going back as far as possible. One becomes mindful of all the little things. The more the recollection of tiny details the better. Everything is important.

2. The other side of the equation. What have I given to the person? What am I offering currently? Make the details specific.

3. What problem and difficulties have I caused or am I causing this person? This is the hardest question. We are used to believing that the other person must change for any kind of relationship to work. We might think that what we say or do is not such a big deal. The retreatant becomes mindful and writes down with total honesty all the problems and difficulties he or she has caused in the relationship right up to the present time.

One person might choose their mother, father, siblings, partner, neighbour, boss, friend, pet, or a job or the area where one lives or a possession, such as money, a home or a car.

One person asked Ishin Yoshimoto, the founder: “Why don’t you allow a fourth question? What are the problems and difficulties the person has caused me?

The founder replied: “There is no need for you too go into this question. You know already.
”If you have a major issue going on with somebody, then take a day out and give yourself totally To these three questions. You might change into the person that you want the other person to be!




A friend, Jenny, kindly invited me for my birthday to come to watch at Dartington, Totnes on film Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man – a tribute to the Canadian singer-poet, Leonard Cohen. Various artists sang several of his best known songs including “I’m Your Man” Suzanne, Tower of Song and Hallelujah.

Halfway through the concert, a guy dressed in black, a little heavy in build, and with black lanky hair, looking a bit like a mediaeval monk, named Antony of Antony and the Johnsons came on stage and sang a less known song of Leonard Cohen called “If it be your will.” that starting with the words….
“If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true …”

Anthony sang with a haunting sensitivity that expressed itself throughout every note. This voice expressed a very rare quality. I had one of those seminal moments in the act of listening that resonated throughout my whole being of sheer jhanic (deep absorption) happiness – the sweetness of the voice, with his breathtaking range of emotions from an exquisite depth to an angelic high. As soon as I arrived home, I googled his name to find out about his music and the name. Born in Chichester, Sussex, England, Antony has lived for many years in the USA. He is a rare being – he embraces both male and female and through the unity of the two, he reaches out so that several songs feel like a hymn to humanity. Love, forgiveness, sorrow, identity, death feature in the lyrics – very simple and to the point.

In the sweetest of ways, Antony is fearless in terms of his lyrics.

One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful woman
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful girl
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful woman
One day I’ll grow up, I’ll be a beautiful girl
But for today I am a child, for today I am a boy

Antony has clearly touched a chord with those professionals who give their life to music. His 2005 album I am Bird Now won the prestigious Mercury Music Award given by a panel of industry experts, journalists and artists, for the album’s originality and creativity rather than sales success. The chairman of the judges said “I am a Bird Now is not like any album I have heard before or since.”Laurie Anderson, a creative artist herself, said: “When he sings it is the most exquisite thing that you will hear in your life.”

I bought the album the next day and played it one evening on the retreat that Nicole Stern and I were offering on The Power of Intimacy in the Waldhaus, near Bonn, Germany. Listen to it and let your heart sing.

Listen to Antony sing >>



It is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that our own religion is the true faith and that other believers have got it wrong. The following two lists show that religions, even from different cultural and historical backgrounds, have more in common for the good or for ill than we may think.

FACTORS COMMON TO RELIGIONS. Positive and Negative Read More »


Are we living in a period when the quest for something profoundly spiritual has formed itself into a marketable package; a package that is rapidly becoming an agreement in certain spiritual circles, shaped by an unquestioning obedience to a definition of enlightenment?

It would appear that several key standpoints and the definition of the determination of these standpoints determine what enlightenment is. If you have the experience of Oneness, Being, Consciousness and Non Duality, while abiding in total acceptance and complete surrender, with no thoughts of the past or future, then this means you know your True Self and are enlightened. Being enlightened, you are abide effortlessly in the Now knowing that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go, and all effort is ego.

This is complete unexcelled enlightenment. Are you sure? Are you really sure this is the fulfilment of all human aspiration? We do not have to look far to see why it is such an attractive package and why people are prepared to pay $$$$ for a retreat, a workshop or for a couple of hours teachings and dialogue on the Now.

When the mind is running up and down the three fields of time (past, present and future) and stressed out with thinking about everything that is inconsequential, then the ideology of the NOW and non-thinking must hold great attraction. After all, we are urged to believe there is only the Now and the Now is eternal. Or, are the high priests of this spiritual package deluding themselves and deluding others into clinging to the Now as enlightenment?

Have these spiritual teachers simply called a halt to deep inquiry and have settled for Being-in-the-Now as the answer to everything?Well, is it enlightenment? Or, at best, is it a pseudo enlightenment, a kindergarten enlightenment that, for starters, doesn’t require a single change of lifestyle, an exploration of a vast number of ethical issues, an investigation into dependent arising circumstances, fearless compassion, insights into wider sphere of  global consciousness and heaven forbid, any kind of real renunciation, or even questioning of the so called reality of the Now, let alone surrender to it?

It appears that certain spiritual teachers steer away from vital issues; they have adopted another standpoint namely that these matters are irrelevant from an enlightened perspective since they take us away from the Now. Frankly, when the self (with or without a capital S) lands in the Now and stays there it is stuck, truly stuck.Anyway some teachers tells us the above concerns has nothing to with enlightenment.

Excuse me, some of us beg to differ. Perhaps we all need to wake up and realise the vast circumstances that make up our life. Of course, there is an immense value in knowing the immediacy of things but it would be a great tragedy if in any way consciousness became restricted to the Now and defined itself by the Now.

A truly enlightened life has surely to address major issues and not be afraid to enter into discourse about them.  

Extract from 4000 word article “Is the Here and Now a Myth?”

A small footnote: I suspect the Buddha would feel totally bemused at the new lightweight determination of enlightenment on offer in the West.


The ‘Gandhi of Cambodia,’ Obituary for Venerable Maha Ghosananda

Born Takeo Province, Cambodia, 1929

Died March 12, 2007, Pennsylvania, USA.

I noticed Venerable Maha Ghosananda when arrived at our Vipassana monastery, Wat Chai Na, situated at the edge of the rice paddies, in the village of Tambon Na, just outside Nakornsridhammaraj, 17 hours south on the train from Bangkok. He wore the yellow robes of the city Buddhist monk rather than the brown robes of the forest monk; he carried two small bags, one hanging from each shoulder. He walked gracefully, slowly and with remarkable serenity.  He was a handsome man in his early 40s. It was 1972.

A few minutes later, Ajahn Dhammadaro, our abbot and Vipassana teacher sent a novice to interrupt my walking meditation to tell me to come to the Ajahn’s sala (room for meeting guests) to talk with the monk. The new arrival to the monastery was Venerable Maha Ghosananda from Cambodia. He had taken ordination at the age of 14 and 10 years later in 1954 travelled to Nalanda, the ancient Buddhist centre in Bihar, India where he lived for nearly 20 years before returning to Thailand.

The Ajahn gave Venerable Ghosananda the best kuti (hut), right next to the sala. Recently completed, it was the only brick kuti in the monastery, with attached toilet, mosquito netting on the windows and an electric fan. Five star accommodation. The newly arrived monk spoke to me in English with a smattering of Thai, French, plus a little Sanskrit and Pali. He smiled and laughed and held my hand as we spoke. He seemed to ooze the divine abiding of mudita, that is a profound depth of appreciative joy and happiness that goes in all the directions, inwardly and outwardly. After some minutes, the Ajahn told the novice to take Tahn Maha (Venerable Great One) to the brick hut.

I remember wondering to myself whether the new arrival, clearly a man of Buddhist scholarship and great humour, would last in the austere climate of this Vipassana monastery. Ajahn Dhammadaro forbade the reading of books. He quoted the Buddha who said that monks who study but don’t practice cannot be said to be followers of the Dharma. The Ajahn had no interest in Abhidhamma, learning Pali or chanting. Our Cambodian monk would not only witness the austerity of the monastery but would have to listen to the evening Dharma talks from the Ajahn, that showed little regard for Buddhist scholarship and monks with titles such as Maha that are conferred on those who qualify in Pali studies. I had seen some city monks and scholar monks come and go.

After Venerable Ghosananda’s arrival, he immediately retreated into his hut to live as a hermit. He never spoke, only appeared for the morning meal, and occasionally attended the evening dharma teachings. In a monastery of 80 – 100 monks and even more nuns, this Cambodian monk was the most reclusive. Ajahn Dhammadaro usually strongly discouraged such isolation, insisting on meditation in the sitting, walking, standing and reclining posture taking place outside beneath the trees, but he allowed Tahn Maha to be the exception. We never knew why.

One day, after several weeks, unexpectedly, Venerable Ghosananda invited me to his hut. I was curious about it, nobody had been inside it since his arrival, not even the windows shutters were open. Inside the hut, he had stuck on the wall small pieces of paper with verses and statements of the Buddha; mostly in English, but also in other languages. Again, he oozed a natural and infectious happiness. He rarely received any mail but knew out about the terrible fate of Cambodia following the decision of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger to engage in saturation bombing of Cambodia, as part of the American war on the population of neighbouring Vietnam.

Referring to the US bombing in 1973, he told me during one of our meetings every week or two in his hut with sadness in his eyes: “The rivers of Cambodia are full of blood,” From time to time, the Ajahn invited him to give a talk to the monks and nuns – he nearly always spoke on the theme of loving kindness, compassion and joy and the importance of Vipassana to see things clearly. There was no order to his talks but joy-filled sharing in a rather eccentric way. We all knew the terrible fate that befell Cambodia as we listened to Venerable Ghosananda. In 1972. we didn’t  know that the fate of Cambodia would get far worse when the Khmer Rouge took over the country, then declared Year Zero in April 1975, and ordered everyone out of the cities and towns to be rural peasants.

The bombing precipitated the terror regime of the Khmer Rouge that launched the Cambodian holocaust of the death of a third of the population – through sickness, starvation, systematic torture and death. School classrooms in villages and towns throughout the country were used as torture centres for terror and murder that local people had to endure day and night.

The Khmer Rouge forced the disrobing of monks and nuns destroying 90% of the entire ordained Sangha of 60,000 monks in Cambodia and blowing up countless monasteries. As part of the infamous Year Zero, the Khmer Rouge murdered the entire intellectual class of Cambodia including all 17 close relatives of Ven. Ghosananda. From the Vipassana monastery of Wat Chai Na, he would send daily his brother, the First Secretary in the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok, a dharma postcard until his brother returned to Phnom Penh, the capital, to try to do something about the unfolding horror. Upon arrival on the plane in Cambodia, he was arrested, tortured and killed. Another brother of Venerable Maha Ghosananda a judge, suffered the same fate.

By 1978, thousands upon thousands of refugees were fleeing Cambodia to take refuge in the hills of neighbouring Thailand. There were also spies in the camps for the Khmer Rouge. After more than five years as a hermit in the Vipassana monastery, Venerable Ghosananda one day picked up his two shoulder bags, and with the blessing of Ajahn Dhammadaro, took the train to Bangkok and then another nine hour train journey to north east Thailand to visit the refugee camps. Cambodians wept to see a Buddhist monk in their midst. His solitude and his Vipassana practice had empowered him.

He told the Cambodian refugees:

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.

From this suffering comes great Compassion.

Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.

A peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.

A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Community.

A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.

And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.

May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.

From STEP BY STEP – Maha Ghosananda
Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion

He began teaching metta (loving kindness) meditations, offering Vipassana practices, and teaching the chanting of refuge in the Triple Gem. Most of all, he continued to exude happiness and joy. He had printed the classical Metta statement of the Buddha that states that hatred only ceases through non-hatred, not through hatred. The Khmer Rouge in the camps threatened to kill him if he continued his programme of peace and reconciliation. Fearing for his life, senior Cambodians and Western aid agencies bought him a one way air ticket to Paris to safeguard his life. They said he could support Cambodians living in France. Venerable Ghosananda took the train to Bangkok, cashed in the air ticket, had tens of thousands more Metta leaflets printed and returned with the leaflets to the refugee camps. He had an indefatigable spirit.

In 1992, during the first year of the United Nations sponsored peace agreement, Venerable Ghosananda lead the first nation-wide Dharma Yatra, a peace pilgrimage, across Cambodia in an effort to restore the spirit of the Cambodian people.

The 16-day, 200 kilometer peace walk passed through territory still controlled by the Khmer Rouge. Afterwards, he led numerous other peace walks across Cambodia, accompanied with as many as 200 people each year.

I recall in early September 1997 standing with Venerable Ghosananda on the steps of the Senate as part of the campaign of the United Nations to try to persuade the United States, China and Russia to join the rest of the world that had agreed to stop the production of landmines. It was just a week after the death of Princes Diane, a determined campaigner to stop the production of landmines (anti-personal) mines.

The monk and I were on the 12 member international advisory board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Venerable Ghosananda slowly walked up to the barrage of microphones and television cameras and said slowly and deliberately: “The anti-personal mines start here in our heart and then end up in the ground. We have to uproot the anti-personal mines within us as well as stopping the production of mines outside of ourselves.” The media went silent for a moment. He then sat down and, despite the subsequent efforts of the media, said nothing else. It was a profound moment.

By the early1990’s, he became the Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism and worked tirelessly for reconciliation. The late Pope John Paul met with him on several occasions. The Maha would give the Pope a huge bear hug and pick the Pope off his feet with the strength of his hug. “I lifted the Roman Catholic Church off the ground,” Tahn Maha once told me with great laughter. At an Inter-faith meeting in the Vatican some years ago, I spotted a large photograph on the wall of the Pope and Venerable Ghosananda in one of their big hugs. At home, I have a picture on the wall of my office of this beloved monk with our fingers intertwined and his other hand holding my other arm. His metta for all beings was unstoppable.

He has been deservedly called “the Gandhi of Cambodia.” Venerable Maha Ghosananda was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and again nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1995, 1996, and 1997.  He received the Rafto Prize, the Niwano Peace Prize and the Courage of Conscience Award.

He resided part time in the Palalai Temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, as well as time in Cambodian temples on the East Coast. He was deeply loved by the Cambodian community in the West and the international insight meditation sangha.  Venerable Maha Ghosananda died in the United States on March 12, 2007. The world is poorer for the loss of a saint.


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