Christopher Titmuss – An Awakening Life
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV. My name is Iain McNay and our guest in the studio today is Christopher Titmuss. Hi Christopher. Christopher is a Dharma teacher and has written around 14 books. I have a few here: An Awakened Life which has some biographical stories, Light on Enlightenment: Revolutionary Teachings on the Inner Life, and Transforming our Terror which was inspired by the 9/11 attacks. Christopher, let me start by asking you ‘What is a Dharma teacher?’
Christopher: The word Dharma is a Sanskrit word. It means teachings and practices which contribute to opening up of the heart to realisation, to a free and liberated life. The word Dharma is a key concept in the Indian tradition, essentially used by the Buddha to describe his teachings. I’m a small servant of the Dharma.
Iain: Let’s look back at how your whole journey started. When I was researching your books, which I thought were great, I saw that at the school you went to, you were caned more times than any other pupil for misbehaving! I thought ‘there’s someone that’s going somewhere in life!’
Christopher: A dubious honour, I have to say! I was brought up in a council house estate, New Addington, just outside Croydon in Surrey, England. My mother, a Catholic, desperately wanted me to go to a Roman Catholic School. I went to the John Fisher School, Purley, Surrey. I didn’t cooperate. I would say too much in the classroom. The cane was in the form of a whale bone. One stretched the hand out and one got either two, four, six or eight strokes according to what one had done. I was the prankster. I dismantled the teacher’s desk. I put herrings under the floor boards, brought gold fish into the swimming pool at school. I got the caning. It broke the school record! (106 strokes in three years).
Iain: I guess you were fairly popular with the other school kids!
Christopher: Err, fairly popular yes, one might say. At the age of fifteen, it was enough for me being at the school so I left.
Iain: I think you left with no qualifications at all.
Christopher: No, I didn’t have any qualifications.
Iain: But you got yourself a job with a Roman Catholic newspaper to start with.
Christopher: Yes, I started off as the office boy, doing the filing, running the messages. I wanted to be a journalist. In my childhood, I thought a journalist was someone who made journeys to write, so that was my little boy’s mindset. I worked for “The Universe,” (A Roman Catholic weekly, based in London’s Fleet Street). I like the fact “I worked for the Universe”, that sounds rather nice! I’m still working for the Universe! (Both laugh). Then I worked as a London reporter for the Irish Independent. In my early twenties, around 22, I started journeying and hitch-hiking across to Europe and over to India.
Iain: You left with just £50 in your pocket?
Christopher: Yes. That went down to £39 when the Labour government devalued sterling. Somehow or the other I got by on that for the next ten years, you could say! (Laughs)
Iain: You survived on £39.00 for 10 years! (Laughs). What was motivating you to travel?
Christopher: Two things. One was definitely a certain level of disillusionment both with the Church, the Catholic Church, and secondly with politics through being a journalist, working in Fleet Street. I felt that the world is such an extraordinary place. I wanted to be connected, involved and listen to other cultures and environments. At that point India had, for whatever reason, a certain magnetic pull… partly the hippy culture…
Iain: You were reading books by Jack Kerouac and Alan Watts. You were getting into the literature side as well.
Christopher: Exactly. Making the journey through Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, into India and Nepal, I benefitted from the huge hospitality of the Arab world. When I arrived in Sarnath in India (I was actually just there last week) I picked up a small book written by the late Christmas Humphreys, founder of the Buddhist Society in the 1920s in London, as well as another small book. Two things leapt out of the page from the Buddha’s teachings. One was, that everything is undergoing change, so there’s no point in clinging and holding onto anything. Second: the importance of a non-clinging relationship to life, so that one can move freely with life, through recognising changes. This struck a fairly deep chord inside of me. Three years later, I shaved the head, put on the monk’s robe and became a Buddhist monk.
Iain: That’s a huge change.
Christopher: In a way, yes, I had to cut the hair, I was a hippy! (Laughs) Having been on the road for three years, living a pretty simple basic way of life, it wasn’t a dramatic change. It was like having travelled, and hitched, bussed and trained around thirty countries, it was time to make the inner journey. I feel I’d done the outer journey, to a degree. Now it was to make the inner work. That took me to the monastery.
Iain: I read what you had to do at the monastery, was contemplate on a corpse.
Christopher: Yes. One of the teachers would begin his talks with a fairly abrupt, and initially eye raising one liner: ‘Dear Brothers and Sisters in birth, aging, pain and death.’ In the monastery, we engaged in meditation on the corpse. The Abbot, my teacher, Ajahn Dhammadaro, kept some corpses in a glass case…
Iain: Were they actually skeletons or corpses?
Christopher: Corpses. The corpses had been injected with formalin. Monks looked after the corpses. They took the corpses out of the glass box, and sat them on a seat in the grounds of the monastery as a reminder. My doctor, my lay supporter, gave me in a glass jar a man’s heart who had died in operation. The man requested his body be given as a donation (dana) to the monastery. I kept the jar in my hut. We also were taken to the morgue, to the basement of the nearby hospital to see various autopsies where they cut open the body. This formed part of the teaching of learning to see body as nature, as a formation of elements, rather than seeing it as ‘me, myself and who I am’. It was a powerful teaching.
Iain: How was that to start with, to be so close to a corpse, just sitting there in a chair?
Christopher: I’d seen some death travelling on the road. I’d been in an earthquake in Turkey and had seen death in India and Laos. Death always has more power to it when it’s a person or persons you know. Monks and nuns were dying regularly in the monastery. We all became quite close to each other. Death gives one a sense of balance; the movement of life is a movement essentially between birth and death. The contemplation of death does strengthen and deepen the respect, love and intimacy for the ordinary things of life, as well as not taking anything or anyone for granted. There’s something important about it.
Iain: So when you say ‘contemplation’ of death, what form does that take?
Christopher: It would take two major forms in the monastery. One is, we would sit and literally meditate, look at the dead body - know that consciousness has gone, the body has, as Buddha said, gone cool, has gone cold, and all the heat has gone out. Just as it is for that body, so it will be for myself. I was once giving some teachings in a Christian monastery here in Britain. A monk told that when they took full ordination in his monastery, they dug their grave near their cell in preparation for their death, regardless of their age. There has been this long history of contemplation on death to remind us of impermanence and that life cannot be clung to.
Iain: In society we push away death the whole time. I know I’m going to die, of course, but I don’t actually believe I’m going to die. It’s very difficult to get out of that thinking that I am going to live forever although I know I’m not going to live forever.
Christopher: Exactly. We suppress death. It is repressed. It is hidden from us. It is covered up in a thousand ways. Avoidance of death lends itself to the intensification of desire, the wanting of security and the pursuit of more. The shadow of death haunts life because it’s not being looked at. If it’s really addressed, in the variety of ways, then we can find balance with our life as well, and be at ease with life without being afraid of death.
Iain: So how was life in the monastery in terms of structure? Were you getting up very early in the morning and meditating a lot?
Christopher: Yes, I stayed in serious vipassana monastery. Vipassana means a monastery for insight, a monastery for meditation, a monastery to face up to one’s existence in all respects. The bell began at 4am and each monk had a small hut. The teacher strongly discouraged meditating in the hut (because he didn’t believe us, I suspect!) so we had to be out of the hut and meditate outdoors.
Iain: He thought you’d be asleep in the hut!
Christopher: Yes, or we wouldn’t get up. We’d meditate on the small balcony in front of our hut or went into the Dharma hall. Essentially, we meditated from 4 o’clock in the morning till around 10 at night. It was a day of meditation using the four postures: sitting, walking, standing and reclining. I had that routine for just over three years. The teacher had no time for books. Books were banned in the monastery. He took the view that books destroyed practice. People read the books but they don’t practice, he said. When my teacher found out –because I kept in touch with him over the years – that I’d written some books, he was not pleased. He thought this was the downhill slope. It was that kind of monastery.
Iain: Did you have inter-action on a personal level with the other monks? Were you pretty much in your own world?
Christopher: Slightly… I think slightly, because I was the only Western monk in there for the first year or two. Being English, I was utterly lazy in terms of learning a foreign language. Only Thai people were there and one Indian monk, Bhikkhu Nagasena. By virtue of the fact that the Thai monks and nuns (except for Phra Suddhinand) couldn’t speak English. I had neither ability nor interest to learn a foreign language. So it was by default. The Indian monk Bhikkhu Nagasena, a wonderful monk, acted as the bridge between myself and the other monks and nuns. I met the teacher regularly for the one to one meetings with the Indian monk or Phra Suddinand as interpreter. That’s how it worked.
Iain: Was there a strong inner process going on for you the whole time? Were you able to relax some of the time?
Christopher: The dynamic… I loved it. I was a fish in water. People say ‘How could you stand it Christopher? My God so cut off from everybody, your friends and family. You can’t talk Thai language…’ I loved it. If the happiness and love is there, it doesn’t feel like ‘God it’s so intense, it’s so hard, it’s so… etc’. Love of practice generated a lot of happiness and well-being. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I was doing what I wanted to do. Secondly, it was finding some insight. Having said that, it’s not easy. The teacher gave a talk every evening of the week, 365 days a year…
Iain: In English or Thai?
Christopher: In Thai.
Iain: So you couldn’t understand?
Christopher: No. You had to go. It wasn’t a matter of choice. One’s got a shaved head. There are mosquitoes. About 200 of us are in the Dharma hall, monks and nuns. There’s a certain politeness in England. We give a public talk for half an hour, forty minutes, and enough. Thai Monasteries are time-less! Half-hour, one hour, two hour, three hour talk. One learns equanimity and endurance. The evening Dharma talk became part of one’s practice as well.
Iain: Obviously, you felt that something was deepening in you while you were there? What did you feel that was? What form was it taking?
Christopher: Mostly, the depth of love for sure. Insights would flower and emerge in a whole variety of ways about the relationship to mind and body, what really mattered; the looking at projections. Projections can become quite intense in monasteries upon others, upon oneself; dealing with the doubt ‘What am I doing here?’, ‘What good is this doing me?’ ‘Maybe I should be doing something else’. Mind wrestling goes on in the obvious austerity there. Yet, it kind of frees up one’s inner life in a remarkable way.
Iain: Did you have anxiety and fear coming up at times?
Christopher: I never had, even before ordination, much anxiety in my life. I was rather blessed I must say, given what I have to hear from other human beings. Sometimes yes, some fears would arise in a whole variety of ways.
Iain: Then you ‘graduated’ – maybe that wouldn’t be the right word – and you went to live in a cave for nine months. How did that come about?
Christopher: I knew that I had to make a fresh step. One monk told me about a cave. You have one star and five star caves. A five star cave has a lovely view, not too many snakes and scorpions in the cave, it’s quiet, and it’s high. These are the kind of conditions for a five-star cave.
Iain: With a good view…
Christopher: With a good view! I had a six-star cave! I stayed in Koh Pha Ngan Island which is next to Koh Samui island in the Gulf of Siam. I spent about nine months in the cave in the stillness and silence. One’s not alone. All the creatures wander around. One has a few ‘phew’ moments with the snakes especially!
Iain: Scorpions and snakes can be quite challenging…
Christopher: Yes. One recollection very briefly. In the middle of the night, I was sitting meditating outside by the cave on a ledge. I heard this ‘pshhh’. I actually thought it was a human being, I thought ‘It can’t be, I’m up here on the hills in the cave’. It was a long dark snake hanging from a little branch of a tree outside the cave. The snake hovered within arm’s reach from my eyes. There was the moon at night. The snake and I had total eye to eye contact. I didn’t know whether it was a rat snake which is non poisonous or a cobra. It’s hard to tell. I would only know the cobra if the hood comes out if it feels threatened. We were eye to eye. I never had such a sexy moment with a woman I have to say! (Both laugh). I knew I couldn’t move. The snake wasn’t going to move. Those ‘phew’ moments arrest the relationship, a profound one that humans have with the creature world. Those moments are precious.
Iain: What happened?
Christopher: The snake got bored with me and wondered back up the tree!
Iain: (Laughs) Somebody bought you your food up in the cave?
Christopher: No. The tradition is that I had the begging bowl. I went down to the village with the bowl. It’s totally silent. I stand outside the house. I am permitted a few seconds. A person would come out of their home, put the food in the bowl. I then walk to another house. I would then go back up to the cave.
Iain: Did the fact that you’re a Westerner make any difference?
Christopher: None at all. The people serve the Sangha of the ordained. Nationality is irrelevant.
Iain: You left there and you went to India. You actually spent quite a long time meditating underneath the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha got enlightened?
Christopher: Yes, I spent about two and a half years travelling all over India. I wanted to broaden my experience. To its credit, India has a certain receptivity to this diversity of exploration, and it still has. I spent several weeks, so it wasn’t that long, in Bodhgaya, the place of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. At that time it was easily possible –this was around 1974, the mid 1970s- to sit right under The Tree. That was lovely!
Iain: It must have been quite a remarkable experience actually.
Christopher: Precious and beautiful. It clearly had impact because I have been back to Bodhgaya to give teachings every year since. I got back from India last week. It was my 37th year of teaching in Bodhgaya. So something touched deep…
Iain: You disrobed in 1976?
Christopher: That’s right.
Iain: What was the reason for that?
Christopher: I don’t want to sound conceited here, but when the fruit is ripe – it sounds conceited doesn’t it! – it has to leave the tree. In other words, after the six years as a monk, the period of time was complete. I appreciated it. I still deeply do. It was time to move on. What’s the next adventure? What’s the next step?’
Iain: Did you feel free in yourself then, or you felt there was still an adventure to continue on your journey to get free?
Christopher: Well, I can say I felt free in myself. The freedom makes possible the adventure.
Iain: What does ‘feeling free’ in yourself mean?
Christopher: There are different aspects. The inner life is genuinely at peace with itself. That’s an important aspect there…
Iain: So inner life means the personality? What do you mean by the inner life?
Christopher: The inner life includes feelings, thoughts, perceptions, views - whether light-weight and chatty for example, or whether in the deeper things of life. There is an authentic sense of contentment that has stabilized. I would say this is just one aspect of freedom. The world of ‘I, me and my’, the ego-world; the climate or the temperature of that, is rather quiet, rather empty, rather low. This requires, both as a monk and subsequent to it, the vigilance of watching the ‘I, me and my’.
Iain: When you say that, you mean desire?
Christopher: Exactly. Desire, wanting, reactivity, being judgmental, getting on the moral high throne, getting conceited. All of that are kind of forms of desire.
Iain: What form does that take? Do you see such desire arising and you recognize it and then you don’t energise it? What’s the mechanic of that?
Christopher: Due to bearing of fruit, one might say here, there are situations in day to day life with my various roles and responsibilities, as with others as well, where there is enough -dare I use the word - wisdom, clarity, or perceptiveness to respond to situations. There is an authentic freedom from conflict, fearfulness, anxiety or confusion. There is a precious freedom. As you pointed out, desire may arise. Is there clarity and space not to follow it through? Take an example: I’m working in political engagement with people. It’s a world of strong, intense views and opinions. Sometimes people like me are, appropriately so, on the receiving end of such views. I can feel in myself, if my ‘I’ is beginning to arise. If ego arises, I might want to attack back, get defensive or close down. I can feel the ‘I’ forming. Something visceral goes on. And, other times, inwardly all is well. It works both ways (‘I’ and ‘my’ doesn’t arise or starts to take formation).
Iain: What you could call ‘a gap’ where there’s something that’s happening in your body or in your emotions, and then you, Christopher, the ‘bigger’ Christopher - whatever we call it - is just aware that there ‘s something separate which happens.
Christopher: I would put it the other way around. Christopher is the ego arising. It’s the non-Christopher that can accommodate (aggression of others, intense views and difficult situations). (Both laugh).
Iain: I understand. Let us come back to the sequence of your journey. You went back to England. You were still serving the Dharma worldwide and yet still living on donation. You had a family to support. How did that actually work in practice?
Christopher: I got back to England in 1977. My partner, Gwanwyn and I lived in a community in Smarden, Kent with about 20 people. We were very much supported there. I felt we were still in the shadow of London –no complaints about London- but still in the shadow so we moved to the West Country. For the past 30 years, I’ve been living in Totnes (in south Devon). I didn’t want to make any charge for the teaching itself. I’d received the teachings freely as a monk and never had to pay anything. It’s a beautiful tradition called dana, of generosity, of giving and receiving. I wanted to stay true to that. At the end of my retreats, workshops, courses, I put out the bowl and speak for a few minutes to the sangha, men and women, yogis, practitioners just about donations. I have to say ‘Om’ to all. They have supported myself, and supported my partner and my daughter, and supported her through the schooling. My daughter is now a wonderful single mother with three children. She still needs some support with some of the bills. When it came to the books which you kindly showed the viewers a little earlier on, the publishers said to me: ‘Well, Christopher we’ll pay you £1500, or £2000 in advance of sales’. I think £3000 or £4000 was the best advance. For me to keep in the tradition of the dana, I take the view that I would never – and I haven’t – argue or dispute or ask for any increase in the advance. Whatever the publishers offered to me, I regarded that as their dana, their donation to me. I didn’t get much in the way of advances. I didn’t discuss, argue or debate with them. Publishers would often come back to me and say: ‘Christopher, would you do another book for us?’ So it worked well. I still live totally on donations. I have lived this way for 41 years, including my monk’s years.
Iain: That’s remarkable. It really is.
Christopher: And, I’ m not that badly dressed…! (Laughter)
Iain: I think you had quite a close connection with the Dalai Lama. Did he used to come and teach at your retreats?
Christopher: What happened was not so much that. I first met him when he paid a visit to my old teacher, Ajahn Buddhadasa, who was the great radical reformer of Thai Buddhism. I met him there before the Dalai Lama became a superstar in the world of spirituality. During the early 1980’s, if he was in Bodh Gaya at the same time as myself, he would kindly come over to give a talk to the practitioners.
Iain: I know these days you are working quite a bit in Israel, and you’ve also worked with the Palestinians as well. This area of reconciliation interests you. Is it quite important to you?
Christopher: Yes, extremely important. From my travel and meetings, I do feel we need as human beings to discover a new kind of discourse, a new language, a new way of learning and listening to each other. It seems to me rather primitive, if not medieval, that we have become stereotyped in our views with dualistic views in the language, of self and other. ‘This is me, I am English, I am a Westerner, I am from a successful democracy etc. You, the other, you are this that and the other.’ This is severely problematic. Essentially it’s a fiction; it’s a projection of the intensification of differences. From these dualistic views, come the violence. The violence can only be built up on the belief that others are lesser than ourselves. The new dialogue requires us, as men and women, to be more conscious, to go deeper, within ourselves and with others, to get past the differences. Then we start to share something. This is the discourse on what actually is.
Iain: Do you feel each side is receptive?
Christopher: It isn’t easy. This year will be my twentieth year of going to Israel, and 18 years now working with the Palestinians. The gap, the divide is enormous for all kind of historical and contemporary reasons. One has to build with both communities a certain sense of trust, clarity, and fearlessness as well. The connection with the Israelis has developed. To their credit there are some wonderful and precious Israelis who feel disgusted with the politics of their government and their military. These Israelis genuinely endeavour to build bridges of reconciliation. That dialogue is ongoing. It’s not easy because their peers and others in Israel judge. I find the Palestinians a remarkable people, exceptionally patient. I go to Nablus, the main town of the Intifada. It’s here that strong protests have emerged from the West bank. Their circumstances are horrendous. Palestinians live locked into an open prison. That is their environment. I address - what Dharma language calls - the Four Noble Truths. Essentially that:
there is suffering,
the suffering has causes and conditions for it,
there is a resolution to suffering
there are ways to resolve it
The Buddha shifted away from consumerism and materialism on the one hand. On the other hand he shifted away from the self’s relationship to God, or the pursuit of God, or trying to find God. Consumerism and materialism are two of the primary focuses of human beings: society and religion are two major institutions. He shifted the discourse away from that to look at the human situation: seeing that humans struggle with life - that’s the first truth, a real truth of human life. Suffering doesn’t arise randomly; there are causes and conditions. It can be resolved. There are ways to resolve it. That’s the dialogue. I’m not at all interested in bringing Buddhism to the Middle East. I have said to the Palestinians and the Israelis several times: ‘You have got already three major religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. They’re not getting on with each other. What the hell would you want four religions barking at each other for?’ Religion is best kept well away from these circumstances. We can then engage. With the Palestinians, I work with some of the families of the martyrs.
Iain: Surely liberation from suffering, can only really be resolved through realizing that the separateness is an illusion?
Christopher: Yes. The separateness has to dissolve. I do not propound a new kind of spiritual ideology of oneness; I don’t feel quite comfortable with that. There is diversity. What I have to look at are the differences. Are the differences built up through stereotypes, negative projections, fear and blame? It is in the building up…
Iain: So it’s the building blocks rather than the results that you’re starting with.
Christopher: Exactly. That has to be looked at. It’s not a matter that one should try to be loving towards all people. When I listen to the suffering of the Palestinians, and the loved ones that have disappeared, been arrested, shot; when I listen to the families of the Israelis who again have gone through terrible crises and traumas and loss and death, it’s too much to expect with such pain that people can start loving each other. We need the emergence of building blocks to clarity and wisdom. It is not necessarily feeling a great deal of love for the other. It can happen. It shouldn’t be the end result.
Iain: You mentioned you were working with the families of the martyrs. By the martyrs, you mean the suicide bombers?
Christopher: The martyrs in Palestinian culture do include suicide bombers, but also everybody who has lost a family member. All those who died due to the occupation are martyrs. They may have been shot, killed, bombed or whatever. Wherever there is a death in some way related to the Israeli occupation, that man, woman or child is a martyr.
Iain: Do you know some of the families whose children have been suicide bombers?
Iain: Could you talk more about that? I don’t mean at all on the moralistic or non-moralistic side, but how they incorporate that in their life, that their child has blown themselves up for a cause. That’s a huge thing for a family.
Christopher: It is. We shouldn’t in a way forget with the children - usually teenagers I have to say, I think the youngest was thirteen - that the parents do not know until the death. Parents are not giving support. They don’t actually know. Some of the extreme wings of Hamas or Islamic Jihad – and few people in Hamas are supporters of suicide bombers by the way - it’s a tiny faction of Hamas. In the cases I have worked with, the suicide bomber has been traumatized by a loss. That’s the consistent pattern. The person has lost a brother, a sister, their best friend, a parent or somebody who matters deeply to them. They have been traumatized by the death of a loved one (through the actions of the Israeli occupation). That doesn’t justify or support acts of terror, but it sheds a little light on the emotional reactivity in which life becomes purposeless.
Iain: Does it bring up emotion for you when you work with these families?
Christopher: Definitely. Last year in Nablus, we were in a room about this size, a large circle of us. The stories of the women touch a very, very deep place. A few times I’ve had tears in my eyes. In the night raids, the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) has assassinated Palestinian men. It is tragic to listen to. We shouldn’t forget the nightmare of fear that is in Israel as well. We have to get out of that box of suffering between the communities. We have to find some other kind of dialogue so that the blaming ceases and something else can move. To the credit of many people I talk with, there really is a real wish for that. It falls on deaf ears in Washington, London, and in the political leaders in both the Arab world and in Tel Aviv.
Iain: You say the blaming ceases. I can also see that as an internal thing - we blame ourselves for things and we judge ourselves.
Christopher: Yes. The pressure of blame goes in two directions, outwardly onto other with all the consequence. Or it goes inwardly. People blame themselves. The intensity of blame will lead to depression.
Iain: I was looking at my notes. I wrote some things down before we started. You said you would like to talk about what it is to be a conscious human being. I feel you’ve touched on this. Do you want to say more? We have about ten minutes left. Do you want to touch more on this?
Christopher: Yes, I’d love to. I have this life as a human being. I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. If I’m really going to be a conscious human being I’m going to have to apply consciousness into every area of my life, without exception. One area would have to be our relationships with other people. Where have the relationships gone sour? Where are the problems? What are the views I have towards the other? Is it blame, fault-finding, withdrawal, negativity? Am I waiting for the other person to change before I change? Am I going to have to dig deep inside myself and find some love? It’s terribly easy in the psychological age, we live in to put the blame on the parents: ‘Oh, I didn’t receive enough love as a child’. It’s used like a mantra in the West. The Buddha’s position is healthier. He said we may not have received enough love as a child. That may be a fact. Therefore, let me explore and let me practice to find love to develop now. So I’m not using the past to feel sorry for myself and make myself into a victim. This is what people do who feel sorry for themselves. I have to look at the material world. What is my relationship to money, food, goods and what I own? I need wisdom and kindness for sustained contact with others. I don’t think a human being could engage in a fully conscious life without the ongoing support, intimacy and connection with others. Conscious people have to be with conscious people to encourage others who wish to be conscious to get together. There’s no room for any narrowness of ideology - Buddhism has its cults and sects. There is a lot of ‘I and my’ in religion and spirituality. ‘Ours is better. Ours is superior. Our faith is this, that and the other’. These views are unhealthy and unhelpful. We have to see what we have in common, learn and listen to each other. We bring a conscious life into the personal, spiritual, social, environmental, political and global. Let us be clear: ‘I’m a human being, I have got infinite potential. I need the resources. I need the contact with others. Let me engage in this.’ That’s a real challenge for all of us.
Iain: You’ve said it in just a few minutes. You’ve said a lot in that time. There’s a lot of starting places for people there. Some who are watching this on television may not know much about Buddhism or spiritual practice. What would you suggest as maybe the easiest places, or the most accessible places for him or her to start?
Christopher: The first thing for good viewers is to look around your local shop windows. What is going on in your town? I live in Totnes, Devon. It’s the epicenter of what we are talking about today. There are such choices every night of the week. In most towns, there are thoughtful people offering programs and workshops - spirituality, yoga, psychology, psychotherapy, green issues, lifestyle. No matter if it’s pissing down with rain, no matter if it’s the best football match on the television, get out of the house. Find out what’s going on. Put the effort in. Start linking and connecting. Your inquiry might lend itself also to some reading. You may connect with some meditation group or some other group. See what people are doing. Listen in. Open up the circle. That’s the first big step. Get out of the house. Get away from the television, the DVDs, unless it’s Conscious TV of course! (Both laugh) Be outside. See what other people are doing.
Iain: It’s about taking a step isn’t it?
Christopher: It is.
Iain: That can take courage but can also be exciting…
Christopher: Exactly. One doesn’t have to be clever or articulate. One of the old sages of India said, ‘The first step is the everlasting step’. Once one has made that step to open up one’s life and to find ways to do it, it is an adventure. One doesn’t know where it will lead.
Iain: So for yourself Christopher, in your own life, you seem to be basically free. Do you feel there’s an expansion to that freedom? Do you feel you’ve reached a state where you just feel free?
Christopher: If I may say, again as egolessly as possible – and forgive me if it’s not. Real freedom embraces both. A natural sense of freedom, natural joy, a happy human being essentially. I would not want to rest with that. Opportunities in my home town arise to go and listen to someone. I might go to a satsang. Listen to a workshop or a speaker. I read a lot; I use the resources of You-Tube. I look at myself as well. All this is a kind of ongoing expanse. Freedom has an infinite potential. I wouldn’t want to say ‘Oh, I’ve arrived! There’s nothing else to be done.’ That would be a confined sense of freedom. My protest is the idea of freedom of choice. Our choices are often impelled by our conditioning. As a monk, as a writer or as a speaker speaking with you, I have dumped or let go of, or dropped all of our other choices for the day. Joy in life is not so much in having all the choices, but the capacity to concentrate and focus our attention without choices. A single pointed focused attention offers much discovery for both of us. Choices - to wear a blue shirt today or a green shirt - is too mundane to even think about. We can get caught up in the language of freedom of choices. Authentic freedom actually dispenses with a lot of choices. A quietly free way of life has a quiet discipline that goes with it.
Iain: Because I know you like silence and solitude still?
Christopher: I love it. I live alone. Grandkids and daughter come around. Friends drop in. Love silence, love the quietness, love the stillness, take the walk alone, spend time alone. There’s something precious about it. I find for myself lots of renewal comes. Many people in our society do fabulous work of service for other people. We must remember we are exhaustible. We need renewal. Silence, quietitude, time alone, naturally gives that. Then we can come back in to serve others in small ways. That we do. Then we take time for renewal. Jesus, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi and all the great sages recognize the importance of connection with others to serve, then step back from that into quietness, then renewal, and then serve. This is the great rhythm of life.
Iain: That’s a great place to finish. I’ve really enjoyed our time together. Thank you for coming on Conscious TV.
Christopher: Thank you very much for inviting me.
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