Report: Ajahn Kusalo on ‘The Thing About Buddhism’

There are all kinds of conventional truths, conventional realities

began Ajahn Kusalo last night

But there can be only one ultimate reality. That is ‘This’. The here and now.

The past is done and the future, well that is a field full of potentials, a future that we desire. Ultimate reality is just THIS. That’s how things are.

We want ultimate reality to be something else, some kind of thunderbolts and lightning. Something to put the flags out for. But this is it, just as it is. It can’t be any other way.

So rather than thinking of the ultimate as something that you have to go out and get. Rather than thinking of it as something that you have to creat through your desires, and your plans, we reflect that it is right here and now, and according to Buddhism, it is perfect peace. That’s the theory. Temporary happiness lies in getting what you want, but the ultimate happiness lies in giving up wanting, and being at peace with how things are.

Ajahn Kusalo, vice-abbot of Tisarana TempleAjahn Kusalo comes from the Wat Pah Pong Sangha, under the auspices of Ajahn Sumedho. This is very much the style of that temple – focus on acceptance of the way things are. (See Ajahn Sumedho’s book titles ‘The Way it Is”). This is in contrast to the endless seeking which hunts for a new, special state of mind to attain to that characterises many approaches to practise. 

Accepting the reality of how things are, and being at peace there is a challenge – it is not easy by any means

Ajahn Kusalo continued,

Much of the time you desperately want reality to be something else, something you can strive for and attain.

He then continued to describe some of his own battles with being at ease with the ‘way things are’, including his own encounter with lymphatic cancer.

As mentioned Ajahn Kusalo is a very pragmatic fellow. And his talk reflected this – the religious aspiration and intellectual understanding of Enlightenment against his own struggles to find it and make it real in actual life.

The latter part of the talk focussed on the habit-forming nature of desire, which is a form of addiction. Just because the object always changes, unlike with a drug addiction, it still follows the same pattern of all addiction – a ‘hit’ and a let down, and the chasing after the next hit. An unexamined life is led this way – always looking for some quick stimulus, while the deeper questions are shelved for things more tangible.

This topic of desire will keep coming up in Buddhism. People like the idea of calm, of peace. They like the idea of developing spiritual qualities, but are not so keen when it comes to letting go of desire itself.

And this does not mean all desire. You still need the aspiration to practise, to develop and to follow the teachings. Buddhist teachers are always encouraging ‘aspiration’ and the putting forth of effort.

But when it comes to letting desire go, as Ajahn Kusalo said,

It is something that happens as a consequence of looking – of watching this desiring process. After a time you just want some relief from it. Then it falls away, even if just for a few moments. Rather like ‘relaxing’ – it is not something you ‘do’, but you just stop doing the things that are stopping you from being relaxed.

Our collection for the Tisarana temple, including 5000 baht from our group funds (from the Planet Yoga sessions) came to 11 800 baht, which we will forward to the temple. Also of course, ‘Sadhu’! for the kind donation of the premises and Dhamma Hall from Ariyasom, and the refreshments provided, which enabled us to meet for this talk. It is also always nice to be able to meet and chat before these talks, and get to know some of the other faces. It’s never a dull group.

And talking of letting go of stuff – here is a curious story of a millionaire businessman giving up all his possessions after the realization that they will not make him happy. Hope he kept his laptop!

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