No Mud, No Lotus

A few years ago, the Viet­namese Bud­dhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, pub­lished a slim vol­ume called, No Mud, No Lotus. The premise is straight­for­ward: the “mud” of suf­fer­ing is essen­tial to hap­pi­ness. The two are inex­tri­ca­bly linked. To find hap­pi­ness, first embrace your pain, look deeply into it, and learn to “suf­fer well.” 

Last week, after dis­cussing the title of the book and its mean­ing with a client, I had a fun­ny expe­ri­ence. I haven’t been able to eas­i­ly express it but the mes­sage was pro­found. I’ll take a crack at it and hope it’s not gibberish.

It has to do with the dis­tance — in feel­ing, aware­ness and even log­ic — between the mud and the lotus. We con­tain both but often don’t make the con­nec­tion between the two when it comes to our­selves. We are more like­ly to see the con­nec­tion in oth­ers — see it, for exam­ple, in the tru­ly good per­son who, iron­i­cal­ly, is too caught up in her self-dep­re­ca­tions to see her obvi­ous strengths–as we do. We see it in the angry man strug­gling to come to terms with a loss of some kind — whose pain we feel with him and for him. 

We who are on the out­side see that con­nec­tion in them — that con­nec­tion between their mud and the lotus of their being. We try to help them because we see the con­nec­tion in them and per­haps also because we are so prone to miss the truths of our very own nature. It’s eas­i­er to look out than in. Par­tic­u­lar­ly if it is a son or daugh­ter, a part­ner, a close friend — we want to help. We give our best advice and sup­port while that qual­i­ty of of our own self-igno­rance rides along beside us in the car­riage. Imper­fec­tion helps imper­fec­tion. This makes us human, very human. As they say, our own lib­er­a­tion is inex­tri­ca­bly bound up with lib­er­a­tion of oth­ers — and vice versa.

I sup­pose it could be argued from the stand­point of psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­jec­tion that such reci­procity is just a use­ful illu­sion, that it is sim­ply part of what holds us and our soci­ety togeth­er, all of it just maya, “the prin­ci­ple that con­ceals the true char­ac­ter of spir­i­tu­al reality.”

But if it is all illu­sion, if it is all mud, why then there must also be the lotus bloom­ing near­by and we are that lotus, too. We, too, have a kind of per­fec­tion grow­ing from that mud.

(Per­haps I am writ­ing with too many abstractions.)

A gen­tle breeze and the warm sun, while the water flows every­where around me.


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