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.