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No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering
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Book Discussion > What does "no mud no lotus" actually mean?

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message 1: by Jason (new)

Jason (jasonukim) I was at the Deer Park Holiday Retreat earlier this month, and the theme this year was “New Year, New You.”

While there, we watched Thich Nhat Hanh’s New Year dharma talk from 2013. In the talk, he said something that was very interesting: “There can’t be a new year if there isn’t also a new you.” If we do not have the intention to water the seeds of transformation within us, he elaborated, the so-called new year will continue to be very much like the old, not only for us, but also the world.

With that in mind, I had the privilege of sharing my own insights on the transformative practice of compassion with many of you at the retreat.

I shared the story of a life-changing incident that occurred many years ago when I was sixteen and volunteering at a community legal clinic for those who could not afford attorneys.

It was while working there as a receptionist that I encountered a very literal case of “saying hello to your suffering.”

One day at the clinic, I picked up the phone to answer a call as I routinely did, and I heard the sound of a woman crying and what sounded like the humming and whirring of a train or subway car pulling into a station.

“My husband has been beating me and I have no money for a divorce. I should jump onto these tracks and kill myself.”

I realize now that this woman had not only called the clinic for help, but had begun the process of saying hello to her suffering. And suffering had said hello to me that day.

Even as she contemplated her own annihilation on those steel tracks with the train arriving ever closer, she had enough strength within herself to call a total stranger who happened to be a completely unprepared sixteen year old.

In his latest book No Mud, No Lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
The work of mindfulness is first to recognize the suffering and second to embrace it. A mother taking care of a crying baby naturally will take the child into her arms without suppressing, judging it, or ignoring the crying. Mindfulness is like that mother, recognizing and embracing suffering without judgment. So the practice is not to fight or suppress the feeling, but rather to cradle it with a lot of tenderness, (pp. 26-27).

Rather than saying to the woman, “I’m only sixteen years old; I don’t know what your suffering is, nor how to help you,” I simply listened to her with all my heart, cradling her suffering gently in my arms.

I listened to her for an hour or more, and gradually the crying stopped and I could not hear the train.

I am not so presumptuous to claim that I saved this woman’s life, but what I can say is that my act of compassion sprouted within her the beginnings of a lotus from the mud.

Just thought I'd share what I've been up to these past few weeks!


message 2: by Julie (new)

Julie | 1 comments This was beautiful to read, Jason. Thank you.


message 3: by Joshua (new)

Joshua | 26 comments Thanks for the wonderful story. Already doing bodhisattva work at 16!


message 4: by Maciej (last edited Jan 26, 2015 02:12AM) (new)

Maciej For me it means that without suffering I can't feel happiness. They are bound together, like 2 sides of a coin.


message 5: by James (new)

James | 2 comments I have a piece of calligraphy made by Thay himself, I picked up on retreat with him in 2013 when I was on retreat that says "No Mud, No Lotus". It's a reminder of the interconnectedness of things, both good and bad.


Sonia Crites | 8 comments What a beautiful story. When we act from compassion we truly impact the world in a positive way.


message 7: by David (new)

David III (davidjringiii) | 1 comments Maciej, there are two systems for happiness. One is, as you have felt, bound to suffering. Using this system, you must suffer. There is no rise without fall. The very use of this system causes us to constantly be in a non-relaxed state. Being able to see that is great.

But there exists a possibility to live beyond that. To enjoy life where you are love, and do not need to seek it out. Where the system of values and attributes that your mind has come up with to find happiness becomes invalid, and you can simply just exist and be happy.


Michele Paiva  (michelepaiva) | 1 comments That was really quite beautiful, to not only touch her soul but ours as well.


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