Michael đź“” - [be still and know]

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The Mud of Happiness

“No mud, no lotus” is a well-known saying from Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village tradition. But what does it really mean? Here is a passage where Thay explains:

“Both suffering and happiness are of an organic nature, which means they are both transitory; they are always changing. The flower, when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again. Happiness is also organic and impermanent by nature. It can become suffering and suffering can become happiness again. If you look deeply into a flower, you see that a flower is made only of nonflower elements. In that flower there is a cloud. Of course we know a cloud isn’t a flower, but without a cloud, a flower can’t be. If there’s no cloud, there’s no rain, and no flower can grow. You don’t have to be a dreamer to see a cloud floating in a flower. It’s really there. Sunlight is also there. Sunlight isn’t flower, but without sunlight no flower is possible. If we continue to look deeply into the flower, we see many other things, like the earth and the minerals. Without them a flower cannot be. So it’s a fact that a flower is made only of nonflower elements. A flower can’t be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with everything else. You can’t remove the sunlight, the soil, or the cloud from the flower. In each of our Plum Village practice centers around the world, we have a lotus pond. Everyone knows we need to have mud for lotuses to grow. The mud doesn’t smell so good, but the lotus flower smells very good. If you don’t have mud, the lotus won’t manifest. You can’t grow lotus flowers on marble. Without mud, there can be no lotus. It is possible of course to get stuck in the 'mud' of life. It’s easy enough to notice mud all over you at times. The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair. When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you can see is suffering everywhere you look. You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you. But we must remember that suffering is a kind of mud that we need in order to generate joy and happiness. Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness. When I lived in Vietnam during the war, it was difficult to see our way through that dark and heavy mud. It seemed like the destruction would just go on and on forever. Every day people would ask me if I thought the war would end soon. It was very difficult to answer, because there was no end in sight. But I knew if I said, 'I don’t know,' that would only water their seeds of despair. So when people asked me that question, I replied, 'Everything is impermanent, even war. It will end some day.' Knowing that, we could continue to work for peace. And indeed the war did end. Now the former mortal enemies are busily trading and touring back and forth, and people throughout the world enjoy practicing our tradition’s teachings on mindfulness and peace. If you know how to make good use of the mud, you can grow beautiful lotuses. If you know how to make good use of suffering, you can produce happiness. We do need some suffering to make happiness possible. And most of us have enough suffering inside and around us to be able to do that. We don’t have to create more.”

Excerpt From “No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering” by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).

— Tip me on ko-fi.

Watering Seeds of Joy and Peace

People were talking about violence in games recently. And the first thing that came to my mind was Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching about what we consume and why and how it influences us.

My feelings about violence in media have changed since I was a child. Back then the only arguments I heard suggesting we could benefit from being careful about how we consume media were from right-wing evangelicals who opposed human rights. I thought rejecting that idea was part of rejecting their bigotry.

But I've come to understand media as part of what we consume, and see how it can water different seeds in us, seeds we might not want to be watering. Fictional violence for entertainment stopped interesting me, and now I actively avoid it. There is more than enough real violence to attend to in the world.

In his book “Love in Action” about nonviolent social change Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the roots of war in our society. Not only the structural causes but the root causes of those structural causes.

He writes:

"There is a deep malaise in our society… The war is in our souls. Many of us are not healthy within, and yet we continue to look for things that only harm us more… We live in a society where we always feel we are lacking something, and we want to fill it… We are always trying to fill our void with something… But doing this only makes us less satisfied, hungrier, and we want to consume more. We feel alienated from ourselves. There is so much anger and fear in us, and we want to suppress them, so we consume more and more things that only increase the level of toxicity in us. We watch films filled with screaming and violence. We read magazines and novels filled with hatred and confusion. We do not even have the courage to turn off our TV, because we are afraid to go back to ourselves. Our society is sick. When we put a young person in this society without trying to protect them, they will receive violence, hatred, and fear every day and get sick. Our conversations, our TV programs, our advertisements, our newspapers, our magazines all water the seeds of suffering in young people and not-so-young people. How can we transform our individual consciousness and the collective consciousness of our society? The most important practice for preventing war is to stay in touch with what is refreshing, healing, and joyful inside us and all around us. If we practice walking mindfully, being in touch with the earth, the air, the trees, and ourselves, we can heal ourselves, and our entire society will also be healed. If the whole nation would practice watering seeds of joy and peace and not just seeds of anger and violence, the elements of war in all of us will be transformed. There are already seeds of peace in those we call 'hawks,' but they need us to water their seeds of peace and understanding or else their seeds of anger and aggression will continue to dominate them. Do not feel discouraged. Just by your way of looking at things and doing things, you influence others. Approach everyone with love and patience, and try to water the positive seeds in them. We have to help each other, being skillful, kind, and understanding. Blaming and arguing never help. In the practice of mindfulness, we nurture the ability to see deeply into the nature of things and people, and the fruit is insight, understanding, and love. Because we have not practiced deeply enough, violence has become the substance of our society… We accept violence as a way of life and as a way to deal with problems… We have to look at the roots of the problem and not just on the surface."

From “Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

— Tip me on ko-fi.