Whilst it is a commonly-held belief in the West that personal happiness is only attainable through the absense or negation of emotional pain, this is not the Buddhist way of looking at life. Instead, the essentially Eastern philosophy sees suffering as an essential element to life and that it has an important role to play in who we are as individuals.
In his book on the subject No Mud, No Lotus the acclaimed Buddhist philosopher and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh states that
knowing how to suffer well is essential to realizing true happiness.
He outlines his belief that the primary affliction of modern society is that we have lost the ability to heal ourselves naturally through rest and recuperation as well as failing to teach the basics of dealing with personal suffering to our youngsters.
From the author’s perspective, the best way to handle our suffering is through the development of mindfulness. This requires a shift of perception into a state of being aware of the ‘now’ and of remaining firmly rooted in the present moment.
Through this state of being, we can develop an increasing awareness of the personal suffering that we are experiencing at any time. This then leads to increased clarity, levels of energy and the strength to deal with the underlying causes of suffering.
It is common to find most people becoming drawn to various forms of artificial stimuli as a way of temporarily avoiding our inner pains but, the author argues, these invariably fail to deal with the root cause of our suffering.
Material consumption may indeed alleviate our symptoms for a little while but Thich Nhat Hanh argues that ultimately it requires spiritual practices to truly dissolve the discomfort that we feel.
The nature of the pain that every one of us experiences more often than not originates from hurts suffered during our own lifetime but the author readily admits that some pain may originate from our ancestors.
So, if you are suffering with some aspect of your life and you cannot easily identify the source of that discomfort, it might be worth looking back into earlier generations of your family tree for an explanation.
In a subsequent chapter of the book, Thich Nhat Hanh identifies five specific practices that you can integrate into your life for nurturing happiness. These include letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness-based joy, concentration and insight.
However, while all of these approaches to suffering are focused upon personal experience and self-resolution, the author also recognizes that working on suffering and healing at a group level is equally effective. This may take the form of group mindfulness work—a powerful method that can also alleviate community or societal suffering.
If you are drawn to mindfulness work based upon breathing, the author includes sixteen breathwork exercises to get you started. Also included are six mantras as well as other related spiritual and meditation exercises.
The book concludes with a look at deep relaxation, five mindfulness trainings and a walking meditation.
Our Review of ‘No Mud No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hanh
Whilst I have a deep and abiding respect for Buddhism, its rather simplistic philosophical messages do fail to sit comfortably with the Western mind which is geared more toward active psychotherapy as a way of resolving personal issues and hangups.
‘No Mud, No Lotus’ is a good case in point.
It is full of great advice and insight into how to confront inner suffering but, ultimately, it fails to engage with the deeper elements of psycho-spiritual work.
Throughout, the author appears to promote the idea that simply being aware of our suffering is sufficient to help us raise our happiness levels.
If only that were so!
The book starts off rather laboring the point that suffering is an essential quality of life but it does pick up a little in subsequent chapters and offers some great insights into the human condition.
Of all the approaches of the major religions to suffering, this is, by far, the most personcentric and it is comforting to read advice that strengthens the individual’s capacity to deal with emotional pain, rather than negating it.
Many readers will love this book’s simple and direct approach to suffering and, within the context of understanding Buddhism, it reveals a great deal that might ordinarily be confusing to the Western mind.
Once again, I quote the author who states
I wouldn’t want to be in a world without any suffering, because there would be no compassion and understanding either.
This is a refreshingly pragmatic reflection on human suffering and one which, perhaps, places the experience of the darker side of life into a valuable context.
‘No Mud No Lotus’ by Thich Nhat Hanh offers some useful advice and insight into how to live a meaningful life whilst balanced between the poles of suffering and happiness. Many will find great comfort in its pages.