No mud, no lotus

Oct 17 2012 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

Over the years, I've become a devout believer in the notion of necessary suffering – that you cannot heal, grow, become "conscious" or deeply self-aware, without suffering.

Thich Nhat Hahn, a Buddhist monk and author, puts it this way:

"It's like growing lotus flowers. You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways in order to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. That's why my definition of the kingdom of God is not a place where suffering is not, where there is no suffering…"

For me, it's not a question of whether you believe in God (Source, Spirit or whatever you call a higher power), nor is it about religion or theology. It is about how you can transform to a higher state of self-awareness and consciousness (to your true, authentic self) so that you can walk the planet on a daily basis from a place of equilibrium, inner peace and equanimity.

The Buddha says:

"As a blue or white lotus is born in the water,

grows up and is unpolluted by the water,

so too has the perfected one grown up in the world,

has risen above the world

and stands unpolluted by it." [samyutta nikaya 22.94]

The science of it all

The reason the Lotus flower is not polluted is thanks to its leaves. These leaves are so structured that water beads up and drops off them, keeping the flower from becoming polluted. In fact, the leaves clean the lotus of real or potential pollution.

According to Wikipedia: "...due to their high surface tension water droplets tend to minimize their surface trying to achieve a spherical shape. On contact with a surface, adhesion forces result in wetting of the surface: either complete or incomplete wetting may occur depending on the structure of the surface and the fluid tension of the droplet." The cause of self-cleaning properties is the hydrophobic water-repellent double structure of the surface.

The nature of pollution

So, consider your life both at work and at home. Are you confronted by "suffering" in some way, shape or form? Are you confronted by suffering on a daily basis? Most of us are. How is it that we can manage to NOT be immersed by the polluted waters - literally and figuratively – that stem from our past and our immediate environments?

The fact is that each one of us grows up immersed in the "mud" – an environment characterized by wounding, abuse, criticism, judgments, abandonment, rejection and the like – an environment in which every family operates, into which every human being is born. This mud is the human experience. The degree of suffering may differ, but the muddy environment is always there.

The mud also represents painful childhood memories. Later on in life, the mud represents our immediate, real-world, real-time "suffering" – emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically – that arises from our life challenges – from our health, finances, social and living conditions, career and relationships.


  • Do you ever feel like a victim? If so, why? How does that show up in your life?
  • Has your suffering taught you anything/lessons? How so? What have you seen/learned?
  • What would it be like if you viewed your suffering as happening FOR you and not TO you?
  • Do you feel you are in control of your life? If not, why not?
  • Do you believe that change begins with you?
  • Do you tend to move away from your discomfort? If so, what might it be like to embrace it? How do you feel when you consider this option?
  • To what degree (1-10), on a daily basis, do you identify with the mud, with the Lotus?
  • How did you experience suffering as a child? Do you still carry scars of that suffering with you now? How so?

When we get in touch with our own suffering - recognizing it, being open to it, chewing on it, digesting it and understanding the purpose of it rather than denying and avoiding it - we grow, we become more conscious and more self-aware. When this happens, suffering is still there, but the "charge" it used to have becomes less and less as we understand the reasons for the suffering, how it leads to our growth, our self-understanding and our healing. It's the idea that you can have pain, but you don't have to suffer.

The antidote to pollution

The growth of the Lotus, our individual Lotus, represents transformation – moving from suffering towards happiness, love, peace, and stillness in our life.

When we do the "work" to transform, we gain clarity, insights, 'AHA' moments, all of which point to the purpose of our suffering and our challenges. In the process of understanding, something shifts - attitudes, responses, perspectives. Your focus is more on your Lotus, less on the mud.

Understanding our own suffering, we can also begin to understand others' as well – the place from which love and compassion grow. Many of us resist getting in touch with our suffering. But, when we do get in touch, we actually suffer less. We become the Lotus.

That's the nature of the Lotus. That's the nature of the mud.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.