I’m just back from a sold-out retreat in the Catskills with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. When I first arrived at Blue Cliff Monastery, the lotus pond was full of buds closed so tight that I barely noticed they were there. But several days later, after one of Thay’s dharma talks, I stepped out of the meditation hall and the pond was graced with fully bloomed lotuses in indigo and pink-tipped pearl.
“No mud, no lotus” is one of Thay’s classic pithy teachings. That is, you can’t grow lotus flowers on marble; you need mud. Likewise, you need suffering if you want to cultivate happiness.
As Thay told the Blue Cliff retreatants, “The Kingdom of God is not a place where there is no suffering, because if there’s no suffering people have no way to cultivate understanding and compassion. When you look and listen to suffering with mindfulness and concentration, you come to understand its nature and roots. Understanding suffering naturally gives birth to the energy of compassion, and the energy of compassion—once born—begins to heal you and the world. So, my definition of the Kingdom of God is a place where people know how to make good use of suffering in order to create happiness and love.”
In our coming, December/January magazine, I will report on my experience at this transformational retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, focusing on the tools of mindfulness that he taught for cultivating happiness. The issue will also include an interview I conducted with Thay, in which he revealed personal details about his family, uncovered the remarkable history of a little-known Buddhist master, and explained how—if you have mindful ears and mindful eyes—the Buddha is always teaching.
For lots more by and about Thich Nhat Hanh, visit the Shambhala Sun’s Thich Nhat Hanh Spotlight page.