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The Lotus Flower and Its Symbolism

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The lotus flower may very well be one of the most amazing wonders of the plant kingdom or nature as a whole. It has the amazing ability to flourish from deep in the soil, through all the impurities in a murky pond, emerging into the air totally clean, unblemished and unaffected by the dirt and the muck surrounding it. It metaphorically and quite literally connects all three planes of existence; earth, water and air. This unique characteristic has earned the lotus flower a special place in the world’s most prominent cultures and religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. It demonstrates the inescapable interdependence and oneness of all things, a symbol of absolute purity, enlightenment and awakening, and rebirth.

Types of the Lotus Flower According to Color

  • Utpala or the Blue Lotus to the ancient Egyptians seemed to rise out of the murky waters and bloom in the mornings, only to close up again and sink to the bottom at nights. For this reason it became a natural symbol for the sun because it was the only flowering plant in Egypt that bloomed continuously throughout the year. It also came to represent creation and how life goes on, no matter what. It is also the symbol for Nefertum, the Egyptian god of healing who is normally depicted crowned with a large lotus blossom or crouched on one. The blue lotus is also associated with victory of the spirit over the senses, signifying knowledge and wisdom.
  • The White Lotus or pundarika is regarded as the “womb of the world” and symbolizes Bodhi or being awakened. It stands for spiritual perfection and purity of the mind. The white lotus is normally depicted with eight petals like the 8-fold path that leads to the end of all suffering, one of the 4 Noble Truths as laid out by Gautama Siddhattha Buddha.
  • The Purple Lotus stands for mysticism and is the least commonly used lotus color, typically found only in a few esoteric sects. It is depicted either as a bud or an open bloom, with 8 petals representing the Noble 8-Fold Path and any of single, triple or quintuple stems. The flowers also sometimes appear in a cup or on a tray as a public expression of respect or honor.
  • The Pink Lotus or padma is the most significant lotus flower in Hindu culture, often referred to as the Supreme Lotus because in the Hindu belief system, pink is the highest color and only used for the most revered gods and goddesses. This is demonstrated by the images of the Ganesh, Vishnu and Lakshmi, who are always depicted either seated or standing on the center of a pink lotus flower.
  • The Red Lotus or kamalais associated withlove, passion and compassion. It stands for the inherent nature of the heart. It is a symbol of purity…. purity of the heart. The bodhisattva of compassion Avalokiteshvara, is represented by the red lotus.

The Lotus Flower in Hinduism

Hinduism holds the lotus flower in very high spiritual and religious regard. It represents purity, youth, divinity, fertility, beauty and the continuous creation of life. The lotus flower is particularly associated with Hinduism’s most powerful deities like Brahma, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Krishna. Krishna is often described to as “the lotus-eyed one”, referring to his divine looks. Lakshmi, Ganesh and Vishnu are often depicted standing or sitting on a pink lotus, reinforcing their divinity.

As important as all these meanings of the lotus flower is that it also stands for “non-attachment”. This is symbolized by the lotus flower’s peculiar characteristic to emerge from the murk and the dirt of its birth place untouched and unaffected, as clean, pure and unblemished as if it came from under crystal clear waters. It could not have been summarized more aptly as it was in the holy book of the Hindus:

"One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water." Bhagavad Gita 5.10.

It inspires one to strive to do good without expecting any rewards, to rise above all temptations to sin by trusting in one’s God and to leave everything in God’s able hands.

The Lotus Flower in Buddhism

Buddhism believes that we all have the potential to achieve perfection and enlightenment. It is necessary for every one of us to be reborn over and over again, improving our being through many incarnations until we all reach nirvana. Nirvana is the ultimate state of consciousness. The process of repeated incarnations is never easy, often painful and riddled with many past mistakes that need to be avoided at every new life. The path to spiritual enlightenment is dark and treacherous, one we should learn to overcome. This same path is likened to the dark and murky waters from which the lotus flower ultimately emerge beautiful and pure, victorious over seemingly insurmountable odds.

The Lotus Flower to the Egyptians

Egyptian mythology regards the lotus flower in much the same way as Hinduism does. The lotus flower symbolizes the final triumph of humankind after many incarnations. The lotus flower sinks back into the deep and dark waters at night in order to emerge as fresh and pure to welcome the sun at dawn. This happens every day, year round in Egypt. This is why the lotus flower has become associated with the sun god, Atom. The sun sets each day only to rise again without fail the next morning. Egyptians believe that we all come to this world and die, until we are born again, to try and fulfill the promise of what we all have the potential of being.

Chinese poets make use of its symbolism to inspire people into striving through life’s difficulties while putting up their best front into the world. In Japanese culture, the lotus flower’s constant struggle to move up from the darkness towards the light reflects the meaning of life in general. This acceptance of the lotus flower’s symbolism was adopted from Buddhism as well as from Japan’s Chinese neighbors. The symbolic significance of the lotus flower truly spans the globe and transcends language and race. It is a universal symbol for what mankind strives to be in all aspects of life, beautiful and pure. 

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