The 7th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Milindapañha describes the lotus as ‘shiny, soft, desirable, fragrant, liked, sought after, praised, unsoiled by water or mud, adorned with petals, filaments and pericarps, frequented by bees and growing in cool limpid water’ (Mil.361).
This characteristic is often mentioned in the Buddhist scriptures as being analogous to the Enlightened person who lives in the World of Ignorance and Craving and yet rises above it to become pure and beautiful (Th.700).
The roots of a lotus are in the mud and the stem grows up through the water, and the flower opens above the water. This symbolizes the growth of the soul from the dirty physical world through the course of Buddhist teachings, and through discipline and perseverance of those teachings, finally opens into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. In Buddhism the lotus flower is analogous to the human heart. It is said that the heart is like a closed lotus, and through the practice of Buddhist teachings, the heart begins to open like the flower does in sunlight.
Buddha is often depicted to be sitting on top of a open lotus flower. This serves to indicate his divine status because the flower has bloomed and is free from the mud and dirt of the physical world. This alludes to the purity of enlightenment.
For purposes of meditation, the lotus position is the most recommended for a successful session. The lotus position is stabilizing and straightens the spine which is believed to align the charkas. The index finger is pressed against the thumb so that if the person meditating begins to slouch, pressure will be felt in this area. This allows for the maintenance of perfectly straight spine. It is also good for developing control over rhythmic breathing patterns. The lotus position is considered advanced as it requires good flexibility among the knees and ankles that must be maintained for the duration of the meditation.
For these reasons and simply because of its sheer Beauty, Buddhists have always had a particular regard for the lotus. The lotus is often confused with the water lily, which is called indīvara, sogandhika or uppala in Pāḷi.
The lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is an aquatic perennial plant that belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae. It is also called Sacred Lotus and Indian Lotus. In Sanskrit (the ancient Language of India), the lotus is known by various names like, Pundarika, Padma, Kamala, Utpala, etc.
Surrounded by various myths and legends, the lotus is considered divine and one of nature's Mystical creations, that represents the purity of the Mind and soul. In the Asian religions and cultures, especially, in Buddhism and Hinduism, lotus is the embodiment of perfection.
The lotus flower sheds its seeds and blooms at the same time. In Buddhism, it is said to represent the principle of cause and effect, wherein every action or Thought is believed to cause an effect or reaction, that can be experienced either in this Life or in the future lives.
This magnificent flower emerges from the dirty and unclean bottom of a pond, but still remains untouched and unstained by the dirt and mud surrounding it in the pond. This unique quality of the flower is believed to represent pure spirit, Rebirth, Beauty, fertility, transcendence, and resurrection.
Lotus Flower Meaning in Buddhism
In other words, it represents the journey from darkness (represented by the muddy pond) to the Light of Knowledge or Wisdom. A Buddhist Mantra describes the lotus saying, 'Om mani padme hum, which means Hail, the jewel in the lotus.
Significance of the Lotus in Hinduism
It represents the energy centers of our Body, known as chakras, and is associated with Beauty, prosperity, Knowledge, fertility, and above all, eternity and Spirituality. The lotus is associated with several Hindu deities.
For example, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, known as Lakshmi is always depicted to be seated on a fully blossomed lotus, showering her Generosity upon mankind. She is said to be born of the pink lotus.
In the Bhagavad Gita, the quality of the lotus flower to remain untouched by the water and mud of the pond, where it grows, is compared with the quality of a wise and spiritually enlightened person, who performs his duty without any material or emotional desires.
According to one legend, the sun actually rose out of a lotus, while another legend states that a lotus emerged from the infinite ocean, called 'Nun', and when the flower bloomed, it revealed the Egyptian sun God. The goddess Isis is also believed to be born of a lotus. The blue lotus, especially, is highly revered in Egypt.
The Egyptians also associated the lotus with Death. The Egyptian Book of the Dead mentions that a dead person can be transformed into a lotus with the help of magic spells and charms which symbolizes resurrection and Rebirth. In Egyptian Art, the lotus was depicted as a Symbol of upper Egypt, whereas the papyrus plant symbolized lower Egypt.
The intertwined lotus and the papyrus plant were used to symbolize the unification of upper and lower Egypt. The lotus flower also had its mention in the Egyptian system of numeration. A single lotus represented 1000, whereas two lotuses meant 2000.
Significance of Lotus Colors
Lotus is usually found in five different colors, white, red, blue, purple, and pink. Given below is the significance of each color. Although different cultures may have varying interpretations for each color, their paths correlate.
Perhaps the most enchanting flower with its unblemished pure white Beauty, the white lotus is the most revered in the World, and is known as the 'Womb of the World'. It is said to denote the purity of Mind (Bodhi), the calmness and serenity of Human nature, and Spiritual perfection. The white lotus is associated with the female representation of Buddha, which is goddess White Tara, as it aptly describes her nature. In an ancient Indian text, the white lotus is described as: The white lotus, born in the water and grown in the water, rises beyond the water and remains unsoiled by the water. Thus, Monks, the (Buddha), born in the World, grown up in the World, after having conquered the World, remains unsoiled by the World.
The delicate pink lotus holds a supreme and sacred place, and is highly revered. It is purely associated with the highest deities across cultures, and is the earthly Symbol of Lord Buddha. This is also the reason, all the important Hindu gods and goddesses and also 'Buddha' are shown seated on a pink lotus. The pink lotus denotes the state of a person's Mind. i.e. a closed bud represents the stage where he is transcending to the Path of Spirituality, whereas a full-bloom pink lotus means Enlightenment or the stage where Nirvana is attained.
The red lotus stands for the Heart (hridaya), and symbolizes selfless Love, passion, Compassion, and Kindness. A fully bloomed red lotus symbolizes big-heartedness and Generosity. It is also associated with Avalokitesvara, who is a 'Bodhisattva', the 'Lord who looks down at the World', or Padmapani, meaning, 'Holder of the lotus'. Avalokitesvara is also known as the God of Compassion, which aptly reasons his association with the red lotus.
The blue lotus signifies Wisdom and Knowledge, and stands for the victory over the senses. It has a special and sacred place in Egyptian culture, and is rare to spot. It defines a person's control over his Mind and spirit, to let go the materialistic aspirations in Life and rise to a selfless soul. The blue lotus flower is not fully open, the bud is closed towards the center, which is never revealed. This state of the flower (the partially opened bud here) gives a message that one should not stop learning and attaining Wisdom in Life. It is associated with the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, known as Manjushri, and Prajnaparamita, the one who signifies the 'perfection of Wisdom'.
The purple lotus signifies mysticism, and represents the Esoteric sects of Buddhism. It is unique and rare, and stands as a Symbol of Spirituality in some cultures. This flower is portrayed either as a bud, i.e. closed towards the core, or full-bloomed, which reveals the Heart. The purple lotus arises from a single stem, five-fold, or triple stem. The triple stem indicates the three parts of the Garbhadhatu, (mainly: Lotus, Vairocana and Vajra), the five-fold stem defines Vajradhatu and its five Knowledge, whereas the eight petals symbolize the most important teachings of Buddha, which is The Eightfold Path of Buddhism.
The lotus flower also bears symbolism in Chinese culture. People in China Love the flower for its purity and dignity. The Beauty of this flower inspires artworks, poems, architecture, and design in Chinese culture. The lotus grows elegantly out of the muddy waters, unaffected and untouched by dirt and impurities, so it is considered supreme among all Flowers, and is often compared to a person with strong virtues and Moral values. In traditional Chinese culture, Bing Di Lian, meaning "twin lotus Flowers on one stalk" is used to refer to a married couple.
- In Christianity, lotus is replaced by the white water lily. It is sacred and associated with the holy mother Mary. It represents divinity, holiness, purity, and fertility. In most of the Christian churches, white lily is depicted as the emblem of the Annunciation by Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.
- Since several parts of a lotus are edible, the Native Americans defined this flower as the ultimate Power of the sun, to transform energy into Food.
- In modern times, lotus is one of the most popular Flowers, to be used for tattooing, mainly due to the meanings attached to it. A lotus tattoo signifies that it is always possible to overcome the trials and tribulations of Life to attain fulfillment and perfection.
- The lotus flower is revered by the Taoists as well. In the Taoist culture, the flower signifies a way of Life based on Morality, purity, Wisdom, and Harmony.
To sum up, lotus is one of the few Flowers that has fascinated mankind from time immemorial, with its exotic and Mysterious Beauty. Lotus also inspires the human Mind to achieve perfection, even in the adversities of Life.