Symbolism of the Lotus

Called padma in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, the lotus flower is a cherished symbol across multiple Eastern traditions. Growing naturally in ponds, the lotus starts out rooted deep in mud and scum. In order to blossom, it must make its way through the murky water until it finally breaks the surface. In time it emerges and blooms in the sun, beautiful and whole. [26]

Because of its unique transformation, the lotus has long been regarded as a symbol of enlightenment, purity, rebirth, and triumph over obstacles. While you certainly don’t need to follow a certain spiritual practice to draw inspiration from the lotus, this beautiful blossom holds specific meanings across a handful of traditions. Read on to learn more about the poetic symbolism of the lotus flower.

Due to the growth habits of the Lotus, it often symbolises re-birth and renewal. The Lotus rises from the depths of the murky water to bloom, and then descends back into the depths as it dies. Because of this it has a common association with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The Lotus Flower has become a sacred symbol in many religions around the world including as mentioned, the Ancient Egyptians, the Mayans, and in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Christianity.

Several countries have the Lotus Flower as their National flower. The Nelumbo genus Lotus is the National Flower of India and Vietnam, whilst from the Nymphaea genus, the Blue Lotus is the National Flower of Egypt, and the Star Lotus that of Bangladesh.

The lotus flower’s daily resurrection is certainly interesting, and surely symbolic of revival. But the flower also has a fascinating will to live. A lotus seed can withstand hundreds of years without water, able to germinate centuries later.

The flower also blooms in the most unlikely of places such as the mud of murky river water in Australia or Southern Asia. Not only does it find sanctuary in the muck, but due to the waxy protection layer on its petals, its beauty is unaffected when its flowers reopen each morning. It continues to resurrect itself, coming back just as beautiful as it was last seen. With such refusal to accept defeat, it is almost impossible not to associate this flower with unwavering faith. Although cultures have largely dubbed the lotus as a spiritual figurehead, it is most emblematic of the faith within ourselves.[27]

Because of these meanings, the lotus is often seen alongside divine figures in many cultures. For the Egyptians, the flower represents the universe. In Hindu culture, it is said that gods and goddesses sat on lotus thrones. And a longstanding Buddhist story states that the Buddha appeared atop a floating lotus, and his first footsteps on Earth left lotus blossoms. [27]

As divine as the Gods, the flower of rebirth was thought to contain magical properties as well. The ancient Egyptians believed lotuses had the ability to resurrect the deceased, as seen in Book of the Dead transformation spells. [27]

Each flower colour also has its own symbolism. For Buddhist practitioners, a white lotus symbolizes purity, whereas a yellow lotus is associated with spiritual ascension. However, the real question remains: how has the flower acquired such all-encompassing spiritual significance? [27]

The Lotus in Buddhism

Lotus flowers play a vital role in Buddhism. They generally represent spiritual awakening, purity, and faithfulness. This belief roots from the fact that lotus flowers emerge from muddy waters. For Buddhism, that means the act of rising above despite the challenges and moving towards the light of wisdom. Buddhists consider the petals to depict the opening of the heart.

Lotus flowers play a vital role in Buddhism. They generally represent spiritual awakening, purity, and faithfulness. This belief roots from the fact that lotus flowers emerge from muddy waters. For Buddhism, that means the act of rising above despite the challenges and moving towards the light of wisdom. Buddhists consider the petals to depict the opening of the heart.

In Buddhism, the journey of the lotus is said to mirror our own spiritual journeys. Mired in suffering (or samsara), our spirits start out like a lotus bud, tightly closed and buried in deep in the muddy dark. It is only by living through Buddhist virtues and working our way through varied experiences that we can slowly open ourselves to enlightenment. Buddhists also regard the lotus as an important symbol of non-attachment: it remains firmly planted in the mud while growing high above the water’s surface, unsullied by the dirt that surrounds it. [30] [31] [32]

As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world and having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world.

Buddha referred to the lotus in his teachings as a powerful metaphor

The lotus appears frequently in Buddhist mythology, art, and scripture. Art and statues of Buddha often depict him seated on top of a lotus. Legend has it that when he was born, lotuses in grew in Buddha’s footsteps. The most important text in Mahayana Buddhism is referred to as the Lotus Sutra and contains the final teachings of Buddha. The Tibetan Mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, one of the most widely used mantras within Buddhism, also alludes to the lotus flower and is said to invoke the bodhisattva of compassion.

The lotus is unusually rooted in the mud, deep beneath the water’s surface, where it eventually breaks through to the air and sunlight, then blossoms into a beautiful flower, symbolizing purity, enlightenment, and resurrection. The flower has long been a metaphor for the human being mired in the egoic sense of self before waking up to its self-created darkness and being born in the light. For this reason, the lotus plays a central role in Indian religious art of the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains. Lotus thrones commonly adorn the pedestals of most important figures in Buddhist art. During the Pala period (1000 B.C.E.), the Blue Lotus adorned a statue of Tara, a leading advocate of Buddhist philosophy in eastern India. [30] [31] [32]

There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus. 

Renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

It is difficult to say whether the Blue Lotus is more revered for its symbolism of the universe, or for its healing properties and powers. Or perhaps the two are inseparable. The Hindus consider the lotus seed to be especially sacred because it contains a complete template for the adult plant as the divine form in the process of manifesting into physical expression. The eight- petaled lotus common to Buddhist mandalas speaks to cosmic harmony. [30] [31] [32]

In Buddhism, the symbolism of a lotus flower also differs depending on its colour. For instance, a blue lotus flower symbolizes a spirit’s victory over knowledge and wisdom. White lotuses signify peace and purity, while red lotuses, much like other red flowers, mean love and compassion. Purple lotus flowers, on the contrary, have a deeper meaning as their petals represent important teaching of Buddha called the Noble Eightfold Path. The pink lotus flower, however, gives an essential sense in Buddhism. It is regarded as the “true lotus” and the primary colour of the flower. [30] [31] [32]

The Lotus in Christianity

Lotus flowers also have profound meanings in Christianity. Generally, they represent purity and the creation of the universe. While Christians generally do not accept how material things like lotus flowers bear divine properties, the associations between sacred flowers and Jesus have been recognized.

One example is the fact that lotuses rise from the muddy water for three days before it blooms. Another is that these plants’ roots can reach up to 6 ft deep, plus the seeds live for a long time and can be resurrected after a period of inactivity. All of these somehow relate to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [30] [31] [33]


The Lotus in Hinduism

The most common lotus form seen in Hinduism is the white lotus flower, which has long been associated with beauty, fertility, prosperity, spirituality, eternity, divinity and purity: important gods and goddesses are shown seated on top of lotus flowers or standing with lotuses with their hands.

In Hindu scriptures, the god Brahma is said to have been born from a lotus that emerged from Lord Vishnu’s navel. A figure of divine beauty, the god Krishna is often described as “The Lotus-Eyed One.” Other Hindu deities are also associated with a lotus flower, such as the Hindu goddess of learning, Goddess Saraswati, and the Hindu goddess of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi. 

Similar to Buddhism, Hinduism places importance on the lotus’s ability to remain unsullied by the water and dirt around it. Rising above the water, the lotus teaches followers to stand on their own in the search for enlightenment and to carry out spiritual duties without getting bogged down by material temptations (represented by the mud). The lotus is also associated with the highest level of enlightenment: in the Ayurvedic Chakra system, Crown Chakra, the seventh Chakra, believed to be the center of spiritual awareness and a source of pure consciousness, is referred to as the “Thousand Petal Lotus.”

Because a lotus is able to emerge from Muddy Waters un-spoilt and pure, it is considered to represent a wise and spiritually enlightened quality in a person; it is representative of somebody who carries out their tasks with little concern for any reward and with a full liberation from attachment. In general, lotus flowers represent spiritual enlightenment, growth, purity, and birth, among many others. The flower symbolizes one’s ability to perform their duty without being influenced by any desire, pleasure, or gain. It is very interesting how the open flower and the unopened Lotus bud forms are associated with human traits. The unopened bud is representative of a folded soul that has the ability to unfold and open itself up to the divine truth. [30] [31] [33] [29]

The Lotus in Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, the lotus flower is associated with rebirth and the sun. Egyptians believe that the sun and the lotus flower have one thing in common – disappearing at night and re-emerging fresh in the morning. Because of such association, the lotus flower also symbolizes creation.

Interestingly, lotus flowers also signify “death” in Ancient Egypt. The renowned Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian text commemorating the dead, includes spells that transform a person into a lotus flower. Also, lotus has always been a frequent sight in ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics. It holds a significant symbol uniting the upper and lower Egypt.

Another interesting fact about the lotus flower meaning to the Egyptians was the way that it was used as a symbol for the unification of the two Egyptian kingdoms, that is to say the bonding of upper and lower Egypt. For a long time the lotus had been used in the hieroglyphics and art of upper Egypt, whereas in lower Egypt the Papyrus plant was notably in abundance. Therefore pictures of lotus and Papyrus that had grown up together and become inter-wound with each other came to be a symbol of the bringing together of the two kingdoms.[30] [31] [33]


The Lotus in Greece

On this island, the Lotus eaters survived solely on a diet of narcotic Lotus, which are thought to be of the Egyptian Blue Water Lily type of Lotus (Nymphaea); it has also been speculated that they may have been eating poppies.

Upon arriving on the island (following a disastrous battle on Ismarus), Odysseus sends three men to look for food and to check with the peaceful locals. The Lotus-eaters offer the Lotus plant to Odysseus’ men to eat. They then immediately, fall into a peaceful stupor, without a care in the world.

After a while, Odysseus became concerned for his men and sent out a search party; again these did not come back. So he decided to explore for himself and discovers his men chilling out with the native islanders. He turns down the offer of a Lotus Flower, and carries his men back to the ship one by one. Upon waking the men who had ate the lotus started to fight as they wanted to return to the lotus eaters so they could have some more plants to eat. Odysseus immediately gave the order to sail away.


The Lotus in Other Religions & Cultures

Lotus flowers also hold several important meanings and symbolism in other religions and cultures. For example, in Western cultures, these fascinating blooms typically represent the search for the true meaning of life. Because of their nature, they symbolize reincarnation and birth.

The meanings are different in Chinese culture since lotus flowers are perceived as a symbol of femininity and marital happiness. However, that is not the case in Japan, where lotus flowers are considered spiritual and enchanting. In Japanese culture, lotus plants represent the purity of the mind and body.

The lotus is also sacred in Jainism. The blue lotus, in particular, is the symbol of the 21st Jina, Neminatha. [30] [31] [33]


The Lotus in Yoga & Meditation

If you practice yoga or meditation, you may have utilized lotus imagery without even realizing it. For example in hatha yoga, the Lotus Pose is one of the most fundamental and oft-assumed positions for deep breathing. Here, the body is seated with the ankles crossed while the soles of the feet face the sky. The back is straight and the arms rest peacefully on the knees. The Lotus Pose allows one to achieve the highest concentration possible for meditation. This hip-opener is also said to awaken dormant cosmic energy known as kundalini.

Certain mudras, or sacred gestures used to channel energy during yoga or meditation, also invoke the lotus. Ah hand gesture known as the Padma Mudra is said to open the Heart Chakra and inspire gratitude, empathy, and unconditional love. To create the Padma Mudra, one simply touches the heels of both hands while spreading all the fingers. The pinky and thumbs of each hand touch one another, creating the image of a lotus blooming in the sun. [34]


Colours of The Lotus and Their Meanings


The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.




White Lotus Flower Meanings

White Lotus flowers are one of the most popular colours. They signify many things, including beauty, grace, purity of mind, wealth, knowledge, fertility, faith, spiritual perfection, and Bodhi (being awakened). The White Lotus is also associated with the pacification of one’s nature. Their worldwide popularity and relevance have gained them the name “Womb of the World.”[28] [29]



Pink Lotus Flower Meanings

Pink lotus flowers are often associated with Buddhism as these charming blooms are said to portray Buddha’s earthly symbol. The Pink Lotus is considered to be the true lotus of Buddha. They can hold various meanings, depending on the state of their buds. A pink lotus plant with a close bud represents passing through the spiritual path, while a fully bloomed one can represent the Buddha himself and means enlightenment or perfection. [28] [29]



Yellow Lotus Flower Meanings

Lotus flowers are also available in yellow. They often symbolise religious beliefs and may also symbolise the achievement of enlightenment. [28] [29]



Red Lotus Flower Meanings

The red lotus is related to the heart. The meaning of a red lotus flower is not too far different from other popular red flowers, such as roses and carnations. These delicate blooms signify compassion, sympathy, and selfless love. They also represent heart, passion, and generosity. [28] [29]



Blue Lotus Flower Meanings

Blue lotus flowers are captivating and hard to find. They mean wisdom, knowledge, the spirits ability to conquer emotions, worldly aspirations, and the senses. The blue lotus flower is associated with a victory of the spirit over that of wisdom, intelligence and knowledge.

If you get to see it a blue Lotus in Buddhist art you will notice that it is always depicted as being partially open and the centre is never observed. [28] [29]



Purple Lotus Flower Meanings

Lotus flowers in purple are often associated with Buddhism. They mostly represent self-awakening. The Purple Lotus is considered Mystic and is associated with esoteric sects. It can be shown depicted as either an open flower or as a bud. The eight petals of the purple Lotus are representative of the noble eightfold path: one of the principal teachings of the Buddha. Following this path is thought to lead to self-awakening and is considered one of the noble truths. [28] [29]

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