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.
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.
The Lotus in Buddhism
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.
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 in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the lotus has long been associated with 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.”
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.”
The Lotus in Yoga and 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.
Lotus Colors Symbolism
In both their natural habitat and in Eastern art, lotuses appear in a number of different colors, and each one has its own spiritual significance.
White Lotus: Purity of mind, an evolved spirit.
Pink Lotus: Perfection. In Buddhism, a pink lotus represents the Buddha himself.
Blue Lotus: Represents the spirit’s conquest over the senses.
Red Lotus: Symbolizes Avalokiteshwara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
Yellow Lotus: The achievement of enlightenment.
The lotus flower’s iconography and spiritual history is rich and deep. No matter your personal beliefs, its journey from a muddy seed to a glorious blossom offers the hope that something beautiful can grow from suffering, that we too will eventually bloom. It’s no surprise that so many are drawn the lotus symbol and embrace its exquisiteness through lotus jewelry, wall art, and even tattoos. The lotus was and is a token of perseverance and hope, a reminder to always trust in the unseen path that leads to the sun.