The lotus flower is one of the most iconic and deeply symbolic images in various cultures around the world. This aquatic flower, which springs from the depths of the mud to emerge and bloom above the surface of the water, has long been a symbol of purity, rebirth and spirituality. In this article, we will explore the origins, symbolism and cultural significance of the lotus flower in different traditions.
Origins and characteristics of the Lotus Flower
The lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera) is a perennial aquatic plant belonging to the Nelumbonaceae family. It is native to Asia and Australia, although it has also naturalized in certain regions of Europe and North America. The lotus flower can grow up to 150 centimeters in height and its leaves, which float on the surface of the water, can reach a diameter of up to 60 centimeters.
Lotus flowers can be of various colors, such as white, pink, red and blue, and are made up of numerous petals that gradually open to reveal a yellow center. The lotus flower has the peculiarity of closing at night and opening again at dawn, which gives it an additional symbolism related to the cycle of life and death.
Spiritual teachings of the Lotus Flower
The spiritual teachings of the lotus flower find their origin in its way of life and growth. Despite being born in the mud and mud, this flower emerges flawless and radiant on the surface of the water. This transformation symbolizes overcoming darkness and adversity, reminding us that even in the most difficult situations, there is always a potential for growth and spiritual evolution.
- Rebirth: The lotus flower closes at night and reopens again at dawn. This cycle of opening and closing represents rebirth and reminds us of the importance of constantly letting go of the past and embracing new opportunities to grow and evolve spiritually.
- Purity and beauty: Despite its muddy surroundings, the lotus flower maintains its purity and beauty. This quality teaches us not to let external circumstances corrupt our spiritual essence, reminding us that we can find inner beauty and inner peace even in the midst of adversity.
- Detachment: The lotus flower floats on water without being attached to it. This image speaks to us of detachment and the ability to live in the world without being attached to it. It teaches us to free ourselves from material and emotional attachments, allowing us to live in the present and experience greater inner freedom.
- Enlightenment: In Buddhist and Hindu traditions, the lotus flower is a symbol of spiritual enlightenment and self-knowledge. Its open petals represent the expansion of consciousness and the realization of our true divine nature. It inspires us to seek inner wisdom and reach a state of spiritual enlightenment.
- Spiritual growth: The lotus flower grows from the depths of the mud in search of sunlight. This quest symbolizes the path of spiritual growth, where we overcome our inner obstacles and seek the wisdom and knowledge that allow us to grow into a greater awareness and understanding of ourselves and the universe.
- Non-duality: In some spiritual traditions, the lotus flower represents the union of the divine and the human, the merging of the earthly and the heavenly. This notion of non-duality invites us to recognize that we are not separate from the whole, that we are part of the interconnected fabric of the universe.
- Patience and perseverance: The lotus flower takes time to grow and bloom. Its development process teaches us about the importance of patience and perseverance on the spiritual path. It reminds us that the most valuable and profound fruits of the spiritual life may take time and dedication to attain.
- Humility: Despite its splendor, the lotus flower always remains rooted in the mud. This humility teaches us that, despite our spiritual attainments, we must always remain connected to our humanity and compassion for others.
- Serenity: The image of a lotus flower floating in a still pond evokes a sense of serenity and calm. It invites us to find inner peace and cultivate tranquility in our lives, even when the outside world may be full of turbulence.
The Lotus Flower and its meaning in mythology and religion
Throughout history, the lotus flower has been a sacred symbol in numerous mythologies and religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and ancient Egypt.
Hindus revere it with the divinities Vishnu and Lakshmi often depicted on a pink lotus in iconography; historically, many deities, namely Brahma, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kubera, often sit on a stylized lotus throne.
In the depiction of Vishnu as Padmanabha (lotus navel), from his navel protrudes a lotus with Brahma on it. Goddess Saraswati is depicted on a white lotus.
The lotus is the symbol of the divine or immortal in humanity, and also symbolizes divine perfection. The lotus is the attribute of the sun and fire gods. It symbolizes the realization of inner potential, and in tantric and yogic traditions, it symbolizes an individual’s potential to tap into the flow of energy moving through the chakras (often depicted as lotuses in the form of a wheel) blossoming like the thousand-petaled lotus of enlightenment at the top of the skull.
Vishnu is often described as the “Lotus Eye” (Pundarikaksha). The unfurled petals of the lotus suggest the expansion of the soul. The growth of its pure beauty from the mud of its origin holds a benign spiritual promise. In Hindu iconography, other deities, such as Ganga and Ganesha, are often depicted with lotus flowers as seats.
The lotus plant is widely cited in Puranic and Vedic literature, for example:
One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results to the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water. Bhagavad Gita 5.10
The Padma or Sacred Lotus
Padma (Lotus) is one of the four attributes borne by Vishnu in his iconography. It is associated with Vishnu’s abode on water, as well as his role in creation and birth.
In the Vishnu Purana, in the beginning of time, Brahma is described as being created within a lotus that blossomed from Vishnu’s navel. Hence, the padma occupies a prominent place in the Vaisnava narrative of cosmogony, in which Brahma receives instructions from Vishnu to begin generating the universe and the rest of creation. The lotus is considered a representation of dharma, the cosmic law, as well as the epitome of purity, as it rose under the impure seabed towards the sun.
During the Samudra Manthanam, when Lakshmi chooses Vishnu as her eternal consort, she throws a garland of lotuses around his neck, and is also praised as the lotus-faced one.
In the Gajendra Moksham legend, the elephant Gajendra holds a lotus as an offering to Vishnu when he arrives to save his devotee from a crocodile.
Krishna’s kingdom, Goloka, is evoked as Vrindavana on earth, depicted in the form of a lotus.
Vishnu is often depicted holding the lotus in the lower left hand, while his consort Lakshmi holds one in the right hand, and the goddess is also often depicted sitting on the flower.
A Shaiva myth describes Vishnu’s worship of Shiva with 1008 lotus flowers, offering one for each of his epithets. To test him, Shiva removed a lotus from the bouquet so that Vishnu would lack one and the puja would be incomplete. However, the omniscient Vishnu simply plucked one of his lotus eyes, placing it on the lingam. Pleased, Shiva gives him the Sudarshana Chakra.
Vishnu’s association with the lotus is believed to derive from the flower’s presence in the symbolism of his consort, Lakshmi, for whom it represented water and fertility.
Sculptures of Vishnu with a lotus date back to the 5th or 6th centuries, and present him with the epithets Padmanabha (he of the lotus navel), Pundarikaksha (lotus eye) and Padmapani (lotus hand).
The icons of Narasimha with a lotus emerging from his head date back to the middle of the 6th century. On the one hand, the conch shell and lotus in Vishnu’s hands signify his association with waters as a fertilizing agent and cosmic symbol.
The conch and lotus are among the most auspicious symbols, and by themselves are often painted on both sides of the entrance to a domestic building. The lotus also symbolizes the earth and is even said to contain the universe, making it especially appropriate as an emblem of the divine preserver of the universe.
The Vishnudharmottara specifically states that the lotus emerging from Vishnu’s navel symbolizes the earth, while the stem represents the cosmic mountain, Meru, the axis of the universe. In Vishnu’s hand, it symbolizes water, and in Lakshmi’s, wealth.
A piece of the Varaha avatar of Vishnu and his consort Bhudevi dating from the 3rd century has also been discovered. Bhudevi herself is standing on a lotus, while Varaha holds a lotus bud in his left hand to represent his act of holding the earth effortlessly.
In Buddhism, the lotus flower symbolizes purity of body, speech and mind. Just as the lotus flower rises above muddy and muddy water to bloom in all its splendor, human beings can also overcome suffering and attain enlightenment.
The lotus flower is also a symbol of rebirth and spiritual awakening in Buddhism, as it represents the ability of human beings to free themselves from the cycle of life and death, Samsara.
In the Aṅguttara Nikāya, Buddha compares himself to a lotus , saying that the lotus flower rises from the muddy water without stain, as he rises from this world, free from the impurities taught in the specific sutta.
According to traditional biographies, the first seven steps of Gautama Buddha made lotus flowers appear. Lotus thrones are the usual pedestal of the most important figures of Buddhist art, and often of other Indian religions.
In Tibet, Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born, is considered the Second Buddha, having brought Buddhism to that country by conquering or converting the local deities; he is usually depicted holding a flower. One account of his birth is that he appeared inside a lotus flower.
Jainism is another Indian religion in which the lotus flower has a special significance. In Jainism the lotus flower represents non-violence (ahimsa) and spiritual purity.
Jains believe that, just as the lotus flower grows in the mud without getting stained, souls can free themselves from impurities and reach a state of spiritual liberation called moksha. The lotus flower is also used in Jain iconography to represent Tirthankaras, enlightened beings who have attained liberation and provide guidance to others to achieve the same.
In ancient Egypt, the lotus flower, known as the Nile flower, symbolized creation and rebirth. The sun god, Ra, was believed to be born from a lotus flower each morning and dipped into it each night.
It was associated with death and resurrection, as the souls of the departed were believed to be reborn as lotus flowers. In Egyptian art, the lotus flower is often shown in the hands of divine figures or in tombs, as a symbol of eternal life.
The lotus flower in modern culture
The symbolism of the lotus flower has transcended ancient religions and mythologies, and remains a popular icon in contemporary culture. The lotus flower is a common symbol in art, literature and fashion, and is used as a symbol of beauty, purity and spiritual transformation.
It has become a popular symbol in the practice of yoga and meditation. The lotus position (padmasana) is one of the most well-known meditation postures and is used to promote concentration, calmness and connection with the divinity within. The lotus flower is also a common symbol in chakra iconography, particularly the crown chakra (sahasrara), which represents the connection to the universe and higher consciousness.
The Lotus Throne
The lotus throne, sometimes called a lotus platform, is a stylized lotus flower used as a seat or base for a figure in art associated with Indian religions. It is the usual pedestal for divine figures in Buddhist art and Hindu art, and is often seen in Jain art. Originating in Hindu art, it followed Indian religions to East Asia in particular.
The exact form varies, but is intended to represent the opening of the flower of Nelumbo nucifera, the Indian lotus. In traditional biographies, lotus flowers sprouted at the first seven steps of Buddha, and in some Buddhist legends the baby Padmasambhava emerged from a lotus flower.
The Indian lotus is an aquatic plant similar to the water lily, although it is not actually closely related. It has a large, round, flat seed head in the center of the flower, with initially small openings above each of the relatively few seeds. Among other unusual characteristics, nelumbo nucifera has particular water-repellent properties, known as the lotus effect or ultrahydrophobicity. Among other symbolic meanings, it rises above the aquatic environment in which it lives, and is not contaminated by it.
In Sanskrit the throne is called padmāsana , which is also the name of the Lotus position in meditation and yoga, or padmapitha, padma meaning lotus and pitha a base or plinth.