The Lotus flower is regarded in many different cultures, especially in eastern religions, as a symbol of purity, enlightenment, self-regeneration and rebirth. Its characteristics are a perfect analogy for the human condition: even when its roots are in the dirtiest waters, the Lotus produces the most beautiful flower.
The Meaning the Lotus Flower According to Buddhism
According to Buddhism, every person has the potential to become perfect and enlightened, and it is just a matter of time until each human reaches the light. Buddhists believe that it’s necessary to be reborn thousands of times, polishing one’s being through many incarnations, until one reaches nirvana – the highest state of consciousness that humans can access.
The journey of the consciousness from spiritual ignorance to perfection happens through many rebirths and can be very painful and difficult, as the process of reincarnation involves the need to repair past mistakes at every new life and one faces the consequences of every action, thought and words. While humans are not conscious of their spiritual greatness, they believe that life is unfair and worthless, but as they evolve through many cycles of death and rebirth, all the darkness is slowly removed.
The moment in which a being reaches nirvana is symbolized by the time that the Lotus flower finally blossoms beautifully over the dirty water, as the water in many different belief systems represents the material world or the physical realm.
So, Buddha is sometimes depicted sitting on a Lotus flower, symbolizing the one who overcame the pain of that prevails in the material world and became enlightened, just like the Lotus flower which starts to grow in the dirty and muddy water but manages to surpass the water and produce a perfect flower. Many Hindu gods are depicted sitting or standing on a Lotus flower for the same reason.
Symbolism of the Lotus Flower
Another characteristic of the Lotus flower is that it sheds its seeds at the same time it blossoms. Buddhists that followed the Mahayana path as well as Hindus, saw an analogy between the Lotus and the task of an avatar – a being that, after having reached the perfection, decides to return to the rebirth cycles (samsara) in order to help the rest of humanity evolve instead of merging with the nirvana light.
So thanks to an avatar, more people will reach perfection. In ancient Buddhist texts, it is said that every time a man reaches perfection but returns to guide those who were left behind, all of nature bows, moved by his generosity. According to Buddhism, Buddha was an avatar.
The One Thousand Petal Lotus (Thousand-Petaled Lotus) and the Seventh Chakra
Since the Lotus flower represents the awakening of consciousness, it also symbolizes the seventh chakra, called Sahasrara. According to practitioners, this energy center, located at the top of the head, can be stimulated through yoga and some forms of meditation.
When the seventh chakra is awakened, a state of pure consciousness, peace and joy is reached, as the Sahasrara is said to be interconnected with the other chakras producing a sensation of union with God. This process is believed to be the microcosm of the spiritual journey of consciousness – just like humans travel through many incarnations towards the union with God (nirvana), the kundalini energy also travels through the seven chakras in order to reach the Sahasrara when finally, the consciousness merges with the unity. This is why the seventh chakra is depicted as a Lotus flower with one thousand colorful petals.
Egyptians and the Lotus Flower
Egyptians also used the Lotus flower to symbolize the process of reincarnation as the Lotus appears everywhere in Egyptian mythology in the same contexts that it appears in Hindu mythology. In both cultures, legends tell that life emerged from the waters, a deep infinite ocean, and a huge Lotus rose.
The Lotus flower closes and sinks in the water at night and rises and opens again at dawn, just like the sun. This is why the Lotus flower is associated with the sun god, Atom. In many different religions, the sun represents the journey of consciousness through reincarnation, as the rises, shines, goes back to the dark but rises again the next morning. Like the sun, some believe that humans are born, they perform their tasks, die, and ultimately, they’re reborn again.
Finally, the seed of the Lotus flower contains perfectly formed leaves as miniatures of what they will become when the Lotus blooms. Reincarnationist religions believe that, like the Lotus flower, every person is already perfect and the model of perfection is already formed inside each being, awaiting the opportunity to emerge when one reaches the condition of being aware of his perfection.
So, all religions refer to the same reality and those who can understand the philosophy of the symbols will indeed find a common message behind different names and myths. This is the true beauty of the symbolic language.
Readers might want to read Japanese Ikebana, the Philosophical Art of Arranging Flowers. For more symbols and their meanings, read Egyptian Tattoo Designs along with Masonic Symbolism.
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 89, Issue 4, May/June 2001.