Positive Progress Through The Benevolent Use Of Knowledge

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lotus Flower- Symbol of Purity and Great Beauty.

Lotus Flower - Symbol of Purity and Great Beauty!

What makes the lotus flower so special?

The lotus flower is one of the most ancient and deepest symbols of our planet. The lotus flower grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty. At night the flower closes and sinks underwater, at dawn it rises and opens again. Untouched by the impurity, lotus symbolizes the purity of heart and mind. The lotus flower represents long life, health, honor and good luck.

The lotus (Sanskrit and Tibetan padma) is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols and one of the most poignant representations of Buddhist teaching.

The roots of a lotus are in the mud, the stem grows up through the water, and the heavily scented flower lies pristinely above the water, basking in the sunlight. This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment.

Though there are other water plants that bloom above the water, it is only the lotus which, owing to the strength of its stem, regularly rises eight to twelve inches above the surface.

According to the Lalitavistara, "the spirit of the best of men is spotless, like the lotus in the muddy water which does not adhere to it."

According to another scholar, "in esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus: when the virtues of the Buddha develop therein, the lotus blossoms; that is why the Buddha sits on a lotus bloom."

The lotus is one of Buddhism's best recognized motifs and appears in all kinds of Buddhist art across all Buddhist cultures. Scrolling lotuses often embellish Buddhist textiles, ceramics and architecture.

Every important Buddhist deity is associated in some manner with the lotus, either being seated upon a lotus in full bloom or holding one in their hands. In some images of standing Buddhas, each foot rests on a separate lotus.

The lotus does not grow in Tibet and so Tibetan art has only stylized versions of it, yet it appears frequently with Tibetan deities and among the Eight Auspicious Symbols.

The color of the lotus has an important bearing on the symbology associated with it:

White Lotus (Skt. pundarika; Tib. pad ma dkar po): This represents the state of spiritual perfection and total mental purity (bodhi). It is associated with the White Tara and proclaims her perfect nature, a quality which is reinforced by the color of her body.

Pink Lotus (Skt. padma; Tib. pad ma dmar po): This the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity. Thus naturally it is associated with the Great Buddha himself.

Red Lotus (Skt. kamala; Tib: pad ma chu skyes): This signifies the original nature and purity of the heart (hrdya). It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion and all other qualities of the heart. It is the flower of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

Blue Lotus (Skt. utpala; Tib. ut pa la): This is a symbol of the victory of the spirit over the senses, and signifies the wisdom of knowledge. Not surprisingly, it is the preferred flower of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.


The lotus flower appeared in legends originating from ancient Egypt. It played an important part in ancient Egyptian religion. The pure white lotus flower, the only plant to fruit and flower simultaneously, emerges from the depths of the muddy swamp. Growing from the mud at the bottom of ponds and streams, the exquisite Lotus flower rises above the water and is usually white or pink with 15 or more oval, spreading petals, and a peculiar, flat seedcase at its center.

Sesen A Lotus Flower. This is a symbol of the sun, of creation and rebirth. Because at night the flower closes and sinks underwater, at dawn it rises and opens again. According to one creation myth it was a giant lotus which first rose out of the watery chaos at the beginning of time. From this giant lotus the sun itself rose on the first day. A symbol of Upper Egypt .The lotus flower played a prominent role in the version of the creation story that originated in Heliopolis. Before the universe came into being, there was an infinite ocean of inert water which constituted the primeval being named Nun. Out of Nun emerged a lotus flower, together with a single mound of dry land. The lotus blossoms opened, and out stepped the self-created sun god, Atum, as a child. A slightly different version of the creation story originated in Hermopolis. In that version, the sun god who formed himself from the chaos of Nun emerged from the lotus petals as Ra. The lotus is a flower which opens and closes each day. His history went on to say that the petals of the lotus blossom enfolded him when he returned to it each night.

The lotus flower has been featured extensively throughout the art of ancient Egypt. In various works of art, you may see it held in the hand of a god or human, serving as a border to outline a section of the artwork, unfolding to reveal various gods or humans, and many other depictions. The ancient Egyptians from the 4th dynasty greatly valued the sacred lotus, in religious ceremonies and funerals. The ancient Egyptians developed the art of counting to a high degree, but their system of numeration was very crude. For example, the number 1,000 was symbolized by a picture of a lotus flower, and the number 2,000 was symbolized by a picture of two lotus flowers growing out of a bush.

Lotuses are 5 species of water lilies, three in the genus Nymphaea and two in Nelumbo; both genera are members of the water-lily family, Nymphaea lotus, the Egyptian white lotus, is believed to be the original sacred lotus of ancient Egypt. It and the Egyptian blue lotus, N. caerulea, were often pictured in ancient Egyptian art.

The common Egyptian "lotus" is actually correctly called a water lily: the white lotus opens at dusk, the blue water lilly opens in the morning.

The white lotus is a shallow-water, night-blooming plant with a creeping rootstock (rhizome) that sends up long-stalked, nearly circular, dark green leathery leaves, which float on the surface. The flowers, up to 25 cm (10 in) across, remain open until midday. The blue lotus is a smaller, less showy day-blooming plant.

The Lotus flower has for thousands of years symbolized spiritual enlightenment. Indeed, this flower essence's purpose is to accelerate spiritual evolvement and enhance healing on every level within the system.
The blue lotus was native to the Nile and used to be abundant. Its narrow, pointed petals and round, spotted leaves appear as the more common lotus in every conceivable opportunity for Egyptian artistic imagery. Often the leaf spots are not shown, or even the leaf.

The white lotus' rounded petals appear with round, scalloped edge leaves. The red lotus was introduced to Egypt from Persia in later dynasties.

The Legend of the Lotus

Because lotuses grow out of the mud pure and clean, like morning dew from Heaven or water in springtime from a flower creek, lotus decorations and designs are everywhere the eye turns.

Chinese poets also use lotus flowers to inspire people to continue striving through difficulties and to show their best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. This is understood as being just like the lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond.

Another symbolic characteristic of the lotus flower leads from the observation that the plant's stalk is easy to bend in two, but is very hard to break because of its many strong sinuous fibres. Poets use this to represent a close unbreakable relationship between two lovers or the members within a family, showing that no matter how far away they might live nothing can really separate them in heart.

In Buddhism the lotus flower symbolizes faithfulness. The golden lotus that is mentioned in Buddhist sutras has two meanings, one is the symbol for the achievement of enlightenment and the other points towards a real flower which is beyond our normal perception.

The influence of a lotus flower painting is to open us up to beauty and light. A good lotus flower painting can act as a reminder of the miracle of beauty, light and life. This reminder, communicated on an emotional level, is said to aid both spiritual and practical understanding of Tao, the world and our place in it.

Chinese poets also use lotus flowers to inspire people to continue striving through difficulties and to show their best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. This is understood as being just like the lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond.

Lotuses are perhaps the most spectacular plants in aquatic environments. The Chinese say that, once having seen the growing lotus, you never forget it. The lotus flowers have color from red, pink, pale yellow to creamy white. A separate, long, tubular stalk supports each flower and each large round leaf.

The sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is an extreme important spiritual symbol in Eastern religions. It represents purity, divine wisdom, and the individual's progress from the lowest to the highest state of consciousness.

Seeded in muddy waters, the lotus rises above the mud and produces beautiful and fragrant flowers. The big showy bloom may be 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) in diameter. The flowers open for just three days. Then each petal falls silently into the water, one by one, at a short period. The large green seed head or pod remains on the top of the stalk for a long time, and gradually turning to dark color and ripe. The seeds impeded in the cone-shape pod with flat surface at the top. The pod then reverts to the water, where it floats face down, allowing seeds to take hold in the mud. The seeds then germinate in the following Spring and give rise to new lotus plants.

All parts of lotus are edible. The immature seeds can be eaten raw or cooked, they have chestnut like flavor. Ripe seeds are roasted and ground into flour, or boiled to extract oil. Lotus roots produce starchy tubers and have the flavor of sweet potato. The young, unrolled leaves are cooked as a vegetable.

Lotus seeds have very hard, impermeable seed coats, and can remain viable for very long time. Sacred Lotus seeds, the most long-lived of all angiosperm seeds, have been known to germinate after more than 400 years! American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) can germinate after a dormancy of 200 years, and recently, lotus seeds of 1,200 years from China had been germinated! What's an incredible plant!

Bright blooms from the muck

"Purity, trustworthiness, the Buddha, the virtuous man: these are what the lotus signifies," writes Huang Yung-chuan, assistant director of the National Museum of History, in his book Chinese Flower Arranging. Buddhism came to China in the Wei and Jin dynasties, at which time the lotus, which had been simply a source of food, became a symbol for purity and the subject of many poems.

"Bathing in the clear water of the spiritual pond, the lotus' roots dig deep into the soil." For the literati, the lotus represented distancing oneself from vulgarity. It was a metaphor that related to contemporary utopian notions, but was surely connected as well to the Buddhist ideal of "keeping apart from the world, like the lotus."

"My Love for the Lotus" by the Song scholar Zhou Dun-yi has exerted an influence on the Chinese down to the present. In this essay, the lotus is compared to a man of great virtue for being able to live in muck without being tainted by it. Qian Zhong-shu, a Republican-era writer, wrote that Zhou's "inspirations" stemmed from Buddhist ideas.

Buddhism explores how to transcend the troubles of human existence, to leave behind the sea of pain, the house of fire that is human existence. Becoming Buddha-like is the highest ideal. Out of the muck the lotus springs forth beautiful blooms, much as Buddhas free themselves from worldly worries. In the Middle Works of Hinayana Sutra, the Buddha says, "In this way the human heart doesn't give rise to evil desires or evil thoughts. It's like the blue, red and white lotuses that grow in the water but bear no water."

Chinese literati believe that a lotus is a pure world unto itself in which both body and soul are clean. According to the book Jian Nan Shi Gao, when the Song dynasty poet Lu Yu was 78 years old, he once dreamt that an ancient spoke to him: "I am the lotus scholar and responsible for the mirror lake," he said. "But now I am leaving, and I was wondering if you could take my place minding the moonlight, wind and dew and protecting the lotuses?

Every month you will receive 1000 jugs of wine in payment." Afterwards Lu couldn't forget this beautiful dream. A few years later, when he was very ill, he had another dream in which he walked amid 10,000 acres of lotus flowers. Lu's dreams can be said to combine Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist elements.

Muck is a field of blessing

In comparison to the literati's notions about not getting tainted by the mud, the Buddhist description of the lotus leaving the muck has even broader meaning.

Mahayana Buddhism stresses finding a release from worldly affairs while in the world, taking the path of a bodhisattva amid the five filths of the world. The bodhisattvas take the human masses as their "field of blessing"-the muck is luck, evil is good, pollution is purity and no clear dichotomies can be made. Hence, Mahayana Buddhism stresses the idea that "this flower doesn't grow in the highlands but rather it blooms in the vile swamps." The root and flower merge into one, in which there is no distinction between pollution and purity.

Apart from pursuing inner cultivation, meditation and deep thought, experiencing muck is also a form of cultivation, for it tests one's ability to endure misfortune and to sacrifice. Only by going to hell and being tempered by fire there, can one rise to religious exaltation and radiate the brightest and most beautiful light.

Collectively, the numerous different descriptions of the lotus are fitting, in that each lotus bloom is a magnificent world in itself. It is quite natural that images of the lotus are everywhere to be found in Buddhist lands.

In one of the Dunhuang Caves, you can find yourself surrounded on four sides by the petals of a giant lotus decoration, in which one peaceful Buddha after another sits in front of its own huge lotus petal. Since lotus petals and leaves have unusual shapes, you can always tell when a lotus flower is being depicted no matter if it has been stretched long, pressed flat, or molded into a square. Apart from actual representations of lotus flowers, petals and leaves, the ways gourds, dahlias, pomegranates and a variety of other fruits were depicted "were all adaptations and extensions of lotus designs," notes Lu.

White flowers from heaven

When Chan (Zen) Buddhism bloomed in China, the lotus did not lose stature, but Buddhist art became more subdued, and the use of color in depictions of the lotus declined. After the Song dynasty, folk culture grabbed hold of the lotus with gusto, giving it symbolic meaning that was no longer purely religious.

In mass-produced art works, fat babies danced while holding lotus leaves or lotus flowers. These were used in the hope that people would give birth to several boys in succession (a Chinese character meaning "one after another" is a homonym for the character meaning lotus). And the lotus leaves provide protection for goldfish under them, which to the Chinese symbolize abundance year after year. In the folk uses of lotus flowers it is often hard to discern whether there is any connection to religious belief. For instance, in the Tang dynasty one Buddhist deity was depicted as a baby holding a lotus flower and laughing. On a festival for unmarried women on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, children would come out onto the city streets and imitate him. Is this deity somehow connected to the idea that lotuses would help mothers produce boys?

"Chinese flower arranging also has roots in the Northern Dynasties' Buddhist 'flower offering' ceremony," writes Huang Yung-chun, assistant director of the National Museum of History.

Down to the present, even if Chinese don't understand the Lotus Sutra or lotus-related Zen esoterica, they will surely know that you light lotus lanterns on the Ghost Festival and that Songzi Niangniang allowed the Gold Boy and Jade Girl to get on a lotus and float to the world of men. In which case it's not hard to imagine that a small lotus pedestal can remove bad karma, direct souls of the deceased to proceed with reincarnation, and help cultivate one's inner spirit.

Purity, not fragrance and beauty

Nitpicking botanists might note that a lot of the explanations Buddhists have for the lotus are now far removed from the realities of the living ecology. When the lotus flowers, its ovule, cupule and shape are beginning to form but are not fully mature. This entomophilous flower requires insects to gather pollen in order for its fruit to ripen, and thus to say that it flowers while bearing fruit is not strictly accurate. Yang Yuan-po, who has researched water plants, says that the unusual platform-like cupule is shaped the way it is to attract bugs to its pollen, rather than to get human beings to imagine what it would be like to sit on it.

As for the way the lotus and the water lily close up, nimosa grass does the same thing. Chen Chin-yuan, a graduate student in the department of horticulture at National Taiwan University, says that flowers close up to make it easier for the plants to control their inner circulation of water, so as to avoid being affected by the weather, the humidity or even being touched by people.

The Diamond Sutra urges people to "cultivate the heart of a Buddha, by living nowhere." Hence, don't clutch tight to phenomena of this world and to things you are not supposed to desire.

Letting go of the lotus pedestal to find enlightenment is similar to the idea that you can only get to land by leaving your boat!

The Lotus Effect (the lotus flower's physical properties).

Author: Hans Christian Von Baeyer
January, 2000


THE LOTUS FLOWER IS REVERnED throughout the world. Its name is actually shared by a number of different plants with blossoms of various colors, but the most celebrated in art and literature is the sacred white lotus of the Hindus: Nelumbo nucifera. Its huge, almond-shaped petals form a shallow bowl around a seedpod that is vaguely reminiscent of the nozzle of a sprinkling can. This magnificent blossom, rising on a tall stalk from a flat base of large, round leaves, is endowed with an exotic aura. In Buddhist tradition, lotus blossoms mark each of the seven steps in ten directions taken, paradoxically, by the newborn Buddha. But without a doubt the color of the lotus--or, more properly, its utter absence of color--a blinding whiteness that speaks of unblemished purity, underlies its magical allure.

The lotus was an important icon in ancient Egypt, the inspiration for the Phoenician capitals that preceded the Ionic order of design, the sacred flower of Hindu religions and the object of the principal mantra of Tibetan Buddhism: om mani padme hum, which means "Hail, jewel in the lotus." Given the mechanical efficiency of prayer wheels that symbolically repeat those words without pause, the lotus may be the most frequently invoked plant in the world. In various parts of the world it has been a symbol of fertility, birth, beauty, sunlight, transcendence, sexuality and the resurrection of the dead. A twelfth-century Sanskrit poem extols Brahma, "the lotus of whose navel forms thus our universe." But above all, the lotus represents purity.

What an enchanting paradox, then, that the lotus grows in muddy waters, emerging from them unblemished and untouched by pollution.

An ancient Indian text refers explicitly to that wonderful quality:

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 surface of the lotus leaf is covered with a dense layer of pointy little moguls. The botanists had stumbled upon the secret of the lotus. To celebrate their discovery, Barthlott coined the term lotus effect.

To demonstrate the phenomenon dramatically, Barthlott likes to squeeze a droplet of water-soluble liquid glue onto a lotus leaf. He smears the droplet a little with his finger, then steps back to watch.

The glue quickly pulls itself back together, reforming the droplet, and the droplet rolls off the leaf at a stately pace. Not even glue can stick to an area as small as the tip of a microscopic mogul.

Just as impressive is Barthlott's demonstration of the cleaning power of water: when a lotus leaf is covered with a dusting of fine powdered clay, and a drop of water is added, the water rolls downhill, gathering dust as it moves. In its wake is a long, clean path, like the shiny trail of a snail.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT, THE SECRET of the sacred lotus: its purity derives from its nubbly surface. Is that all?

For me, the opposite is true. When I see a lotus blossom now, or, what is more likely, the leaf of a cauliflower or tulip, I marvel at the ingenuity of nature in bringing forth, after a hundred million years of evolution, such pristine beauty through such an exquisite design. My awareness enhances my appreciation.


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