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What does Lotus Flower represent in Buddhism?

The anomaly of the lotus flower is a powerful symbol in Buddhist religion. The flower stands tall and unpolluted in muddy waters. It germinates in the darkness below, emerges above the water, and blossoms into a beautiful flower in bright sunlight. Buddhists use the symbol to refer to the complete purification of the body, soul, and mind even as the roots remain firm in the ground.

The path of life

The lotus represents the path of life as it emerges from the mud (samsara), grows clean and pure through the water (purification), and produces a beautiful lotus flower (enlightenment). That the lotus flower can stand tall in the water can be attributed to the strength of the lotus stem—a powerful analogy to the strength of one’s beliefs in the Buddhist doctrine.
 

 

 

The leaves of the lotus flower are resistant to water. Like water droplets that fall off the lotus leaf, the soul can be touched by material temptations but must remain untainted. And it is important, Buddhism teaches, that existence be rooted in the world, in order to experience the reality of suffering. And thereby, do something about it.

The blooming of the lotus flower is also symbolic. The flower, as a closed bloom, is like the human heart. When enlightened with the teachings of the Buddha, it blossoms.

Lotus colors

The many colors of the lotus flower are symbolic to Buddhism. The white lotus flower represents total mental purity (also called “bodhi”). The red lotus represents the original nature and purity of the heart. This is the flower of Avalokiteshvara, the boddhisatva (Buddha-to-be) of compassion. The blue lotus signifies the triumph of the spirit over the senses and represents wisdom. This is the preferred flower of Manjushri, the boddhisatva of wisdom. And finally there is the pink or supreme lotus, which is associated with the Buddha himself.



 

The beginning of time

Buddhist cosmology believes that the lotus flower was the very first creation of nature in the cosmic world. Five holy lotus flowers appeared at this time, prophesying the enlightenment of five Buddhas in the human world. Of these, four were enlightened. The fifth is yet to come. The four are represented in Buddhist iconography by four lotus flowers; the fifth by a lotus bud, vibrant and filled with potential.

The popularization of the lotus flower

Many cultures and religions use the symbolism of the lotus flower. However, Buddhism may be the one religion that has truly popularized the lotus flower. As Buddhism spread from India to Central Asia and China in the early centuries A.D., lotus flowers were increasingly used to represent the Buddha. In the architecture of Buddhist pagodas, lotus flowers are frequently depicted with petals turned both up and down. In Buddhist iconography, the Buddha is often depicted as sitting cross-legged on a lotus seat, or occasionally, standing on a lotus pedestal.

Tara

Buddhists also believe in a female version of the Buddha—Tara. The goddess of universal compassion, Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action. Tara is supposed to have been born out of the tears of compassion of a bodhisattva (a Buddha-to-be). He wept as a looked upon the world of suffering beings, and his tears formed a lake in which a lotus sprung up. When the lotus flower opened, the goddess Tara was revealed.

Tara is depicted in two forms— the Green Tara, with her half-open lotus flower, representing night; and the White Tara, with her lotus in full bloom and symbolizing day. Together, the Taras symbolize the unending compassion of a goddess who labors day and night to relieve suffering.

The lotus doctrine

The image of the lotus flower also extends to Buddhist doctrine or dharma. In 6th century China, and later in Japan, the Lotus Sutra (the Lotus of the True Law) was said to have encapsulated the entire teachings of the Buddha. In this doctrine, the Buddha revealed the truth of enlightenment and paved the way for people of the world to do likewise.

The lotus in yogic system

Lotus imagery extends to the yogic system of energy centers or charkas. The image of a lotus flower with varying numbers of petals is used to represent each chakra. The crown chakra is the thousand-petalled lotus flower that blossoms to enlightenment. Sometimes the bump on the Buddha's head is represented as a lotus.

The lotus pose or “padma-asana” is the supreme yogic pose and is said to calm the brain, bring in serenity, and heal ailments. The Buddha and boddhisatvas are often depicted in this pose.