Lotus, flower of symbolism
The lotus, symbol of the being's realization
The realization of the being possibilities is often symbolized by the blooming of a flower at the “Waters” surface. It is a matter of “Upper Waters” that contain, in their first and original unity, all the possibilities of realization. This flower is usually a lotus in the East, a rose or a lily in the West.
The flower in general and the lotus in particular are symbols of the spiritual accomplishment of the being, from the obscure depths associated with the “Lower Waters” to the complete blossoming in the full light of the “Upper Waters”. This accomplishment emanates from a seed (first germ or World Egg), comes out as a bud form (egg hatching) and opens up with the full flowering.
The flower embodies the feminine or passive principle of the manifestation, which assimilates it to a receptacle, a bowl, a vase receiving the influence of the masculine or active principle. This distinction between passive and active principles can be found in different traditional forms: Prakriti/Purusha in India, yin/yang in China, feminine/masculine in the West. The manifestation of the being and all his realization possibilities are born from the union of these two principles in any traditional form.
The sacred flower of Egypt
The papyrus and the lotus, both water plants, represented respectively the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt. According to the Egyptian myth of world creation, the lotus came from of original silt and from its chalice the divine Creator. The lotus flower, opening up at sunrise and closing at sunset, symbolizes the Sun God and the light expansion outside the original silt.
Birthplace and wedding bed of Isis and Osiris, it also symbolizes the birth and the re-birth after death. It is hardly surprising that it decorates the monument columns of the Egyptian architecture and its mural representations. The column symbolizes the Universe Axis from which spread as many lotus beams representing the full blooming of the world manifestation.
The blue lotus was preferred to the white one due to the exquisite smell, similar to the divine life fragrance, that it gave off. Attribute of Nefertem, the God of Memphis and “Perfume Lord”, it was called “nen-nufer”, origin of French water lily name “nénuphar”.
The lotus in the Hindu tradition
In the Hindu tradition, Vishnu sleeps at the surface of the “Primeval Waters”. A pink lotus emerges from his navel. In the middle of the flower stands Brahmâ.
The pink lotus (“padma”) associated with Vishnu is a daytime and solar symbol in contrast to the blue lotus (“utpala”) particular to the night, the moon and in relation to Shiva.
These three Gods represent the triple manifestation (“Trimurti”): Brahmâ the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destructor or more accurately the Transformer. The preservation is done during the day while the transformation operates by night.
These Gods represent principles of production of the manifested world and as many facets of the Supreme God, Brahma. As the “Supreme Principle”, Brahma is beyond all distinctions between creation, preservation and transformation. It is neuter while Brahmâ, Vishnu and Shiva are masculine and endowed with proper feminine energies (“shakti”) respectively depicted by three Goddesses: Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati.
Lakshmi, “shakti” of Vishnu and lotus' Goddess, appears standing or sitting on a lotus, holding up lotuses in her hands and surrounded by flowers in buds or corollas. Rain drops are falling from her hands. They symbolize the descent of the “Upper Waters” towards the “Lower Waters” as source of creation. This aspect is even more underlined on some representations where elephants appear on each side, pouring water out of their trunks.
The Lotus Sutra
In many representations, the Buddha stands in the middle of an eight petal lotus.
He is sitting on the motionless hub of a wheel with eight spikes symbolizing the eight cardinal and intermediary points and representing the manifestation in all its fullness. A wheel that evokes stylized representations of both the lotus and the “Celtic rowel”, symbols of the world manifestation (circumference) unified into its motionless Principle (centre). For more details on this subject, see the United Kingdom flag.
The Master who introduced the Buddha's doctrine into Tibet during the 8th century in our era is called “Padmasambhava” (the one who was born from a lotus).
The “Lotus Sutra” (Lotus of the True Law) constitutes a Sanskrit anthology recognized by the Mahayana as containing the essential teachings of the Buddha. At the same time teaching of the living Buddha and living teaching of the Buddha, it explains the many ways to enlightenment and more particularly: the role of the Buddha; the benefits of appealing to Bodhisattvas; the meaning of the Buddha nature and the importance of faith.
The lotus, which grows in mud and silt to provide a flower of an exquisite beauty, depicts the nature of the Buddha from its emanation until its sublime fragrance.
The ways of Tantra and Kundalini-Yoga
According to the Tantra, there is, within the human being, a subtle body crossed by three channels (“nadis”) joined through their bases. The lateral channels, where opposed energies, solar (“Pingala”) and lunar (“Ida”), are winding around the third neuter channel (“Sushumna”) and five basic points.
To the total number of seven, these basic points are called chakras, a Sanskrit word literally translated by wheels. Coming with spikes, the wheel represents the lotus stylized form. Now, these centres are precisely represented, in the Hindu tradition, by lotuses distinguished by their petal number.
During its ascension, the “kundalini”, static form of the subtle energy, crosses successively the different chakras associated with the physical, psychical and spiritual needs to lead the being towards the true Knowledge and the full Realization symbolized by the thousand petal lotus.
In the Taoist Tantra, the blooming is the result of an internal alchemy, marriage of the essence (hsin) with the breath (ki), of Fire (Li) and Water (Kan) that symbolizes the return to the centre, the unity of the essential state represented by the lotus.