Buddhists believe in something called Samsara. It is the continuous birth, death, and rebirth that beings go through while they pursue enlightenment. Through suffering, we learn, and we grow and release attachment to the physical world around us.
The lotus represents the enlightenment mind that one can achieve through practicing non-attachment. The beautiful flower springs and grows from deep, dark, murky, and muddy water. The mud that nourishes the roots represents suffering or challenges that we face in our lives. These experiences encourage – even push – us to grow and break free from the suffering.
The lotus flower eventually emerges from the water while still having its roots in the mud. The flower represents the non-attached and enlightened mind, while the muddy water represents the experiences that we live through. The flower blooms out of and exists on top of the silty water below. In a way, the lotus can be seen as the physical representation of the saying: ‘in the world, but not of the world.’ We exist in this messy world but are no longer tainted by it.
The meaning of different colored lotuses:
Besides representing enlightenment in general, different colored lotuses have different meanings.
White lotus: purity of mind and spiritual perfection.
Pink lotus: represents the Buddha as well as the history and succession of Buddhas.
Purple lotus: this lotus is rare and mystical. The meaning of purple lotuses depends on the number of lotuses grouped together.
Red lotus: is linked to Avalokiteshvara. This is the compassion practiced by Bodhisattva (or enlightened beings) who are dedicated to serving others along their journey to enlightenment. Red lotuses are also related to our hearts and pure nature.
Blue lotus: wisdom and intelligence. This lotus is always depicted as being partially open.
Gold/ yellow lotus: realization of enlightenment.
Prominent places where you may find lotus symbolism in Buddhism:
Lotus flowers are strewn throughout Buddhism, from texts to images and depictions, and even chants. Some stories speak about Buddha’s mother (Queen Maya) dreaming of a white bull elephant carrying a white lotus in his trunk before the Buddha was born. Other legends tell of lotus flowers blooming in the baby Buddha’s footsteps.
The Lotus Sutra is one of the most respected Mahayana sutras (texts). Buddhas or Bodhisattvas are often depicted either sitting or standing on a lotus flower. The lotus also shows up in yoga practice as an asana, or pose. In this pose, the legs and feet are folded in a manner that represents the lotus flower. The yoga practitioner sits cross-legged with the right foot resting on the left thigh and the left foot resting on the right thigh.
The chant: ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ from Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist tradition is perhaps one of the most famous Buddhist chants. Roughly translated, it means: ‘the jewel in the heart of the lotus.’
Lotus flowers are not only beautiful to look at. They represent the adversity and struggle that we work through in order to obtain non-attachment and, through that, enlightenment.