08 Jun Sacred Lotus: Meaning and Origin
Lotus: A Bright Shiny Jewel
“Om Mani Padme Hum” is the most powerful Buddhist mantra and it means “Jewel in the lotus”. If meditated on or recited daily, this Sanskrit mantra is believed to clear negative karma and thoughts as it contains all of Buddha’s teachings within it. But, why did Buddha use the lotus for his most powerful mantra? And why would a jewel be in it? To understand the origins of this, it is essential to learn about the flower itself.
The lotus flower is the national flower to both India and Vietnam thus it to be known as “Indian lotus or bean” and it is often used as a symbol of enlightenment, infinite potential, new beginnings & perseverance. It rises from the sludge of muddy waters (i.e. bottom of pond or river) and, as its leaves float to the water’s surface, a beautiful, pure flower with pointy petals and tight symmetry emerges guided by the sun. Though this feat alone should be impressive, even more, impressive is that a lotus seed can withstand 1,000 years without water and can also be germinated successfully over two centuries later.
Having many uses, the lotus is eaten or cooked within many parts of Asia since all of its parts are safe to consume. It’s tubers, seeds, leaves, petals, and starch are staples in many dishes. Traditional Asian herbal medicine uses it in teas due to its mild sedating and psychotropic effect. Some Western studies have confirmed the great benefits from its use which include help with fever reduction, bacterial infections, viruses, hemorrhages, skin irritations, cough, leprosy, diarrhea, anemia, cholesterol, blood pressure, and fertility; among many others.
Many cultures & religions admire the resiliency of the lotus by incorporating it in their artwork, beliefs, and teachings. Chinese consider the lotus as the supreme flower as it stands for strong values and moral virtues. Some Christians see the white lotus as a symbol of purity and the Virgin Mary. The three religions, though, that expressed the admiration of this aquatic plant are the Egyptians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
Because of its ability to close up and submerge under water every night, only to reemerge and rebloom untouched every morning, the Egyptians considered the lotus or water lily to be a symbol of rebirth. So much so, that the Book of the Dead includes resurrection spells to turn into a lotus. King Tutankhamun was buried wrapped in lotus flowers and his tomb had artifacts such as an alabaster chalice, the Wishing Cup, in the shape of a blooming lotus with handles on either side shaped like upward lotuses. Each of these handles had an illustration of infinity god, Heh, sitting in a basket. In hieroglyphics, the sun god, Atum-Ra, is depicted as emerging from the infinite waters of Nun and birthed from inside a lotus. Nefertum, god of healing, beauty, and perfume is illustrated as wearing a lotus crown while god Horus was depicted as sitting on a lotus with his mother. As a result, many Egyptian women wore lotus amulets while childbearing.
The lotus flower referred to as “seshen”, had a lot of weight in Egypt’s politics and the economy as well. It was used as a symbol to represent the Cardinal number 1,000. Politically, the blue lotus represented upper Egypt while the papyrus plant represented the lower. Hieroglyphics illustrating both a blue lotus and a papyrus plant growing together intertwined would help to stand for a unified Egypt. The blue and white lotus was the most commonly seen colors in the Nile River with the pink introduced by around 500 B.C. by Persia and India.
Commonly using the white lotus, or “Kamala” in Sanskrit, it represents prosperity, fertility, beauty, spirituality, wisdom and eternity. The opening of the bud equals to opening up to the truth (enlightenment) while carrying duties or tasks without expecting anything in return. Hindu goddess of prosperity, Laxmi, is depicted as seating atop a fully open lotus and Hindu god of creation, Brahma, emerges from a lotus blooming from Lord Vishnu, The Lotus-Eyed One.
In Hinduism, yoga is common practice and it includes the lotus position (padmasana) in which the practitioner crosses their legs with feet tucked covering their soles; all the while, the bent knees look like petals. The spine remains straight to allow energy transmission to flow along the silver cord and upwards to the highest state of consciousness.
Born from Hinduism, Buddhism shares 8 auspicious symbols, the lotus is one of them. Often used in mandalas (spiritual symbols), it stands for faithfulness, spiritual awakening and purity. Buddha is depicted as sitting atop of a floating lotus and it is believed that his first footsteps on Earth left lotus blossoms.
The lotus represents our seven body chakras or energy vortices, each with its own total of petals and level of enlightenment. It is believed that the gradual opening of the petals in succession slowly reveals what’s inside (the jewel) which equals to attaining higher levels of self-realization and consciousness. The higher the petal total, the higher the enlightenment level.
- Root Chakra=4 petals
- Sacral Chakra= 6 petals
- Solar Chakra=10 petals
- Heart Chakra=12 petals
- Throat Chakra=16 petals
- Third Eye Chakra= 96 petals
- Crown Chakra= 972 petals “thousand petaled Lotus”
Buddhist Lotus Colors and Meanings
In Buddhism, the lotus flower is seen in many more colors than those seen with the Egyptians and Hinduism:
Blue: Spiritual victory over wisdom, intelligence, and knowledge. Lotus is usually illustrated partially open and center is never observed.
White:” Bodhi” meaning awakening; mentally pure and spiritually perfect. It represents the womb of the world.
Pink: The Supreme Lotus or Buddha Lotus
Purple: uncommon. Stands for Buddha’s principal lessons based on the noble enlightened path, mystic, Buddhist esoteric.
Red: The heart lotus, it stands for love, compassion, and generosity.
Gold/Yellow: Represents Buddha himself. Represents spiritual ascension or purity. Originates from North America.
Growth and Transformation
This sacred flower, indifferent to faith or religion, is one that incorporates the four basic elements. Earth is seen as its root source and anchor, water is the medium by which it slowly surfaces, air helps unfurl the petals and fire is the sun which the lotus unfurls towards (transforms). Something we can all relate to.
As we reflect back on the forementioned mantra, it talks to a unified human potential that is yet, but needs, to be uncovered. It refers to the belief that within every person’s heart lies an unopened, living lotus flower with a precious jewel (person’s and cosmo’s divinity) inside waiting for it to be revealed (enlightened). As the lotus emerges from unclean waters and pushes through all adversities in order to find itself victoriously surfacing clean, pure and renewed, so should we and our human spirit.
May you be guided by the light.
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