The Symbolism of the Lotus Flower



The Symbolism of the Lotus Flower

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The Lotus Flower and the Wisdom it Radiates

Standing out from the cornucopia of Tibetan Buddhist icons, the Lotus flower is an image through which many of the philosophy’s essential teachings are unfurled. The Lotus is viewed as a pure entity from which all things are birthed free of karmic faults. It embodies the Buddhist ideas of transcendence, purity, and non-duality. In point, “the lotus is the symbol of the absolute, sustaining the phenomenal world.”


By Wade Shepard of


The Lotus flower flourishes in shallow ponds and near the edges of larger bodies of water. It grows up from the soil, through water, and then into the air. In this way, the flower, metaphorically as well as literally, connects the three spheres of earthly existence- land, sea, sky- and embraces the metaphorical associations attributed to each. The lotus, as such, acts as a symbolic tie which demonstrates the contiguous interdependence and unity of all things- a string by which everything is metaphorically tied. “The lotus is the symbol of absolute purity; it grows from the dark watery mire but is untainted or unstained by it.” The lotus’ blossoms achieve unblemished beauty after their birth in the muck of earthly platitude. They open and close in perfect harmony with the ebb and flow of the sun. Its base sits flush upon the water; gently rocking with the tidings and ripples. In these ways the flower represents effortlessness, direction, and the attainment of beauty. It is a perfect metaphor from which to view the grand unity of all existence, a graceful acceptance of worldly processes, the attainments resulting from an upright life of religious observance and, taken all together, the Tibetan Buddha Dharma.

The Lotus as an image was introduced into Tibet from India in the same package as the Buddha Dharma itself. According to Indian philosophy, the lotus is the symbol of creation. It had its origin as emitting from the naval of Vishnu and then, upon opening, it gave birth to Brahma; who in turn created all the myriad things. Upon the Lotus flower is, essentially, a mythological map of the entire world:
The filaments of this great lotus are the innumerable great mountains of the world full of precious metals. The countries of foreign peoples
exist on the underside of the petals. In the center there are four oceans that extend to the four quarters of the earth and within the center of these four oceans is the great continent of which India is a part.

The above conception of the Lotus clearly shows the extent to which Indian philosophy views its role as a progenerator. Not only does the land of India spawn from the lotus, but the flower is attributed to the country’s Brahmanic gods, “and through them to the Lord Buddha.” This conception of deities originating from the bosom of the Lotus was directly transferred into Buddhist iconography and art; as many Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Ahrans are depicted as arising from the open lotus.

In Tibetan Buddhist art, it is very common for images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other prominent figures from the Buddhist Pantheon to be depicted as resting upon an open Lotus flower. “The lotus seat or throne on which most deities sit or stand symbolizes their innate purity; they manifest into cyclic existence, yet they are completely free from its defilements, emotional hindrances, and obscurations.”. This seat is meant to indicate the divine birth and attainment of the central figure that is shown hovering upon it. “The Lotus representing the universal ‘ground’ supports not only deities and celestial beings but sacred religious symbols and implements, e.g. Vajra (auspicious essence). The relation of Vajra to Lotus is that of ‘impartable essence’ to ‘universal substance.’” If the Lotus itself denotes the essence of enlightenment, how great must be the one who can sit upon it? How pure must one be to emit from it? How free must one be to rest at one with it? This special location is reserved for those who, essentially, shine forth the attributes of the Lotus flower; for those who are Lotus flowers, enlightened- Nirvanic.

Laksmi, the Lotus Goddess and consort of Vishnu, is one such deity that has become symbolically inseparable from the Lotus flower. She rode on a Lotus throne prior to the beginning of earthly time; which earned her the name, Padma. “The Lotus was originally the ‘Vehicle’ of the goddess Padma, mother of the universe; it later becomes the symbol of the creative aspect, the female sakti of the immortal god.” In this way the attribution of a female Goddess to the Lotus magnifies the fact that the flower is viewed as the proliferator of life." In Asian mythology the lotus often symbolizes the female sexual organs, from which new life is born.” This analogy between the lotus and birth is further emphasized in the following passage:

"The cosmic lotus, as the door to the womb of the universe, was referred to as "The Goddess Moisture" or "The Goddess Earth". The leaf of the lotus symbolizes the fertile earth; the flower represents the mother's lap and eternal renewal."

The Lotus also acts as a metaphoric guide to those who are engaged in practicing Tibetan Buddhism in the direction of realizing complete, unchastened enlightenment. The Lotus sits gently upon the water’s surface, patiently transgressing the onward ephemeral roll of eternity. It is pure of fault or misgiving. The flower gracefully accepts the pool that it is placed in and shines beautifully in negation of circumstance. The Lotus manifests supreme knowledge and wisdom and has become a metaphor for Buddhism in totality. In these ways, the symbol of the Lotus is ingested as a model which represents a life of meditation and devotion. The attributes, environment, and appearance of the Lotus flower has lead to an entire symbology of meanings being ascribed to it. The flower itself radiates the essence of life, purity, and holiness. As a metaphor, it embodies the Truths of Buddhism and The Perfection of Wisdom.

Written by Wade Shepard of Vagabond

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The Symbolism of the Lotus Flower

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