Called padma in both Sanskrit and Tibetan, the lotus flower is a cherished symbol across multiple Eastern traditions. Growing naturally in ponds, the lotus starts out rooted deep in mud and scum. In order to blossom, it must make its way through the murky water until it finally breaks the surface. In time it emerges and blooms in the sun, beautiful and whole.
Because of its unique transformation, the lotus has long been regarded as a symbol of enlightenment, purity, rebirth, and triumph over obstacles. While you certainly don’t need to follow a certain spiritual practice to draw inspiration from the lotus, this beautiful blossom holds specific meanings across a handful of traditions. Read on to learn more about the poetic symbolism of the lotus flower.
The Lotus in Buddhism
In Buddhism, the journey of the lotus is said to mirror our own spiritual journeys. Mired in suffering (or samsara), our spirits start out like a lotus bud, tightly closed and buried in deep in the muddy dark. It is only by living through Buddhist virtues and working our way through varied experiences that we can slowly open ourselves to enlightenment. Buddhists also regard the lotus as an important symbol of non attachment: it remains firmly planted in the mud while growing high above the water’s surface, unsullied by the dirt that surrounds it.
The lotus appears frequently in Buddhist mythology, art, and scripture. Art and statues of Buddha often depict him seated on top of a lotus. Legend has it that when he was born, lotuses in grew in Buddha’s footsteps. The most important text in Mahayana Buddhism is referred to as the Lotus Sutra and contains the final teachings of Buddha. The Tibetan Mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, one of the most widely used mantras within Buddhism, also alludes to the lotus flower and is said to invoke the bodhisattva of compassion.
The Lotus in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the lotus has long been associated with divinity and purity: important gods and goddesses are shown seated on top of lotus flowers or standing with lotuses with their hands. In Hindu scriptures, the god Brahma is said to have been born from a lotus that emerged from Lord Vishnu’s navel. A figure of divine beauty, the god Krishna is often described as “The Lotus-Eyed One.”
Similar to Buddhism, Hinduism places importance on the lotus’s ability to remain unsullied by the water and dirt around it. Rising above the water, the lotus teaches followers to stand on their own in the search for enlightenment and to carry out spiritual duties without getting bogged down by material temptations (represented by the mud). The lotus is also associated with the highest level of enlightenment: in the Ayurvedic Chakra system, Crown Chakra, the seventh Chakra, believed to be the center of spiritual awareness and a source of pure consciousness, is referred to as the “Thousand Petal Lotus.”