What Does the Lotus Flower Represent in the Buddhist Religion?

by Rachael DeBrouse

The lotus is a symbolic flower within Asian religious traditions, including Buddhism. Valued for centuries, the colorful aquatic flower blooms in many of the regions where Buddhism is prevalent. It is represented in the artwork and writings of Buddhists from the two major branches of Buddhism -- Theravada and Mahayana -- and in all forms of Buddhism from Indian to Japanese.

The Journey of Man

The lotus is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, symbols which are recognizable and present in Buddhist traditions around the world. It is symbolic of the purpose of the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the eight steps in Buddhism that bring followers from the suffering of the human condition to a state of enlightenment. The lotus starts life within the mud as a closed bud, rises through the water, and then blooms into a beautiful flower. This is considered by Buddhists to be similar to the journey of man. People start life in a state of suffering, begin to rise towards enlightenment, and finally open up to the true nature of reality.

The Meaning of Color

The lotus is represented in Buddhism in many colors and each has a different meaning. White symbolizes purity, while gold represents enlightenment. A red lotus indicates all things related to the heart, such as compassion and love. Blue is symbolic of wisdom and knowledge. The pink lotus is typically saved for use in representing the original Buddha. Purple is represented less often and used mainly in esoteric forms of Buddhism to represent mysticism. The different colors are unique, just as all men are all unique, and together they represent the entirety of enlightenment.

The Meaning of Form

The form of the flower is also important in understanding the symbolism. A lotus can be represented with dozens of petals, but a common number is eight, which represents the Noble Eightfold Path. Multiple stems can represent such things as multiple types of knowledge. A closed bud is symbolic of a human before reaching enlightenment, while an open bloom is symbolic of reaching the state of enlightenment.

Important Uses of the Symbol

One of the major texts of the religion, the Lotus Sutra, is named after the flower. The Lotus Sutra, which focuses on the true nature of humans, is particularly important for Mahayana Buddhists. They believe anyone, not just those of a certain place in society, can become a Bodhisattva and help others attain Buddhahood. They consider this a state of being that is within all, just as it is the nature of the lotus to spring forth from the mud to its true beauty. In addition, the Lotus position is often used for meditation, an important practice for Buddhists in the attainment of enlightenment.

About the Author

Rachael DeBrouse graduated with honors from Christopher Newport University where she obtained a B.A. in English, writing concentration, and a minor in philosophy and religious studies. She has been studying religion and spirituality independently and in academic environments since high school.

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