Perhaps one of the most ancient symbols in the history of mankind, the lotus flower has been a centerpiece for symbolism in many religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
Here in this article, we will be examining the symbolism behind the lotus flower and what it means for these religions as well as other cultures across the world.
Lotus Flower In Buddhism
Buddhists believe that they need to overcome many obstacles of life to reach nirvana, the ultimate state of enlightenment. Through learning, suffering and spiritual growth one obtains spiritual purity and becomes enlightened.
Lotus flower, in this sense, represents the struggles of life one needs to overcome to reach nirvana. Every single day, it rises out of the muddy waters and darkness to reach the sunlight and bloom as a mesmerizing flower of rare beauty.
In general, the lotus flower is considered a symbol of strength and perseverance because it struggles every day to rise out of darkness and manifest its beauty to the world.
This daily process is also the reason why the lotus flower is considered a symbol of rebirth. According to Buddhist belief, in addition to the suffering to be endured during life, one needs to die and reincarnate/be reborn into this world over and over to reach the ultimate state of enlightenment.
One goes through and finally escapes the many cycles of death and rebirth called samsara and reaches enlightenment much like a lotus reaching out for the light by rising above dark and muddy waters every day.
Since the lotus also purifies itself during this process and becomes a beautiful flower despite being born in darkness, the lotus flower is a symbol of purification/purity in Buddhism as well.
Lotus Flower In Hinduism
Another ancient religion for which the lotus flower is of significant importance is Hinduism. Believers of the faith consider the lotus flower a symbol of divinity, fertility, life, beauty and prosperity.
The Sacred Lotus Padma is associated with several gods in Hinduism including Saraswati, Brahma, Lakshmi, Kubera and Vishnu. These deities and some others like Ganesha and Ganga in Hinduism are sometimes depicted sitting on lotus thrones in iconography.
One of the main deities of the faith, Vishnu, also known as the Supreme Being of Vaishnavism, is called “the Lotus-eyed One” (Pundarikaksha) in religious texts and also pictured while holding a lotus flower in his hand in ancient artworks.
Similar to the parallel drawn with reaching nirvana in Buddhism, Hindus believe the lotus flower blooming and opening up its petals is a representation of a person expanding his soul and reaching a deeper state of mind.
Hindus also believe that the spirit of the Sacred Lotus Padma is a part of every human being’s soul.
Lotus Flower In Jainism
Much like Hindu gods, tirthankaras, the founders of Jainism, are depicted standing or sitting on lotus thrones in Jainist artworks.
The sixth Jain tirthankara named Padmaprabha is represented by a red lotus. The word padmaprabha literally means “bright as a lotus”. It is also believed that the twenty-first Jain tirthankara, Naminatha, is represented by a blue lotus.
Lotus Flower In Sikhism
In Sikhism, some gurus of the religion often preached how a Sikh should live their lives by drawing a parallel with the lotus flower. It is believed that a Sikh should remain untouched by this world and pure just as a lotus flower remains pure after it rises out of mud.
Lotus Flower In Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians revered the lotus flower as a symbol. It was considered to be a symbol of rebirth and resurrection, creation and sun.
Since it retracted back into the water at night and rose out of it every day, ancient Egyptians closely associated the lotus flower with the sun, which was the highest power they believed in. Some hieroglyphics depict the Sun God emerging out of the endless ocean/the primordial water (Nun) on a lotus flower.
There is also an Egyptian legend suggesting the sun actually rose out of a lotus flower.
According to some other Egyptian myths, both the goddess Isis and the four sons of Horus were born from the lotus flower.
On a side note, the Egyptian god of beauty, fragrance and healing, Nefertum was also associated with the lotus flower. She was depicted wearing lotus crowns in some artworks.
The same process, ‘being reborn’ into the world every day out of muddy waters is also the reason why the lotus was considered a symbol of rebirth in Egypt.
It is also a symbol of resurrection and reincarnation as the Egyptian book of the dead contains several spells that are believed to turn a person into a lotus to be reincarnated later.
Lotus Flower Symbolism By Color
Over time, different concepts came to be associated with different colors of lotus flowers. Although there is a general meaning behind the flower as a symbol of rebirth, reincarnation, purity, strength and perseverance, pink, white, red and blue lotus flowers all have their specific meanings, too.
Pink Lotus Flower
Considered Buddha’s earthly symbol, pink lotus flowers are mostly associated with the Buddhist faith.
Pink lotus flowers are sacred in Buddhism and can be seen in many Buddhist artworks alongside Buddha and other important figures.
It is believed that a pink lotus flower with closed buds represents a person who is yet to start his spiritual journey. On the other hand, a fully bloomed pink lotus flower is believed to represent a person who has reached the ultimate state of enlightenment.
White Lotus Flower
White lotus flowers are one of the most popular species throughout the world. That is said to be the reason why they are also called “the womb of the world”.
White lotuses represent many different concepts such as knowledge, faith, fertility, wealth, grace, beauty and mental purity acquired through reaching spiritual perfection.
In Buddhism, the white lotus flower is a representation of the state of bodhi, that is to say, the salvation and enlightenment that a Buddhist reaches by taking the Eightfold Path.
Blue Lotus Flower
Generally considered a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, the blue lotus flower has a specific meaning in Buddhism.
It is known to represent the state of a person who has just started his journey of enlightenment. It means leaving the self behind and opening up to spirituality.
Red Lotus Flower
Red lotus flowers are generally known as the symbols for love and compassion. On the other hand, they are associated with deities in eastern religions.
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist goddess/god of mercy who was depicted as both male and female depending on the culture, is called Kuan Yin by Chinese Buddhists.
Kuan Yin sitting on a red lotus is one of the most common images in Buddhist tradition.
This wraps up our post on the lotus flower, the symbolism and meaning behind it. If you would like to read about other symbols of rebirth please check out our article here.
On the other hand, if you would like to read our extensive article on Buddhist symbols and their meanings please click here.