The Lotus Flower
The Lotus is an aquatic plant (Nelumbium Nuciferum) native to Asia and Australia. One of the earliest known flowering plants, it can be traced back to the Cretaceous period (135 million years ago). The rhizomes of the plant tend to be firmly anchored in the mud, while the flowers and leaves, which are attached to long stems, rise above the water's surface. Most of the plant's parts are edible, especially, the crisp rhizomes, which are pocketed with air tunnels. Both leaves and leaf stalks are eaten as vegetables in Asia, while the flowers are used for worship, and are sometimes eaten.
Lotuses are said to have the oldest viable seeds in the whole world. As a testament to this, one thousand year old lotus seeds have been found capable of germinating into fine plants. Recently, scientists have determined that L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase is the enzyme responsible for this special ability of lotus seeds to repair damage to proteins within their cells before the germination process. This knowledge could give us new clues about the aging process in other organisms. Along with this scientific claim to fame, the lotus flower is also prized for its traditional associations with prosperity, long life, good health, honor and good luck. Small wonder then, that it was picked to be the national flower of India!
Just as the Rose is a familiar Christian symbol, The Lotus flower has long established in Vedic and Buddhist art and literature as a symbol of enlightenment and purity. The lotus is a symbol for the chakras or the centers of consciousness in the body. Several Hindu deities such as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, Brahma, the creator, and Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Taras, are often seen on a lotus seat or a lotus pedestal. Known as a "kamalasana", these lotus seats symbolize purity or enlightenment.
A member of the water lily family, the lotus has its roots in the mud, and yet its stunningly beautiful flowers regularly reach eight to twelve inches out of the water, basking in the sunlight. In Hindu and Buddhist spiritual texts, this pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. The mud is likened to the roots of evil, namely greed, hatred and delusion, while the blossom stands for enlightenment. Thus, the blooming of these sun-loving flowers is offered as a metaphor for the enlightened being, who emerges undefiled, despite living in a world of maya.
In Yoga, one of the main postures for the practice of meditation is "padmasana", or the lotus position. The head is held high and the body adopts a cross-legged seated position. This is symbolic of the spiritual aspirants upward reach towards pure knowledge while being rooted in the material world of experience.
In Tibetan Mandala paintings, the image of the eight-petalled lotus symbolizes cosmic harmony, while that of the thousand-petalled lotus represents spiritual illumination. These images tend to be more stylized as lotuses do not grow in Tibet, but they continue to retain their significance within the buddhist practice.
The Taoists see the open lotus blossom as a symbol of openness and wisdom. Taoist artists seem to favor this symbol as a reminder of beauty, light and life. The preponderance of Lotus imagery in Chinese poetry speaks to its popularity in that culture, whether in a spiritual context or with reference to the beauty of the feminine.
The traditional color of the flower, seems to be a pinkish hue, or more often, white, which is commonly hailed as "the color of purity". Red and Blue lotuses are also sometimes mentioned in sacred texts. The red lotus is said to symbolize the original nature of the heart (hrdaya), and is therefore, the lotus of love, compassion, and passion. The blue lotus symbolizes the victory of the spirit over the senses. It is the lotus of Manjusri, and also one of the attributes of Prajnaparamita, the embodiment of the 'perfection of wisdom'. Interestingly, in ancient Egypt, the blue lotus was prized for its rich perfume, and its narcotic ability for producing heightened awareness and increased tranquility. Egyptian art and architecture prominently features lotus imagery, which was strongly associated with the sun, as it blooms by day and closes by night.
The benefits of lotus, are said to be easily available as a flower essence. In it's essence form, Lotus has been called the spiritual and emotional elixir. Taken before meditation, it calms the mind, and increases concentration. It is known as an excellent elixir for balancing the chakras and results in better harmony and health. It is believed to clear the body of toxins, as well as correct emotional imbalances by allowing a gentle release of emotions. It is also popular as a harmonizing essence for interpersonal relationships.
Hail to the Jewel within the Lotus!