Lotus Lore

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on September 26, 2016.)

Lotus flowers at Longxing Temple, Zhengding (Shijiazhuang), Hebei

The lotus is preeminently the flower of Buddhism. I have spent hours gazing at lotus ponds in temples in Japan and China, and have come to love their symbolism.

The best-known meaning of the lotus is this: it is rooted in the mud (representing the world of Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth that all sentient beings go through according to Buddhist teaching); it grows up through the water (the struggle for enlightenment); and at last bursts out into the atmosphere, symbolic of the release from the cycle and the attaining of Nirvana, the condition beyond Samsara.

The Buddha himself gave this meaning when he said: "Just like a red, blue, or white lotus--born in the water, grown in the water, rising up above the water--stands unsmeared by the water, in the same way I--born in the world, grown in the world, having overcome the world--live unsmeared by the world."

And remember that "Flower Sermon," the one that only Kashyapa understood, making him the first Chan Patriarch? Tradition says the flower was a lotus.

There are other meanings to the lotus in Buddhist art, as well. Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is often seen holding a lotus bud, symbolizing the potential for enlightenment (as an open flower represents its attainment).

Another important Buddhist idea, that of detachment, is indicated in the way the beads of water roll off a lotus leaf without soaking in.

And the famous chant Om Mani Padme Hum is understood as "Hail the Jewel in the Lotus!"--that is, the Nirvana or Buddha Nature that permeates Samsara.

A lotus pond at Puji Temple on Putuo Shan, Zhejiang

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