The Beauty and Symbolism of the Lotus

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The lotus is a magnificent flowering aquatic plant that has been cultivated for thousands of years.  It has been displayed and offered for worship in temples and gardens and used as food and medicine.  The plant possesses an extremely strong life force and comes in many varieties with flowers of different hues:  the snow lotus grows high in the cold, snow-capped mountains; the water lotus, also called the “sleeping lotus,” is the one we are most familiar with:  it grows in muddy ponds and the base of the flower lies at the same level as the water’s surface.

The entire lotus plant is a store of treasure.  Every part of it, flower, leaf, seed, stem, to its very root, can be used for medicinal purposes. It strengthens the spleen; removes edemas; cools the body by drawing down body heat; retains “Jing” (semen or essence).  It balances the blood, liquefying clots in blood vessels, delays bleeding and eliminates toxins.  It transforms moisture and expels cold.  It has the effect of nourishing the Yin aspects and is beneficial to the middle Qi thus pacifying the ”Shen” (energy or spirit) and fortifying the kidneys. The seeds and roots can be eaten as excellent health-enhancing foods.  It is said that Confucian scholars kept leaves among their books to ward off worms.

The lotus’s innately strong life force makes it astonishingly resilient. Lotus seeds recovered from ancient tombs and estimated to be thousands of years old, have been sprouted into life with a seventy percent success ratio when replanted. They blossomed and bore seeds, attesting to their extraordinary regenerative force. By comparison, many common plant seeds survive only fifty years at most after which they lose their regenerative ability.

In Taoist culture, the lotus flower became symbolic of a way of life based on "Jing Shen," the essence of alertness and high moral standards.

While a culture may reach highly developed material living conditions, its achievement would best be measured by a corresponding highly developed spirituality. Such a culture would value high morality, the possibility of personal realization and the cultivation of great wisdom.

Traditionally, in Taoist culture, the lotus represents four major characteristics:

  • Morality The lotus’s original nature is absolute cleanliness as it rises out of mud yet remains unblemished.
  • Purity The lotus is peacefully quiescent and simple; it has an innate ability to transmute impurity into purity.
  • Harmony The lotus is fresh yet unpretentious, fragrant but not intoxicating, always harmonious and in balance.
  • Wisdom The lotus possesses the qualities of unobstructed void and spirit.

These same qualities are inherent to spirituality and universal law and may be expressed in moral values and social attitudes.  Indeed, regardless of culture or nationality, everyone has an appreciation of purity, simplicity, kindness, harmony and wisdom as they inform standards of truth, goodness and beauty and make manifest untruths, wickedness and ugliness.

The Lotus symbolizes the finest to be attained in human nature, the quest for truth, the cultivation of goodness and beauty.

While these pursuits are inherent to our nature, we have been lured away from spiritual life by rapid economic development, commercial prosperity, materialistic desires and the trappings of wealth.  Our  mind-body is thus no longer in equilibrium, which is reflected in increasing psychological and imbalances in people and societies.  What is the remedy to this spiritual crisis that threatens our very survival?  Ancient understandings of Taoist culture offer a way out of the crisis.

The Lotus symbolizes the universe and the great dao

In Chinese lotus lore, the lotus encompasses varied and profound meanings.  More than a plant, more than a symbol of morality, the lotus is an entire “Fu Hao” (yantric sign) containing myriad phenomena.  As a symbol, it represents the entire universe and includes the myriad things of the world.  For example, each petal represents a thousand vast worlds and the whole lotus represents three thousand of these thousand vast worlds, thus it is said to encompass all things of this universe.  One thousand solar systems constitute one small world system; one thousand small world systems constitute a medium world system; one thousand medium world systems constitute a great world system. Thus one great world system is equal to 1,000,000,000 solar systems.

The Lotus embodies the complete code of the universe and is the mother of information

It is said that a lotus stores the secret codes of the entire information system of the universe.  Our world is an embodiment of Tian (Heaven) and Di (Earth), and Ren (Man) is the place where they completely and perfectly correlate.   The lotus is an extraordinary creation of Heaven and Earth.  From the heavens above it absorbs Qi that is Yang in nature. From the earth below it absorbs Qi that is Yin in nature. The Yin and Yang Qi combine, interact and dissolve into each other and are transmuted into flower, fruit (seed), root, stem and leaf.  In addition, vast bio-energy fields are stored within the plant.

The young lotus leaf and lotus calyx are like cooking pans, like microwave receiver discs, capable of the highest reception of high-energy information from the universe. The voids in the lotus pod, the root and stem are excellent highways for transmitting, magnifying and storing energy and information. The flat center of the lotus (which will become the pod) forms a round platform inside the flower and is reminiscent of the Tai Chi disc.  It is also extremely sensitive to the heavenly and earthly Qi which it mirrors. The flower’s petals may be seen as representing the ancient divinatory trigrams and together they form the complete circumference of the eight trigram sign (the “Ba Gua”).  Thus the lotus can be said to be an energy field, a  “Ba Gua Lian Hua Chang” (Eight Trigram Lotus Field), and this field communicates and transmits information, blending and harmonizing within the myriad phenomena within Heaven and Earth. Practitioners of Dao no longer view the lotus as a thing of beauty, just a pretty form. For them, it is a “Fu Hao” (an empowering symbol or sacred sign) that encompasses the evolution of the universe and its unseen realms of information. The original nature of the myriad things is manifested in the lotus as symbol.

The Lotus offers a practical example of the dynamics of Qi (energy) and the refining and practice of Yi (intention)

The lotus is an allegorical expression of the principle governing the dynamics of elevation, descent, opening and closing of Qi in the human body. The lotus’s growth through the water and beyond the surface represents the rising dynamic of Qi. The falling of its seeds into the water and the mud represents the descending dynamic of Qi.  The growing root and blooming flower represent the opening of Qi, and the seed bearing stage represents the closing of Qi. The course of the lotus cycle, from germination to growing roots, blooming and bearing fruit (seeds) mirrors the movement of life itself.

In our body, the lower “Dan Tian” (energy center) is like the lotus flower. Our two lower limbs stand for the stem and lotus root system. They absorb the Qi from Earth which is Yin in nature.  Our torso is the inner lotus platform, capable of balancing the Yin and Yang. Our arms are the lotus leaves which absorb the Yang Qi from Heaven, as well as the light energy present between Heaven and Earth. The lotus seed may be seen as “Dan Yao” and parallels the human system’s ability to produce an energy elixir as well as refined medicinal processes. Thus the lotus’s life cycle is a symbol of the whole process involved in the human quest to cultivate the Dan through refinement and practice.

The Lotus is a symbol of "Xiu Jen" (the refining of genuineness) and "Kai Wu" (the opening of realization) and it is the golden key to the purification of the mind-body and to the opening of wisdom

Visualizing a lotus trains the mind to visualize form by stimulating the potential of the right side of the brain. It also simultaneously balances both sides of the brain, thus greatly enhancing human intelligence. The left brain is utilized for logical and lateral thinking which is developed after birth. The right side of the brain is used for cognition, intuition and creativity. These latter faculties belong to the realm of three-dimensional, non-logical and casual thoughts that are inborn.

Through life, we mainly train our logical thinking ability and while the left-brain is being developed, the cognitive and intuitive abilities on the right are being suppressed. Visualizing the lotus will have the effect of maintaining and balancing the respective abilities and potentials of both sides of the brain. Brain wave patterns of Qi Gong masters have been tested to reveal images of lotuses while in the state of Qi Gong! Thus one can establish a connection to the powers and intelligence of highly accomplished masters through the visualization of the lotus.

Past enlightened Masters in the state of “Wu Wei” (non-purposive practice) subconsciously identified with the lotus. The spirit of lotus (i.e., the essence of alertness in the lotus state of contemplation) is like a ladder in the practice and refining of the nature of the mind.  It also acts like the sword of wisdom that slays evilness and cuts off negativity revealing the purity and clarity of our self-nature. One will see “Ling Guang” (light or spirit).

The Lotus possesses a rich dual nature: Meditating on The Lotus brings balance and harmony

There is great significance embodied in the lotus. Lotus plants bear fruits and flowers at the same time. The flower is Yin and the fruit is Yang, the simultaneous presence of these two elements is indicative of the perfect balance of Yin and Yang.  Most plants flower first and then bear fruit or they bear fruit first before flowering; only the lotus flowers and bears fruits simultaneously.  So, for example, if we adopt the mantra “I am lotus, lotus am I”, the smooth flow of Qi and blood will be enhanced, resulting in a balance of the Yin and Yang elements within ourselves.

By identifying with the lotus, we can be liberated from “Ying Guo” (cause-effect or karma). The lotus root, which lies deep below the water surface, is both a root and fruit, while the lotus seeds, high above the water, are also fruits. Hence in the lotus cause and effect are one. The expression “beyond the three worlds and not among the five elements” points to a high state of awareness. It may be said that in such a state, the cause is the effect and the effect is the cause.  When there is neither cause nor effect, one goes beyond the karmic chains of space-time.

As stated above, that which is below is Yin and that which is above is Yang. In the cycles of creation and transformation, Yin and Yang unite, and cause and effect become one.  This is called “the process of the refinement of genuineness and reality,” of obtaining Dao and the beginning of realization.

All of this knowledge and its power of liberation are contained in this mantra:

"Wo Shi Lian Hua, Lian Hua Shi Wo"

Iam Lotus, Lotus I am

Yixue USA and the Center for the rebuilding of the International Qigong University