The Significance of Lotus Flower


The Lotus flower: a philosophical wonder

While the history of humanity is a record of conflicts and tension, it is rare to find agreement or common shared value among people, especially in the field of their spiritual beliefs.  Yet, a journey in time intriguingly reveals a special significance people selectively assigned to the lotus flower - in their spiritual beliefs. 

The phenomenon of “lotus sanctification” in the spiritual rituals of a number of civilizations that are far apart and had no contact between each other, suggests that insight into what is valuable is not centred in any specific region or civilization.  Ancient civilizations provided evidence of common realisation of nonlocality of spiritual insight through their reverence for the lotus, and their beliefs about the connection of this flower to the spiritual life of man. The Lotus manifests qualities and principles - that makes it unique. 

Lotus Effect of Self-cleaning:


Lotus in Oliwa Park, northern Poland. Courtesy of photographer Leila Zabalawi

Various properties of this flower were and are still appreciated in several intellectual and philosophical fields and are of interest in creative applications in the fields of arts and urbanism as well as in the manufacture of anti-pollution materials, derived from the mechanism of self-cleaning of the petals and leaves (The Lotus Effect).  

One of the features of the Lotus that attracted philosophical implications is the flower’s ability to grow in muddy swamps without being affected by the impurities of the surrounding. 

A meaningful reflection of this property provided a metaphor and an example for the individual to emulate its purity and growth - unaffected by the pressure and impurities one encounters in life.  To be like the lotus in a pond, means to maintain one’s inner strength and purity of existence – regardless of the impurities or even toxic environment we may encounter.

The Bond between Cause and Effect

Another feature that attracted philosophical meaning is the demonstration of the bond between the flower and its seeds.  The seeds (being the original cause of the flower) are released from a container at the centre of the flower - at the time the flower reaches its full bloom or its final effect

This bond between the seeds emerging anew at the time of full flowering – is viewed as an implication of the simultaneity or oneness of “cause” of action with its “effect”.   The principle of “inseparability of cause and effect” is the foundation of scientific study of laws of nature.  The bond between Cause and Consequences describes the dynamic of relationships in human psychology (as well as the foundation of the concept of karma (or the result of past causes of actions). 

Awakening to the power of the link between causes of actions we make in daily life, and their latent effect on our future – this awakening is called spiritual Enlightenment. 

 Through this awakening, the mind of wisdom emerges in the individual’s consciousness, predicting and seeing the future results of the activity of the present moment.  This will lead to avoiding actions leading to hardships or sufferings, and maintaining causes of actions leading to beneficial and joyful effects. 

While it grows in mud yet it is not affected by the dirt of water around it - and this signifies for the individual human being to follow the example of the lotus in resilience and freedom from the constraints of the environment (and surroundings hardships).

The most important aspect of the Lotus in terms of spirituality is its encoding of the bond between Cause and Effect. The mechanism of creating future effects through current causes of actions - is what the teaching of Karma is about.  Karma is the Law of Consequences (or effects) of one’s actions (causes).  Making a current cause of action in our life - as the lotus indicates - immediately records (in our life) a relevant future effect, which will be experienced (when conditions are convenient).  

The Continuum of Past Present and Future

 Even the secular botanic department of agriculture in NSW government, Australia - acknowledges a remarkable feature of the lotus flower growing in ponds, where the three stages of its growth are simultaneously visible :

“ As lotus displays all of the different stages of growth simultaneously – bud, flower and seed pod – it can also be a symbol of the past, present and future”. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)

Another interesting metaphor, the Lotus implies the concept of rebirth after death.  This is so, because at the time of its death, the seeds it contains at its centre fall down to the water, where they are absorbed by the mud, beginning thus a new phase of rebirth and self-renewal. 

The Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra is regarded as the highest teaching of the Buddha, because it reveals the principle by which ordinary people can become fully enlightened in this lifetime.

Other teachings of Mahayana sutras teach that the path to attain Enlightenment (the final effect) is through the Bodhisattva practice (cause), but there are many stages of separation between the two states.  In the Lotus Sutra, the metaphor of the Lotus as a flower is used to reveal that the Cause of enlightenment (Bodhisattva) and the Effect (Buddha state) are not separate but both exist together. As Nichiren quotes in his writings:

“Those who practice the Lotus Sutra are pursuing through this single act of devotion the mind that is endowed with all manner of fortunate results. These are present simultaneously and are not acquired gradually over a long period of time. This is like the blossom of the lotus that, when it opens, already possesses a large number of seeds”. Nichiren, The Entity of the Mystic Law

In this observation, the lotus as a flower is regarded as an expression of the Dharma, or the Cosmic Order – the fundamental law of nature (the bond of causes and effects). It is not just a metaphor for the Law of nature, but a physical indication, which expresses the Law of life: the power that operates all phenomena and the life of living entities, binding any action to its destined effect.

The flower expresses the rhythm of day and night. It responds to the Sun and opens up at dawn, then it closes its petals as if going to sleep at sunset.

Nichiren Buddhism (based on the Lotus Sutra) is called the Buddhism of the Sun - because the word “Nichiren” combines the two aspects: Sun (NICHI) and Lotus (REN) - or Heaven (Sun) and Earth (Lotus).

“My giving myself the name Nichiren (Sun Lotus) derives from my own enlightenment”. Nichiren