A Thing of Great Beauty
In Norse mythology we found ourselves almost in a comic book with their gods and goddesses reminiscent of action heroes. With Celtic mythology, it was as if we had walked through a tome of literature with their wood nymphs and magical spirits reflecting the basis for the stories and movies of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”. Greek and Roman mythology proudly proclaimed with great statues their mythologies, some of which still stand today as do columns from their great temples.
In the mythologies of the Far and Near East, you will be excused if you sometimes forget we are not walking through a lovely botanical garden. More than I think any other mythologies, these emphasized all of creation and nature played a most important role in their legends and admonitions for better living. As we will learn, it is not unusual for one object such as a flower to have multiple meanings, depending of the myth or spirituality being discussed.
The lotus flower is one such example. Known officially as the “sacred lotus”, this aquatic plant holds a major place in the mythology of India. Before we discuss its spiritual aspects, though, let’s discuss its physical ones for they also are something a bit magical. The delicate white and pink flower grows on top of thick stems that look almost like stalks. The roots of the lotus plant are firmly planted in the soil at the bottom of a fresh water pond or river. Lotus plants usually grow to an average height of five feet, or about 150 centimeters, spreading horizontally to a little over three feet or one hundred and eighteen inches. The leaves of the plant themselves can reach a span of over twenty-three inches or 60 centimeters while the blossoms can be up to almost eight inches in diameter or 20 centimeters.
Of greater interest to botanists is how the lotus plant seems to regulate its flower in spite of its environment. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Garden maintained a constant temperature of 30-35 degrees Centigrade or 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the ambient temperature of the surrounding environment dropping to 10 degrees Centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nelumbo nucifera, the scientific name for the sacred lotus is also called the Indian lotus, or the Bean of India. It plays, as mentioned before, an important role in the mythologies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Hindus worship the lotus in connection to the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Kubera as well as the goddesses Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Vishnu is often called the “Lotus-Eyed One” and used as an example of beauty and purity. It is said that the lotus flower booms from the navel of Vishnu and uncovers the creator god Brahma in the lotus position of yoga. The unfolding petals of the flower are symbolic of the expansion of one’s soul and the promise of potential. The Hindu interpret the blossoming of such a pure white flower from the mud of its roots as a spiritual promise. Brahma and Lakshmi are the spirits associated with potency and wealth and also have the lotus as their symbol.
In Buddhism, the lotus flower is symbolic of creation and renewal as well as original purity. It is mentioned in one of the sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita: “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water. Not surprisingly, the lotus is also connected with other Eastern spiritualities. The Chinese scholar and student of Confucius Zhou Dunyi said: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”
The petals of a lotus blossom are said to have once numbered over a thousand and the thousand-petal lotus is a symbol of unending spiritual enlightenment. It is more common to find an eight-petal lotus, although only five are original petals, the other three a modification from the stamen. Considered one of the “eight auspicious signs” of Buddhism and Hinduism, the eight-petal lotus is also used in Buddhist mandalas. [Mandalas were discussed in our Advent 2014 series and I hope you have been able to find some to view. There are now coloring books for adults that feature mandalas and it is a most relaxing way to leave the real world and connect spiritually while relaxing and meditating.]
The eight petals of the lotus also relate to the Nobel Eightfold path of the Good Law of Hari Krishna.
The eight petals of the white lotus correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law. This lotus is found at the heart of the Garbhadhatu Mandala, regarded as the womb or embryo of the world. Many Deities of Asian Mythology are illustrated on a lotus flower. According to some myths, everywhere the Gautama Buddha walked, lotus flowers appeared and blossomed.
Hopefully today wherever we walk we will also leave a trail of beauty. First, though, we must open our eyes to all that is around us and see the beauty within as well as portrayed by the outer appearance. Each of us had the muddiness of a past but with faith and good deeds, we can blossom and leave the world a better place. We all are a thing of great beauty in our being.