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Lotus Flower Meaning – The Cultural and Religious Symbolism

Lotus Flower Meaning – The Cultural and Religious Symbolism

Updated on June 26, 2023 | Published on July 3, 2020
Reviewed by Nathalie Carden, Spiritual Healer
Lotus Flower Meaning - The Cultural and Religious Symbolism

Dating back as far as 145.5 million years ago, the lotus flower is one of the most significant symbols in history. In fact, Lotus flower meaning is equally important, yet widely variable in various religions and cultures all across the world, particularly in Hinduism and Buddhism.  

Generally speaking, the flower is a symbol of rebirth because it blooms in darkness and becomes a beautiful flower with delicate white and pink petals. In much the same way, humans are born from nothingness and grow into something beautiful and delicate.  

But Lotus flower meaning is more than this. Different symbols have different meanings connected to the flower, especially in Eastern cultures like Buddhism and Hinduism. Before we explore those, let’s take a brief look at the flower itself and different types of lotuses. 

Lotus Meaning – What Does a Lotus Flower Mean?

The lotus is an aquatic plant that grows all around the year. It is also known as the Sacred Lotus and Indian Lotus. In Sanskrit, it is known by many names, like Kamala, Pundarika, Padma, Utpala, etc. It belongs to the Genus Nymphae and depending on the flower, the species varies. 

The Lotus flower is a very resilient species, especially considering that it is such a delicate looking flower. To demonstrate the resilience of the plant, consider this – when scientists found a Lotus seed that was 1300 years old, they were able to germinate it immediately and the flower bloomed as beautifully as any other.  

Australian scientists have also discovered that the Lotus plant can regulate its temperature according to its environment, just like warm blooded animals such as humans. In fact, it has been found that the optimum temperature for the growth of the flower varies between 10 and 45 degrees Celsius, while the sacred Lotus famous in Hinduism maintains a temperature between 30 and 36 degrees Celsius.  

Lotus Flower Symbolism Meaning

Have you ever observed a lotus carefully? You will notice that the color of the petals is not the same as the flower. The center of the lotus has a yellow or yellowish-green color. This center contains the stigmas, where all the capillaries are present. This center represents the ultimate goal of human consciousness: self-realization and the merging of the soul with the Universe, or in other words, Oneness. 

The petals of the flower are arranged in a concentric manner, and when the flower blooms and the petals open, they do so one after the other slowly to reveal the center. This gradual opening of the flower can be compared with the attainment of self-realization and spiritual progress

This concept has led to the lotus flowers represented as a symbol of the seven chakras. The chakras are the centers of spiritual power in the human body, according to Hinduism. 

Lotus Flower Meaning - The Cultural and Religious Symbolism
Lotus Flower Meaning – The Cultural and Religious Symbolism

Lotus Flower Meaning and its Journey 

The lotus flower starts as a not so significant looking bud which then blooms into a glorious, resplendent flower, which has a multi-symmetric form. This journey of the lotus is a metaphor for humans as we go from unenlightened beings to realization of the ultimate truth, that is, merging with the universe.

However, the flower does not start its journey in fresh air. In the submerged, muddy waters, where the environment is not so pleasant, the bud begins its journey. It is surrounded by debris, insects, fish, and many unpleasant things. 

When it is time to flower, the bud pushes aside the unpleasant debris to come out and embrace the sunshine. Then, it begins to spread and show its face to the world. It should be noted that during this journey, the petals never get contaminated by the dirty water. The core of the flower remains pure, although its environment in which it starts its life is not so pure. 

This journey of the lotus is rich in meaning too. The human soul and its experiences in the mortal world are no different than the murky waters – for it is where we start our life. But as we break out and get in touch with the universe, we understand Oneness, the greatest of human experiences. And all this time, the purity of the human soul remains untainted. 

Types of Lotus Flowers

1. The Egyptian Lotus 

  • Scientific name – Nymphaea caerula
  • More accurately described as a water lily. 
  • Has light blue color. 
  • Often used in spiritual events. 

2. The Japanese lotus

  • Scientific name: Nelumbo nucifera
  • Known as the sacred lotus in China, Bali, and Asia. 
  • Used as the seat of Buddha and Hindu deities. 

3. The American lotus

  • Scientific name: Nelumbo lutea
  • Used as a food crop by Native Americans.

Lotus Flower’s Cultural and Religious Symbolism

Many legends and myths surround this flower. In fact, it has attained quite a rich meaning in many religions and cultures. Here is a brief summary of the different lotus flower symbols in various cultures:

Lotus Flower Meaning in Buddhism

In Buddhism, the Lotus flower symbolizes the eightfold path which is one of the highest teachings of Buddha.  

Buddhism states that just like the Lotus flower rises above murky waters, the human soul should rise about all the attachments and desires of the materialistic world to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Even though the flower has its roots in mud, it grows towards the light. This is a metaphor for aspiration of the human rise above in life towards oneness with the universe. 

The Lotus flower represents the journey of the human soul from the darkness to the light of wisdom. There is a Buddhist mantra that describes this journey in the words, Om mani Padme hum. The blossoming of the lotus flower is also representative of the revelation of the true being. Following the path of Buddhism brings a true mirror in front of us, and is a representative of your real self. Just like the lotus opens up, we open up to our authentic self in Buddhism. 

Different colored lotus flowers have different meanings in Buddhism. The pink Lotus flowers is the most supremely viewed flower and it is associated with Buddha. It is believed that this flower denotes the highest enlightenment of the human condition. The white Lotus flower is representative of spiritual perfection and the red Lotus is a symbol of the heart.  

Many legends state that Lord Buddha arose from a Lotus, while there are others that believed that notices appeared everywhere Lord Buddha placed his feet. 

Besides this, the flower is commonly associated with the following values in Buddhism:

  1. Coming out of suffering
  2. Patience
  3. Spiritual development 
  4. Mysticism
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Detachment from desire
  7. Love and compassion
  8. Enlightenment and the Bodhi state of mind

You can find out more about this in this video:

Lotus Flower Meaning in Hinduism

Lotus is an extremely sacred symbol in Hinduism. It represents the following values:

  1. Beauty
  2. Prosperity
  3. Fertility
  4. Knowledge
  5. Eternity
  6. Spirituality

Besides these, it is also associated with many Hindu deities. For instance, Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of wealth and prosperity sits on a fully bloomed Lotus flower, as she showers generosity and wealth on humankind. The mythology also states that she is born from a pink lotus. 

In addition, it is believed that Brahma, the Hindu God of creation, also emerges from the Lotus flower. This particular flower comes from Lord Vishnu’s navel, who is the preserver and sustainer of the world. The pink lotus is also a seat for various gods and goddesses in Hinduism, including Lakshmi, Brahma, Saraswati, and Ganesha. 

According to Bhagavad Gita, one of the scriptures in Hinduism, the Lotus flower is also analogous to the spirit of a person.  

As the flower petals and the center of the flower remain untouched from the murder and dirty water of the pond in which it grows, a person who is wise and spiritually enlightened remains untouched by the material world or emotional desires. He is able to perform his duty without the need to think about the consequences or desire any fruit from his karma. This feeling of detachment also allows one to remain unaffected in the face of adversity and reach spiritual perfection.  

According to Bhagavad Gita, the Lotus flower is similar to the folded heart or the soul. It has the ability to grow like the flower, and awaken to the divine truth. The opening of the flower bud represents the journey of the human soul from darkness and ignorance to light and spiritual illumination. 

Lotus Flower Meaning in Ancient Egypt

According to the Egyptians, the Lotus flower is a symbol of rebirth and the sun. It is known by the name of Seshen in Egypt. Since the flower blossoms when the sun rises and closes when the sun goes down, rebirth and the sun are naturally connected to it. To the Egyptians, the blue Lotus is especially sacred. 

There are also several legends surrounding the flower. These are associated with the creation of the sun and the sun God Aton Ra. One of these legends states that the sun actually blossomed out of a Lotus. There is another one that states that a Lotus emerged from the infinite ocean called Nun. When this flower blossomed, it revealed the Egyptian sun God. Some people also believe that the goddess Isis was also born of a Lotus. 

To the ancient Egyptians the flower represented death as well. According to the Egyptian book of the dead, when a person dies, magic spells and charms can turn them into the Lotus flower. These spells symbolize rebirth and resurrection. Thus, the lotus represented these values as well. 

Egyptian artworks depict Lotus as the symbol of upper Egypt and the papyrus plant as the symbol of lower Egypt. The intertwining of the two plants represents the unification of the two parts of Egypt. The flower also sees its mention in the numeration system of the country. 1 Lotus represented 1000, 2 lotuses 2000, and so on.  

Lotus Flower Meaning in Greek myths 

The flower has also been mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. In the book, Odysseus and his companions encountered the land of the Lotus Eaters on an island. These people survived only on a diet which consisted of narcotic lotuses. In all likelihood, these Lotuses were Egyptian Blue Water Lily type. Some people have also speculated that they could have been eating poppies. 

When Odysseus and his men ask the locals for food, they offer them the Lotus plant. As soon as they eat the plants, they fall into a peaceful stupor, not caring for anything in the world. Ultimately, Odysseus had to go looking for his men himself and he had to carry them to his ship one by one. 

When they woke up, they wanted to return to the land of Lotus eaters, but Odysseus gave the order to leave the island. This incident is in line with the rest of the journey, as Odysseus; men often let him down. 

Lotus Flower Meaning in Yoga and Meditation 

Here are some parallels between the yogic practice, meditation, and the Lotus flower: 

1. New beginnings 

Every yoga practice and meditation session is the beginning of something new. Your experiences last week could be completely different from the ones this week. The Lotus flower in yoga represents this concept as it reminds us that we should approach each practice, either way, to blossom fresh and approach it as a source of infinite new beginnings. 

2. Ascent from darkness 

The flower is a symbol of a bold bright life arising from murky places. Yoga and meditation reveal enlightened layers of ourselves by exploring what is on the inside. As we advance in our yoga practice and meditation, we are ascending from the darkness into light. 

3. Opening of the heart 

Lotus is often used as a metaphor for the heart. The closed bud of the flower has infinite potential and once it blooms, it is ready to share its beauty with the universe. In yoga and meditation, the opening up of the heart expands one’s beauty to the world and increases our capacity for self-love.

Moreover, the deep spiritual meanings of the flower in various cultures and religions over the centuries also gave rise to the sitting position known as Lotus. This is a very common position in Yoga and meditation. In this position, you must cross the legs and tuck them under each other in a way that the bent knees look like the petals of the flower lotus. 

This position is extremely important for the Hindu yogic practices and Buddhist meditation practices. Since the soles of the feet are tucked away, this position is also quite respectful when you are sitting in a temple. This is because exposing your soles in a temple is disrespectful.

Lotus Flower Meaning in Christianity 

Christians replace the lotus flower with the sacred white-water Lily. This flower is associated with holy mother Mary. According to Christian beliefs, it represents purity, holiness, divinity, and fertility. In Christian churches, the white-water lilies act as an emblem of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary by Archangel Gabriel.  

Lotus Symbolism in Chinese Culture 

In Chinese culture, the Lotus symbolizes purity and dignity. Besides being an important symbolic object, you can also see the flower in artworks, designs, poems, and architecture in the Chinese culture. It is the most supreme flower because it rises out of murky waters, unchanged and untouched by the impurities and dirt around it. The Chinese people also used the term, “Bing Di Lian “ to describe married couples. It means, twin Lotus flowers on one stalk. 

Lotus Flower Meaning in Mandalas

You can see the use of the lotus flower in Mandalas as well. Mandalas are the artistic and spiritual expression of the practices and divine energies in Buddhist culture. 

The flower is often used in the Garbhadhatu Mandala which is a symbol of the Buddhist Womb Realm. It is the place where the Japanese and Chinese Buddhist deities sit in the Mandala. The flower is also seen in the Nava Padma Mandala, which is used for the Parameshwara ceremony in Buddhism. In this mandala, the flower sits at the center of the Mandala. 

You can read more about Mandalas and their symbolic meaning here. 

Lotus Flower Color Meaning

The flower color of the lotus also has different meanings. Although different cultures have different types of interpretations for different colored flowers, in most cases these interpretations correlate with each other.  

Here is a brief summary of the significance of each lotus color: 

1. White Lotus Flower Meaning

White Lotus Flower Meaning

This is perhaps one of the most mesmerizing flowers. It has a pure white beauty which is completely blemish free. The beautiful flowers of white Lotus have a sacred meaning all around the world and in some cultures they are even known as the womb of the world. 

This flower denotes the purity of one’s mind, the serenity and peacefulness of human nature, and spiritual illumination. In Buddhism, the white flower also represents the female version of Buddha, goddess White Tara.  

In ancient Hindu texts, the white Lotus sees this mention: 

“The white lotus, born in the water and grown in the water, rises beyond the water and remains unsoiled by the water. Thus, monks, the [Buddha], born in the world, grown up in the world, after having conquered the world, remains unsoiled by the world.” 

2. Pink Lotus Flower Meaning

Pink Lotus Flower Meaning
Pink Lotus Flower Meaning

The pink Lotus is considered the supreme flower and holds such a sacred place in many cultures. Its scientific name is Nelumbo nucifera, and it is also known as the sacred lotus, or Indian lotus. 

It is highly revered in Hinduism and is associated with the highest deities of the culture, like Lakshmi, Brahma, and Vishnu. Even in Buddhism, we don’t believe that the Lotus is an earthly symbol of Lord Buddha. The Buddhists also show him seated on a pink Lotus and believe that the flower blooms everywhere his feet touch the ground. 

The pink Lotus is also representative of the state of mind of a person. The closed bud resembles the state age then the soul he’s taking the path to spirituality. On the other hand, a fully bloomed pink lotus means that Nirvana or enlightenment has been attained. 

3. Red Lotus Flower Meaning

Red Lotus Flower Meaning
Red Lotus Flower Meaning

The right Lotus is representative of the heart, known as hridaya in Sanskrit. It symbolizes love, passion, kindness, and compassion. When a red lotus is in full bloom, it is also believed to represent the big-heartedness of the human spirit and its generosity. 

The red lotus is also associated with Avolokitesvara, who is known as the God of compassion, the Lord who looks down onto the world, and is a bodhisattva. It is also believed that Avalokitesvara is the Holder of the lotus, which in Sanskrit gives him the name, Padmapani. 

4. Blue Lotus Flower Meaning

Blue Lotus Flower Meaning
Blue Lotus Flower Meaning

The blue lotus is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. It stands for the victory of the human mind over its senses. 

In Egyptian culture, the flower has a sacred space. It is believed that the blue lotus is a representative of the control of a person over his mind and spirit. When a man is able to let go of the materialistic pursuits of the world, he becomes spiritually awakened and his soul becomes selfless. 

The blue lotus never blooms fully and the bud at the center is always closed. Thus, the core of the flower is never exposed and this lends the flower a special meaning. The partially opened bud of the flower is a symbol of the relentless pursuit of knowledge that humans must commit to. Learning and acquiring wisdom should never stop, and this is what the blue lotus represents. 

The blue lotus is also associated with Bodhisattva of wisdom, who is also known as Manjushri and Prajnaparampita, the father who represents perfection of wisdom. 

5.  Purple Lotus Flower Meaning

Purple Lotus Flower Meaning
Purple Lotus Flower Meaning

The purple Lotus flowers are a representative of mysticism and the esoteric sects of Buddhism. This color lotus is one of the most rare and unique flowers and in many cultures, it is considered to be a symbol of spirituality.  

In most artworks and cultures, the purple flower is portrayed either as a bud, that is, with the core closed, with the center and heart of the flower exposed. The purple Lotus flower has either a single stem, a five-fold stem, or a triple stem.  

The triple stem is representative of the three parts of Garbhadhatu, which are Lotus, Vairocana, and Vajra. The five stem is representative of Vajradhatu and its 5 sets of knowledge. On the other hand, the eight petals of the flower represent the most important teachings of Buddha, which are also known as the eightfold path of Buddhism. 

Lotus Flower Tattoo Meaning

In the modern world, lotus flower tattoos show dedication to the Hindu or Buddhist faith. 

Unalome is a common Buddhist symbol in such tattoos. It represents one’s path towards enlightenment. One of the most common symbols used in the Unalome tattoo is the lotus. The flower in these tattoos is often a way for the person to remind themselves to stay humble and focus on their spiritual journey. 

The eight petals of the flower represent the eightfold path of Buddhism. The flower also after the reminder to develop more balance in life and stay away from spiritual pursuits. When a person gets a tattoo of a white Lotus, it is often a message of gratefulness, compassion, and love towards others. 

Here are the some sample Lotus Flower Tattoo designs –

Sample Lotus Flower Tattoo Design
Sample Lotus Flower Tattoo Design
Sample Lotus Flower Tattoo Design

Closing Thoughts

It is clear that the flower has deep seated meanings in terms of spirituality and cultures. Not only that, it is also connected with interrelated themes in many cultures. In the modern world too, many people are recognizing the deep symbolism associated with this mystical flower and incorporating it in their lives through mandalas and tattoos. Moreover, the flower plays an extremely important role in practices of yoga and meditation, too.