The lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, occupies a huge space in the minds of many pond owners and designers. Deciding whether or not to include a lotus among a pond’s flowers can be a big decision when choosing pond plants and even layouts. Many water gardeners consider their lotus flowers the pride of their pond, and I’ve even helped many who were designing their entire pond to showcase these unique flowers.
What many pond people in the West may not realize, though, is that this plant is hugely important to cultures across Asia. It is the national flower of both India and Vietnam. It is also an important symbol in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Confucianism, and Bahá’í, religions that represent more than a billion and a half people worldwide. One of the most important Buddhist sacred texts is the Lotus Sutra. One of the most important Asanas (yoga postures) is the Lotus Position, and many of the divinities of Hinduism are depicted not only in the Lotus Position, but seated on, standing on, or even being born from lotus blossoms. In fact, almost all divinities in Asian religions are, at least sometimes, depicted seated on lotus blossoms. In some legends, Gautama Buddha left lotus seedlings behind with every step.
Why has this one flower become such a widespread and important symbol? The answer is found in what the lotus is and how it grows. The lotus is unusual among flowers in part for how steadily perfect the blooms tend to be. The blooms are showy and striking, even more so because they stand high above the muddy water that they naturally grow in.
It is this last part that may matter most. The lotus is a symbol of purity and perfect beauty in many Asian cultures and faiths, but it is somewhat more than that. It symbolizes purity or beauty that holds itself above the mud and water that is variously interpreted as imperfection, sin, attachment, or Earthly desires. In Buddhism, the Lotus is used as an allegory for how a soul is born into a life of desire and attachment, but can rise above all of this to become pure and unattached, the process of Enlightenment.
So, the next time you’re sitting and enjoying the Queen of the Pond, take a moment to consider how important this flower is across the world and how millions, if not billions, of people over the last several thousand years have meditating on the meaning of this uniquely beautiful living thing.