“One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”
— Bhagavad Gita 5.10
Fortune – Purification – Faithfulness – Rebirth
These four words are united in one powerful and transcendent symbol: the lotus flower. This flower has special importance and meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. Growing from muddy water, it rises and floats without becoming wet or dirty, symbolizing the journey from the mires of sensual pleasures to the plane of enlightenment. In this way, the lotus represents fortune. Those who have risen above the mire recognize the difference between material fortune and spiritual fortune.
We are all born into the murky waters of this word. While at some point everyone will face external adversity, the real conflict is the war within. Selfishness and attachment to sensual pleasures are the cause of this conflict. By renouncing selfish desire and sense craving, the wise are neither “agitated by grief nor hankering for pleasure, they [instead] live free from lust and fear and anger” (Gita, 2.56) In this way, the lotus represents purification.Those who are working to escape above the muddy waters must purify themselves.
Purification and enlightenment are the goal, but there are many paths to that goal. Each creature, according to it’s nature, must by faith find the path to the goal. Faith is expressed “in the habits of those who hold them: in the food they like, the work they do, the disciplines they practice, the gifts they give” (Gita, 17.7) Similarly, each lotus manifests a different type of faith that adapts to its nature and surrounding. In this way the lotus represents faithfulness. Those who are working to rise above the muddy waters will need to be faithful to their cause.
By faithfulness one travels the path to enlightenment. Along this path they shed selfish desires and attachment to worldly objects. Ideas change and the world seems different, like a renaissance of beliefs: the dawn after one’s darkest day. Some believe this journey may span several lives and in each life lives the same Self. “As one abandons worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within” (Gita, 2.22). In this way, the lotus represents rebirth. Those who have risen above the muddy waters have been reborn.
Fortune, purification, faithfulness, and rebirth are characteristics that manifest in different ways; they are one in the lotus, and the lotus comes in different colors.
A white lotus flower refers to purity of mind and spirit. A red lotus refers to compassion and love. The blue lotus refers to wisdom and logic, the means of enlightenment. The pink lotus represents the legend of Buddha. The purple lotus refers to spirituality and mysticism. The golden lotus represents all achievement and enlightenment. What lotus color best represents you?
While the color of our “inner lotus” may differ, all humans are born in the same world, a world where there is suffering and despair. As Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, this is no reason to feel sorrow (2.11). Suffering is a vital part of human experience; it makes us stronger and teaches us how to walk along the correct path. When we are stuck in the dismal mire of suffering and sorrow, we should remember the powerful and transcendent message of the lotus.