Lotus flowers can be found everywhere in the yoga world, adorning yoga mats and props, websites and walls. Commonly called Asian lily, it is not related to the UK’s water lily at all, although they resemble each other. On a visit to Kew Gardens, I found out that an analysis of the plant’s genetic code revealed that the closest relative of the lotus plant (Nelumbo nucifera) is the familiar plane tree of London’s streets and squares (Platanus hybrida)!
Edible and decorative
Lotus flowers are beautiful, no doubt. Growing from the mud in shallow waters, the leaves, are carried on stems reaching up to 150cm (5ft) like giant saucers. The flowers hover even further up. All parts of the plant are edible, though they don’t store well. The distinctive seed heads resemble watering cans and are widely used for decorative purposes and flower arrangments. If conditions are right, the seeds can survive for centuries.
A religious symbol
The lotus flower is also revered in a number of religions. In Hinduism it is a symbol of divine beauty and prosperity. Many of the Hindu gods and goddesses are depicted with a lotus flower, for example Vishnu and Lakshmi, Ganga, Ganesh, and Saraswati. Nelumbo nucifera is also the national flower of India.
In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a symbol for purity of spirit and mind. There, the lotus flower is often depicted with eight petals to represent the Buddhist eightfold path.
Because lotus flowers rise from the murky waters of muddy ponds in unblemished perfection it is easy to see how they have become a poignant symbol for our ability to break free from the confusions of our daily lives and our ability to thrive and blossom non the less.
The resilience and power of the lotus plant can be an important for secular yogis, too. The world we live in never has been and still isn’t pure and clean and peaceful. On the contrary, it can be full of suffering. But the lotus flower gives us hope that we can flourish in spite of challenges and circumstances.
Lotus flowers have been objects of contemplation and meditation for a long time. The beauty and associated symbolism can resonate with us and inspire us to look beyond our daily lives. Its true meaning though lies in what you make of it personally.
“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.”
Bhagavad Gita 5.10