The lotus flower is a powerful image in yoga, symbolizing perfection and purity. It is associated with concepts of transcendence and enlightenment. The god Brahma is said to have been born out of a lotus flower which springs from the navel of Lord Vishnu. The lotus is also connected to Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity. In Buddhism, several different colors of lotus are used to represent different spiritual states. The lotus pose is probably the most iconic posture in yoga, and carries with it great serenity and bliss.
So what is it about the lotus that makes it so special? It is truly a beautiful flower, but there are many different kinds of beautiful flowers in the world. Why is spiritual attainment not represented by a rose, or an iris, or a lily? To answer this, we need to trace the lotus to its roots.
The lotus grows in swamps and ponds. It roots into the soil at the bottom of the water, and then the shoot starts to climb towards the surface and the nurturing light of the sun. The lotus is constantly surrounded by muck and stagnancy, but it is patient, and always seeking the light. It spends a long time growing in this dark and dirty environment. When it finally grows tall enough to poke through the surface, the petals open into the glorious flower we know so well. Once it blooms, the lotus continues reaching for the sun, and keeps its petals out of the darkness, which gave it life and still sustains it, but does not damage its purity or its loveliness.
The lotus is such a powerful symbol precisely because of its humble beginnings. It doesn't need a perfect environment to attain its highest nature. Rather, the hardship of its environment has been the medium for its growth. And so it is in our own lives. Too much ease and idleness can leave us weak and unclear, but the difficulty that comes from immersing ourselves fully in the dirty world can give us lessons and opportunities for growth which allow us to bloom into the best versions of ourselves.
The next time you see a lotus, or the image of some Hindu or Buddhist character sitting on one, recognize that its beauty is only possible because of what we may normally consider ugly. We can't help being wrapped up in the world, and sometimes the daily struggle of life feels very remote from any spiritual growth. But if we keep our heads up, and keep moving towards the light, we allow ourselves the capacity to one day burst through the surface of the water, and find full flower in the glory of golden sunlight. May we all reach that place, in our own individual ways.
Om mani padme hum.