Lotus – (Nelumbo nucifera)
a symbol of transformation
Why has this plant captured our attention? Why is the lotus plant revered in many faith traditions? Does this plant hold some keys to our human nature, to the process of growth that is at the heart of all creation?
A lotus flower only blooms for two or three days before the petals fall – what else about this natural miracle has meaning for us?
- Resilience and survival – a lotus tuber can survive severe winters; I was shocked to learn that actually this majestic plant could grow in my gardening zone 6 in Pennsylvania. It can remain buried under the ice and snow or it can happily respond to tropical environments. Recently lotus seeds were discovered back from the 14th Century. These seeds still germinated – this is a story of extreme resiliency and survival
- Boundless stored energy – in summer heat, the enormous sausage-like tubers can quickly overrun a pond. Lotuses have exceptional capacity to grow below the surface of the water. They need containment or they are most happy to be allowed to freely spread.
- Fragile growing tip – the sprout of growth off the large tuber is exceptionally fragile. It needs to be handled with care as it is easily broken off. New plants can be divided and tended only in early spring, but this is when the growing tip is most easily bruised and destroyed.
- Grows out of muck and mire- this plant needs rich, deep, organic matter to grow in. A wet, muddy, fertile environment is essential for growth, they need abundant sun and fertilizer to bloom.
- Exceptional capacity for growth – dramatic fast growth in springtime. The giant tropical leaves shoot high into the air like enormous dinner plates rising on thick spongy 3 and 4 foot stems. These plants are a marvel of science. Their leaves are extremely hydrophobic, they repel water and in doing so stay dirt-free despite their muddy environment. When a drop of water lands on a leaf it rebounds into a spherical shape and along with any dirt, it quickly rolls away, carrying the dirt with it. In a rain storm you can see the water dancing off the leaves of the lotus. It has been found that lotus plants have the exceptional capacity to regulate their temperature, staying between 86- 95 degrees just as mammals do.
- Magnificent beauty - every part of this plant, especially the magnificent flower is a joy to behold. On the first day there is the perfect majestic bowl of closely packed petals – a chalice of pale-pink heavenly delight that can be as large as eight inches across. Then on the second day a saucer of lacy ruffled glory – open and inviting – a magnetic fragrant attraction to any insect or bee in the vicinity. On the third day the head droops and the now yellow petals begin to fall, leaving a distinctive seed head that continues to enlarge, embedded with life-producing seeds.
- Temporal but enduring – the primary glory of the flower is short-lived, only blooming for 2-3 days but every part of the plant is edible and utilitarian. The starchy tubers are harvested in most continents of the world. Rich in dietary fiber and vitamins, for centuries it has been a staple in diets around the world.
- Seed Pod is unique – wrinkled and full of holes, yet buoyant and light as a feather, the heads drop down and let their large brown seeds fall into the mud below. The pod is extraordinarily durable, used in dramatic flower arrangements -a picture of ancient wisdom, held in a dried and wrinkled old container yet full of life, just waiting to emerge again.
- Communal beauty: a single flower is captivating when seen alone, but when a colony of lotus takes over a pond, they are truly breathtaking in community.
- Mystery - this is a symbol that holds the allure of the sacred. For Buddhists, the lotus symbolizes the most exalted state of man, “his head held high, pure and undefiled in the sun, his feet rooted in the world of experience.” As an evocative symbol of beauty and purity, as a manifestation of the divine and as a practical food for life, the lotus flower remains unsurpassed. It is revered as sacred in all Asian cultures. In Buddhism representing purity of the actions of the body and the activity of the mind, it floats buoyantly above the messy waters of attachment and desire. Many Hindu deities are pictured sitting within lotus flowers in padmasana, the yoga lotus position, holding blossoms in their hands. According to Hinduism, within each person on the earth there is hidden the spirit of the sacred lotus. The Baha’i Lotus Temple in New Delhi, magnificently designed in the shape of a lotus flower is a magnet for spiritual pilgrims. It is said to be a place where “one feels one is at last entering into the estate of the soul, the state of stillness and peace”. The ancient Egyptians even believed the Lotus gave birth to the sun.
Our life work as individuals and communities is often not really clear as to how we accomplish it. Maybe we can all learn from the lotus. As we grow together in ever expanding circles of life, we become transformed when we allow the muck and mire and the cleaning and regulation of a fully functioning individual and group to take place. In community, the work is multiplied exponentially through and in each one of us and in each experience of life together, new seeds get dropped into the mud of our lives, waiting for the time and their season to grow.
Can we believe that like the lotus we are carriers of divinity – a picture of the remarkable transformation that happens when we continue to grow all of ourselves: mind, body and spirit in this world full of muck and mire and exceptional promise of mysterious beauty in each season of life.