The Importance of the Lotus Flower in Thai Buddhism

red lotusThe Lotus is very much a part of life in Thailand.  The lotus is such a sacred and powerful image.  All over the country it grows in ponds, swamps, small canals, roadside ditches, and in jars at homes and at Buddhist temples.  We have four very large pots with water — mud at the bottom — with lotus in our own yard.  And every once in a while a beautiful lotus flower comes out.  The lotus flower is more than just a natural decoration; it is a symbol of Buddhism and has an important religious significance. 

The lotus plant floats on the water and has deep stringy roots that go to the bottom of the pot through the water for nourishment.   The leaves are large, measuring about 6 to 8 inches across, and out of this unlikely murky concoction comes this most magnificent fragrant flower with large pedals that stands out like a queen over the garden with its tall and straight stem over the greenery and the dirty water.  Usually there is only one lotus flower in the pot, and maybe sometimes two, but never very many of them. The stem will rise above the pot by about a foot, but they are known to rise in larger ponds to as high as 60 inches.

lotus2The flowers are very fragrant and the perfume will permeate the evening air all around the big pots. The flowers, which last only 3 to 5 days, close up at night and reopen with the sunrise.

Lotus flowers also seem to be very attractive for bees and butterflys.  There always seems to be one and sometimes two bees busy working in the center of the flower, much more activity than with other flowers in our garden.

The Lotus is the second of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism and has the literal meaning of rising and blooming above the murk of daily life to achieve enlightenment.  It also symbolizes the passage from darkness to light and the passage from ignorance to wisdom. The Lotus flower is seen often in Thai art, including murals in temples, that date back hundreds or even a couple of thousand years.  Thai Buddhism is known as Theravada Buddhism and began 2556 years ago.  In Chiang Mai, there are many Thai temples (over 350 of them in the province), and all of them will have a water bowl or pond with lotus plants and one of two lotus flowers.  It is a striking and majestic part of nature.

The Lotus Flower itself can be one of several different colors, and in our garden we never know what color the flower will be until it is almost ready to open.  Most often the flower is white, and in Buddhism this refers to the purity of the mind and spirit.  If it comes out red, it refers to the compassion and love a follower should have.  A lotus flower that is blue refers to common sense, wisdom and logic that is needed to create enlightenment.  A pink lotus flower speaks of spirituality and mysticism.  And a gold lotus flower represents all achievement from enlightenment.

lotus3The blooming of the Lotus Flower from a pot with mud (not good dirt — just plain mud) at the bottom of the pot, up through a stagnant amount of dirty water and into the light of day with beauty  reflects a rebirth in both a figurative and literal sense.  That rebirth can mean a change of ideas, an acceptance of Buddha’s teachings, or when a soul is reborn into another life. The beautiful lotus flower is rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment.

The lotus bud nearly ready to bloom, is perhaps the most popular offering in a Thai temple.  It is often held while practicing meditation   The bud of the lotus has become important in so much of Thai life.  It is a part of Asian architectural and sculptural motifs. You may see it on the corners of a modern apartment building being constructed in Chiang Mai.  You will see it in spiritual modern paintings, in artistic ceramic bowls, and imbedded in paving stones on the walkway.

The Lotus is also used in food.  The lotus seeds are eaten fresh or dried and are used in sweet soups and in deserts.  The lotus root is used in salads, boiled in soups, and sweetened in sugar and used as a desert.  It’s use as a food has been documented for thousands of years, and appears in the writing of the Greek Homer about his journeys to the Far East.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of the Lotus Flower in Thai Buddhism

  1. Ah, my…. this makes me miss the pond I had at our old house, which had a large yard. But maybe I could put a 1/2 barrel or two out with mud, Water, and lotuses. That would be pretty, and they’d surely thrive in Florida, since our climate is similar to Thailand’s.

    Question: What about mosquitos? Do you take any measures to keep them from hatching in your lotus pots? I’m thinking maybe mosquito fish, because they eat mosquito larvae and seem to thrive without oxygenation or feeding. Hmmm….

    • We don’t put any fish in our lotus pots. They seem a bit small for that and the water is really dirty. We don’t have a pond, but our neighbors do and they have fish, but our pots are perfect for mosquitoes, which we have to live with. We rely on the birds and geckos and other critters to help us keep the mosquitoes down, but during early evening hours we do have them. It is something that has to be coped with, and we just try to prevent ourselves from being good targets with patches and blue lights and other tricks.

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