The lotus flower is a sacred symbol of Buddhism. It is found throughout Thai culture. Found in muddy waters, the lotus rises above to show off it’s beauty. This feat is symbolic in Buddhism as it represents enlightenment. The lovely look of the flower is symbolic of purity. Throughout Thai literature and art it reflects feminine beauty. Known as ‘bua’ in the Thai language, the lotus is one the most important images in both Buddhism and Thai culture.
Lotus is symbolic of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. For more on this subject, read Quick Introduction to Thai Buddhism. The murky waters the flower grows in represents suffering. Suffering is the first truth. Cravings and desires lead to constant new beginnings (the second truth) which leave us unfulfilled. However, it is this suffering that makes us strong. We then learn how to resist the temptation of temporary desires. By learning, we are preventing repeating…the third truth. We fulfill the path (the fourth truth) by attaining peace and happiness. The lotus fully opened and rising above the waters represents this peace…enlightenment.
Furthermore, we accomplish enlightenment within the mind. Our bodies remain rooted in the world in the same way that the stems of the flowers remain under the muddy waters. As the path is walked, thus the lotus is growing. Our enlightened mind is the same as the fully opened flower. Hence, to rise above the murkiness, Buddhists must remain faithful to the teachings of Buddha.
In Thai culture, the color of the flower has taken on further meanings. White is symbolic of the purity of the mind and spirit. Red is representative of love and compassion. Blue takes on the ideas of wisdom and logic. Pink lotus signifies the history of Buddha. Purple, although rare, represents spiritual awakening. Thai people view gold as the achievement of all enlightenment.
Thai art often depicts the flower. You find it in artwork of a religious nature that features the Buddha. In design, craftspeople use it as a popular motif. In medicine, it helps with blood circulation and digestion. As a matter of fact, all parts of the plant are edible and may be found as an ingredient in foods. People may mistake water lily for lotus. It is important to note that water lily floats on the surface of water, while lotus rises above it. At temples, Thai Buddhists use it as an offering along with a candle and three sticks of incense. Also read Praying and Making an Offering at a Buddhist Temple. The Thai Buddhist makes merit by giving something so beautiful to the Buddha in the hope of attracting good fortune.
By understanding the lotus, we also understand Buddhism. It’s life cycle is representative of our lives and the path to enlightenment. Thus, it is the perfect sacred symbol of our faith. The ultimate symbol of life itself.