Chinese Cultural Symbol: Lotus
For centuries, Chinese culture has embraced the lotus flower for its extreme beauty as well as for its usefulness and spiritual connotations. The Chinese revere the sacred locus as a symbol of purity and elegance, and it is a common motif in ancient Chinese poetry.
A famous statement about the locus’ symbolism in Chinese culture is made by Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi: "I love the locus because, while growing from mud, it is unstained".
Almost every portion of the lotus has a purpose. The flowers, seeds, young leaves, and "roots" (rhizomes) are all edible. In Asia, the petals are used sometimes for garnish, while the large leaves are used as a wrap for food.
Chinese people have long known that lotus roots are a very healthy food and have been using them in this way for many centuries. Recent studies confirm this - lotus roots were found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, while very low in saturated fat.
In Buddhism, the lotus represents purity of body, speech, and mind, as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The Buddha is often depicted sitting on a giant lotus leaf or blossom.
According to legend, he was born with the ability to walk and everywhere he stepped, lotus flowers bloomed. Esoterically, lotus represents inward emptying and outward splendor and this conveys the true nature of reality according to the Buddhist philosophy.
In Buddhism the lotus flower also symbolizes faithfulness. The golden lotus that is mentioned in Buddhist sutras has two meanings; one is the symbol for the achievement of enlightenment and the other points towards a real flower, which is beyond our normal perception.
But even though the symbol of the lotus has its origins in Buddhism, over the years it has entered mainstream use and has come to represent a high level of moral cultivation of a person, for the lotus arises from dirty mud but remains unsoiled. The lotus flower stands for purity and beauty.
The Chinese have always loved lotus flowers. They are thought of as being like gentlepersons, who keeps themselves clean, alive and healthy in a dirty environment. Essentially the lotus flower represents creative power and purity amid adverse surroundings. It is also a symbol of the seventh month, summer.
In China, there are many poems about the lotus flower, often describing how they come out of the dirty mud under the water and yet retain their pureness, freshness and beauty. One Chinese poem portrays lotus like this: “the leaves break the bandage of the green stem, stretch themselves and form a green pool with untidy edges. Now the flower comes from out of the vast surface of the water, just like a very beautiful woman coming gracefully from her bath.”
Chinese poets also use lotus flowers to inspire people to continue striving through difficulties and to show their best part to the outside world, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. This is understood as being just like the lotus flower, bringing beauty and light from the murky darkness at the bottom of the pond.
Another symbolic characteristic of the lotus flower leads from the observation that the plant’s stalk is easy to bend in two, but is very hard to break because of its many strong sinuous fibers. Poets use this to represent a close unbreakable relationship between two lovers or the members within a family, showing that no matter how far away they might live nothing can really separate them in heart.
The influence of a lotus flower painting is to open us up to beauty and light. A good lotus flower painting can act as a reminder of the miracle of beauty, light and life. This reminder, communicated on an emotional level, is said to aid both spiritual and practical understanding of Taoism, the world and our place in it.
Learn more about Jade & Chinese Symbolism:
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Dragon
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Phoenix
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Butterfly
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Fish
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Plum Blossom
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Bamboo
Chinese Cultural Symbol: Lotus