The lotus flower is one of Buddhism's "Eight Auspicious Symbols" and is one of the most important images in the faith. The lotus appears frequently in all kinds of Buddhist art across all cultures. Scrolling lotuses often embellish Buddhist textiles, ceramics and architecture.
In Buddhist thought, the lotus' pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primeval mud of materialism, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. Though there are other water plants that bloom above the water, it is only the lotus which, owing to the strength of its stem, regularly rises eight to twelve inches above the surface.
Every important Buddhist deity is associated in some manner with the lotus, either being seated upon a lotus in full bloom or holding one in their hands. In some images of standing Buddhas, each foot rests on a separate lotus.
The lotus does not grow in Tibet so Tibetan art has only stylized versions of it, yet it appears frequently with Tibetan deities and among the Eight Auspicious Symbols.
In Buddhism, the color of the lotus has an important bearing on the symbolism associated with it:
- White Lotus (Skt. pundarika; Tib. pad ma dkar po): This represents the state of spiritual perfection and total mental purity (bodhi). It is associated with the White Tara and proclaims her perfect nature, a quality which is reinforced by the color of her body.
- Pink Lotus (Skt. padma; Tib. pad ma dmar po): This the supreme lotus, generally reserved for the highest deity. Thus naturally it is associated with the Great Buddha himself.
- Red Lotus (Skt. kamala; Tib: pad ma chu skyes): This signifies the original nature and purity of the heart (hrdya). It is the lotus of love, compassion, passion and all other qualities of the heart. It is the flower of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
- Blue Lotus (Skt. utpala; Tib. ut pa la): This is a symbol of the victory of the spirit over the senses, and signifies the wisdom of knowledge. Not surprisingly, it is the preferred flower of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.