The Lotus Blossom Revisited
Bhagavad Gita 5.10:
Those who dedicate their actions to God, abandoning all attachment, remain untouched by sin, just as a lotus leaf is untouched by water.
Psalm 131 (LEB)
My heart is not haughty nor my eyes arrogant,
and I do not concern myself
with things too great and difficult for me.
Rather, I have soothed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother,
like the weaned child is my soul with me.
O Israel, hope in Yahweh
from now until forever.
One day long ago, when life was less distracting, and we all spent more time outdoors, a little Hindu boy named Arujani was playing outside, seeing what he could see. He danced along the trails outside his village, which was nestled by a lake in the crook of the Himalayas.
He giddily stopped every now and then to poke a bug with a stick or watch it do its thing. He chased flying insects until they were just out of reach and finally, exhausted, he fell on his back into the wheat fields, surrounded by a colorful patchwork of blossoming, abundant life.
As he made his way to the lake, Arujani stumbled upon a lotus seed pod, most of the seeds intact. He excitedly scooped up the pod and raced back toward the mountains, home to his mother, Scilla. “Can we plant the seeds? Can we, Mama? Can we plant the seeds?” He blurted out breathlessly.
Scilla said, “Oh! Of course, we’ll plant them! The lotus is a very special plant. Do you know why, chookra?” (“Chookra” means “little one” in Hindi).
Grimacing, Arujani said, “I do not, mother, but I have a feeling you’re about to tell me.”
With a smile and a little laugh, his mother said, “You are so wise! You know, we have to throw these seeds in a pond. The seed will fall to the bottom, where it will be covered with all sorts of mud and muck.
The lotus sprout grows from the depths of its mud-encased bed, just a few feet below the surface of a lake or a pond. As it grows, it reaches ever up towards the light, the petals of the flower closed so tightly that no water or mud can get in.”
She continued, “Once the lotus is floating on top of the muddy water, the sunlight opens its petals, and the flower blossoms, ready to receive the warm, nourishing love of the Sun. Out of the dirt and mud comes something pure and beautiful. Isn’t that interesting, little one?”
Only half paying attention, Arujani said, “Uh, yeah. Super interesting, mom! So, can we go plant these now?”
Scilla laughed, and together they walked outside to a nearby pond, waded into the water, and dropped the lotus seeds into the muddy bed.
“Now what?” little Arujani asked. “Now we wait,” said his mother. Arujani wondered, “Wait for what?”
“For these seeds to find their path out of the mud.”
Every day after they dropped the lotus seeds into the pond, Arujani would rush to the edge to see if he could make out any growth. But he couldn’t see what was happening below the surface. If anything was growing in the mud, he sure couldn’t tell.
“Mother,” he said, “I think perhaps the seeds have died. How long has it been? Many moons have passed, yet I see no sign of growth.”
“Patience, my dear Arujani,” Scilla said. “Growth takes time! You were not born with the ability to walk and find lotus seeds and ask so many questions! It has taken 10 years for you to become who you are now.
It will not take that long for the lotus, but it’s forming beneath the surface even now, even though you can’t see it. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?” She asked wryly.
Arujani harrumphed, “Yes mother, growth takes place beneath the surface. It was an obvious metaphor.” He rolled his eyes.
Scilla laughed and said, “Perhaps, but you need to understand the significance of the lotus blossom and what it means for our people!”
“Why do I feel another lesson coming on?” Arujani moaned as he melodramatically dropped his head in his hands.
Smiling patiently and tussling her son’s jet-black hair, Scilla said, “the lotus represents purity and beauty, my child, and the unfolding petals of the flower that floats above the muck and mire suggest the expansion of our own spiritual awareness as we grow from infants to children, through adulthood and old age.”
Arujani thought about this for a moment. “So, let me get this straight,” Arujani began, “are you saying that we should stay above the muck and mire? That’s no fun! I love playing in the mud!”
“Of course you do!” Scilla proclaimed. “All little boys love playing in the mud. I’m still speaking in metaphors though. Did I lose you?”
“No, you didn’t lose me,” Arujani’s voice trailed off. Then, he blurted out, “I was just hoping we were finished so I could go see if this lotus was blooming or not… and maybe play in the mud!”
Unfazed, Arujani’s mother continued, “The lotus also represents hope, Arujani, that from the depths of our often muddy and messy lives, growth still occurs. Even though you love playing in the mud, chookra, you still desire a bath afterward, do you not?”
Arujani thought about this for a minute. Then another minute. He kind of liked being covered in mud, but he had to admit his mother was right. Eventually, he wanted the mud washed off. “Yes mother, it is true. Once the mud starts to cake and dry, it’s not much fun anymore—it’s just annoying.”
Scilla said, “That’s a good start. Now, think about the lotus—it grows through the mud, but never becomes muddy itself. Once the bud of the flower works through the murky water, it floats gently on top, finally opening its petals—clean, brilliantly colored, and perfect—untainted by its muddy birth and muddy existence.”
“You mean that the flower won’t have to wait for a rainstorm or a caretaker to cleanse it? it was born and will blossom perfectly?”
“That’s correct, Arujani,” his mother said. Eventually, the lotus will bloom, and it will be perfect, just like you!”
“I’m not perfect, mother. Please! my grades are average, and I like to play in the mud!”
Scilla laughed out loud. “But that is perfect, Chookra.It is what little humans do. And life is about more than grades, my love. Life is also about what you learn through living and experiencing.”
“So, you don’t mind if I fail my exams?” Arujani asked, knowing full well this was not what his mother meant.
“You know better than that, Arujani and you know very well what I mean. Like the lotus, our life is full of adventure as we allow our inner being—our own lotus flower, to unfold. Like the petals of the lotus, we are many-faceted creatures, and, also like the lotus, our journey to awakening is perfect as it is, no matter how much mud and muck covers us.”
She asked, “Do you know what our job is in life, Arujani?”
He answered, “Well, papa raises cows, and you cook magnificent meals. Uncle Krishna is in the army.” After a moment, Arujani said, devilishly, “There are lots of jobs! I think I’d like to grow lotuses… Which reminds me—do you think that lotus is blooming yet?”
Arujani and Scilla laughed as he grabbed his mother’s arm and pulled her outside. As they walked toward the pond, his mother continued her lesson. “We all have different careers, but our career is not our job. We have one job on this earth, my love, and that is to allow our own lotus flowers to fully blossom, open wide to possibility.”
“I know where you’re going with this, mother,” Arujani said as they walked hand-in-hand to the edge of the pond. “Like this lotus—hey! it’s floating on the water’s surface!” he exclaimed with surprise. “And there are many more, too! They are all so beautiful!”
“Yes dear, exactly,” Scilla said. “There are many more lotuses, all over the world, all working their way through the mud and into the light. There are millions and millions of us, born as clean as we ever will be, working our way through the mud of life, and simply waiting to break through the surface and blossom.”
“To blossom so we can feel the warm light, mother?” Arujani asked.
“Not only that, Arujani,” she replied, “we blossom so we can be the light, and then share it with others—just as I am sharing it with you right now.”
Commentary on Lotus Symbolism from www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org
Both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures abound with analogies of the lotus flower. The word is used as a respectful appellation while describing various parts of God’s divine body. Hence charaṇ-kamal means “lotus-like feet,” kamalekṣhaṇa means “lotus-like eyes,” kar-kamal means “lotus-like hands,” etc.
Another word for the lotus flower is paṅkaj, which means “born from mud.” The lotus flower grows from the mud found at the bottom of the lake, yet it rises above the water and blossoms toward the sun. Thus, the lotus flower is often used in Sanskrit literature as an example of something that is born amidst the dirt, and rises above it while retaining its beautiful purity.
Further, the lotus plant has large leaves that float atop the water surface of the lake. Lotus leaves are used in Indian villages for plates, as they are waterproof, and liquid poured on them does not soak through, but runs off.
The beauty of the lotus leaf is that, although the lotus owes its birth, growth, and sustenance to the water, the leaf does not permit itself to be wetted. Water poured on the lotus leaf runs off the side, due to the small hair growing on its surface.
With the help of the beautiful analogy of the lotus leaf, Shree Krishna says that just as it floats atop the surface of the lake, but does not allow itself to be wetted by the water, similarly, the karm yogis remain untouched by sin, although performing all kinds of works, because they perform their works in divine consciousness.