What the Lotus Flower Symbolizes in Buddhism

(Photo above by Ithalu Dominguez / Pexels)

Just recently Apple created a new lotus flower emoji in their iOS update. How did this flower become a symbol of Buddhism and spirituality?

Lotus flower emoji from the Apple iOS update.

Two aspects of the lotus flower set it apart. The first is that it blooms in muddy waters. And second, when it blossoms, it simultaneously plants a seed. From the Buddhist perspective both aspects represent a fundamental truth of life. So, let’s dive in.

The lotus flower blooms in muddy waters

One of the most revered teachings in Buddhism is the Lotus Sutra. Why was the lotus flower chosen to represent this essential teaching of Buddhism? One reason is that the lotus flower blooms in muddy water. Buddhism teaches that human life is like the “lotus flower” and the “muddy water” the harsh realities of daily life.

Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist philosopher, explains how we can understand this concept in our daily lives:

Nothing, no matter what happens, can change your inherent worth. Please have courage. Please tell yourself that you are not going to let this ordeal defeat you. Those who have suffered the most, those who have experienced the greatest sadness, have a right to become the happiest of all. What would the purpose of our Buddhist practice be if the most miserable could not become happy?

Discussions on Youth, p. 410

Even though we may be facing unimaginable situations each day, it doesn’t define our value and worth. Just like the lotus flower emerges from muddy waters, our lives too can shine amid difficult circumstances.

Even though we may be facing unimaginable situations each day, it doesn’t define our value and worth.

The lotus flower blossoms while simultaneously planting a seed

The second aspect is that when a lotus flower blossoms it also plants a seed, representing the Buddhist concept of cause and effect.

As explained by Ikeda:

The lotus flower is invested with profound significance in Buddhism. It is thought to be the only plant that simultaneously produces both flower (cause) and seed-pod (effect). This unique trait is used to indicate the Buddhist principle of simultaneity of cause and effect.

My Dear Friends in America, pp. 68

And taking it a step further, Ikeda refers to the 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren Daishonin and explains why chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the title of the Lotus Sutra, holds great meaning.

Ikeda writes:

The Daishonin explains the significance of cause and effect: All sutras other than the Lotus Sutra expound that Buddhahood (effect) can be attained only after having made good causes—that is, after practicing their teachings (cause) over a length of time. With the Lotus Sutra, however, the very act of embracing it (cause) enables one simultaneously to become a Buddha (effect). Such is the splendid power of the Mystic Law [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo]. It does not require that you undergo lifetime upon lifetime of practice to become a Buddha.

My Dear Friends in America, pp. 68–69

The moment we shift our inner negativity and recognize that we have Buddhability, we simultaneously bring out the qualities of the Buddha from within our lives like courage, wisdom and compassion. How do we “embrace” this idea? By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. In fact, “renge” means lotus flower.

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each day, we remember that we are originally Buddhas. We don’t have to become something we’re not but simply shine as we are.

Explore more Practice