The Eastern symbolism of the white petaled Lotus, which indigenously occurs in low lying areas, involves an intricate collaboration of tranquility, sensuality and metaphysical transcendence. Furthermore, its connection with calm pools of water illustrate emotional maturity and a serenely feminine union with nature’s enlightened blueprint. Appropriately, the appearance of the lotus in our dream landscape, may depict emotional comfort and spiritual grace in our conceptualization of a certain situation, perhaps even, our entire perception of the world around us. Conversely, if the lotus is threatened, or becomes submerged, we may be expressing anxiety over our own loss of individual faith. This conceivably may involve a sinking emotional interrelationship with a person still considered to be a loved one.
Ancient Egyptian iconography certainly treated the lotus in this way, the flower being the first to appear and from its expanded petals springing the Demiurge and the Sun. The lotus is therefore pre-eminently the archetypal sexual organ, pledge of the continuity of birth and rebirth. From the Mediterranean to India and China its symbolic importance, manifest in so many different ways both sacred and profane, arises from this basic image. In the land of the Pharaohs, where it was regarded as the holiest of flowers.
Chu Tun-i, in an apparently bisexual and therefore totalizing context, reverts to this notion of purity, adding to it those of sobriety and righteousness, to make the lotus an emblem of the wise man. Generally speaking, while the notion of purity remains constant, it is supplemented by those of resoluteness (stiff stalk), wealth (abundant growth), many descendants (prolific seeding), married harmony (two flowers on the same stalk) and time past, present and to come (the plant simultaneously bears the three stages of its development - bud, flower and seed).
From Vishnu navel a lotus emerges and within the inner whorl of blossom sits Brahma, principle of ‘expansive’ tendencies (rajas). One should in any case add that the Ancient Egyptians made the lotus-bud a symbol of the seed of manifestation. However, in Khmer iconography, the Earth is substituted for the lotus as an attribute of Vishnu, standing for the passive aspect of manifestation. For the sake of completeness, it should be stated that Indian iconography distinguishes between the pink lotus, or padma, (described above), which is a solar emblem and also a symbol of wealth, and the blue lotus, or utpala, an emblem of the Moon and of Shiva.
From the Buddhist point of view, the lotus - upon which Shakyamuni sits enthroned - is the Buddha’s nature, untouched by the polluted atmosphere of samsara. Alternatively, the Buddha in the middle of the eight-petalled lotus sits at the hub of an eight-spoked wheel, of which the padma is the equivalent, thus evincing his office as chakravartT (king), as might be deduced from the Bayon of Angkor Thom. In Tantric symbolism, the individual’s seven subtle centres through which the spinal column runs, that of the sushumna, are depicted as lotuses of 4, 6, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 1000 petals. The lotus with 1000 petals stands for revelation in its wholeness.
Lastly, it would seem that the lotus has a significance in Far Eastern alchemy. In fact several Chinese organizations have assumed the white lotus as their emblem, including an Amidist community founded on Mount Lu in the fourth century and a major Taoist secret society. The latter might well have used the Buddhist symbolism as a cloak, but may also have related their emblem to the symbolism of ‘inward’ alchemy, its ‘Golden Flower’ being white.