Everywhere we look in the yoga world we see lotus flowers! What do they stand for? And how are they relevant to our practice?
Well, the lotus blossom not only adorns every contemporary yoga studio and product, but it adorns the history of the human race as the crown symbol most frequently and consistently engaged to communicate something divine, something perfect, a harmony that excels human experience.
From art to architecture, literature to science, the flower’s exquisite form, colors and scent, have all been injected with rich meanings across cultures, always pointing toward our ultimate human potential—one that mirrors the beauty of a full lotus blossom.
Its blossom, composed of multiple concentrically arranged petals, represents a synchronized unity, in which many parts join together to function as a whole. Ancient cultures observed this cooperative spirit to occur most effortlessly in the natural world they found so wondrous: in the timing of seasons, the interaction between species, the pollination of flowers, etc.
Such interdependent harmony was thus identified as an energy that would both instigate and support an experience of eternal serenity (sat, in Sanskrit). But to be at peace meant that one also possessed wisdom, or an expansive cognition (chit). Thus, cosmologists of the past freely linked the wisdom behind universal architecture to the symbol of the open lotus blossom: an emblem of sacred time and space, in which everything unfolded perfectly. It was believed that within such perfection, bliss (ananda), flourished.
Practitioners of yoga seek to settle into such sacred time and space, and thus beckon bliss, every time they enter padmasana, “posturing of the body like a lotus.” Like the traditional yantra grids around which temples are shaped, the yogis shape their bodies around the model of the open lotus flower, summoning the harmonious forces that will assist in the blossoming of their consciousness. For divine consciousness is the ultimate symbol the lotus stands for.
It is for this reason that we find deities associated with divinity stretching from Buddha to Brahma, from India’s Lakshmi to Egypt’s Lilith, all depicted as either seated upon lotus thrones, or adorned with lotuses. Ancient traditions assert that as one’s being approaches that of the divine, one’s lotus-of-consciousness opens wider and wider.
This gradual unfolding or blossoming of consciousness thus becomes one’s spiritual journey.
From the innate potential within a budding lotus, to the fully opened blossom, the journey is aimed at purely imbibing the three constituents of divine being (sat, cit and ananda). These divine constituents are represented by the three steady points created in padmasana as each of the two knees and the coccyx-seat connect with the ground, reminding practitioners of the spiritual foundation upon which life thrives. To both Buddhist and Yogic traditions, this triangular base reflects part of the mystical geometry, or yantra, that is instrumental to deep meditation.
Because consciousness blossoms best when withdrawn into lengthy meditation, the lotus posture soon became the favored asana for inner travel, as it offers the practitioner a supportive, steady, and comfortable seat. As all asana practice aims to prepare us to enter the deeper meditative states, padmasana thus symbolizes the ideal classical asana. Its triangular base allows for the spine to retain its natural curvature within the practitioner’s erect back, facilitating an extended holding of the pose.
Once one sets into the ease of the pose (both in body and mind), consciousness is then said to emanate outwards in circular, or mandala-like patterns, like the corolla of lotus petals, completing the yantra’s sacred geometry.
Yogic texts, such as the Bhagavat Purana, ascribe this same geometry to all holy places of pilgrimage around the globe, or tirthas. They also identify the chakras, or energy centers in our bodies, with the sacred geometry of the lotus. This inclusiveness of the inner and outer worlds, integrates the divine within us, and us within the divine.
The six syllable Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum, or “the jewel of the lotus,” resounds this integration as it embraces every realm of existence. The highest realm is represented by the crown chakra or thousand-petal lotus, which signifies enlightenment. This potential is honored as existing within every human being when practicing padmasana. In Vedic literature, the sacred geography of the highest realms of enlightenment, often called Goloka, is fashioned after the blossomed lotus, which is said to radiate it’s own effulgent light.
The lotus posture contains both grounding and elevating energies.
It establishes firmness in one’s connection with this temporary earth, while simultaneously reaching for eternal heights.
Most uniquely, however, it eliminates both these extremes by locating the earth within the lotus, and the lotus within the earth, in a circular harmony. This is observed in the lifespan of the lotus flower itself, whose stem begins to grow under water out of muddy depths and rises toward the sun as a full blossom above water. The stem then eventually curves back into the water with the weight of the wilting flower, returning to whence it came, followed by the emergence of yet another lotus.
This visually striking circular cycle connected the beautiful flower with rebirth and resurrection as in the Egyptian myths of the sun god’s birth from a lotus (much like the birth of the Vedic deity, Brahma) and with their god of death, Osiris. The lotus seemed to defy norms by revealing ways in which purity can emerge from soiled foundations, light can stem from dark, and humans can indeed become divine. Such is the spirit that drives padmasana: that of becoming the lotus, of growing one’s consciousness in the nourishing safety of its protective womb.
Spiritual communities, or sangas, mirror the protective womb of the lotus, by supporting the spiritual development of its members.
This nurturing energy, within the Yoga tradition, is regarded as feminine energy and considered the padma-madhu, or lotus honey, which feeds our soul’s spiritual appetite. It is believed that the more padma-madhu generated by a spiritual community, the sweeter one’s meditations on divinity. Traditionally it is the guru, or spiritual teacher, who distributes the spiritual lotus-honey most freely.
The honey-like mercy and compassion of such gurus has also been traditionally connected to the lotus, as references to the guru’s lotus feet are found all over the yoga tradition. The lotus feet of the spiritual teacher leave paths of sweet padma-madhu wherever they walk. This “honey” translates into spiritual paths and maps to guide us towards reaching our full potential and thus generating our very own padma-madhu. The sweetness of padma-madhu is summoned within one’s regular practice of padmasana; the classic posture for entering into deep meditations that generates such spiritual sustenance.
In the Bhakti Yoga tradition, the ancient narrative of Krishna’s dance with the cowherd maidens, known as the Gopis, describes blossoming lotuses as the inspiration behind the playing of Krishna’s flute: “Seeing lotus flowers bloom . . . he began to make sweet music . . . melting the hearts of fair maidens with beautiful eyes” (Dance of Divine Love, p. 26).
Like a bumblebee buzzing after the nectar of fragrant flowers, the divine is drawn to those with a lotus-blossomed consciousness.
Arriving as Krishna, to sip the honey of pure love, the divine lands upon those who have embodied the essence of the lotus blossom. For, even Krishna, who is described as the most attractive of all, is himself attracted to the exquisite beauty of a love-filled, lotus-like heart.
The Gopis are described in the ancient Rasa Lila narrative as the topmost yoginis, and are understood as the prime examples of open lotuses, as their beauty entices even the source of supreme beauty himself!
Desirous of uniting with the divine, in the connection that is Yoga, the Gopis themselves entered padmasana, and meditated on Krishna’s beauty, identifying parts of it with aspects of the lotus flower: The soles of Krishna’s soft, pink feet became budding lotuses, the shape of his enamoring eyes resembling lotus petals, and the enchanting scent of his skin said to approach the intoxicating fragrance of the rare blue lotuses that decorated the river Yamuna.
In seeking union with Krishna, the Gopis equated entering padmasana with entering divine love. Following their example, practitioners of padmasana open their consciousness to the union of divine love, thus beautifying themselves and the world with its light. This is the potential offered to one through a heartfelt, regular practice of the lotus pose, taking one’s Yoga into the furthest reaches of the sacred.
*This article was first published by Integral Yoga Magazine*
Copyright © 2011. By Catherine Ghosh All rights reserved