An aquatic plant with a showy blossom which comes in pinks, pale blue and white and is just as stunning as a bud as it when when it opens flat. According to sacred scripture it can have more than a hundred petals.
Spiritually the lotus is an important plant to Buddhists, Hindus (it is the national flower of India) and the ancient Egyptians. According to one creation myth it was a giant lotus which first rose out of the watery chaos, an infinate ocean of water called Nun, at the beginning of time. The lotus blossom opened and out stepped the sun god, Atum, as a child (some versions say it was in fact Ra) to create the first day. He returns to the lotus each evening and as the lotus blossom closes for the night he disappears.
Creating a similar image in both Buddhism and Hinduism the lotus regularly appears as a symbol of purity, peace, enlightenment, beauty, rebirth, transcendence and fertility and is considered to be of divine origin. Buddha was said to sleep on a lotus six months of the year, and Shambala- Buddhist heaven- is sometimes protrayed as a field of sacred lotus blossoms.
The idea of the symbolic connection to enlightenment is, I think, a beautiful metaphor. The lotus begins its life humbly in the mud and grows through the sometimes turbulent, often dirty and occasionally deep water (representing the trials of life) to the warmth and light of the sun where it can show its beautiful delicate face and bask in the warmth. Lotus flowers ‘wake up’ (open) at dawn and go to sleep (close) in the afternoon, at about the same time I have my natural low ebb. Some lotuses have even been known to open up at night and close during the day, ignoring the normal sunlight hours favoured by the majority of flowering plants, and effectively transcending normal time cycles.
For Hindus it is from an opening lotus bud that emerged from the navel of a slumbering Vishnu, the preserver of life, long ago, at the end of the aeons, when the whole universe had been engulfed in an ocean, and Creation was all but lost. From the flower came an egg which held a sleeping Brahma, the creator of all, who as he stirred nudged the creation of new worlds and gods and life could begin again.