There is a brilliant Buddhist saying: “no mud, no lotus.” What this means is that the greatest beauty often comes out of our greatest pain. This is because the lotus flower usually grows in water that has deep mud at the bottom and the lotus flower sends its roots deep into this mud that oftentimes is ill smelling and may contain the refuse of the civilization that lives along the banks of the body of water. Yet an entire consciousness has been described as being contained in a lotus flower. The flower looks exquisite and pure, especially in the backdrop of a filthy pond. Three separate spiritual mythologies have chosen the lotus to represent purity and beauty; Hinduism, Buddhism and the Egyptians.
In each of these cultures, the blooming of the lotus blossom arising from the filth and murky waters each day was compared to spiritual awakening. Due to the fact that the flower closes each night and sinks below the surface to be reborn clean again in the morning, it also symbolizes enlightenment. Furthermore the reappearance of the beautiful flower out of the murky water every morning symbolizes the detachment from desire and reward, the goal of any spiritual aspirant. Probably the most relevant aspect of the lotus is that the effort that it takes to rise above the muck and mire of the waters of its birth to spread its petals as purity and cleanliness symbolizes the effort that the spiritual seeker must make to rise above the symbolic muck of existence. This not only means the physical challenges of life, but it also means the challenges of freeing ourselves from the illusions and delusions of our minds.
The mud from which a lotus grows is compared to the struggle and suffering of humanity. However, we must accept the fact that suffering is an essential part of human existence that makes us strong enough to rise above that suffering to gain enlightenment. When we stop habitually thinking negative thoughts and accept our innate birthright of joy and happiness we rise above the muck and mire and open to the beauty of enlightenment. It is this struggle that defines who we are and trains us to choose the path of righteousness over easiness. There are many comparisons to this in nature, as if nature understands this principle much more than we do. Many plants have the ability to persevere and break through solid concrete and asphalt through sheer determination and will to live. They do not need prophets and gurus to teach them how to overcome their worldly condition; they just grow. We have that same genetic urge to grow, that is why so many of us want to understand and rise above what appears to be senseless waste around them.
The lotus also symbolizes rebirth, whether being reborn into another lifetime or a symbolic rebirth that happens after great grief, loss or intense suffering. Humans have a great tenacity and resiliency to survive great odds. It seems that the more we have to suffer and overcome, the more wisdom and grace we can obtain. This is the message of the movie “Unbroken”, the story of an Olympic athlete who survived being a Japanese prisoner of war. His greatest triumph came in the afterwards of the film which stated that he suffered great PTSD until he let go of his pain and resentment and forgave his captors. He even went on to be one of the runners of the Olympic torch to the Olympics in Japan when he was 80 years old. It is this greatness of the human spirit that reminds us of the lotus flower that thrives best in the foulest of conditions to bring us such great beauty. We can be reborn simply by changing our mind and behavior and becoming a different person. We can bring peace and serenity where we once sowed conflict. We can offer a smile or a kind word where we may have sowed indifference. Each one of us is a lotus flower who must rise every day out of our circumstances, that may be quite tragic, to become a beautiful expression of the divine. When we are knee deep in alligators, it is difficult to remember our initial objective was to drain the swamp. It is also a human condition that we do not realize that our difficulties make us better people. While we don’t want to seek difficulty, we do not have to fear or be traumatized by difficulty either. It is like an exercise to make us more athletic or better looking. The crap sometimes makes us better.