This paper speculates on the origins of the lotus position (padmasana) in the context of the lotus flower’s role in creation myths, art, ritual and medicine. This novel paper seeks to find the root of the lotus symbolism internally in the chakras as well as in the herbal preparations that were ingested by rishis, munis and yogis. Taking the creation myths of India where the lotus is the stabilizing force, the author concludes that it is this stabilizing pose that roots the yogi in consciousness so that the 1008 petaled lotus blooms in his head. The paper then discusses the variations and theories behind which foot goes first and concluding remarks on benefits of the position. Finally, there is a botanical section on Ayurvedic, Siddha and entheogenic use of lotus from the author’s forthcoming book. Tags: yoga, chakras, soma, nadis, padmasana, lotus position, lotus flowers, full lotus position, origin of lotus position, kundalini and lotus position, tantra and lotus position, lotus in art, lotus as entheogen, lotus in Indian herbalism
by Frederick R. Dannaway
This world was water that was moving. He, Prajapati, alone appeared on the lotus leaf. Within his mind originated a desire ‘may I create the world” Taittriya Aranyaka
Jewel of the Lotus
The lotus has a cherished place in the sacred art of the East since antiquity. No other flower or symbol is as ever-present in the depictions of gods and sages, in the erotic and mystical verses of seer poets, and in the subtle biology of the yogi and shamans. The lotus was a omen of auspicious splendor, of divine self-generating birth such as the many lotus-born gods, gurus and saints from the Buddha to the Tantric master of Tibet Padmasambhava (literally the lotus born). The earliest mention of the lotus in India may be in the Rig Veda where it is called puskara and the Atharva-Veda address a hymn to Mother Earth praising its sweet smell (Basu 2002). The god of fire, Agni, links with creation myths of the world springing from the lotus “O, Agni, in the beginning atharvan churned thee out of the lotus, the bearer of all” (RV 6.16.13).
As Basu (2002) notes of the “Vedic cosmogonical conception, there were only chaotic waters before the creation. “All this was heaving waters” (RV 10.129.3) and the aquatic lotus with its “latent energy” has the “power of giving stability latent in the surging waters, which would function as the support of Prajapati, the Creator (Basu 2002).” This will prove a crucial point in understanding the lotus position and the lotus dais that support gods, kings and mystics in sacred art. But the eloquence of the watery abyss of chaos that is stilled by the lotus bearing the fire god strikes at some central themes of creation and matter that coalesce into Indian science, cosmology and alchemy. The yogi beholds emergent flower of supreme consciousness that blossoms in the microcosmic churning oceans of the mind when one is rooted into the yoga of the lotus posture.
As noted below in the botanical portion, the lotus has a unique reproductive feature that makes it seem “self-born” and thus Gods, by nature self-generating or elect of themselves, are self-born (svayambhu) like Bhrama who is also called lotus-born (kamalayoni) (Basu 2002). Thus it makes sense that gods are seated upon the lotus and indeed many myths describe the earth itself floating on a lotus leaf. The Taittriya Aranyaka states “Prajapati saw in the midst of the heaving sea the wide one (urvi= Earth), the stability of the moving one (jagat=world), That was indeed born of the support of the lotus.” Basu makes a thorough study of the “stabilizing” force of the lotus in Vedic cosmology, and I would speculate that it is this association that is behind the name of the lotus position, as in terms of stabilizing the body for long term meditation, that the entire symbolism evolved. This creation era association culminated into lotus born gods seated in the lotus position on top of a lotus dais. One is rooted in meditation, exerting the mulabhanda (root lock) that incites the blooming of a chakra lotus in the mind of the yogi. Divine consciousness is thus by effort (tapas) self-created and blooms up the stem of the spine over the murky mundane traps of samsara.
The lotus is self-generating and a symbol of creation and fertility and fecundity and Basu (2002) traces the Agni-lotus association into the World-Wheel where Agni “is the nave of the movable and immovable worlds and also the nave of immortality.” He quotes the numerous instances in the Rig Veda and from the Atharva Veda “Where gods and human beings are fixed like spikes around a nave, oh Flower of waters, I ask thee, where they are set into motion by supernatural power” with mythical associations of ajara non-aging and amrita immortal. The Satapata Brahmana states “And the immortal element, which is the flame that is glowing, is the lotus leaf. Having laid down that which is lotus leaf he (one, who offers) piles up fire (constructs a fire alter). On that he prepares an immortal existence for himself…” and the Atharva-Veda records immortal invocations to be born on a lotus leaf. Additionally, Basu follows the womb as imagined as a lotus and traces the lotus-born narratives into various Buddhist and Jaina sources. A sexually attractive woman is referred to as a lotus maiden padmini (who menstruates either on the full moon or the new moon) (White 1996).
Shiva in lotus position, with consort Parvati, on a lotus in a primordial expanse of water.
‘Assuming padmasana and having placed the palms one upon each other, fix the chin firmly upon the breast and contemplating upon Brahman, frequently engage the Mula Bandha (root lock) and raise the apana up; by similar contraction of the Jhalandara Bandha ( the throat lock) force the prana down. By this, the yogi(ni) obtains unequalled knowledge through the favor of the roused Kundalini.’ (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, verse 48)
Primordial creations myths speak of the blossoming of creation in the form of a lotus. The Indian ideas of the supreme creative power of the lotus permeate all of Asia being used in art, to name sutras, as code words in Tantra and for the shape of the universe itself. In Tibet as in India, “Above, Heaven is a wheel with eight spokes. In the middle, the intermediate space is decorated with the eight “lucky signs.” Below, the Earth is a lotus with eight petals (Stein 1990).” The blooming of a lotus marks the creation of a world or a god or a Buddha. The birth of Buddha, as depicted in the Lalitavistara, has a night where the lotus blooms from the ocean to the heavens. Brahma collects its all-containing essence and presents it to Buddha in a scene that recalls soma and later Tantric elixir/amrita potions and empowering nectars. The visualization of deities are generated from seed-syllables in the form of a sun and moon disc that rise from the heart center, which is an eight-petalled lotus (Beer 2004). Beer also discusses the Tibetan rendering of the I Ching into a Tibetan system that used an eight-petalled lotus as well as precise information on the microcosmic and botanical symbolism expressed in Tibetan art.
Though the precise visualizations or designations of lotuses and chakras maybe very late, even contemporary in some cases, there are parallel practices in similar cults. “In Chinese tantrism the closed lotus is also the human heart, (the open lotus or full moon) the heart of the Buddha. The closed lotus for the heart of an ordinary person is also known in Taoism and among the Khmers (…it opens up in the wise man)” (Stein 1990). Stein notes the regressive macrocosmic– mesocosmic –microcosmic interplay between cosmology expressed internally and in art and architecture of which the lotus holds a distinct position. The associations with with full-moons reflect the deep associations between internal nadis and alchemy with lunar elixirs and magic plants as discussed in a separate article Lunar Alchemy: Moon Lore in Chinese and Vedic Alchemical Sources.
Woodruffe translates some Tantric texts that mention that below (towards the base of spine) there are Devas symbolized by a whirlpool and “Over it shines the sleeping Kundalini, fine as the fibers of the lotus stalk.” Siddha texts describe the process of opening the kundalini as strand by strand up the spine (Padmanabha associated with lower spine I am told by a siddha doctor) like a lotus stalk as well. Sivavakkiyar describes the cakras as “flowers without buds” and in the Siddha tradition the “cakras or lotuses, are upside down except when the kundalini over them, when they are right side up (Ganapathy 2003).”
The primordial yogi Shiva is said to have created the Sudarshana Chakra, which is symbolized by a thousand-petaled lotus. To thwart the demons that pestered the gods, Vishnu prayed and practiced puja to Shiva’s linga with 1008 flowers, though Shiva stole one for amusement. Vishnu plucks a lotus out of his forehead and offers it and because Vishnu’s devotion, Shiva says “I give you this round disc. It will help you to conquer all your enemies. No matter how many demons come to attack you and the other gods, you will be able to defeat them all with this disc.” Vishnu becomes Tamaraikannan or lotus-eyed. A spiraling blue disc or “blue pearl” is mentioned in various traditions and becomes an objective in Daoist and various yogas.
The yogi (atman) seeks to recreate creation and unite with Brahma in various poses that are associated or epithets of Lord Brahma. In Tantra this often represented where the male assumes himself as the god and “visualizes the Mother on his lap. The white vajra (phallus) of the Father unites with the red lotus (vagina) of the Mother” (O’Flattery 1982)as the sexual union recreates the world and directing the energies until the chakras right themselves and blossom. The Kulachudamani Tantra discusses the sexual union with a young woman as blossoming into a thousand petalled lotus: “One should worship the young woman and she should worship you. Conceal the design of the yantra in the secret place of the 1,000 petal lotus. Only impart this to a Kulina and never to atheists, fools, pashus or brahmanas, otherwise one meets with death (Magee 2010).”
Many Tantric empowerments in Tibetan context will employ the dual symbolism of the sun and moon discs and lotus. Beer (2004) explains the lotus as the symbol of renunciation and purity, while the sun is ultimate bodhichitta and the moon conventional, and these energies run up and down the spine in solar (pingala) and lunar (ida) channels. The blossoming of the lotus in the cranium with the celestial fluids that drip from the inner moon (soma as diety, substance and Moon God internalized) all merge. If some lotus preparation was the soma or substitute, or admixture as I suggest to a guru plant such as Peganum harmala (contentious but see a separate paper for much earlier use of plant in India than Muslim invaders and Siddha lore). The outer and inner symbolisms eloquently combinewith the lunar doctrines that were microcosmically absorbed into the ascetic and alchemical herbal traditions. The associations with Chinese drugs of immortality and Vedic lunar elixirs internally and externally, are again, discussed in a companion paper.
This portion of the paper on the famous “lotus position” was inspired by several encounters, conversations and readings of diverse sources. One conversation was years ago in the context of this authors intensives into Daoist meditations and qigong practices. The discussion delved into Indian asanas for meditation and the other person launched into praise of their master’s system with the fruit of the effort being the fully “realized lotus position.” This struck me in that the difficulty (or lack thereof) of seating oneself as such could be relegated largely to mundane considerations such as culture as opposed to spiritual maturity. That flexibility be equated with spirituality is, one supposes, reconciled in similar doctrines of alchemical and macrobiotic health cults.
For instance a friend from India tells me that all children in his family and extended family (and thus maybe implying a cultural norm) sit in lotus from very early age and their flexibility remains. Likewise many people in the west tell me they instinctively sat that way as a child, or else their parents were into yoga, or that they are just naturally flexible enough without any “training.” Again, one casually hear it expressed as some validation of practice, something of a yogic attainment or achievement. But the American Zen proponent Robert Aitken (1982) writes that “few people, even children, even in Japan are flexible enough to sit in the lotus position” implying that he thinks or thinks his readers will think that Japanese are more flexible or that they sit in the lotus position casually.
Several incidents also prompted this article in which I attended various yoga or meditation situations in which my own choice of legs first was commented upon. These include a Cambodian saying I had the wrong leg up on the wrong thigh to my friend told me of a similar circumstance in which a Korean Buddhist master told him that his posture was incorrect and “that is how females do it.” Yet another person informed me of such an occurrence in a Tibetan context, of which we will discuss in below. But these incidents prompted a curiosity into the origins of this revered position and its evolution and exportation from its likely origins in India. But much of the history of yoga is based on assumptions that specific postures and practices were anciently “yogic” and do not consider if these are constructs of modern scholars and enthusiasts.
The assumption voiced above was raised by the incisive and cynical genius of these subjects, one David Gordon White. In his masterpiece Sinister Yogis he takes the scant iconographic evidence of early yoga postures to task. The oldest centerpiece to this assumption is found in such depictions of the Mohenjo-Daro horned figure that, White notes, was identified as Shiva in yogic posture. White notes, that while quite a few have rejected the designation as Shiva, as few as one other scholar questioned the assumption that cross-legged sitting is the equivalent of yoga. He notes a plethora of other similarly dated depictions while questioning the validity of the assumptions that the postures are yogic and then informs that no similar depictions appear for the next two thousand years. White then proceeds to demonstrate examples outside India extending through out the ancient world of similar postures.
White’s discussion returns to South Asia in finding the only remaining sculptures that have survived to present day depicting that represent “full lotus” position are Buddhist and Jain and dating from the first or second century CE. Here the Buddha or Jain devotee is seated on a dais and White restrains himself from interesting digressions to return to the central theme, are these “yogic” postures? “If so, then what is one to make of the fact that following its representation on the Indus Valley seals it does not ‘resurface’ for nearly 2,000 years, and that when it does so, it appears at nearly the same time in four geographically distant regions, that is, at Bharut in Central India, in Indo-Scythian Transoxiania, in Anatolia and Thrace, and in France and Italy?” To which I note the same consternation in finding the simultaneous emergence of entheogenic cults in equally disparate regions using nearly identical plants (or “alchemy” with certain substances like mercury). These matters of yoga and entheogens may be more closely linked linked and will be discussed in a companion article.
But as White (2009) asks “what is a yogi?” while examining previous scholarship concerning Buddhist and Jaina yoga which describes practices (such as “extreme fasting, stopping the breath entirely, and closing the teeth while pressing the tongue against the palate” )which are now standard in most yogic regimens. But these techniques are described as greatly vexing the early Buddhists with headaches and copious sweating, roaring in the ears, great pain and mental distraction.” It is against these methods, in this context Jaina in origin, that the Buddhist is said to have proposed his own method “precisely the non-ascetic, non-self-mortifying” way that is the main doctrine of the Middle Way. White notes that it must be emphasized that at no point is the word yoga mentioned in neither in the Jaina practices he rejects nor in his own methods of cultivation the term for both being jhana or meditation. Again we will speak a bit more of Buddhist, and specifically Tibetan “yoga” (lotus posture) below. White informs that not until second cent ad is yoga employed but in the nonspecific sense of application or practice. But in 2nd century Asvagosha who uses yoga to denote limited food eating, breath control, tongue to roof of mouth or khecari mudra.
White (2009) cites evidence of later Hindu sources that use the terms of a six-fold yoga for first time that mentions familiar aspects of yoga such as pranayama (White informs stopping breath in that context), pratyahara withdrawing the senses), dhyanam (meditation), dharana (fixing the mind), tarka (contemplative inquiry), and Samadhi (concentration) with the shocking omission, for modern scholars anyway, that there is no mention of asanas or seated positions. The implications of this lack of asanas, especially to the modern student of yoga, can be potentially devastating to cherished notions of an ancient science. White’s theory becomes clear when contemplating this merging in the mind between cross-legged positions and the dais they sit upon.
White (2009) writes “I would argue that in the centuries of the beginning the common era the cross legged lotus position was a mark of royal sovereignty, royal gods or goddesses, their priests, and kings sat enthroned in this posture atop a dais, lotus or cushion. When Buddhas and Jinas began representing anthropomorphically in Kushan-era sculpture and coinage, their cross-legged posture was originally an indication of their royal sovereignty, rather than any meditative or yogic practice.” Once again at length:
“Here I would suggest that the term ‘lotus posture’ or ‘position’ (padmasana) derives not from the pose itself, which in no way resembles a lotus flower, but rather from a throne or seat (asana) representing a lotus (padma). Such is the case in Hindu Tantra, in which the primary sense of the term asana is, precisely, the “throne of a deity.” Such a throne, which is altogether appropriate for the royal goddess Sri – the divine embodiment of royal sovereignty who dwells in the lotus―would also be for the Buddha… (White 2009).”
This is a very compelling deduction and it is very well plausible. I will offer my own speculation on the origins of the position below, but to offer some embellishment to this theory I would like to mention a few things. As mentioned above the lotus symbolism of this posture is fundamental in stilling the body for prolonged periods. Being naturally prone to idleness, I have investigated sitting postures extensively and this one can be maintained for hours with out paresthesia and circulation can be maintained by subtle shifts and movements. This combined with the use of the mulabandha “roots” the yogi while his energy is flying upwards (Uddiyana) through the his spine until it blossoms in the 1000 petaled lotus flower Sahasrara the seventh chakra. Many scholars not the psychoactive use of lotus, even a few a suggest it’s the soma (Spess 2000; McDonald 2004) and I think it was certainly admixture. The concerted symbolism may behind the possible assuming of this posture assumed when ingesting the soma or lotus potions. Another point is that certain yogic activities are associated with the subtle light-body manifestations of the “lotus of the heart” and the blossoming lotus chakra. The seven chakras are also seen/symbolized/experienced as lotus blossoms.
Adhomukha Mahapadma, Amlana Padma, Dashashatadala Padma, Pankaja, Sahasrabja, Sahasrachchada Panikaja, Sahasradala, Sahasradala Adhomukha Padma, Sahasradala Padma, Sahasrapatra,
Not all figures are cross-legged on the lotus are in lotus position (which we stipulate as having the feet turned up on the thighs with the knees down and rotation of hips) nor are they always even sitting cross-legged or lotus position as the legs dangle over in more casual poses. If one is a yogi all manner of sitting are yogic and actions are yogic (consider how Milarepa is usually depicted or the various casual but belted positions of the mahasiddhas). It depends on what is meant by the term, which White takes to task as well. But if it can abstractly be reduced to some sense of abiding, either in meditation or visualization or prayer or all at once then distinctions truly blur to the most fundamental behaviors of humanity.
Most authors do not discriminate between the general “cross-legged” posture that is found represented in art the world over in ancient times to the more precise lotus posture with the upturned feet and knees down. Contemporary yoga recognizes a half-lotus or accomplished pose siddhasana (as well as variations of the lotus upside down and reclining etc. examples in full version). The actual definition of a lotus position (full external rotation of the hips in flexion) of that precision may have been a later evolution of postures assumed for regal or pious reasons, or it may be the limitations of primitive art in depicting accurately. The notions of secrecy might factor in these matters as being esoteric doctrines that evolved and became occult. But as they questions are likely not to be resolved satisfactorily there might be room for speculation of a distinctly Asian posture that evolved into a system. Certainly an Indian or Chinese origin might be prime suspects for such a science that was always seemingly vaguely associated with ritual plants, alchemy, macrobiotic or fasting techniques as well as breath and manipulations of the body that might be called “psycho-sexual drug yoga.”
Practicing yoga in the forest I have just been still enough and for long enough that certain wild animals gradually forgot that a human was invading their woods and moved about quite close. I wondered if the actual position evolved from starving (evolving to fasting) hunters, who devised a posture to remain utterly still for long periods (lotus position) and who tried to conceal their smell by covering themselves with ashes (bhasma). One of the incarnations of Shiva is kiratar or the hunter and his various forms as Rudra are associated with the bow and archer that transcend from killing game to killing the darkness of ignorance. Many artistic renderings of Shiva, and other yogis, will have them sitting on the skin of a wild animal (symbolizing the slaying of their passions). The wild animal pelt of the hunter is still used in many traditions as the standard mat for meditation and cultivation. This also connects with the discussed horned god sometimes identified as Shiva, the Lord of animals (though White doubts the depiction on the seal is Shiva or depicting yoga.) The most beautiful example of Shiva in the lotus position was in the home of one guru and it pictured the lord on skins naked with his bow and three arrows down before him. The guru explained this was because he invented the doctrine of ahimsa or non-violence.
A hunter becoming disillusioned with hunting is the basis of many tales the most famous being the famous Banyan deer story. The hunter progresses up the wheel of incarnations such as with King Chitrabhanu who was too late in the woods to return to his starving family with his game. The deer was tied on a bael tree branch and he climbs up dropping leaves and crying tears of sorrow for his poor family. “At the time of death, I saw two messengers of Lord Shiva. They were sent down to conduct my soul to the abode of Lord Shiva. I learnt then for the first time of the great merit I had earned by the unconscious worship of Lord Shiva during the night of Shivaratri. They told me that there was a Lingam at the bottom of the tree. The leaves I dropped fell on the Lingam. My tears which I had shed out of pure sorrow for my family fell onto the Lingam and washed it. And I had fasted all day and all night. Thus did I unconsciously worship the Lord.”
The lotus position is especially useful for prolonged sexual acts in Tantric rituals with the consort resting on the yogi’s lap.
Padamasana destrots any sickness. Ghevanda Samhita I
Although Shiva is seated on the tiger skin in various cross legged representations, most texts instruct to use a deer skin:
The place where he sits should be firm, neither too high nor too low, and situated in a clean spot. He should first cover it with sacred grass, then with a deer skin; then lay a cloth over these.” Bhagavad Gita 6:11
Tilopa with his arrows
Most of the Mahasiddha are depicted in repose or in states of yoga on various animal skins. On the bottom right Saraha sits on a skin holding his piercing arrow of gnosis.
The 18 Siddha sit with various legs (right or left foot placed on opposite thigh first)
Putting the Best Foot Forward
“Place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh…with the soles upward, and place the hands on the thighs, with the palms upwards…This is called Padma-asana, the destroyer of all diseases. It is difficult of attainment by everybody, but can be learned by intelligence.” The Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika I.46-49
As hinted at above there is little consensus on which foot is to go first on which thigh in assuming the lotus posture. Gradually the basic cross-legged repose became a distinct pose expressed in the full padmasana or in the half Ardha Padmasana or the siddhasana. But as mentioned, certain sects or lineages seemed to have favored one arraignment of feet and limbs over another. Even within the same broad traditions different feet or legs are stipulated as being the placed on the corresponding thigh. Modern gurus and lamas have informed me of their opinions on the correlation as to which foot goes where and their reasons ranged from positions corresponding to certain organs on one side of the body or the other, to the sex of the person to the day of the week of the specific practice. In fact, the reasons I collected from asking in person and in correspondence began to grow as I never quite got the same answer twice. Reverting to texts or statues and icons of gods or yogis proves just as diverse in representations.
A modern work on yoga (Maehle 2007) of Ashtanga (a style developed in the 20th century but based on legendary ancient texts), says the following:
“Padmasana: Right Leg First
Why is Padmasana traditionally done only by first placing the right leg and then bringing the left leg on top? When asked this question, K. Pattabhi Jois quoted the Yoga Shastra as saying, “Right side first and left leg on top purifies liver and spleen. Left leg first and right leg on top is of no use at all.” He also noted that the lotus done in this way stimulates insulin production.
Contemporary teachers have suggested performing Padamasana on both side to balance the body. Improving the symmetry of the body is achieved by through the standing postures. However, the postures that strongly influence the abdominal and thoracic cavity, such as Padamasana, do not have have the function of making the body symmetrical, but of accommodating the symmetry of the abdominal and thoracic organs. To accommodate the fact that the liver is in the right side of the abdominal cavity and the spleen in the left, the right leg is first placed into position with the left leg on top.”
In Tibet, where the full lotus pose is called rdo rje’i skyil krung is also called the vajra pose and the definitive text in the west on Tibetan yoga or Yantra Yoga instructs for the Flaming Lotus to “cross your legs in vajra posture with the left leg under the right” with the footnote adding to reverse this for females (Norbu 2008). In other words one puts the left foot on the right thigh first corresponds to personal instructions I have been given from various lamas. But the introductory text on tummo describes the preliminary practices advises one to assume the full-lotus position “with your right foot on the left thigh and your left foot on the right thigh” implying that the right foot goes first (Yeshe 1998). But a class on such things reveal people, irregardless of sex, assuming the position as they wished with no corrections forthcoming as what seemed crucial, as Lama Yeshe’s text notes, is that the spine is straight. This accords with the theory of the lotus and spine as stem symbolism. A scientific study of of tummo deduced that the toes were protected from heat loss by the lotus position, and remained elevated for circulation (Benson et al 1982).
The Japanese styles seem to favor the right foot on the left thigh first for kekka fuza. These stem from the traditions known in the sutras as the “five positions of Vairocana or in the tantras as the seven positions or Dharmas of Vairocana. I have seen Korean, Cambodian and Indian representations, practitioners and photographs of different feet in different orders even in the same artistic grouping.
Botanical Notes: An extract from the forthcoming work A Yogi’s Pharmacopoeia
Nymphaea sp. Nymphaea caerulea Lotus Blue Water Lily. Sanskrit utpala, padma, Nalina, Aravinda, Jalaja, Raajeeva, Puskara, Ambuja, Abja, Pankaja, Pundarika (whitish), Kokanada (red), Indivara (bluish). Tamil Thaamarai, Ambel.
The lotus as soma has been argued by Spess (2000) and McDonald (2004) and the former argues persuasively for a complex system of visionary herbalism based on the various combinations of the many species that are variously called lotus (and related water lilies). Some are listed as ranging from mildly to heavily psychoactive to nearly lethal to fatally intoxicating. The symbolisms, also expressed in art and poetry, represented specific species and corresponded with lunar or solar influences based on the blooming during the day or night. He speculates of specific parts used for specific purposes, either infused and consumed simply or fermented into alcoholic potions. Whole plants, admixtures and the various mixed resins and saps of the plants all could be expertly exploited by the ancient herbalists.
Mahdihassan (2002) writes of Shiva and ascetic elixirs/soma and the lotus: “Lotus is the only plant which does not eject its seeds as such to germinate elsewhere. Its seeds mature within the seed-bud and when just germinated leave the mother plant as young living plants. “It is the only plant which can be called as it were “ove-viviparous.” This is really a zoological term suggesting that eggs hatch within insect and the young emerge as independent motile creatures. Thus lotus represents the only case of self-generation, as it were, in the plant kingdom. And what is self-generating really means self-producing, besides self-growing, which is the feature of all plants. Thus the lotus incorporates fertility-cum-fecundity or growth-cum-reproduction; no other plant does this. This makes Lotus a favorite symbol.” It is also a symbol for transcendence as its roots are born in mud and it rises through murky waters to blossom, above the water and dry.
Although some question it’s psychoactive properties, it can, prepared properly, exhibit marked changes in mood, visual perceptions and produce a sense of well-being as well as aiding a meditative or even erotic state, if there need be a distinction. It has affinity with alcohol, infused in herbal wines or as tinctures, or can be subjected to a cold water extraction (snow is perfect with a little water like other ice resin operations). Here the powdered material, the petals and stamens especially, are agitated in icy water and strained and pressed through a triple-folded muslin cloth and the resultant liquid is evaporated. The product is a nice incense or smoking resin that has synergistic effects with certain other smoking herbs.
Lotus seeds are an excellent tonic and fasting supplement and the various plant parts have extensive uses in Ayurveda. Puri (2007) writes “earlier in India, honey obtained from lotus flower growing in Kashmir, Bengal and Himalayas, was considered the best.” Ayurveda describes lotus preparations for numerous disorders ranging from infusions for piles and diabetes to gruels of white and blue lotus and sugar (sa-padma-nilotpala-sarkara) that removes pitta disorders. Nutritive tonic, aphrodisiac, astringent, nervine, rejuvenative and hemostatic and useful in raktapitta bleeding disorders and said to promote conception alleviate thirst and inflamations as well as euphoric and aiding in muscle spasms and alleviating thirst. Siddha texts discuss the medical applications of a number of species such as Nymphae edulis abd Nymphae stella and Nymphae rudra and their various characteristics that are indicated for disorders. The red drives away syphalis and urinary sugar and is good for eyes and high blood pressure and wounds. Some preparations involve the flowers and water distilled and resulting drink cures problems of the uriniary track and excessive thirst and sores and irritation of the penis. A boiled infusion of N. Stella powdered with sugar until its like honey taken in morning and evening will cool the brain, cool the eyes and reduce palpitations of the heart. (Raamachandran 2008).
Spess (2000) argues that the lotus and related plants is the soma of the Vedas and makes a cogent argument for its place in the visionary plants of ancient mystics from Egypt into India and the rest of Asia. It is certainly very gentle and subtle in its effects, perhaps more Buddhist than “Vedic”, though that is based on perhaps prejudicial readings of sources. But it is easy to write this herb’s effects off, some claim placebo, but the extracts effect on visual perceptions alone and the noted aphrodisiac effects, beg this herb be given more attention. The petals are not a bad smoke as well and though mild, its fragrant enough and lacking acridity to be thoroughly pleasant, again with other smoked plants. Said to be especially attributed to Arya Tara and Manjugosha. The five precious medicines, and one list is from Beyer (1978) which is stag tser (vyaghra-hantaka), kantakara, aparajitam, utapala, and indrapani which he says are Potentilla discolor, Sambucus racenisam Clitoria ternate, Nymphaea caerules, and Belamcanda chinensis.
Robert Beer (2004) describes the blue lotus Skt. utpala or nilabja or nilakamala as especially sacred to Green Tara, representing purity and compassion. He notes that ut pa la in Tibetan usually refers to blue lotus but also mentions other colors. The White lotus, Sanskrit upadarika, kumudo, Tib. pad ma dkar po or edible lotus, Nymphaea esculenta is esteemed by White Tara, its sixteen or one hundred petals symboling purity and perfection. The red or pink Melumbium speciosum is known as Sanskrit kamala Tibetan pad ma dmar po is the one most used in dais or lotus seats. The yellow utpala is really a water lilly, while the black or night lotus is a dark indigo species of nilakamala or blue lotus.
Note: I have rarely met an athletic or healthy female that could not do the position, even if it took some initial effort while many males have told me they could not do it or only after a period of stretching. Perhaps women are involved in sports or activities that promote increased flexibility or even perhaps biologically women are naturally more flexible. Hip flexibility is a primary concern here, and a study (Hamilton et al 1992) suggested
that ballet dancers of both sexes had equal difficulty assuming the lotus position.
Buddha on Lotus in Lotus, To depict one on a sacred flower like the lotus, one must cross ones legs of course. Its certainly a regal pose, and as stated quite practical once mastered in subtly shifting muscles and weight to allow blood flow for maximum time in one position. The typical (and dreadfully politically incorrect but apt in this context) “Indian style” of school children in American, not India the country.
“Noble sir, flowers like the blue lotus, the red lotus, the white lotus, the water lily, and the moon lily do not grow on the dry ground in the wilderness, but do grow in the swamps and mud banks.
Just so, the Buddha-qualities do not grow in living beings certainly destined for the uncreated but do grow in those living beings who are like swamps and mud banks of passions. Likewise, as seeds do not grow in the sky but do grow in the earth, so the Buddha-qualities do not grow in those determined for the Absolute but do grow in those who conceive the spirit of enlightenment, after having produced a Sumeru-like mountain of egoistic views.” Vimalakirti Sutra,
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