I didn’t know much about lotus plants when I started learning meditation. I knew they were deeply symbolic to Buddhists, but I didn’t really know why.
One day, my meditation teacher — a Buddhist monk from Thailand — shared with me the three main stages of development in the life of a lotus plant. It starts as a seed, buried in the mud at the bottom of a pond. A seed can sit in the mud for years before it opens.
The second stage begins when the seed opens and a shoot emerges, folded over to protect a small inrolled leaf at the tip. As the shoot grows, it gradually unfolds and pushes the leaf upwards through the murky water.
During the third stage, the leaf reaches the surface and unfurls to float on the water, followed by three others. After the first four floating leaves are formed, the plant continues to grow with each leaf being successively larger in diameter, eventually being lifted clear of the water. Only then does the flower appear to embrace the sun.
Then my teacher said that people are like lotus flowers. Many are stuck in the mud. You can spend all of your time with them in the hope that they will break free of whatever limiting belief they have that keeps them from growing. There is no way of knowing how long it will take, and anything you say or do may or may not make a difference.
Others are like the shoot that is reaching upwards. They know there’s a light shining from somewhere, but they can’t see it clearly through the darkness. They may move towards it, but they don’t know exactly what they’re moving towards, and they can be fooled into growing towards a lesser light that may shine for a while.
Some have broken through the illusion. They see the light for what it is and are truly ready to embrace it.
Just as the lotus flower closes each night, those who have surfaced will regularly go within for reflection. But they have experienced the light and will more easily reopen to take in its fullness.
Tradition has it that the darker the water, the more brilliant the flower.