Lotus tattoos are some of the most popular tattoo designs out there. But what makes them popular? Why are they so special, and what do they mean? We’re going to take a close look at an incredibly complex and meaningful tattoo design that takes its roots from Eastern culture and religion, but has found a place in the repertoire of many modern tattoo artists.
Lotus Tattoo Meanings
Yes, meanings–as in more than one. The lotus flower has many different meanings with each meaning being based on any one of a number of factors. Religion, the way the lotus is depicted (open, closed, partially open), the and the color all have unique and specific meanings. We’re going to break the meaning down in as many ways as possible for those of you who might be considering getting a lotus tattoo. That way you can know for a fact what your lotus tattoo means.
The Lotus and the Hindu religion
In the Hindu religion, the lotus–specifically the sacred lotus, is called the Padma. A Padma has special meaning to followers of the Hindu religion as it is associated with a number of their deities, particularly Vishnu and Brahma. The lotus in this context is used to represent divine beauty and purity, while the unfolding of its leaves represents the expanding of the soul and spiritual awakening.
In relation to the Hindu religion, the lotus is the symbol on which much of the iconography is based. The Padma itself also bears a strong tie to the Shahasrara specifically and all the chakras in general. Did that all sound like Greek to you? Here’s a great resource for learning more about Hindu symbolism and the Hindu religion. The Padma is traditionally shown as having a large number of petals because, as the story goes, the Padma has 1,000 petals.
The Meaning of Lotus Flowers in Buddhism
Buddhism, like Hinduism, also has a strong tie to the lotus flower. Buddhist symbolism related to the lotus flower is very complex and has many layers which may be combined with one another to create complex imagery of deep meaning. Here’s how Buddhists breakdown the meaning of the lotus flower and how you can use their imagery to create a meaningful tattoo you’ll love.
For Buddhists, the lotus flower represents purity of body, mind, and spirit. In Buddhist art, the lotus is often depicted with 8 petals symbolizing the Eightfold Path, a core tenet of the Buddhist religion.
Lotus Tattoo Meaning by Color
White Lotus: A white lotus symbolizes enlightenment, both mental and spiritual. It also represents purity, perfection, and pacification of one’s nature. A white lotus symbolizes the pinnacle of achievement in the Buddhism and as such has come to be called the Flower of the Buddhas (though it does not represent the Buddha himself). The white lotus is depicted as a goal for which one should strive, as well as the end or goal or one’s spiritual journey.
Blue Lotus: A blue lotus symbolizes the spirit’s control over one’s physical senses or compulsions–mind over matter–which heightens one’s spirituality by overcoming temptations of the flesh. The blue lotus represents knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence. In art, the blue lotus is always shown as partially open, the center never showing, as a means of symbolizing that the growth of mind and spirit over body is never truly finished.
Purple Lotus: The purple lotus has almost entirely fallen out of use in the Buddhist religion. Often depicted in a cup or on a platter, it symbolizes an homage to Buddhist deities. On the whole, it symbolizes a mystic view of the religion and spirituality.
Pink Lotus: The pink lotus is the lotus of the Buddha himself, while the white lotus symbolizes lesser religious figures. It is also said to represent the history of the Buddha, Buddhism, and the tales of Buddhism.
Red Lotus: The red lotus is the Heart Lotus. Symbolizing the original state of the heart, a red lotus symbolizes love, compassion, passion, and other emotions of the heart. This lotus flower is often depicted as an open bloom to symbolize the ideal state of the heart.
Symbolism of the Lotus in Eastern Religions
When examined closely, the life cycle of the lotus is a metaphor, an allegory by which humans can elevate themselves. This idea is drawn upon by many Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism. The lotus is born at the muddy bottom of a pond. The plant pushes its stalk up through the mud and murky water to the surface where a beautiful blossom eventually blooms. In much the same way, these religions suggest elevating one’s self above the muddy thoughts and actions of one’s daily life in order to become a better person. The process by which they suggest people accomplish this varies, but all aim for the same result.
The Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi famously said, “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”
Cultural References to the Lotus Flower
The lotus flower appears in a number of mythologies and stories from around the world. In Greek mythology, the Odyssey mentions an island of Lotus-Eaters who live off of lotus flowers and fruit. In the story, this has a narcotic effect on everyone who eats them and the term Lotus-eater now relates to a person in a state of peaceful apathy. The white lotus was associated with modesty and innocence.
In Egyptian mythology, the Blue Lotus is associated with celebration as well as the ritual for passage into the afterlife. It was also associated with the Sun God Atun (or Ra, depending on which cannon of gods is being referenced) which would mean that the lotus itself in some way represented life, both creation and existence.
In Sri Lanka, Sanskrit scripts (a long-dead language) speak of the lotus flower and consider it symbolic of virtue, discipline, and purity.
In Indian and Asian poetry the image of the lotus is used to symbolize the divine feminine–the ideal female traits, as well as being used a a metaphor for the female anatomy.
Traditional cultures worldwide use what is called the Language of Flowers. Meaning is assigned to flowers and arrangements can be used as a form of cryptography–meaning that messages or sentiments can be communicated through the meaning of flowers, their color, type, and arrangement. In the language of flowers, the lotus means Purity, Chastity, and “Far from the one he loves”. The last of these is an especially potent meaning, well suited to a tattoo. Particularly for those who spend time away from their loved one(s) as a result of military service or their career.
Getting a Lotus Tattoo
As you can see, the meaning of the lotus itself is full of deep historical and cultural meaning. The meaning of a lotus tattoo can be personal too. By wearing such a symbol on one’s skin it implies that the traits attributed to the lotus flower are to be attributed to you as well. It’s part of the incredible value of tattoo art, particularly traditional tattoo arts, that meaning can be conveyed to strangers and a strong statement can be made about one’s self simply by wearing a design with deep meaning. Though not everyone knows the various meanings of the lotus tattoo, it can provide you with an opportunity to enlighten strangers and friends alike, or you can simply keep the meaning of your tattoo private. It’s up to you.
Either way, make sure you do your research so you can explain to your artist what you want and why. Artists with advanced knowledge of the lotus and its meaning may be able to make suggestions to better incorporate your meaning or to bring the design more in line with traditional art forms, if that is your wish. Regardless, when it comes to tattoo meanings and symbolism, it’s best to be as informed as you possibly can be in order to get art that you’ll love for the rest of your life.
More Flower Tattoo Meanings
If you liked this article and want to know more about other kinds of flower tattoos and their meanings, check out our article on flower tattoos where we examine a number of the most popular flower tattoos. Learn more about flower tattoo meanings.