Lotus, Birthday of the

Lotus, Birthday of the

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: Twenty-fourth day of the sixth Chinese lunar month
Where Celebrated: Beijing, China
Symbols and Customs: Lotus

ORIGINS

The birthday of the Lotus is part of the tradition of Buddhism, one of the four largest religious families in the world. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

The Chinese celebrate the birthday of flowers in general (Moon 2, Day 12 or 15) and honor Wei Shen, the protectress of flowers (Moon 4, Day 19). But the LOTUS is singled out for special attention because of its importance to Buddhism. Gautama Buddha is described, in fact, as having "lotus eyes, lotus feet, and lotus thighs." His image is often shown seated or standing on a lotus.

The Birthday of the Lotus is observed at the time of year when lotuses bloom in the ponds and moats around Beijing, and people flock to the city to see them-much as they do in Japan and Washington DC during cherry blossom time (see HANAMI). The sixth moon of the Chinese calendar is called the "Lotus Moon" for this reason. Their blooms are a sign that prayers to the Dragon Prince have been answered and that the summer rains will start soon. Special lanes for rowboats are cut through the thick layer of lotus blossoms that cover the lakes of Beijing's Winter Palace.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Lotus

As a symbol, the lotus has been sacred to many cultures and religions. It was adopted from the Hindus by the Buddhists in India, who introduced it into their sculpture, painting, and literature. From India, it went with the Buddhists to Nepal, Burma, China-where it is held sacred above all other flowers-and finally Japan.

The lotus symbolizes purity and perfection because it grows out of the mud and yet is not defiled by it. In much the same way, humankind should be able to live in an evil and impure world without being influenced by it. The open flower resting quietly on the water signifies meditation; in full bloom, it symbolizes spiritual enlightenment. Just as the lotus has its roots in the mud but its flower rises to achieve great beauty, devout Buddhists expected to rise above passion and selfish striving.

The many-petaled spread of the lotus blossom also has a more cosmic significance. It symbolizes the space in which all existence is supported and passes away. It is also a symbol of knowledge, which leads believers out of the cycle of reincarnation to Nirvana.

FURTHER READING

Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them. New York: Meridian Books, 1994. Bredon, Juliet, and Igor Mitrophanow. The Moon Year: A Record of Chinese Customs and Festivals. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1927. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Johnson, F. Ernest, ed. Religious Symbolism. New York: Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 1955.
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