26 December 2022

The ways of the lotus


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Scroll down for previous articles]

I may have seen a lotus before entering school, perhaps in a temple among other flowers on the altar, but if so I cannot remember. My first encounter with the lotus was in the first grade (or was it Grade 2?). The text book for Buddhism was titled ‘Sadaham Maga (The path [recommended by] the great doctrine) and the tale was of the Prince Siddhartha, who immediately upon birth walked seven steps with a lotus flower miraculously blooming each time he put a foot down.

I am not one for miracles and legends of any faith; the word of the Enlightened One is fragrant enough. The lotus, it seems, has stayed with me. A year or so later, Sri Lanka became a republic, unfettering (politically) herself from the British. That momentous event was forgotten now after 1977 when the then government reverted to February 4, a day marking a partial independence which arrived and with it installed in power the ‘founding fathers’ of the same party, but I remember the commemorative ‘lotus stamp’ proudly announcing the ‘Janarajaya (republic).’

 In later years, the lotus came to be associated with Martin Wickramasinghe’s novel ‘Viragaya,’ translated as ‘The Way of the Lotus’ by Ashley Halpe who drew from the name of the principal character, Aravinda. Aravinda is one of several Sinhala names for the lotus. 'The lotus way' is drawn from Buddhist scriptures, essentially the recommendation for and the virtue of rising above the water, even though the roots in murky depths reside.

Then it became politicised, first with Mangala Samaraweera’s notorious Sudu Nelum (White Lotus) Movement peddling federalism in the name of peace and reconciliation and later with the adoption of the lotus bud (Nelum Pohottuwa) as the party symbol of the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. They were both launched with pomp and pageantry. Both wilted fast.

 Of course we are left with the Nelum Pokuna (Lotus Pond) performance centre and the Nelum Kuluna (Lotus Tower), physical representations of the political symbol even as they, it could be argued, fulfil certain functions.



Trope and symbol
rises now and now reclines
in the currency of power
and yet so  non-aligned,
bloomage of an artist’s imagination
watered by histories
and preferred extrapolation —
the unpaid stamp-duty
of commissioned omission
and republics squandered;
pavements meanwhile
agitate for compensation
speak of narratives obscured
the footnoted stories of the submerged
the roots that sifted soil
picked nutrients
made for fragrance and texture
and reed songs wrecked
by excessive love
equal to hatreds unresolved;
and as for the lotus
through abstraction and misrepresentation
away from metropole and galleried effusion
it rises, the lotus does
as it has, as it must,
again and again.

The lotus. Rests on water and yet is above the surface. As for the mud in which its roots lie, that’s a metaphor for all kinds of appropriation and abuse. Since it is a pretty flower and one which has been used to explicate a philosophical point, it screams out to be picked by the not-so-virtuous and indeed the downright vile.

The loveliness of the lotus, however, does not for long decorate the ugly, does not fool forever those meant to be fooled by association. We see the flower and not the mud for the lotus transcends the circumstances of its birth. Similarly nauseating odours of villainy and deceit obliterate the symbol of transcendence.  

Daisaku Ikeda, the Japanese Buddhist philosopher, educator and author, has offered the following reflections on the lotus:

'The lotus flower is invested with profound significance in Buddhism. It is thought to be the only plant that simultaneously produces both flower (cause) and seed-pod (effect). This unique trait is used to indicate the Buddhist principle of simultaneity of cause and effect.'

The lotus rises, as it must. The lotus gives out seed, as it will. In both and in their unity there are lessons that outlast appropriation and abuse of the flower, i.e. the lesson about eternal verities as taught by Siddhartha Gauthama.

Somewhere, right now, someone is placing a lotus upon an altar. Somewhere, someone will be murmuring ‘poojemi buddhang kusumena nena…(I worship with these flowers the Buddha). And the next time we come across the lotus, as flower or trope, perhaps the word of the Sakyamuni will give us the sight to see through them all and most importantly to acknowledge the lotus and recognise that it too is symbol which is but facilitator of comprehension and not the truth itself.  


Other articles in this series:

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road