Unlike the water lilies that grow in the lake a few blocks from where I live, the lotus rises above the water on stems, some reaching as high as eight feet. A lotus flower can, in addition, be up to ten inches in diameter. It is truly a beautiful flower to behold which exhibits a great deal of diversity.
Of this flower’s religious importance, we can say that the lotus symbolizes, generally, the manifestation or flowering (bodha) of purity from beginningless impurity or nescience. But there are still other symbolic meanings besides this. Citing from the book Mudra by E. Dale Saunders, the lotus is said to reproduce itself from its own matrix; not from soil. Because of this, the lotus naturally becomes the “symbol of spontaneous generation (svayambhû).” Svayambhu is used in the Lotus Sutra where it is translated as “self-born” which actually describes pure Mind. In Kern's translation of the Lotus Sutra, i.e., The Saddharma-Pundarika, svayambhû appears in this passage:
“So am I the father of the world (lokapitâ); the Self-born (svayambhûh), the Healer, the Protector of all creatures. Knowing them to be perverted, infatuated, and ignorant I teach them final rest, myself not being at rest.”
From the previous meanings of lotus, when seeing a statue of the Buddha sitting on a lotus dais we can interpret this as the awakening of Mind to itself such that it realizes its eternal, self-existent (savyambhû) nature which, in fact, is the very substance of the universe.
Still another meaning, the lotus is a symbol of compassion (karuna) which is connected with Avalokiteshvara (C., Kuan-yin).