The lotus flower is a beautiful and unique flora found in many cultures. Lotus is native to the Indian subcontinent and surrounding areas. It is grown in wetlands for food, medicine, and ornamental purposes and is often hailed as a symbol of purity and holiness with strong ties to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism. In India, it has been respected since before the advent of Buddhism, is considered the national flower, and is commonly used. In Japan, however, perhaps because it was introduced with Buddhism, the lotus is believed to be indispensable in funerals and other non-congratulatory rituals.
Descriptions of lotus flowers can be found in all four great ancient books of Japan: the Kojiki, Manyoshu, The Tale of Genji, and The Pillow Book. There is an interesting legend in the Kojiki, Japan's oldest history book. King Ohohatsuse (later Emperor Yuryaku) once proposed to a daughter named Akaiko. It is said that she had waited for the emperor's arrival for 80 years and sang a song to him: "The lotus of Kusaka Bay, the lotus of the lotus who blooms - I can envy". This means, "Do you remember the beautiful lotus blooming around Kusaka Bay? Do you remember me, young and beautiful like a lotus?" It is a composition of thoughts. This romantic episode is the oldest depiction of a lotus flower in Japan.
In March 1951, Dr. Ichiro Ohga discovered three 2,000-year-old ancient lotus seeds at the University of Tokyo's Kemigawa Welfare Farm (now the University of Tokyo's Kemigawa Sports Ground). Around the same time, researchers at the Beijing Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences collected 500 lotus seeds from a local farmer in Dalian, Liaoning province. According to carbon-14 measurement, these lotus seeds had a lifespan of up to 1,000 years. After much effort in fertilizing, germinating, spreading leaves, and blooming, these thousand-year-old lotus seeds miraculously revived. The magical vitality of the lotus is reminiscent of ancient Chinese civilization, brilliant and never fading. This is evidence of the rise and spread of Han culture from China to Japan - was the lotus flower imported from China to Japan?
The lotus flower holds a special significance in Buddhism, being closely related to the teachings of the religion. It is believed that the appearance of beautiful flowers rising from muddy waters symbolizes the benevolence of the Buddha. In Buddhism, the place where Buddha sits is often depicted as a lotus blossom, emphasizing its importance in this faith. This was further highlighted during Japan's introduction to Mahayana Buddhism in the mid-Heian period (10th century). One of its most important sutras, Myoho-Renge-Kyo (Flower Lotus Sutra), was translated from Sanskrit with its original title Sadharma-pundarika -sutra meaning "teaching that is pure and unpolluted by worldliness". Hence, the lotus flower is a symbol of purity and enlightenment, embodying the very essence of Buddhism.
Not only flowers are appreciated but the country's people also love to observe the dewdrops on lotus leaves. The dew on lotus leaves is greatly admired, as it represents an "uncolored" pattern of innocence and beauty. A famous poem in Kokin Wakashu reads, ``With the unblemished heart of a bee leaf, the dew-dropping thing is like a shadow.'' This speaks to the idea that if one has an undefiled heart, one will not be tempted like drops of dew on a leaf. The lotus was often offered in front of Buddhist altars and its seeds were used to make rosaries. As such, the lotus flower has become a deep-rooted part of Japanese culture and remains a powerful image in the minds of many today.
Lotus flowers have been used as a symbol of several different concepts since ancient times, and in Japan, they are often associated with non-congratulatory occasions. In Japan, the lotus is said to represent a sense of purity and renewal, as well as a reminder of mortality due to its short blooming period. The colors and fragrances of the flower can be seen in traditional Japanese art, and the use of lotus petals for religious ceremonies is also quite common. Lotus flowers are often used at funerals or when expressing condolences, and people will sometimes express their sadness or sorrow by offering lotuses to honor loved ones who have passed away. The lotus signifies acceptance and understanding that death is inevitable, while also conveying profound beauty even in the midst of pain. This fragile flower has become a meaningful representation for many Japanese people to express their grief and remember those who have passed away.
In conclusion, the lotus flower holds an important place in different traditions. It is a symbol of beauty and harmony that transcends physical limitations. Even today, lotus flower celebrations are a part of spiritual ceremonies in some places. Despite its uncertain presence in legacy and modern festivities, it continues to capture our imagination and elicit a sense of profound admiration. The symbolic importance of this majestic flower will endure for centuries to come, helping us contemplate life’s bigger picture with each passing day.
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