We have entered the micro-season of “The First Lotus Blossoms ”. This is the second micro-season of the mini-season of Minor Heat. The micro-seasons within Minor Heat are:
- Hot Winds Blows (Jul. 7 – Jul. 13)
- The First Lotus Blossoms (Jul 12 – Jul 16)
- The Young Hawk Learns to Fly (Jul 17 – Jul 23)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to celebrate this season, we are going to learn about the lotus flower and its connection to Buddhism. Then we will read several haiku by Basho, Issa, Shiki, and Buson.
The term “Lotus” can potentially refer to several different plants.
- In Greece, there is a small deciduous tree that has the scientific name Ziziphus lotus and it is part of the buckthorn family.
- In East Africa and Southeast Asia, there is a plant with the scientific name Nymphaea lotus. This plant is also called the Egyptian lotus, tiger lotus, or Egyptian white water-lily.
- In Eastern North America, the Nelumbo pentapetala is a lotus that is part of the Nelumbonaceae family. This plant is also known as the American lotus or yellow lotus.
- In East and Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and parts of Australia, the Nelumbo nucifera is another lotus in the Nelumbonaceae family. This plant is commonly known as the Indian lotus or sacred lotus and is the national flower for both India and Vietnam. (1)
Given the native geographical range of the Nelumbo nucifera, it is safe to assume that the micro-season of “The First Lotus Blossoms” is referring to the sacred lotus.
The Sacred Lotus
The Nelumbo nucifera, or sacred lotus, is an edible aquatic plant found in Asia’s subtropical and tropical regions. The sacred lotus roots in the mud of flood plains or slow-moving waters and has large and round leaves that may grow 6 feet above the water surface.(1,2) The sacred lotus flowers can be close to 10 inches in diameter, are pink or rose-colored, and grow on stalks that can be close to 6 feet tall.
The Sacred Lotus in Buddhism
The sacred lotus holds special meaning in the Buddhist tradition. The staff writers at Lion’s Roar state:
“Because the lotus grows in muddy water, it symbolizes the purity of enlightened mind arising amidst the suffering of samsara. It also represents nonattachment, as it is rooted in mud (attachment and desire) but its flowers blossom on long stalks unsullied by the mud below.”(4)
These writers continue by saying:
“In some Buddhist schools, the flower’s stage of growth represents different stages on the path to enlightenment. A closed bud symbolizes the time before enlightenment, while a fully bloomed lotus represents full enlightenment. Sometimes a flower is partly open, with its center hidden, indicating that enlightenment is beyond ordinary sight.”(4)
The Lotus Sutra
The Lotus Sutra, one of Mahayana Buddhism’s foundational texts, is said to have been given by Sakyamuni Buddha shortly before his death and then stored for 500 years until humanity was ready to receive it.(5) In the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha uses seven different parables to describe the one true path to Buddhahood.(5)
Perhaps the most well know parable is the parable of the burning house. This parable tells the story of a wealthy man with several children who are playing inside a house. The house catches fire and the children are too distracted with their toys to notice the danger. The man tries to lure the children out of the house with some new items. These items are a goat cart, a deer cart, and an ox cart. The children get excited about these new items and come running out of the house. However, once they get out of the house, these carts are replaced with a single jeweled cart pulled by a white ox.(8,9)
In this parable, the wealthy man is the Buddha. The children represent the people of the world. The goat cart represents the four noble truths, the deer cart represents the 12 chains of causation, and the first ox cart represents the six paramitas or “perfections”. The white oxen cart then represents the one vehicle of the Mahayana.(8,9)
The complete Lotus Sutra is a fairly long text. However, its length depends a bit on which translation your read.. Burton Watson’s translation has 28 chapters, whereas J.C. Cleary’s version has 24 chapters. Donald S Lopez Jr. explains, “Although the sūtra has twenty-eight chapters, it appears to end with Chapter Twenty-Two, when the Buddha exhorts his disciples to spread the teaching, after which they return to their abodes.”(10) Lopez then goes on to state that many scholars believe that the final six chapters were added after the fact and were “designed to promote the worship of bodhisattvas mentioned in early chapters” (10)
A bodhisattva is someone who has taken a vow to “give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others.”(11)The bodhisattva vows to live by the six perfections of generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge, in an effort to liberate others.(11)
Because of the lotus’ deep connection to culture and religion, it is not surprising that haiku about the lotus were easy to find. Below are a few lotus-themed haiku from Basho, Issa, Shiki, and Buson.
lotus pond— left as they are, unplucked, for the Festival of the Spirits. (Translated by David Landis Barnhill)
scent of lotus blossom goes to the eye through the mask’s nose (Translated by Jane Reichhold)
suddenly the dog stops barking... lotus blossoms!
at dawn not a soul in sight... lotus blossoms
someone recites the Lotus Sutra... spring rain falls
All Issa haiku are translated by David G. Lanoue and found at Haikuguy.com
lotus leaves in the pond ride on water. rain in June.
though a lotus leaves grow up in the muddy water how the dewdrops on the leaves look like jewels
Shiki haiku retrieved from Terebess Asia Online
white lotus a monk about to cut it -- between two minds (Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock)
- “Lotus, plant common name”; Britannica
- “Sacred lotus”; Britannica
- “Nelumbo nucifera”: wikipedia
- “What is the meaning of the Lotus in Buddhism”: Lion’s Roar
- “Lotus Sutra”; New World Encyclopedia
- Lotus Sutra; Burton Watson
- Lotus Sutra: J.C. Cleary
- “Seven Parables of the Lotus Sutra”; LotusHappiness.com
- “Parable of the burning house”; Encyclopedia of Buddhism
- Donald S. Lopez, Jr.: “What Actually Happens in the Lotus Sutra?’; Lion’s Roar
- Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche; “The Bodhisattva”: Lion’s Roar