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Five Virtues of Lotus Flowers


Question

Write the reason why Buddhism uses the image of lotus flowers, as well as the five virtues of lotus flowers.


Answer

The five virtues represent true faith.

1. The virtue of being untainted despite being in mud

2. The virtue of having one flower on one stalk

3. The virtue of simultaneous flowering and bearing of fruit

4. The virtue of one flower bearing many fruits

5. The virtue of being hollow on the inside and upright on the outside

explanation

The five special characteristics of lotus flowers represent the special characteristics of other-power faith.

1. The virtue of being untainted despite being in mud

Lotus flowers bloom in muddy swamp water, yet they are not dirtied at all by this mud; they are pure. This describes how other-power faith blooms in the minds of evil people who are full of worldly passions like greed, anger, and envy, and that despite the fact that these passions do not change at all even after salvation, they are not a hindrance to birth in the Pure Land.

2. The virtue of having one flower on one stalk

Like tulips and other such flowers, lotus flowers bloom with one flower to one stem. This describes how true faith is something that each individual should seek and attain; no-one can seek or attain true faith in another person’s stead. Just as no-one can eat instead of us, and no-one can go to the toilet instead of us, the matter of the afterlife is something that each of us has to have resolved on an individual basis.

3. The virtue of simultaneous flowering and bearing of fruit

Lotus flowers do not open gradually, but in an instant. Furthermore, the flower bears fruit at the same time as it opens. This describes how true faith blooms in a split-second of ichinen, and at the same time, we enter the stage of the truly settled (gain absolute happiness).

4. The virtue of one flower bearing many fruits

Just one lotus flower bears a lot of fruit. This describes how when one attains true faith, one receives countless kinds of happiness (benefits) in this present life.

5. The virtue of being hollow on the inside and upright on the outside

This is a special characteristic of the lotus flower’s stem. What is inside the stem is air, which on first glance may make it appear weak, yet it is actually strong. The stem also stands up completely straight. When people in general hear about other-power faith, they think it sounds weak, but it is actually the opposite. One who has attained other-power faith is able to walk the path of truth steadfastly and resolutely.

(from Buddhism Doctrine 4-25)

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