From ancient times, the lotus has been a divine symbol in Asian traditions. It is one of the Eight Auspicious Signs (Ashtamangala) pertaining to a number of Dharmic Traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of the body, speech, and mind as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. Therefore, many deities of Asian religions are depicted as seated on a lotus flower. It is said that Gautama Buddha was born with the ability to walk, and lotus flowers bloomed everywhere he stepped.
In the classical written and oral literature of many Asian cultures, the lotus is present in figurative form, representing elegance, beauty, perfection, purity, and grace. Perhaps the most famous text is the poetic essay “On the Love of the Lotus” by Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073). As Zhou writes, “I love only the lotus, for rising from the mud yet remaining unstained; bathed by pure currents and yet not seductive.” The lotus is the “gentleman among flowers.” The term “gentleman” (junzi), of course, has since the time of Confucius been the ideal human being. So not surprisingly, the lotus flower is also a popular subject in Chinese paintings.