The physical blooming of the lotus in Buddhism is symbolic of the blossoming of spiritual purity despite being born with one’s roots in the muck and mire, or the defilements of Samsara. Shakyamuni Buddha personally described himself in this way in the Dona Sutta: ‘As a lotus, fair and lovely, by the water is not soiled, by the world am I not soiled; therefore… am I Buddha.’
The whole of Sukhavati, Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land, is in a sense, a perfectly pure ‘lotus’ too, the most beautiful flowering and fruit of his infinite compassion and wisdom. But since the above speaks of the lotus as a mere symbol, are the lotuses from where beings are described to be born from in Pure Land real? Or are they only symbolic, of, say, our hearts and minds being closed at first, due to doubt and negative karma? Well, why not both? The lotuses can be both figurative and literal, symbolic yet tangible as well.
Likewise, everything else physical in Pure Land, such as the trees, birds and gems, as vividly described by the Buddha, are symbolic and tangible too. From the Buddha’s repeated exhortations for us have faith in the Pure Land teachings, including its physical attributes, we should see them to be unequivocally real, even if ultimately mind-made by our minds and Amitabha Buddha’s collectively.
In fact, everything in the universe is both symbolic and tangible – being physical forms with latent spiritual meanings, whether you realise them or not. Those sharp in discerning truths in nature become Pratykabuddhas in Samsara in the absence of Buddhas, while others become Arahats and Bodhisattvas with the guidance of Buddhas, before becoming Buddhas too. In Pure Land, all truths will be easily discerned, as all of its elements embody and express various aspects of the Dharma in their full glory and in good time, as according to the spiritual capacities of individuals in the moment.
The painless births from lotuses also represent being born out of bliss into greater bliss, while the real labour pains we have in the human realm are part of resuming our suffering in Samsara upon re-entry. Such pains are thus both symbolic and tangible too. Just when you think lotuses as a medium of birth sounds fantastical, devas who are born by subtle manifestations in the heavens find it much more amazing and unbelievable that we are born from wombs with much blood, sweat and tears of both mother and child. Such gross suffering is really the result of negative karma, in contrast with wondrous lotus births in Pure Land!
Significance of the Gems in Pure Land