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Friday, 17 June 2016

Learning From the Lotus

Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) has been studied in great detail by botanists and chemists. Their research led to the coinage of the term, “Lotus Effect” that refers to the self-cleaning properties of the lotus leaf. This effect is a result of several unique features of this leaf – a superhydrophobic surface, a distinctive contact angle and the presence of a particularly dense layer of robust wax tubules on the upper epidermis.

The preceding paragraph is a complicated, scientific explanation of an effect that every common Indian knows. The lotus leaves are used as an analogy in many Hindu and Buddhist scriptures to drive home several significant points.

Just as the lotus leaf floats above the surface of the water without allowing itself to get wetted by it, so also humans must live in this world, untouched by the sorrows and joys it may bring their way.

Another explanation is that like the lotus leaf stays dry despite being in water, the karma yogi who performs actions steeped in awareness of the Divine, stays untouched by the fruits that accrue out of such action.

Yet another message is sought to be conveyed through the lotus leaf analogy. Our lives are as ephemeral as a drop of water on a lotus leaf. Just as the water drop may fall from the leaf at any moment, so also this life may suddenly end; so, do what good you can at the earliest.

Pankajam is the name for the lotus flower because it arises from the mud. Despite growing from the mud, the lotus flower rises above it and the water of the lake to blossom towards the sun. So also a human must rise above worldly considerations and journey towards the Divine, retaining his inner purity.

Elsewhere, the scriptures exhort us to choose our actions with wisdom. A raindrop that falls into the water of the lake becomes indistinguishable from the rest of water; a raindrop that falls on the lotus leaf has a shine akin to that of the pearl.

Let me go back to that scientific explanation of the self-cleaning properties of the lotus leaf. When scientists studied this effect, they found that the leaf surface has developed certain microscopic architecture that prevents the water droplets from adhering to it. Similarly, if we wish to truly evolve on our human journey, it is vital to develop certain mental architecture that allows us to stay unaffected by the experiences life throws our way.

Sadly, most of us act like the lotus leaf in the opposite way. Despite attending lectures and forwarding videos of the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Sadhguru or Mahatria Ra, we stay untouched by their meaning. Ensconced as we are in the attractions of this world, these teachings are like the ephemeral drop on the lotus leaf of our minds.

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