I’ve often found the teaching analogies that the Buddha uses to be extremely helpful for my practice. One that continues to perplex me, though, is the analogy of the lotus immersed in the water for the third jhana state.
The common pericope is:
And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.
Just as in a blue-, white-, or red-lotus pond, there may be some of the blue, white, or red lotuses which, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those blue, white, or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture… (Jhana: jhana)
The sentence I’d like to draw your attention to is the phrase “born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water”
How would you interpret that component of the analogy? Why does the lotus stay immersed in the water?
I found a passage by Ajahn Brahm in which he wrote:
The Third Jhana is described by the metaphor of a lotus flower that thrives immersed in the cool water of a lake. The lotus represents the mind in Third Jhana. Water can cool the petals and leaves of a lotus but can never penetrate the lotus, since all water rolls off a lotus. The coolness stands for sukha, the wetness stands for piti. So like the lotus immersed in water, the mind in the Third Jhana is cooled by sukha but is not penetrated by piti. The mind in the Third Jhana experiences only sukha. In the Third Jhana, the mind continues to experience a rock-like stillness, never moving outside, just as the lotus in the simile always remains immersed within the water. Just as the bliss of the Third Jhana sustains the mind therein, so the cool water, which represents bliss, causes the lotus to thrive. Once again, the unique bliss of the Third Jhana pervades the whole mental experience form beginning to end, just as the cool waters in the simile pervade the lotus with coolness from its roots to its tips.
Ajahn Brahmavamso - The Jhanas
He mentions “never moving outside, just as the lotus in the simile always remains immersed” So in this sense, I believe he is perhaps referring to the mind not moving outside the jhana state.
I wonder if another interpretation is that while experiencing sukha (bliss/happiness), the mind remains tranquil and does not come out of the “water” as would occur when experiencing the stronger, disruptive emotion of piti (joy/rapture). The mind has found that delicate balance in the third jhana, one which allows happiness to be “born and grow…and flourish” while the mind still remains “immersed”. This parallels the last phrase from the preceding paragraph: “pleasure divested of rapture.”
So as we recall this analogy as a meditation guide for the third jhana, we can call to mind the image of a tranquil lake, full of multi-colored lotuses that flourish, yet remain immersed and sustained, stable, and unperturbed. This links to the analogy for the preceding second jhana (where piti is much stronger): a “lake with spring-water welling up from within…” A spring is a more forceful image which seems very appropriate when conceptualizing piti. One can imagine moving from the concept of a spring in the second jhana to the more tranquil image of a lotus, remaining immersed, to help with the transition into the sukha that characterizes the third jhana.
Does this interpretation make sense or do you have a different perspective (or is there a reference/source you could provide)? Thank you in advance.