The Order of the White Lotus is possibly the most soulful organization in the entire Avatar franchise.
Its members are all popular, inspiring characters in their own rights. And all of them are pillars of wisdom and truth in a world that seemed destined for domination by people who lacked such wonderful qualities.
This article will guide you through the origins, philosophy, and legacy of this most wonderful society while introducing you to the main members seen in the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series.
Why a White Lotus?
The White Lotus symbolism pays homage to Pai Sho – the worldwide popular board game (in the Avatar world, that is). The Order started out as a group of like-minded people who could have a friendly battle of Pai Sho together. The White Lotus is one side of the lotus tile in this game, with the other side being the Red Lotus.
When the Order of the White Lotus’ membership grew, Pai Sho also became a means for members to communicate discreetly. Pretty cool, eh?!
In the first series of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Grandmaster Iroh makes the first reference to the lotus tile:
“Most people think the lotus tile insignificant, but it is essential for the unusual strategy that I employ.”Iroh to Zuko, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book One: Water, Episode 9 (‘The Waterbending Scroll’).
Origins of The Order of the White Lotus (Avatar)
The formation date of the Order of the White Lotus is unknown, but we know they were active by the time of Avatar Kuruk (345 BG-312 BG).
It started out as a small Pai Sho games club. The only function was to share wisdom and knowledge that its members had gained throughout their respective lives. It’s fair to assume that this was all done just for fun. But at some point, they decided to spread their wisdom throughout the world as best as they could – for the benefit of all the world’s people.
By the time of Avatar Kuruk’s death, the White Lotus had evolved to take on more responsibilities. They wanted to unite the 4 nations into something more peaceful, as well as to protect the existence of the Avatar – the mortal portal of the physical world into the spirit world.
The Order, along with everyone else, failed to correctly identify the new Avatar (Avatar Kyoshi). An Air Nomad, named Jinpa, acted as a guide to Kyoshi. He was the first White Lotus member (that we know of) to act as a kind of guide or teacher to an Avatar when.
Kyoshi suffered an extremely difficult childhood. If she’d been discovered sooner, it has been argued that her suffering may not have occurred. Nevertheless, Jinpa made amends for this by guiding Kyoshi to eventually become a successful Avatar, who succeeded in maintaining harmony in the world.
Jinpa did an excellent job of performing the proper function of a White Lotus member’s duty to the Avatar, while not revealing the secret existence of the Order.
Identity/Philosophy of the White Lotus (Avatar)
There actually existed a White Lotus Society in real-life China. This society promoted a vegetarian diet and encouraged men and women to speak openly together – a radical idea in that time and place.
It is generally accepted that, spiritually speaking, the White Lotus has represented enlightenment and rebirth. Since the plant itself grows in murky, dirty waters, it is a symbol of hope.
It is safe to say that the fictional White Lotus in Avatar took its name from this historical society. The nature of secrecy employed by its members, though, as well as the brotherly way in which they share wisdom could be better compared to another real-life society – Freemasons.
Nevertheless, the White Lotus in Avatar are suitably unique in their own way. All of its members are also gifted in combat – from waterbending, to earthbending, firebending, and swordplay. They’re all pretty much bad-asses, actually!!
The fact that they choose to keep the society a secret points to their lack of egotistical desires. They don’t wish to be worshipped for their wisdom – they only want to enjoy wisdom for wisdom’s sake, and to share it with the world without the need for recognition.
This is very much the beauty of the White Lotus. And, of course, they played a vital role in preparing Avatar Aang to eventually save the world from Fire Lord Ozai’s empire…
White Lotus Helping Avatar Aang
Bumi: King of Omashu
In the 5th episode of season 1, Bumi was introduced as a crazy king with questionable sanity. He put Aang through a series of mind-bending trials which challenged him to think outside the box when he inevitably faces difficulties as the Avatar.
“I hope you will think like a mad genius!” Bumi to Avatar Aang.
Pakku: Waterbending Master
Pakku initially refused to teach waterbending to Katara due to her being female. Before long, though, he realised the folly of such a stance. It was Katara who progressed faster as a waterbender between herself and Avatar Aang under Pakku’s tutleage. And it was due to this fact that Aang was able to master waterbending under Katara’s guidance.
Jeong Jeong: The Reluctant Firebending Teacher
Jeong Jeong was the first Fire Nation soldier to escape the empirical army without getting killed! It was his reputation and standing among Fire Nation rebels that convinced Aang that he wanted Jeong Jeong as his firebending teacher. Jeong Jeong refused to teach him initially, but eventually submitted (thanks to the intervention of Avatar Roku).
When Aang burned Katara’s hand during training, it served as evidence that Avatars should take heed of White Lotus members’ words!
Piandao: Sokka’s Master
Piandao was another White Lotus member to indirectly give strength to Aang through the training of a Team Avatar member (much like Pakku’s training of Katara). The art of swordsmanship proved useful to Sokka following Piandao’s coaching – Zuko’s experience under Piandao’s tutelage helped Aang a couple of times, too (even if Zuko wasn’t a member of Team Avatar at certain of those times).
Iroh: The Grandmaster and Grand Lotus
Who could forget Iroh? He gave useful advices to Aang and Toph even when he was supposedly in opposition to them. Clearly, though, his most notable contribution to Avatar Aang’s mission was his guidance of Prince Zuko. Without Iroh’s input, it’s quite possible that Zuko would never have joined Team Avatar. As a result of that, who knows what might have happened in Aang’s final battle with Fire Lord Ozai?
Iroh’s wisdom is characteristic of the Avatar series throughout – and it is also, more subtly, characteristic of the White Lotus.
Fan Theory: Monk Gyatso Was in The White Lotus? (Avatar)
Before Aang was frozen for 100 years, he was trained by Monk Gyatso. This teacher was sceptical of the forceful nature that authorities wanted to implement Avatar training onto Aang, displaying the kind of calm and wisdom we’d expect from the White Lotus.
Could it be that Gyatso was a member of the secret Order? It’s only speculation from a few fans online … but an interesting and plausible theory, nonetheless!
White Lotus Reclaiming Ba Sing Se (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
The Order’s low profile was ended along with the Hundred Year War, when their cooperation and incredible power reclaimed Ba Sing Se for its people.
They also went on to save Sokka, Toph, and Suki from Fire Nation soldiers as they took down the Fire Nation airships.
One could argue that the Avatar would have lost the Hundred Year War had it not been for the Order of the White Lotus.
White Lotus (Avatar) Abandoning Secrecy
After the war, the White Lotus became an organization which actively and outwardly tasked itself with ensuring the Avatar’s safety. They did exactly this with Avatar Korra.
It became an ally of governments … which led to some conflicts…
Unfortunately, the White Lotus’ legacy was tainted by the rise of the Red Lotus.
You may recall that the lotus tile in Pan Sho had two sides: the white lotus, and the red lotus. The Red Lotus, then, was the much like the dark version of the Order of the White Lotus. Instead of promoting peace and harmony, the Red Lotus believed that the natural state of any society should be of chaos. And in trying to kill Avatar Korra – in order to break the Avatar cycle – they almost succeeded in putting the world into an extended age of chaos.
Although they didn’t succeed, the seeds of their organization are sure to have scattered far and wide. Don’t be surprised if the Red Lotus make another appearance in future Avatar franchise installments.
Closing Thoughts: White Lotus (Avatar)
The Order of the White Lotus is a beautiful, philosophical organization whose members are inspirational in their own, individual rights.
However, like all things in the Avatar franchise, the White Lotus was not a purely good organization. Like the Yin-Yang symbol that appears throughout the series, the White Lotus was merely one half of a dualistic coin.
Nevertheless, I for one hope that we learn more about the White Lotus in future Avatar literature!