|"We're all part of the same ancient secret society. A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations."|
"The White Lotus has always been about philosophy and beauty and truth."
|— Piandao and Jeong Jeong discuss the secret organization.|
The Order of the White Lotus, also known simply as the White Lotus, is an ancient and formerly secret society that transcends the boundaries of the four nations, seeking philosophy, beauty, and truth. They are devoted to sharing ancient knowledge across national and political divides. The organization has at times assumed the task of finding, training, and protecting the next Avatar, having done so following the death of Avatar Kuruk and later at the request of Avatar Aang. A leader within the organization, such as Iroh, is known as a Grand Lotus.
Formed by scholars from all over the world, the Order began as a club where ancient masters of various arts could challenge one another on the Pai Sho table. They derived their name from the white lotus tile used in Pai Sho, which is also a key element in their strategy. Membership is communicated through the game itself by placing Pai Sho tiles on the board in a specific manner, forming a bloomed lotus bud with the lotus chip in the center.
When it was founded, the Order of the White Lotus was supposed to always stay a small secret society of like-minded individuals. As it gradually grew in numbers and influence, the order became ever more sophisticated. It transcended being a mere club and assumed responsibility for sharing knowledge around the world. Eventually, the order began to influence various Avatars and steer them toward working for the good for all mankind, as its members covertly became the Avatars' teachers and protectors. It was already active by the time of Avatar Kuruk and, like the rest of the world, failed to correctly identify Kuruk's successor, resulting in Avatar Kyoshi having an extremely difficult early life. Following the revelation of the latter's identity, an Air Nomad member of the order, Jinpa, indirectly apologized to Kyoshi on his order's behalf. However, when he began at hinting at his organization's existence, Kyoshi did not understand and dismissed him. In course of the following year, Jinpa was appointed as the Avatar's secretary; he consequently attempted to help Kyoshi in becoming a good Avatar, while repeatedly hinting at the White Lotus' existence without fully revealing the organization.
Liberation of Ba Sing Se
The Order of the White Lotus maintained a low profile until Grand Lotus Iroh gathered its members to liberate Ba Sing Se during the passing of Sozin's Comet at the end of the Hundred Year War. After they helped Sokka, Toph, and Suki by lending them an eel hound in order to arrive at Phoenix King Ozai's airship base, Iroh and Jeong Jeong utilized the power of Sozin's Comet to increase their firebending during the liberation while they worked in conjunction with Pakku utilizing waterbending, King Bumi utilizing earthbending and Piandao utilizing swordsmanship.
Public debut and schism
Shortly after the Hundred Year War's conclusion, the society stopped concealing itself from the public eye and began to serve the world and the Avatar more openly, although several aspects of their operations continued to remain secret. Their public debut and open affiliation with the Avatar following the war caused tensions within the order. One faction known as the "Red Lotus" led by Xai Bau wanted to restore the connection between the mortal world and the Spirit World, and regarded governments of all kind as obstacles in this quest. Accordingly, the Red Lotus opposed the order's new path and its growing association with the world's rulers. Despite Iroh's attempts at keeping the White Lotus united, Xai Bau came to believe that the society had been subverted into the "Avatar's bodyguards", and he and his followers left the organization.
For several years, Iroh tried to mend the schism to no avail. Growing militant and radical, the Red Lotus went fully underground, and began to work toward reuniting the mortal and Spirit World as well as freeing the human world of all governments. The group's turn toward extreme militancy initially remained unknown to the Order of the White Lotus.
Avatar Korra's lifetime
After the death of Avatar Aang, a delegation of the Order of White Lotus investigated many claims about the identity of the new Avatar in both the Southern and Northern Water Tribe, all of which turned out to be false. Finally, a delegation of three members traveled to the Southern Water Tribe upon Tonraq and Senna's invitation, identifying Korra to be the next Avatar.
Around 158 AG, the order imprisoned the Red Lotus members Ghazan, Ming-Hua, P'Li, and Zaheer in four maximum security facilities for attempting to kidnap the Avatar. These prisons were guarded by White Lotus sentries and held the criminals for thirteen years. The order also attempted to discern the criminals' motives for their kidnapping but received no answers.
Tasked by Avatar Aang at the end of his life, the Order of the White Lotus kept the next Avatar safe until he or she had completed his or her training; however, it was Aang's younger son, Tenzin, and the next Avatar's father, Tonraq, who insisted on keeping Korra at the South Pole. As such, the White Lotus directly oversaw Korra's development and training of each element at a compound in the Southern Water Tribe. Acting as her bodyguards, White Lotus sentries were sent to remain with the Avatar on Air Temple Island to watch her actions as she commenced her airbending training under Tenzin's tutelage. At their quarters, the sentries spent a large part of their time listening to the pro-bending broadcasts on the radio. Korra took advantage of the sentries' distraction to leave the island twice, much to Tenzin's annoyance.
As the Equalists attacked Air Temple Island during the battle for Republic City, the White Lotus sentries bravely confronted the Equalist attackers. They launched a barrage of firebending, earthbending, and waterbending attacks, and with the help of Lin Beifong and Tenzin's children, they managed to defeat the first wave of invaders. The tides quickly changed, however, when more Equalists arrived on the island. Realizing the battle was lost, the inhabitants of the island fled by sky bison. Though outnumbered, the White Lotus sentries remained behind in order to give Team Avatar enough time to escape on Naga. However, the sentries were captured and placed in line with other captured benders, awaiting the removal of their bending at the hands of Amon. After the Equalists were defeated, the sentries' bending was restored by Korra using energybending.
After Zaheer was arrested, the order became once more responsible for his imprisonment, this time in a new holding cell deep within the bowels of a mountain near Republic City. Three years later, Kuvira was added to their list of prisoners following her failed invasion of the United Republic of Nations. When she was expected to attend her trial hearing in Republic City, the order was also responsible for her incarceration and transportation outside the secure prison holding.
Iroh, a lover of Pai Sho, was a Grand Master and a Grand Lotus of the Order who often advocated that Pai Sho was "more than just a game". Piandao was also an important member of the Order; he offered his student Sokka a white lotus tile as a parting gift, which was symbolic of his membership in the Order. The image of the white lotus on the hilt of Sokka's sword and on the doors of Piandao's estate were also references to Piandao's membership.
Shortly before the arrival of Sozin's Comet, Master Pakku, King Bumi, and Jeong Jeong also accompanied Iroh as members of the organization, although none had shown symbols of the Order when Team Avatar saw them before. Other members were also visible in the campsite.
Seventy years later, the Order was no longer a secret society and was instead dedicated to protecting the Avatar during their training. Many more members were present in the Order than in the past, including a leader and many sentries that are lower-ranking members of the Order tasked with duties such as guarding the Avatar.
During the liberation of Ba Sing Se, the members of the Order all wore a distinct indigo-colored outfit with white details, a similarly colored cape and a Lotus patterned mantle around the shoulders. They also have a flag, bearing an image of the white lotus. Iroh, a Grand Lotus, seemed to have more to his vestments, with indigo-colored armor and a robe under all of the other pieces, based off the white lotus flower.
Over the course of seventy years, the uniforms have changed slightly and vary according to rank. For example, the uniform of a White Lotus sentry includes a cowl with a small insignia on the front, whereas the uniform of a higher-ranking member does not include the headpiece.
- Iroh (Grand Master and Grand Lotus)
- Jeong Jeong
- White Lotus leader
- White Lotus sentries
- Xai Bau (formerly)
- The Order of the White Lotus' organization mimics that of the Freemasons, another allegedly ancient "society of secrets", whose members of many different cultures and views stretch all over the world.
- The Order of the White Lotus shares part of its name with the White Lotus, which was a religious and political movement in China forced into secrecy by the Mongols.
- In Hinduism, the white lotus flower symbolizes beauty and non-attachment. Beauty is one of the virtues of the Order of the White Lotus and the society is not attached to any government or region. It also represents beauty coming out of murkiness, as in the lotus blooms in algae-filled ponds. This represents great wisdom and team effort rising up despite the somber situation in the world.
- The organization's initials spell out OWL, an animal that is often associated with wisdom in western culture. It is to be noted that the members of the Order are considered among the wisest scholars in the Avatar World.
- Pakku referred to Iroh as a Grand Lotus, a member who has the power to call together the Order. This suggests the possibility there may be more than one Grand Lotus at any given time.
- All known members of the Order of the White Lotus before the conclusion of the Hundred Year War were masters of their art and most are high-ranking members of their military and society.