The lotus flower is a very important symbol in China. Even though many people are non-religious today, Buddhism still has a big influence on people’s values. In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents the beauty of the soul, and the fact that good can come from anywhere. In the real world, lotus flowers actually grow in muddy water. One of the most common mantras in Tibetan Buddhism is “Om Mani Padme Hum” which literally means “Behold! The Jewel in the Lotus.” There are whole books written about this one phrase, but my impression is that it is kind of like saying to look deep into the center of one’s soul to see beauty.
Lotus flowers are commonly seen all over Beijing. The flower shown in the first photo was so beautiful that I thought it was fake (and I had to touch it to believe that it was real). You can also see lotus flowers represented in wood, stone, and plastic in Buddhist temples. In this photo to the right, the lotus flowers are made of wax. Big statues of Buddha almost always show him sitting upon a lotus flower.
At the Summer Palace, which was the Chinese Emperor’s summer vacation spot, there are lotus flowers everywhere. It’s really beautiful. We were able to ride in a boat around this lake, and see them up close from the shore. Some people even throw coins on the giant leaves, perhaps for good luck. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the buds are gigantic!
When I looked at the flowers up close, I saw the jewel in the lotus! In the center of each flower, there is a kind of fruit growing! And this fruit is edible. It has seeds that can be eaten plain or cooked, and a pulp that is delicious when cooked up with seasoning. Once the leaves fall off, the piece in the center is visible.
When they sell lotus flowers on the street, for eating, it looks like this. You can see how big these are:
Never tried lotus root? You can buy it all over. In Boston, for instance, I’ve seen it in Chinatown at super markets. It’s worth trying something new. And maybe you’ll become more enlightened after tasting it!