When you think of understanding culture, flowers aren’t what typically come to mind. Different cuisines, yes. Unique traditions, yes. Handicrafts and arts, yes. But floating flowers like the lotus flower, no.
The lotus flower can be the size of an iPhone or spread over six feet wide. The flowers, fruit and seeds are used in everything from medicine to noodle soup to the elaborate trà sen Vietnamese lotus tea. Eat the seeds as a snack or use its large leaves to wrap up food.
Behind these everyday uses, though, is a firm belief in many Asian cultures that the lotus flower symbolizes birth, purity, sexuality, and even rebirth. The flower is also intertwined with Buddhism. The legend goes that as Buddha walked along he left a trail of lotus flowers rather than footprints. Another story has Buddha appearing for the first time in an open lotus flowers.
As a result, many Buddhist countries hold the lotus flower as sacred. If you climb the 306 steps of the Wat Phra That in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for instance, you’ll see bouquets of lotus flowers available for purchase to present as an offering in the temple.
That view of the lotus flower varies quite a bit from what I hold true. The flower speaks not of Buddha but of the power and creativity of God. So some might say, What’s the point in knowing all this? What difference does it makes?
First of all, it keeps us from being ignorant. Second, people appreciate knowing we took the time to understand their culture and that establishes rapport. And lastly, understanding their worldview helps us better relate and converse with them–about family, about food, about God, about life. And really, isn’t that the point?
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