How Is a Seed Bead Pattern Like a Buddhist Sand Mandala?

No, really, it's not a joke. I didn't want to start this blog with something like, "A Buddhist monk walks into a bar, and…" But really, did you know that seed bead patterns are actually a lot like Buddhist sand mandalas?

  Last week, I had the privilege of visiting with the Gajang Tsawa Monks during their world peace cultural tour. As part of their activities to celebrate the culture and arts of Tibet, they constructed an intricate sand mandala in the main gallery of the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts in Plattsburgh, New York. It was truly magical and inspiring to watch them at work.

A mandala is a form of sacred art in the Buddhist and Hindu faiths. They are intricately designed and depict many symbols that are sacred to Buddhism and Hinduism within four "gates" around a central circle. A mandala can be constructed as an aid in meditation, as a tool for teaching spiritual concepts, to denote a sacred space, or as a way to access the unconscious. They can be made as a form of prayer, asking for wisdom, health, or compassion to be bestowed upon all that create and view the mandala.

One morning, I sat in on morning prayers and meditation with these monks. After prayers, four of them started working on this sand mandala, meant to bestow wisdom on all sentient beings.

That morning, a local school group came in for a question and answer session. The monks' tour guide gave us some background information about these sand mandalas. He told us that there are no visual references for these mandalas. The descriptions and instructions for creating them exist only as text within the Buddhist scriptures, where there are currently descriptions for over one hundred and sixty million mandalas!

While I was trying to wrap my head around the concept of one hundred and sixty million descriptions of Buddhist mandalas, I started thinking about my favorite seed bead patterns. Not that there could possibly be anywhere near that many seed bead patterns in existence today, but the concept is basically the same. You follow along with a set of instructions to create a piece of beaded jewelry. Sure, sometimes we "cheat" with our seed bead patterns and include photographs or illustrations to highlight what may be a difficult task to visualize, but most seed bead patterns are really just a set of words and abbreviations written down for someone to follow.

While the kids continued to ask some very good questions about the mandalas, I wondered: how specific were these instructions for the Buddhist mandalas? I asked the tour guide if a different group of monks from a different monastery read the directions for this particular mandala, would they interpret it the exact same way? Would it come out any differently, depending on how they understood the instructions?

The tour guide said that the instructions for these mandalas were so specific that no matter who made it, this particular mandala would look exactly the same, right down to the colors of the crushed marble sand used to draw out the intricate patterns. Just like my favorite seed bead patterns, if you follow them to the letter, your piece of beadwork will look exactly like the original.

Like I wasn't already completely blown away by the whole concept behind creating one of these intricate sand mandalas, I thought of one more similarity between them and my favorite seed bead patterns, and it has to do with the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

After the sand mandala has been created, it is destroyed in a special ceremony, and the sand used to create it is deposited in the river in the hopes that it will bestow wisdom, health, or compassion on the water creatures who live there. From there, it is hoped that the wisdom, health, or compassion will spread throughout the rest of the world, extending to all sentient beings.

In the Buddhist tradition, one of the most important teachings is that of impermanence. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Even the natural features of the world around us like mountains, oceans, or deserts are subject to change. Mountains erode; oceans dry up or move; and deserts become flooded.

In that same tradition of impermanence, even the best beaded jewelry will eventually fall apart. It might not happen tomorrow, or next week, or in thirty years. But eventually, the thread you used to weave those seed beads together will disintegrate and the beadwork will fall apart, back into a little pile of beads. Even the glass seed beads won't last forever. They, too, will turn back into the sand that was used to make them.

Now, I don't mean for this to be depressing or sad. Thinking about the concept of impermanence makes me find the beauty in the moment. Right here, in front of you, is a piece of beautiful beadwork, lovingly stitched from a seed bead pattern. The teaching of impermanence should help you grasp the present and be joyful in it! It doesn't matter what will happen in ten minutes or in ten years. What's important, really, is what is in front of you. (And if that happens to be a piece of beadwork, all the better!)

So, let's practice living in the present moment! You'll find ten ways to be here, now, with Beadwork Presents 10 Seed Bead Patterns, available as an instant download in the Beading Daily Shop. Pick your favorite from these ten beautiful seed bead patterns and chances are, you'll have everything you need to start beading right away. What better way to appreciate what you have right in front of you? Download your copy of Beadwork Presents 10 Seed Bead Patterns and we'll all work on achieving inner peace through our beads!

Do you find that beadwork has a spiritual meaning for you? After spending a week with these Buddhist monks, I've discovered that beading is my spiritual practice of choice! Share your thoughts and experiences here and leave a comment on the blog!

Bead Happy,


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Beading Daily Blog
Jennifer VanBenschoten

About Jennifer VanBenschoten

Born in New Jersey in 1974, I escaped to the Adirondacks for the first time in 1995, making it my permanent home in 2000.  I have been interested in beads, buttons and making jewelry as long as I can remember.  It's probably my mother's fault - she was a fiber artist and crochet historian, and whenever she ordered supplies from one mail order source, she would order a huge bag of assorted buttons and beads for me and my sister!    

16 thoughts on “How Is a Seed Bead Pattern Like a Buddhist Sand Mandala?

  1. I can’t believe the coincidence! This week the same Monks are at Genesee Community College in Genesee C. NYS and are doing the same Mandala and is beautiful “in person” It is fascinating to watch them. The opening ceremony was Peaceful for a better work. Thank you for your newsletter today.
    sue ames

  2. I read your article about Mandala and beading and I agree with you. When I’m working on some project, after the initial difficulties of understanding the passage, everything falls right into his own path and i start to relax and enjoy what i’m doing….PAT

  3. Here’s another coincidence! The Tibetan Monks of Gaden Jangtse Tsawa Khangtsen are coming soon to the yoga center I work at! And as far as beading being a spiritual practice – I have always described my beading sessions as “meditations”. I can get totally lost in a project and problems and worries just slip away! Thanks for your great newsletters!

  4. mmmm…. Do you also deconstruct your project, sweep up the beads, and then scatter them around your garden or toss them into the ocean?

    That’s pretty much what they do with their mandalas….

  5. Jennifer, this is the best blog post I’ve ever read – truly. It is beautiful. Beadwork is spiritual for me – it takes me out of the world and lets me focus on something small and beautiful – the beads themselves. Lampwork is like meditation. I love your description of impermanence – really, it takes the pressure off if you apply it to, really, anything! Thank you for a lovely start to the day. Brenda

  6. The monks were in Charlottsville VA earlier this year and I was privilidged not only to watch, but eat with them. They did the snow leopard dance for us as well. The closing ceremonies were very moving, and we went to spread the ashes in the river. Their work is truly magnificent and spiritual.
    Lynn L.

  7. There is not difference between beading and the creation of the mandalas.
    As they finish the mandala, the monks pass their hand over the sand and just destroy the whole think that took them maybe years to construct. Just to show us what happens on life. In one second we can loose what took us a whole life to build.
    I found myself doing the same sometimes with my beading. It may take me one week to finish some creation just to find out that something is not right or I am not [leased with the result, and I undo the whole thing.

  8. Thanks for the story of the monks and the beading parallel. Your blog also urged me to purchase the Ten Beading Patterns book. When I clicked through, there was no table of contents. What a pity. If you’d supplied one, I would have purchased it.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with the monks, everyone! It was really a wonderful spiritual experience for me and my family, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    Jesse the K – I have contacted the marketing specialist about the missing table of contents in the seed bead book mentioned here, and unfortunately, a table of contents was not created for this product. However, the marketing specialist is working with the editors to create one. Thanks for your feedback!

  10. Hello,

    This is a great story! Can someone tell me if the bracelet next to Jennifer’s signature is in the e-book for 10 seed bead patterns.


  11. This article really resonated with me. Focusing on attaching beads into a certain pattern is a meditative act. Quilting is that way sometimes also. I also consider most crafts mental therapy! It is a good thing. Namaste.

  12. About 20 years ago, when living in New York, I had a chance to watch Monks making sand mandala in a shop window od IBM Gallery on Madison Ave. It was such a strange and emotional feeling to watch mandala being destroyed after finishing it. I will never forget it. Being a quilter, I would like to sew my own mandala (without destroying it …)
    Jana from Prague, Czech Republic

  13. Does anyone know where I can find mandala designs? I work with wire & would love to learn how different designs are . I seen the ones on youtube, but would like to see other designs. Can anyone help me with this please?
    Lady Willow Hawk

  14. thank you so much for sharing this wonderful experience with us. I am always thrilled to see how the Buddhist message gets gently, but strongly, out to the world. Namaste