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!