Cookie Mandalas: Impermanence in Comparative Religions

Arts and humanities instructor Katherine Riley recaps a recent (delicious!) lesson.

Students in Comparative Religion class have been studying, in turn, six major religious traditions (Indigenous, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam). As we studied Buddhism, we investigated the concept of anitya (impermanence), which informs all Buddhist understanding of reality. The making of mandalas can be a meditation in itself.

“The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean “circle,” a mandala … represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself — a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.” (

In Tibetan Buddhism, monks sometimes spend days or weeks creating intricate mandalas from colored sand, hold a ceremony and then destroy their creation by sweeping it up and pouring the sand into a body of water as a blessing. As a way of approximating this, students created mandalas with icing on cookies and then the plan (unbeknownst to them) was to crush them. Instead, I was out sick the next day class met and they ate them. Still – their creations were not preserved and were, thus, impermanent.

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