Almost everyone, including children, that come into the shop are familiar with Singing Bowls. Everyone seems to understand that they make sound somehow. Then most people pick up the bowls and begin to roll the “striker” on the inside of the bowl. Most are then embarrassed when we show them that the striker is used on the outside of the bowl. MANY of you have done it and no one should be embarrassed. We should all be more like the kids that come in and know they are just learning and say “ok” when we correct them. No need to be embarrassed about learning. The only time anyone need be embarrassed is when one chooses not to learn.
Now that we all know that the striker or mallet is used on the outside of the bowl to make the bowl sing, we are left with why does it sing? It “sings” because of the vibration created from the striker on the bowl’s metal. That vibration has a sound which is then “caught” within the inside of the bowl due to the bowl’s construction. Much like the way using a wet finger on the lip of a wine glass will create a sound from the vibration of the glass. The amount of time it plays and the tone of the sound are relative to the size and construction of the bowl. So now that one knows how a bowl sings, why would one want a bowl that sings?
The beginnings of singing bowls are apparently cloaked in mystery as to the exact timing they were used for sound only. First and foremost, the people Merri and I have met call the bowls just singing bowls and not necessarily “Tibetan” singing bowls. The reason for this is that there is more indication that singing bowls were first made in either Nepal or outside of Tibet but still in the Himalayans; therefore, perhaps they should be called either Nepalese Bowls or Himalayan Bowls. During the Bronze Age many bowls were made but were used as bowls only. There are several “sources” that indicate that singing bowls have been found that could be potentially three or four thousand years up to ten thousand years old. These bowls were apparently not used as singing bowls, but as vessels to hold various items or for decoration, as the thickness would not be conducive to making beautiful tones. It is possible that at one point metal bowls were just bowls to the people just as our wine glasses are just wine glasses? Then one day a particularly gifted and insightful artisan looked at a bowl, tipped it upside down and discovered that it was basically, in its design, an upside down bell? This person saw things differently and looked outside the box so began trying to make music with the decorative bowls. From there many began developing much simpler bowls and experimented with sizes, thickness, etc. Since the oldest singing bowl found to date by actual “experts” is approximately 600 years old, and most of the other instruments, tingshas, bells, drums, etc have been found to be older, it is said singing bowls are a fairly young instrument developed for sound. All is speculation with a mix of stories handed down, but today’s singing bowls captivate and mesmerize the same way they did five to six hundred years ago.
This “instrument” bowl became a sacred icon for ritual in Buddhism, but all religions enjoy some type of ritual that utilizes song or music of some sort. Ancient bowls and tingshas, made in Tibet and Nepal, were said to be made of an alloy of 12 metals. This has never been substantiated and may have just developed as folklore but this adds to the enchantment. According to this same folklore the supposed alloy of metals, on very rare occasions, had an addition of metals from meteorites. Some traditionalists say that this combination made a rich sound far superior and enlightening than the best of them made today. Some indicate, as most “experts” still have no idea if there is actual evidence to support this, that Tibetan Monk-made bowls were made from a seven metal alloy which correspond to the seven visible heavenly bodies. (Gold/Sun, Silver/Moon, Mercury/Mercury, Copper/Venus, Iron/Mars, Tin/Jupiter, Lead/Saturn). Whether or not there is any evidence of this, some elders will hold to the stories which make up their mystical heritage. We are sure of one thing only. Most bowls made today and sold on today’s market are made up of “bell metal” which is an alloy of copper and tin, also known as bronze, with some having the addition of zinc.
Not only are bowls used widely in ritual of many kinds, they are therapeutic as well. Sound therapy is a growing modality for health. Vibrational sound instills an instant sense of calm which aids in meditation and peacefulness which lower stress levels. Besides the metal bowls there are also wonderful bowls used for meditation, therapies, etc made from clear quartz and other precious gemstones. This addition of healing qualities of gemstones within a sound therapy tool has clearly been miraculous for many.
All cultures and religions have a rich history with sound which is likened to a love affair. When one hears beautiful tones they are captivated. When a singing bowl is played almost everyone in a room will turn their heads to hear or move closer to that wonderful sound. It captures you and you are then lost in the moment. Just like falling in love something keeps us bound and we can’t explain it but we love it! I don’t know much about what sound does to the human body. Perhaps we become slightly hypnotized as the sound helps release some natural feel-good drug within our bodies? I do remember a sound therapist visiting one day explaining that tones created by the singing bowls create a sense of harmony and synchronize the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This synchronization puts the body into balance and when we are in balance, health is sure to follow. Because we know that being in the moment is the only time one can feel real peace of mind, it is that peace that draws us to listen as long as we can.
Not only are singing bowls healing, and a wonderful meditation and ritual tool but they also help us all to connect to one another. When we play a singing bowl we create not only peace for ourselves but we send that vibrational peace outward into the world. As this vibrational peace travels it meets up with others creating an even stronger, more connected universe. Through this peaceful resonance all peoples, animals, even possibly those who mean to do harm, will feel this connection to all other living beings, and peace will come if only for a moment. This moment of connection may be all that is needed to create the kind of change we wish to see in the world. Whatever the beginning of singing bowls, whatever the names given, or whatever metals they include isn’t what we truly care about. It’s the peace they instill and the tones they sing for us that draw us to these enigmatic vessels we call singing bowls. So get one for yourself or a friend, or dust the one off that you have on a shelf and begin making music that just might help, change the world.