In our day and age you find them in every yoga center, gift shop and on almost every flea market. You can hear them on meditation tracks and even in contemporary music. They have a long mysterious history. They came in contact with spiritual divinity and tragic cruelty. Their sound and vibration heals and calms the mind. The talk is of the Tibetan singing bowl a simple yet magical instrument. Let’s explore the world of the Tibetan singing bowl together.
The origin of the singing bowl is just as mysterious as it’s potential healing powers. Historians and researchers are divided in when and where to place the source of the bowls. Some argue, that the metal bell is it’s direct predecessor. If that holds true, then there is evidence indicating that bronze metal bells have been used way back in the Chinese Shang Dynasty somewhere between 16th – 11th Century BCE.
According to Tibetan oral tradition the singing bowl dates back the time of the historical figure Guatama Buddha in 560 – 480 BCE. In that era the bowls were used for rituals as well as for daily food consumption.
The Invasion of Tibet
In 1951 the Chinese Qing Dynasty invaded Tibet to depose the 13th Dalai Lama. Tibetan lamas were forced to flee and had to sell their valuable possession. Some people conclude that with this circumstance many antique Tibetan singing bowls entered the market and spread internationally over time. Unfortunately, in the chaos of the invasion most esoteric knowledge about the bowls got lost and the mysterious history of the Tibetan singing bowl continued.
Others argue that singing bowls are a modern invention and that they do not originate from Tibet altogether but are rather an invention of a clever businessman. In the Book Dreamworld Tibet: Western Illusion Martin Brauen states:
“A special category of such Dharma products is constituted by the allegedly Tibetan ‘singing’ bowls’, which have nothing to do with Tibet. They are metal bowls from North India or Nepal, originally food bowls, which have a beautiful tone, but are no more sacred objects than Western crystal glasses are musical instruments – despite the beautiful tone one can elicit from them by proper treatment.”
Whichever story holds true in the end, it is clear that nowadays are spread all over the western world and play an important role in meditation, ceremonies and healing.
Tibetan Singing Bowls are known by a wide variety of terms in English. Here is a list of words referring to the bowl
- Singing bowl
- Tibetan singing bowl
- Buddha bowl
- Himalayan bowl
- Meditation bowl
- Prayer bowl
- Crystal bowl
- Tibetan bell
- Resting bell
- Temple Bell
- Buddhist bell
- Bowl gong
- Ring gong
- Cup bong
Ways of Playing
There are two essential ways to play the Tibetan singing bowl. One is to strike it while it rests on an even surface or in ones palm like shown in the video to the left. The other is to rub the outer rim with a mallet stricker or wand. The latter technique requires more skill as one has to find the right frequency to perpetuates the vibration of the bowl.
The mallet strikers used for singing bowls are coated with different materials: leather, felt, rubber or just the bare wood. Each material has produces a slightly different sound and suits itself better for either striking or rubbing.
The round shape of the bowl has perfect vibratory qualities, which leads to a single hit sustained sound of easily more than 120 seconds. High quality bowls are made of bronze combined with various other metals like gold, silver or even the high-prized meteoric iron. Once stroke, each metal in the bowl vibrates with a different quality leading to a multiphonic sound with a rich harmonic overtone structure. It is said, that these harmonic overtones and the intervals of the different notes within the sound are what activate the healing powers of this wonderful instrument.
Singing Bowls in Contemporary Music
The first official appearance of the singing bowls in contemporary music was in 1972. Henry Wolff and Nancy Henning dedicated their album “Tibetan Bells” to the pure sound of the bowls. After that many albums in the new age music genre used these sounds as for their spiritual significance. Some of them are: Tibetan Bells II (1978), Yamantaka with Mickey Hart (1982), Tibetan Bells III (1988), and Tibetan Bells IV (1991).
A special mention goes to the composition “Longplayer” by Jem Finer who arranged for 234 tuned Tibetan singing bowls and 6 players.
Sound Samples and Sample Libraries
If you do not intend to buy a singing bowl yourself but would like to use it’s sound in your music or for other purposes here are a few sources where you can get sound samples and sample libraries of Tibetan singing bowls:
Free Singing Bowl Samples at FreeSounds.org (use Creative Commons 0)
Free Singing Bowl Sample Pack (on donation basis)
Splice Subscription Based Samples (~$7 p.m.)
Everything is Vibration
A core principle of the mystical book the Kybalion states that everything in the universe is vibrating or oscillating in one form or the other. In his Enlightenment the Buddha realized that everything is perpetually changing and that his body and the universe is made out of kalapas vibrating in and out of existence million times per second.
Even physics proves on an ever-deepening level that this principle holds true. Light and sound are waves. Atoms are oscillating. Strings are vibrating.
Similarly the human body vibrates on many different levels. The heart creates a beat. The blood circulates. The breath flows. The brain has a different frequency in different mental states.
With that in mind it becomes clearer how sound waves of a singing bowl can potentially balance out or heal the body.
In spiritual and esoteric traditions it is commonly accepted that the human system consists of seven main chakras. Chakras that are out of balance cause suffering and emotional disturbance or even physical illnesses over the long term. Each chakra is said to resonate in a different tone or frequency.
Placing a Tibetan singing bowl with the corresponding pitch on or above a chakra is believed to bring this center back into balance.
Another way of healing or calming a person is through a singing bowl sound bath. For that one or more big and heavy singing bowl(s) are place under or around a person and are perpetually struck. Hereby it seems the more sound, the stronger the effect on the body and mind of a person.
Singing Bowls in Meditation
Tibetan singing bowls are often used as a starting signal for a meditation. The reason being, that focusing on the sound helps to concentrate the mind as a preparation for the meditation.
Perpetually striking and listening to singing bowls is another way of using the bowls in meditation. Now the sound of the bowl becomes an object of concentration, which helps the mind to focus deeper and deeper. If one quiets the mind through this practice enough, mystical states of consciousness can be achieved. This though requires years of dedicated practice.
As stated before, mind states are connected to specific frequencies. Therefore, listening to the right frequency of a singing bowl can help the mind to change frequencies and alter its state.
Besides all that, just on a pure aesthetic level, singing bowls have a very soothing and calming sound, which lends itself perfectly for ambient music or peaceful soundscapes.
Spiritual Powers of the Singing Bowl
Lets put our rational western mind aside for a moment and dive even deeper into the mystical esoteric world. In the book “Singing Bowls – A Practical Handbook of Instruction and Use” by Eva Rudy Jansen it is mentioned that in 1980 shaman Joska Soos went to a lama monastery in England and found:
“They took me to a small room and there were bowls. I listened to them Afterwards they presented me with some bowls I did not have to go on a retreat. I merely had to intensify my path, immersing myself in the sound. I did this very attentively, without forcing myself. Slowly it came to me, the whole universe opened up. Amongst the lamas themselves, these bowls are only used in secret rituals by those who are acknowledge masters in sound. They have learned to sing the ritual songs and play the ritual instrument correctly. They use the singing bowls in secret and only for themselves, not in public, and not even for other monks. It is strictly forbidden tot talk about the rituals or singing bowls themselves. This is because the knowledge of sound carries with it a great power. It allows one to travel without moving. It is possible to come into contact with planets and their spirits, …”
The Singing Bowl Gift
Tibetan singing bowls make perfect gifts and souvenirs. They give extra points on the feng shui scale, they spread good vibrations in a room and just look nice on the window board. How can you go wrong with that? The typical gift singing bowl lies somewhere in the price range of $10-$40. They are often ornamented and a nice cushion gives the finishing touch. Happy birthday!
The Authentic Bowl
To the right you spot an authentic singing bowl. It is handmade and consist of seven metals just as it was passed on in the traditions of the lamas. Through that the rich overtone structure emerges and the healing power is activated. Bowls like this are carefully crafted and start at round $50 per piece. If you are more serious about meditation, a bowl like this is your choice.
The Crystal Singing Bowl
In recent years crystal singing bowls became very popular. They are tuned perfectly and are easy to play which makes them a perfect match for sound healing therapy sessions. As a professional product they start at around $100 per bowl. Crystal bowls are made out of pure quartz which has similar vibratory qualities as our body and is said to resonate well with the human system.
The Chakra Set
The chakra singing bowl set is a 7 piece bundle which is tuned in alignment with the frequencies of the seven chakras. As an example, size and tuning of the bowl set to the right is:
12″ – C | 11″ – D | 10″ – E | 9″ – F | 8″ – G | 7″ – A | 6″ – B
As mentioned above crystal bowls are currently the go to material for chakra sound healing sessions. For a professional set like this one at least $400-$600 should be calculated but of course there is always headroom when it comes to price.
The Resonance Bowl
The Chinese resonance bowl could be called the sister of the Tibetan singing bowl. It dates back to the Han Dynasty 202 B.C. – A.D. 9. It is made out of brass and is filled with water. By rubbing the handles left and right with your hands, the bowl begins to resonate louder and louder. The water in the middle begins to sprout and the sound waves become visible.
Singing Bowl Sizes
Singing bowl sizes are generally defined through the diameter in inches. The tiny bowls start from around 3” (7,6 cm). The most common gift size is somewhere between 4” and 5” (10 cm-12.6 cm). The chakra bowl for the heart chakra resonates in F and measures 10” (~25 cm). The biggest bowl on amazon is the temple gong with a gigantic 24” (60 cm) diameter and the biggest bowl on the internet vibrates with 33” (83 cm) and 60 kilos of metal for therapeutic purposes!
The Branded Bowl
There are some brands worth mentioning when it comes to Tibetan singing bowls. In the contrary to the low quality gift bowls these brands produces high quality singing bowls for meditation and therapy. In the singing bowl business since 2005 unlimited produces a series of high end singing bowls of various materials. The huge temple gong as seen in the picture above is one of them.Crystal Vibes focus on high end therapeutic crystal singing bowls as seen in the picture to the left. Lastly CVNC is a more middle class manufacturer forchakra crystal singing bowls. The chakra set listed about is by CVNC.