What is a Tibetan Singing Bowl?
Tibetan singing bowls are an increasingly important part of mediation, yoga, and mindfulness practices in the West, prized for their ability to promote calm, focus, and centeredness in the player or listener. Tibetan singing bowls are aesthetically beautiful, often able to create a soothing sense of calm just by looking at them.
But the origins and uses of a Tibetan singing bowl remain somewhat mysterious, and many people use them without really understanding them. Today we are looking at what is a Tibetan singing bowl in order to better understand them, and get the most benefit from their use.
Singing Bowl Origin
Most people naturally assume that Tibetan singing bowls originated in Tibet. However, bowl-shaped bells originated in ancient China, and the act of striking or ringing a bell gradually became an important part of Chinese Buddhist religious practices. With the spread of Buddhism in the 2nd through 7th centuries, ritual use of these bells expanded throughout Asia, and became an integral aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. Centuries ago, artisans in Nepal began making these bowls for use in local monasteries, developing their own distinctive local methods of making and using these bowls.
Legend has it that Tibetan singing bowls in antiquity were made from a precise, hand-hammered alloy of 7 metals, including copper, tin, gold, silver, mercury, lead, and meteorite iron (also known as “sky metal”). However, it is probably more likely the case that, then as now, they are made of bronze, in an alloy of copper and tin known as “bell metal.”
Combining copper and tin into bronze with a very high, precise tin content creates a bronze that is more elastic, more durable, and has unique resonant properties. This particular bronze alloy has been preferred for instruments for centuries, which is why it is called “bell metal.” It is probable that any other metals found in the analysis of many singing bowls are more likely impurities due to early, hand-made manufacturing processes.
However, in esoteric Buddhism and specific parts of Asia, there is a tradition of making ritual hand bells and singing bowls with a special 5 metal alloy, representing the 5 wisdoms of the Buddha. In this tradition:
- Copper represents wisdom, and the Amitabha Buddha
- Tin represent accomplishment, and the Amoghasiddhi Buddha
- Zinc represents reflection, and the Akshobhya Buddha
- Iron represents equality, and the Ratnasambhava Buddha
- Lead represents Dharma, and the Vairocana Buddha
There is no precise traditional recipe for this particular alloy. As long as copper and tin exist in high-enough proportions, the bowl will sing, and the other metals can be added in smaller quantities.
Singing bowls were introduced to the West in the 1970s, and are still growing in popularity as more people discover their beauty and their benefits.
Benefits of a Singing Bowl
When struck or rung for singing, a Tibetan singing bowl produces resonant sound waves (as all sounds do). These sound waves are vibrations in the air, that move the membranes in our ears and the cells in our body as they pass through us, and our bodies vibrate on the same frequency. These sounds and the sympathetic vibrations are believed to have a number of beneficial effects on the body, mind, and spirit.
For the mind
The sound of a Tibetan singing bowl stimulates our minds, and helps the brain begin to produce theta waves in harmony with the bowl. Theta brainwaves are associated with relaxation, intelligence, creativity, and self-healing. The longer we listen to the bowl, the more deeply our brains enter this special state. Regular use of a singing bowl helps to “train” the brain to reach this deeper meditative state more quickly and remain there for longer.
For the body
Many believe that illness and pain in the body are caused by parts of the body operating in disharmony with each other, and that the flow of healing energy and wholeness has been disrupted. The waves produced by a Tibetan singing bowl are thought to help the body vibrate sympathetically, promoting internal harmony and the flow of healing.
For the spirit
Tibetan singing bowls are often used specifically to resonate in tune with the chakras, improving the flow of energy and internal harmony. Certain musical notes are associated with each chakra. In the Tibetan system, the notes are associated with the chakras as follows:
- Root: F
- Sacral: C
- Solar plexus: G
- Heart: D
- Throat: A
- Third eye: E
- Crown: B
Many Tibetan singing bowls come tuned to resonate on a particular note. However, singing bowls can always be tuned by adding water, so that they can sing in different tunes as desired. Furthermore, the addition of water allows you to visualize the sound vibrations in ripples on the surface, which form patterns that are meditative in their own right.
While many of these benefits may seem unlikely to skeptics, doctors and scientists are increasingly exploring sound therapies and psychoacoustics, and finding some fascinating results.
There are good reasons why so many people are adding Tibetan singing bowls to a more mindful, conscious, self-attuned life. Tibetan singing bowls are part of ancient religious and healing practices, and are an important part of many Buddhist traditions.
Use of a singing bowl can deepen meditation, augment relaxation, and promote self-healing, and many people use different bowls in different sizes and tones depending on their desire in the moment, to further augment and tune their minds and bodies.
However, even if you don’t believe in these more mystical aspects of the purpose and benefits of a singing bowl, they are still delightful to enjoy as objects, where they please the eye and produce fascinating, musical sounds.
They are a wonderful, soothing way to add a tactile component to a meditation or mindful practice, or add an audio component to a yoga practice, and it’s possible that the sound vibrations will work to heal and promote harmony within you, even if you don’t believe in it.