A Tibetan bowl or sitting bowl is simply an inverted bowl, usually supported at its base by a rim above. Such bowls usually exist in an assortment of diameters, from a few millimetres to about a meter in diameter. They are used for meditation and prayer by Tibetan Buddhists. They were developed sometime between the sixth and thirteenth centuries in Asia, and have remained popular ever since. Some bowl shapes predominate in Buddhist monasteries, but other bowls are more common in Tibetan Buddhist homes. The majority of Tibetan bowl objects are ceramics, although bone china and wood are also found.
Bowls are hung from the wall as a source of personal meditation and prayer, and a bit of sheer beauty too! As with most things made using basic tools and materials, tibetan singing bowls are not ornate or elaborate: simple in their design, but certainly striking. In fact, even when they do have decorations, they are usually quite plain. This simplicity gives them a certain character, as with many other Asian pottery items.
There are two basic kinds of tibetan bowls. Plain ones are made from clay. The other kind is either lacquered, or painted with indigo or gelly, colorings which give the bowl a translucent glow. The painted bowl may be made from different mixtures of metals – alloys, tin, steel, copper, bronze, and even zinc. In some examples, the metal oxides may be silver, gold, or bronze.
Of all the different types of bowls, divider bowls are perhaps the most iconic, as they combine two or more bowls into a single structure, and are the most widely known souvenir from travel to the Tibetans. Divider bowls are traditionally round, but many have been transformed into oblong, square, or triangular shapes. When these bowls are carefully crafted – as they should be – they not only create a focal point for the decorating scheme, but they can also produce a lovely musical resonance as the sound produced by the bowl is dispersed over the surface. When the sound is different from the ordinary ringing of an aliphatic tone, this resonation can be startling.
If you are fortunate enough to visit the Tibetan monastery in Gannan, or to listen to the music being sung there, you will undoubtedly hear the distinctive tones that permeate the tibetan singing bowl. These tones are produced by the bowl’s metal plates having been bent into twisted, twisting patterns. The resulting sounds are surprisingly powerful – some say they are the essence of the music, as the sound waves interact and intertwine with one another to produce the desired notes.
Tibetan Singing Bowl Healing
It is these sounds that have inspired many of us to use Tibetan singing bowls in our meditation practices. Since the sound is from natural sources – vibrations from the earth – we know it is capable of offering great healing properties. Sound healing theory maintains that sound carries energy, and that healing occurs when the energies are unified. Sound waves traveling through the air combine with air molecules to create specific frequencies that resonate with our own. In this way the bowls facilitate the unification of both the inner environment and the air, thereby healing the body.
If you want to use your Tibetan singing bowl as a healing tool, you will need to find a bowl with a hole at its bottom. Place the mallet on the tibetan singing bowl’s hole, and make sure that the mallet is pointing upwards. Now, place the hand within the bowl and touch the inside edge with the finger and the heel of your palm. What you are sensing is not sound, but vibration – the vibration caused by the mallet’s vibrating surface. This will activate your body’s self-healing capabilities.
Some Tibetan singing bowls can be very complex instruments. Others can simply be an inner tool for meditation and relaxation. No matter what level you begin with, the sound produced is pure energy, the source of the healing power. You may choose to start with just the hole at the bottom, working your way up to more advanced tools. If you’re serious about learning Tibetan medicine and meditation, the beginning step is finding and using a genuine Tibetan bowl.