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RichG

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Reply with quote  #16 

Hi Samuel,
Thanks for your thoughts. Definitely some interesting and valuable experience and perspective there.

Regarding "myth", I think it is kind of unfortunate that in contemporary useage that word has come to mean "falsehood".
It's unfortunate to me because the deeper or original meaning of the word gets marginalized.
I love a good myth and they can be certainly a method of teaching if not also a force for healing.

The Google search pop-up definition for 'myth' is:
"a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature. 2. stories or matter of this kind: realm of myth."

Myths are great. Falsehoods stemming from ignorance, deception and fraud are not so great, IMO.
I'm not challenging you or disagreeing with you in regard to what you said about a client coming to you with cancer and believing in the 7 metal bowl etc, as 'belief' can be a potent force, but I am not sure what I'd do in the same situation. I probably would endeavor to say something relevent, and attempt to gracefully and gently offer the truth about the bowls in a way that would hopefully be more empowering for the client than believing in something not true. It's a delicate situation when dealing with life-threatening illness. The placebo effect is real and western medicine gets by on it often enough.

Back to myth.... maybe there's an article to be written titled "Separating Myth from Falsehood" !  [wink]
(And absolutely no offense intended to you, Mitch, nor to the titles of these excellent articles of yours which I am most grateful for you sharing here!)
The secondary meaning of myth of course is "an ill-founded belief held uncritically, especially by an interested group", according to Webster's.


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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #17 
Thanks for a great article. I'd like to add a few points from my own perspective. In my research, the "7 metal" story may have sprung from "the 7 metals of antiquity." Humanity only knew about these metals for centuries. It's not that they were ever used together, it's just that these are the only metals we knew about. Someone started the rumor about the singing bowls containing all of these metals - probably the same person that started most of the singing bowl lies. If you do a search for "7 metals" you will only find it talked about by singing bowl sellers. No one else talks about it. If there was such a magical alloy, others would know about it. The simple fact is it doesn't exist. However, I have spoken with singing bowl manufacturers who have admitted to adding ".00001%" of gold and the other 7 metals to their alloy, just so they can honestly tell their customers "yes - it contains 7 metals."

New handmade and antique singing bowls are made from bell metal bronze, 78% copper and 22% tin. The alloy is remarkably unchanged over the centuries. I never found anything close to 1-2% impurities in the singing bowl bronze. In fact, the bronze is remarkably pure with only about .3% impurities - arsenic, sulfur, bismuth, cobolt - all biproducts of smelting. A small number of bowls contain about .5% iron, but before someone speculates that this is "meteor metal," it is more likely an unintended addition, or impurity.

I have enjoyed many meals in Asia from bronze plates, bowls, glasses and utensils. They are not the same as singing bowls at all. I have used the Tibetan and Nepali bronze dishware and the metal is very different from the bell metal used in instruments. It has a higher copper content and is often brassy, but I agree it's not that different.

You are correct that chang pots have been and still are sold as singing bowls. These are not true singing bowls. So called "ultabhati" are in fact chang pots. You can tell a chang pot from the outward curving lip. Large ones are used to cook beer, small ones are used to drink out of. These are rarely antique and they rarely sound good. They should not be confused with singing bowls.

Likewise so called "lotus bowls," which can be identified by their lightweight, round shape and dimpled bottom, are actually modern rice bowls. They're rarely antique and not singing bowls. Some of my competitors sell them as centuries old singing bowls. In reality, they age prematurely so they look old. But they're really food bowls, not singing bowls, and probably not as old as people claim. 

Singing bowls are not just food bowls. They developed out of temple donation bowls and monks' alms bowls.

Conjecture about Tibet aside, the history of the singing bowls is discussed in my ever delayed book. The Himalayan singing bowls are made in several forms, but there are 3 main forms: the old style with the folded lip were inherited from ancient Persia and Khorosan. Similar 9th-11th century Persian bowls are nearly identical to the Himalayan antiques, which date from the 12th century. The later straight sided bowls, starting around the late 16th century and including contemporary handmade bowls, were inherited from ancient Thailand. The same type of bowl can be found throughout Thailand and Cambodia. These have no fold at the lip. The low sided bowls likely arrived from India and reflect many ancient types of bowls, from ancient Greece to Asia. Many types of singing bowls were made, but most fall into these 3 basic types. East Asian bowls from China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea seem to be a separate, although possibly related, development. This is a very short outline - I go into much more detail in my book. 

I strongly agree with your points about Westerners inventing all of the mythology about singing bowls. It's all New Age cultural misappropriation. There are no 7 metals, no planet tones, no monks chanting into the metal. It's all clever sales tactics. Yes - you are so right that opportunistic people in Nepal have adopted these western ideas and even claim they are traditional. There are now Nepali and Tibetan people who teach "traditional" sound healing, even though it is a distinctly western idea.

However, that doesn't mean there is no singing bowl tradition. I think you are mistaken about that. The singing bowls began as alms bowls and temple collection bowls. Then they developed into independent sound instruments. You can still see them used around Asia in their traditional context - in Japan they're used on home shrines and in temples for sound. They were born out of the collection bowl - the richer the temple in Japan, the larger their singing bowl. In Vietnam they're used in temples for sound and to take donations. In Nepal they are used in monasteries for silent meditation.

The bowls themselves also add up to some evidence. After handling thousands of bowls and being so familiar with the various types, range of sizes, various quality levels and relationships between the bowls, I know that some were made for home use, some for temples, some were made into musical sets. Fewer were made in poor times and the best were made during the greatest flowerings of Buddhist thought. Many seem to have been used together, as with a group of monks. Others may have been part of a matching set with other types of objects.

Important to take to heart what Mitch said, that in a poor land people will basically say anything to sell a product. So if a tourist asks "is it 7 metal?" the answer is an emphatic "yes!" I've seen machine made bowls sold as hand made, new sold as antiques, brass sold as 7 metal, on and on. People are trying to sell a product and they make up all kinds of stories to make the sale. So don't believe the hype. They're salespeople, not experts.

My assertions are based on years of research in museums and universities. I've made it my mission from day one of collecting to unravel the stories and separate truth from fiction. I traveled all over the world to piece together a reasonable history of the singing bowls. They are not magical new age devices. They are are a real traditional object with a clear history going back 1,000 years.
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9ways

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Reply with quote  #18 
Joseph's commentary is a wonderful addendum to the article. I did not say there was not a tradition associated to them, and I did mention uses ie. astrology, divination, etc. that are tied to very old traditions but felt going into detail about those aspects would have required a book length article. The Kushan Valley I mentioned is on the border of Iran and Hunza, and has ancient ties to metallurgy. The early Dutch writers regarding Singing Bowls had access to a papyrus in the Leiden Museum that contains references to the '7 metals' story; and I feel that they pulled it from that. The oldest bowl in my personal collection was pulled from an Archaeological dig in Vietnam dated to 200BC, so the culture of the bowls is quite old. Evidence does suggest that bowls were part of sets, but few and in between. But as long as research continues into them, and people like Joseph continue their search, the truth will show itself.
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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #19 
Thanks very much. My upcoming book talks about the broader trends of making the bowls consistently over time, temple use and other cultural traditions. I've also experienced these more specialized uses in astrology or spiritual practices - people come up with very interesting uses. I have a relative who uses singing bowls to clean old vibrations out of books and she reports it works wonders. I'd call that a fringe use and I've found it hard to document them all, compared to the major traditions like finding 2 singing bowls in every temple in Japan.

People should realize the "Dutch connection" - the European people who wrote the early singing bowl books and made up a lot of what people "believe" about singing bowls and sound healing today. I disagree with lots of it... I've always been pretty vocal about that. It makes sense that they appropriated the 7 metal idea from an unrelated source.

Bronze bowls have been made for thousands of years. There are ancient bronze bowls from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. But they're not singing bowls. Not all bronze bowls are singing bowls. Unfortunately there's no possibility for a 2,000 year old singing bowl. I assert that on the basis of history and metallurgy. A piece of 2,000 year old bronze will have reached a point of decay where it won't sound like a singing bowl anymore. I proved that with 2,000 year old drums and bells - there are no singing bowls that old to test. Any bowl that sounds like a singing bowl is not 2,000 years old or even 1,000 years old. The earliest singing bowls are 12th century. I don't find any evidence of the bell bowl traditions earlier and the timeline is quite clear. If any bowls were used for sound earlier, it would be difficult to determine today due to decay.
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9ways

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Reply with quote  #20 
Westerners have many 'fringe' uses that is probably an understatement. But traditions that have remained intact for hundreds or even thousands of years do use what we call singing bowls in ceremonies and rituals, temple and monastery uses, and in shamanic circles. Buddhist and Bonpo Lamas who use singing bowls cannot pinpoint a date when the singing bowl entered as a 'use' item in a ritual. For example, in far western Nepal certain Bonpo Lamas and Nagpas do a type of Sur ritual that uses a certain type of bowl we would classify as a singing bowl. But no one in that area of Nepal can produce or fix a date. Bronze does fatigue over time, and a bronze bowl that did produce a harmonic sound a thousand years ago would just make a thunk today. Continuous blacksmith caste families have been making what we call singing bowls for quite awhile. We see sonorous bowls that are centuries old; but it would be 'fair' to say that the bowl may have been made for another purpose, and today we call it a singing bowl, but the maker may have called it altogether something else. There is also a type of singing bowl that is used in Mendup ceremonies by certain lineages. I've witnessed healing ceremonies using jambhati style bowls and to stop bleeding, soothe soft tissue bruising, and muscle issues where the bowl is sounded and left to vibrate near the wound. Not every Lama or monk does this, they are a small minority usually Gurung. A Lama from Dolpo uses a very large Jambhati in his Soul Retrieval ritual as the Lake of the Soul. This particular ritual master would never use a bowl that was not a singing bowl by your standard. I have found this to be true in other rituals as well, where only a singing bowl type bowl is used by preference. There is much to understand and inquirer about. My research has found many interesting stories, insights, and investigations that have woven into small mountain cultures with metal uses quite distant from singing bowls but in many ways related through the alloy of a singing bowl. I agree not all bronze bowls are singing bowls, and not all singing bowls started out to be used as a singing bowl for that matter. But, if a bowl was made to be sonorous 1500 years ago, and due to fatigue, it no longer is, would it not still be a sonorous bowl? Just not today.
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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #21 
It's very interesting. I hope you write and share all these cultural stories and direct experiences. There's certainly a lot of history and knowledge there.
My research is more related to the objects themselves. When the historical evidence is all laid out, the larger context is pretty clear. We know when bronze arrived in the Himalayas, when bronze bowls were developed in other cultures, the direct line of development from ancient Persian and southeast Asian bowls into singing bowls. It's all in my book which will be out soon.
The basic timeline: early Himalayan singing bowls date from the 12th century and are based on earlier Persian bronze bowls from the 9th-11th centuries. The metallurgy, construction methods and decoration are identical - there's little doubt about the relationship. The Persian bowls don't seem to make sound, however. All the oldest singing bowls reflect these early construction methods until about the late 16th century when a new method was introduced from Southeast Asia. There was some overlap with the various types but eventually the early methods were lost. The later singing bowls, on up until the ones made today, are based on bronze bowls from Thailand and Cambodia. These are simpler to make and much more common. There are of course other types of bowls but these are the main traditions in terms of the workmanship.

Interestingly, the piece that is most mysterious to me is the relation between east Asian bell bowls and Himalayan singing bowls. They have a very similar function but the construction, shape and resulting sound is very different. I see a lot of relation between East Asian bowls but not much relation between Himalayan and East Asian bowls. It's almost as if someone from China visited Nepal or Tibet and went home with stories of the bowls that sound like bells, then makers in China came up with their own version, which subsequently spread to Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
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9ways

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Reply with quote  #22 
You are absolutely correct in the Persian data concerning the bowls. Early Persian bowls look very similar in all aspects to the Himalayan varieties. There is a text outlining a musical instrument grouping, in which cymbals and a gong were part of the instruments for a celebration in the area of the old Bactrian Empire, but pre Bactrian; nearly 2000BC. So that puts resonant metal in that geography pretty early. The Zagros Mountain area, in Iran, Iraq and Eastern Turkey were making bronze very early. Large deposits of copper and tin in that area as well. Archaeologists discovered many old bronze bowls and gongs in digs around Hanoi. What is fascinating are the similarities in many of these bowls scattered around Asia. But the Chinese bell bowls are a bit different, and I'm wondering if the technique to make them came from Indochina. The Imperial City was once very close to Vietnam before it moved north to Beijing. You've done some good research in this area, congratulations.
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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #23 
Well I'm not going as far to say they used singing bowls in ancient Persia or Khorosan, but the early technology came from there.
Metal has been used for sound as long as people have used metal. Tuned bells were made thousands of years ago. But it's a leap to connect all resonant metal to singing bowls, just as not all bronze bowls are singing bowls. There are bronze bowls from Greece but they're not singing bowls. There were bronze bells in ancient Cambodia but not singing bowls.
The Persian bowls I've examined don't make sound and aren't constructed for sound. They lack some important features. Experts on the region don't know anything about singing bowls. Plus I think if singing bowls were used in western cultures, they would have spread west as they spread east.
So I still believe the bowls are part of Buddhist traditions and the singing bowl tradition started in Nepal.
As far as I can tell, the oldest East Asian singing bowls would be Chinese, although they seem to mostly have been destroyed. I haven't found any singing bowls of appreciable age in Vietnam, even through there are many objects of other types, including the ancient bronze drums. Likewise Cambodia and Thailand - ancient gongs, bells and bronze drums but no singing bowls. I don't think the singing bowl tradition grew in Hinayana cultures. So the bronze bowls from these countries have other functions as alms bowls or water sprinkling vessels.
However, the ethnographic museum in Hanoi has a few very interesting displays today - one is a replica of an ancient bronze making station and another is an actual unfinished bowl in a mold. They're not anealled bowls like the Himalayan singing bowls, but a type of cast bronze bowl. The only singing bowls I find in Vietnam are quite new, both modern manufactured and modern copies of Chinese bowls. It may also be that antiques were destroyed in Vietnam as in China during the communist expansion.
Japan still has the largest number and variety in East Asia. They may have invented them and sent them to China, but it seems more probable the Chinese started and sent them to Japan.
It's interesting to see the living traditions in Vietnam, Korea and Japan - they use the bowls very differently in the temples. In Japan they're much more symbolic and used as sound instruments alone. In Vietnam they're still used as collection vessels, with monks playing a large bowl while collecting donations in it. In Korea there's still the monk bowl tradition with monks collecting alms in a small bowl that makes sound, either metal or wood. From these living traditions we can draw some conclusions about the historical traditions. There are remnants small and large in various cultures. Piecing together all these points shows a very rich and long heritage. We're fortunate to inherit it.
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Reply with quote  #24 
@Rich G re: "Also worth noting that adept shamans are capable of being in heightened alpha and theta states while also engaged in "beta world" activity.?
Hell yes! I guide people into journeys and am deep into theta state where I hear, see, feel much beyond the physical senses, while touching "beta world" long enough for the next cue to my client. It feels like lucid dreaming.

That state is much different than when I'm leading a drum circle and have accessed alpha state after drumming more than 10 minutes. Yes, I'm able to see energy and work with it, but its a totally different state than theta. The state I access during drumming feels akin to moving meditation. 

@SamuelSoulForce re: "but at the same time if someone comes to me for healing and is excited because they have heard of a 7 metal bowl from Tibet that can cure their cancer you can bet your ass I am not going to give them a history lesson. I am going to give them care and love and use their excitement about healing to cure their disease."
Absolutely! An opening to healing is everything!


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9ways

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Reply with quote  #25 
Catching up to some of the comments: The Singing Bowls we are focused on here, have many uses outside of sound. I have been sharing emails with Frank Perry in the UK all week since it is now published on the Sound Forum there. The West is totally consumed with the aspect of them being solely a sound tool. This is not their main uses in Asia. Shamans, Nagpas, and iha-pa priests use them for various ways. To answer Rich, they do sound them to make a sonic connection to the 'mundum', a mind connection to the shamanic world. They are used exclusively by Bonpo ritual masters as the Lake of the Soul in divination ceremonies in the La Lu ritual and others. I want to point out, that 'true' ritual masters specify what we call a Singing Bowl for this use, but I have been present when a Lama who is not a ritual master but knows how the ritual is performed, uses an ordinary bowl of about 14-16 inches in diameter. When you are totally focused on them as a sound tool, you miss out on many of their other uses.
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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #26 
In my experience, specialized practices and rituals are generally uncommon - not practiced by many people and not practiced often. In many cases, required or customary implements are substituted. So if they need a bowl, they will use the bowl that is available. In fact, many ritual texts which prescribe certain objects or substances will also explain which substitutes are common or acceptable if the required implement or substance isn't available. Especially in Tibet where resources are scarce, substitutions are common and creative use of objects is normal. Shamans especially are endlessly creative. How many uses are there for a bronze mirror, singing bowl, hand bell or mala? So I wouldn't be surprised to see a modern day practitioner using a singing bowl when practicing various rituals. However, that's not to say it's a typical or traditional use. I believe such specialized uses as divination, astrology or other practices are up to the individual practitioners and not necessarily part of any longstanding tradition. Indeed singing bowls are not normally included with the typical ritual implements. The long standing and widespread traditions associated with singing bowls relate to donation collection. When I say widespread and longstanding, I mean spreading over centuries and entire cultures. I mean on every shrine in Asia, a singing bowl is located in the same place, in the lower left of the altar. That is a major tradition and strong indication of how the objects are used. Every temple in Japan has singing bowls with the other musical instruments. That is a major tradition. My research of the major singing bowl traditions is clear: singing bowls are an extension of the alms collecting tradition. They are sound implements and collection vessels. This was their purpose, what they were made to do. They were used for collection and sound over large areas and long periods of time. Other uses are specialized uses - you can use a bowl for anything. It would be impossible to go through the last 1,000 years and various cultures and see all the uses. Just look how many people have taken up using singing bowls in the last 10 years. There have been minor and major trends relating to singing bowls for centuries. Yes I agree they are useful for many spiritual practices and their power is much more than symbolic. However the construction and use of thousands of singing bowls was not for minority use, such as shamans doing divination. The main and original function related to shrine offerings, alms collection and temple donation collection. I think it's most likely that shamans and any spiritual practitioner would recognize the power and usefulness of the objects and employ them in their own way. So, original use: collection vessel and sound instrument. Potential use: varied and unlimited.
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9ways

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Reply with quote  #27 
A point I was trying to emphasize was that secular and non secular uses are numerous across cultures stretching the entire Himalayan traverse, as well as north and south of it. There's a huge difference between someone who can perform a ritual and ritual master. Having worked besides both, there is a clear difference to how they follow protocols. Where a person performing a ritual will make a substitution, a ritual master will not generally, waiting for the prescribed piece to be located. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, so I'm going to leave it at that. If someone would like to learn more details concerning 'traditional use' rather than 'non traditional use' (shortcut) just email me.

Because astrology and divination are primary components to the 'medicine side' of things in both Nyingma and Bon; it's a very common custom to watch them perform rituals certain ways. Each one has their own 'methods', usually connected to what their 'root' teacher instructed them to do. There are levels and degrees to all the training and execution.

The bronze bowls from the Himalayas are most definitely the best 'voices' of all the cultures that make bronze bowls.

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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #28 
Please tell more. What are the uses you've seen with singing bowls? Or write a book about these esoteric uses.
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9ways

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Reply with quote  #29 
Because we've already established that their uses can range from simply an alms bowl to a receptacle to mix medicine in, many of the uses fall outside 'sound', which is the subject of this forum. I have had the luxury of seeing many ceremonies and rituals performed by members of the monastic community over the past 3 decades due to my initiations and training's under their protocols. The uninitiated are never permitted to participate in these circumstances.
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HimalayanBowls

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Reply with quote  #30 
Ok well if that's your response then there's not much to talk about. It's a convenient out and the same basic tune I've heard for years. Yes details of many rituals are secret but we both know that's not what we're talking about. The claims that singing bowls are used extensively in rituals is dubious. I've also been initiated for 2 decades and have conducted ongoing research in temples, monasteries, universities and museums all over Asia. Singing bowls are not included in the wide array of ritual implements, secret or public. They are and have been used for specific purposes - alms collection, donation collection, calling the faithful, as a ritual bell and as a meditation bell. Other uses such as special rituals or mixing medicine employ other types of bowls. Or they are fringe activities - they may use a singing bowl out of convenience, but as I explained they're not part of a wider tradition but more a local specialized use. It may not support your point of view in the mystical traditions but that's where the evidence actually leads.
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