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The healing power of singing bowls and their relationship with Tibet


In this article I examine the effect of singing bowls in western Europe. I allow myself to take an open and spacious mind. In musical terms said: I improvise. I will play with the possible links between our Western culture and the culture of Tibet. Scientifically speaking this may be a hypothesis. With this I do? I want to give my ideas some ground. This research is supported by my studies in Tibetan Buddhism. Several schools in buddhism are familiar to me. From Hinayana to Dzogchen. I also have studied the origin of the shamanistic Bön in the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung.

I have traveled in India, Indonesia, Nepal and Ladakh. Again and again I looked for information on the use of singing bowls. I searched in monasteries and I visited craftsmen. I expected to see these bowls when visiting many monasteries. The only singing bowl I found was in the anthropological museum in Jakarta, Indonesia. In a display case with no text for information.


Indonesia has been a buddhist culture for a long time. During this period the Borobudur was built between: 750 and 850 AD. A three-dimensional mandala in open architecture. This wonder of the world has been hidden for a long period under a thick layer of ash and vegetation. In 1814 the Borubudur was re-discovered by dutch people.


What’s happening here? Artworks like the Borobudur are created. Then they disappear and centuries later they appear again. Isn’t this fascinating? And why this re-discovery of this precious treasure Borubudur by Westerners? Is there a tradition for hiding treasures?


Tibetans know this tradition of hiding treasures in the concept Terton. It is information, mostly a wealth of knowledge, that is inside a Buddhist teacher. Because time and culture at that time are not receptive for this knowledge, this information will be removed from the public. At an appropriate time this knowledge will emerge again. Wise and old teachers rediscover this hidden and wise knowledge and through transmission they bring it into a new era. These teachers are called terma.


The question is whether the re-discovery should take place in their own culture. Is it possible that flowering and maturation of this knowledge takes place in a different culture, a different location and by other means?How moves information freely in time and space? Unhindered by space and time? Can instruments like singing bowls be Tertons? Are the soundscales of their overtones Tertons? Maybe this today world is receptive to the revelatory effect of the singing bowls?

In the period of the Borubudur the buddhists were rulers. Since 1957 the Tibetans are refugees and they have gone around the world. The dutch people too have scattered around all over the world and they have influenced other cultures for centuries. What is the meaning of this migration? What is the effect on expansion of creativity, inspiration and vision? What is the valuable contribution of a foreign culture in our own country? Can this have a glimps, a relation with Terton?

Western classical music
Look for the treasure of our western classical music. During this time, many Chinese do have their study at Western conservatories. Among the best performers of Western classical music are Chinese youngsters. Try to listen to Chinese music and you will find a very different scale and value system than in our western classical music. You could say that we need different ears for listening to this chinese music. Then you probably have an idea how difficult it is to listen with different ears. For the chinese people to deal with Western music this calls for an expansion of their perception. This is a very creative process that asks for much inspiration and joy.

Sound and Tibetan monks

In 1998 I was invited for working with music therapy with adolescent traumatized Tibetan monks in India. I left Holland with a shopping bag full of singing bowls. Perhaps this was the first time singing bowls made the trip from Europe to India. When I talked to the monks about our Western music, about melody or rhythm, they did not understood the intention of our western music. To follow a melody line, we westerners use the terms upper and lower. Going up for a higher tone, going down for a lowe tone. This was totaly alien to these monks. They understood thinner and thicker. If the mood of the melody becomes thick, they go down in tone.

I also was unable to clarify the difference between 4/4-measure and 3/4- measure. They have no mental concepts for this. But, they could feel the differences in their body through motion. They experienced 4 / 4 as a straight right line. 3 / 4 was a round circular movement. We westerners do experience this in the same way. This is much more natural because of the awareness of the body.

Bowls and applications

Now, in 2011, singing bowls are widely used in various settings.

In America: for traumatized people, holocaust victims and veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

In Poland they work with singing bowls in prisons. This reduces the rate of suicide.

In Tilburg Soundfulness works with singing bowls with people diagnosed SGLVG (Strong Aggressive Behavior Impaired Mentally Handicapped). The sounds of the bowls supports self-reflection so they can regulate their tension when aggression is showing up.

Similarities in history, east en west

Sound can be very moving. When I went to India I took music from our Western tradition, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). I was surprised how easy and responsive the monks accepted this music. It was as if they remembered the vibrations of the time of Hildegard von Bingen. They resonated in a nonlocal way. In Tibet lived Machig Labdron (1055 - 1149). During the same lifetime as Hildegard von Bingen . Both nuns lived in a male dominated environment. And both had a powerful impact on the cultural surrounding, on the relationship between society and spirituality ( church). In this same period these two women: so far away from each other. They both had so much political and religious significance to their cultural surroundings. Is this an expression of nonlocal consciousness?

Subtle communication

This nonlocal consciousness is an ingredient that invites people with interconnectedness. It also supports the inner-connection inside a person. Between the open healing space and their emotional or physical conflicts . Also a healing connection between trauma, pain or disease and openess, trust. People resonate very easy to the sounds of the singing bowls. The harmony of the overtones create a warm and open contact. In my workshops this enables participants to support themselves in this healing environment. Participants can be geriatric residents in a nursing home. They can be soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder. The subtle sounds make it easy to pass defensive postures of pain and sorrow. The playing with these sounds feels as compassionate care. Specially when working with teenagers. In school these youngsters show themselves to eachother when playing the bowls. They open themselves in vulnerability, without competition or conflict. In the beginning, when entering the class-room they are rebellious and defiant, and feed themselves by their group and they seek confirmation from each other. They clearly feel obliged to their group identity. Gradually during the sound session, they separate from this daily attitude. This is palpable in the room. The pupils have contact and insight in this transformation and they discuss their findings in the group. They have no hesitation to share their intimate experiences.They feel open for the group. A quote of one pupil: "Do you know? Something very special happenend today!" "The class was quiet and for the first time we have really listened to each other."


The Tibetan teacher who invited me to India had asked me to tell the monks about life in my homeland, the Netherlands. In my stories and teaching to these young monks I constantly use rhythm and cyclic motions. For example the cyclic movement of water over the earth. For them it was a revelation to hear that the water raining in Tibet is the water coming from far away. From the oceans over the mountains. Their way of experiencing nature is that everything in nature is one. The raindrop of the ocean they have never seen. But, with their nonlocal awareness they are in touch with a huge volume of spaciousness. They themselves are the ocean. They have never learned to support this feeling with mental concepts. We westerners are very active in grasping these mental concepts which we call “learning”. My buddhist teacher at the Borobudur-retreat learned me: in nature everything is connected. Our mind, our mental concepts split this interconnectedness. He said: the open sky does not split, it holds all colours. This open mind-spirit he named rainbow mind. At that moment during his teaching , he pointed back over his shoulder. I looked and I saw a rainbow in the clear blue cloudless sky. When playing the singing bowls I am in touch with this clear open sky. I listen deeply to the timbre of the overtones. Then I do know the interconnectedness of all beings.

Kees Peters


The Netherlands  Oktober 2011

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