Symbol Of Emptiness In Tibetan Buddhism
It was the end of the first week of May that we landed at Dehradun and then boarded a four wheeler for our onward journey through the hilly and beautiful terrain to Musoorie. We went there for our official training .Musoorie is a peaceful town and our hotel room had a spectacular view of the mountain and valley. Our room had a beautiful garden on one side from where you can see the first rays of the sun falling on the hills of musoorie. Overall the ambiance was perfect for a morning stroll and meditation.
After the training in the evenings we explored the market in the mall road ,walking up the hilly road, gasping for breath. But was quite interested on the various item displayed on the shops on two sides of the road. I was walking by when a hoarding on a shop for gift items attracted my attention. It said Tibetan items available here.I went inside the shop with curiosity and gazed at the various items on display. A statue of Buddha, Ganesha and several other items were there. But on the window sets of bowls with a caught my attention.I asked about it. The shopkeeper brought out one bowl set and started moving the mallet on the rim of the bowl.
Beautiful and peaceful sound like AUM resonated and filled by body mind and soul with peace and tranquility. I was overwhelmed by the sound. The shopkeeper told me that it was used for meditation and healing purpose. There was a technique of holding it in the hand and playing it. I tried but no sound came out at first. After trying for two three times I learnt how to play it. The vibration ran through my whole system and filled me with peace and tranquility. I was absorbed in the sound. The bowl had mantra written on it and picture of Buddha in side the bowl was inscribed. Various sizes bowl were available with different design varying on the number of images of Buddha . The mantra was written in tibetan language which I learnt was “Öm Mani Padme Hum”. It is the famous mantra of Tibetan Buddhism and chanted my Tibetan monks and Lamas .I was very much interested on the item and bargained with the shop keeper. I searched for other shops having the same item but didn’t find one. So ultimately I purchased one as I wanted to use it for my meditation and well being.
When we travel to different places we learn new things only we have to be open to the environment. Travelling teaches us a lot. When I came back I was curious of knowing about this singing bowl .I started using it during my meditation practices in the morning and evening. I liked the aura and vibration it created and it deepened my experience. I became inquisitive and started searching for its significance.As a result what transpired to me I would like to share.
Origin and Material of The Bowl
According to Tibetan sources singing bowls are reputed to be made of an alloy consisting of five, seven, or nine different metals. Legends state that one of these metals is meteorite iron. It has been hypothesized that this use of meteorite iron may be one of the reasons why Tibetan bells have such amazing sounds. As the meteorites found in Tibet have traveled through a thinner layer of oxygen there would have been less burn-up of the meteorite iron, hence the meteorites found there may have a quality different than any others found in the world. Meteorites found in Tibet were said to have come through an atmosphere with very low oxygen levels. These meteorites were usually found in the uppermost parts of the Himalayas. Having come from a location closer to the heavens, these meteorites were considered to be of sacred origins, and thus were highly regarded by the Tibetans. Moreover, the low oxygen composition of these meteorites may explain the miraculous healing powers of singing bowls.
The very first singing bowls were said to be made of pure copper and produced for both medicinal and musical purposes. They were produced primarily inside the homes of the artisans. Knowledge about the metalwork was passed on from generation to generation, although eventually this knowledge chain was broken. Some time later, singing bowls began to be made of brass, which is a combination of various earth metals, including copper. . Some anecdotal references say that 2,000-year old brass singing bowls appeared in a Chinese region at the dawn of the last century.
The singing bowls’ Tibetan origins added to their historical ambiguity. Although singing bowls could be found inside monasteries and homes, it was said that monks were not allowed to discuss anything about these bowls. As a matter of fact, the monks’ sacred text, called the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, also contained no information about the bowls. Anecdotal references say that Tibetan lamas and monks used these bowls for secret, sacred rituals. It is even said that these rituals were so spiritual in nature that it gave the monks the ability to astral project and travel into other realms and dimensions.
Historically, singing bowls made in the succeeding centuries were believed to have been crafted by combining several types of metals, anywhere between five to nine, and sometimes even twelve types of metals. The most common composition was of seven metals. These metals were consecrated with each metal believed to represent a heavenly body or a planet: Gold (Sun), Silver (Moon), Mercury (Mercury), Copper (Venus), Iron (Mars), Tin (Jupiter) and Lead (Saturn). These metals were smelted and purified prior to being cast, reheated and hammered into form. Old singing bowls were believed to have been imbued with wishes, usually through singing chants or mantras.
Although there were also small traces of other metals, old singing bowls were crafted predominantly with copper and tin, which, when combined, form a type of bronze called “bell metal”. Combining these two metals produces a harder yet elastic enough metal that, when struck, creates better reverberation. This type of metal has been used for ages in creating bells. In India, this type of metal was historically used to create cookware and eating utensils as it is believed to possess potent antibacterial properties.
These bowls are often used in religious and spiritual settings, invoking meditation and relaxation. They can also be used in healing and for treating various illnesses through sound therapy. The sounds singing bowls produce create a kind of energy medicine that is said to fix the broken frequencies of the body, mind and soul. Playing these bowls creates a centering effect, which causes the left and right sides of the human brain to synchronize with one another. Thus, various activities such as yoga and other forms of meditative practices sometimes employ singing bowls, as they have the miraculous ability to bring the listener to peace and calmness.
ROLE OF SOUND IN OUR LIFE
Hindus believe that the world began with a sound, and thus sound plays a very important role in our bodies and in the universe as a whole. Sound as an alternative healing method has been practiced in many cultures for many centuries. It is believed that the delicate and unique sound of singing bowls can deeply affect our bodies, and can beneficially affect the body’s physical and psychological state. Our bodies contain several energy centers, or chakras, running from head to toe. These energy centers are believed to correspond to specific tones which the singing bowls can naturally produce.
Alternative healing practitioners typically use several smaller bowls with flatter bottoms, and place them on top of these energy centers. The resonance and vibration of singing bowls when placed on top of these energy centers are believed to penetrate more deeply than bigger and heavier bowls which are typically placed above or beside the body. In the traditional Tibetan healing practice, singing bowls are also believed to increase the efficacy of various medicinal herbs. Additionally, when used as an alternative healing method, singing bowls are said to alleviate the negative effects of chemotherapy and radiation in cancer patients, although there are no scientific studies to support this conclusion yet. However, reports say that singing bowls helped patients develop a sense of peace and well-being, and also reduced pain.
SINGING BOWLS ALSO SIGNIFY THE CONCEPT OF EMPTINESS OR SHUNYATA
Tibetan Buddhism is a unique depository of eastern thought. The country is nestled between China and India, Kashmir and Nepal and has adopted elements of different traditions including Shaivism, Indian Tantra, Japanese Zen, of course Indian Buddhism and also includes elements of the shamanistic tradition of Bon which was native to Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism in the 8th century. Tibetan Buddhism is an eclectic mix of the best of the orient which can make it difficult to penetrate so different Tibetan masters over the years have summed it up into several main categories. It has even become a curriculum of gradual stages to enlightenment expressing all the great traditions in a step by step path to complete and full enlightenment
Sunya is a being that lies behind the world of relativity and conditioned existence. As a metaphysical being it is neither relative nor conditioned. The world is sunya because it is relative and has no independent existence of its own. Beyond the use of singing bowls to signal the beginning and end of meditation, devout Buddhists use them in what they call “sound teaching.” This nonverbal teaching also incorporates conch shells, tingshas, and drums, each of these instruments having its own teaching. According to Lama Lobsang Leshe, the bowl’s message is “about broadness and emptiness” — not a mantra so much as an “emptiness teaching,” a transmission said to come from directly from the Buddha without needing words. Some monks even hold to a custom of never talking about the bowls, lest words themselves distort the essence of the teaching. It’s the purity of sound itself, they say, that allows the seeds of Dharma to sprout.
CONCEPT OF SHUNYATA IN VEDANTA
Sunya as a metaphysical concept can be acceptable and accorded the same position that Brahman in Vedanta has. The Shaivites translate sunya as ‘abhava’, which when broken up becomes ‘a bhava’ meaning Shiva and world or objects lying in His consciousness. Sunya, to them, is in no case or condition as what the Buddhists call void or emptiness. Sunya is what the Shaivites call ‘sad-bhava’ which marks the presence of world or objects, but in a state of total mergence.
The following verse explains the Shaivite position on sunya:-
ashunaym shunyam iti ukhtam, shunyat abhava uchyate,
abhava satu vigyeyo yatra bhava layam gata
It conveys that sunya is asunya, not the condition of sunya, void or emptiness. Sunya means abhava (in translation), which again means a state in which objects (bhavas) lie in a condition of absolute mergence (in Shiva’s consciousness supreme, the objects are there, but not in their name and form, but in a state of absolute dilution indistinguishable from Shiva’s consciousness supreme also called ‘maha-vyom’.
SHUNYATA AS ONE OF THE FOUR MAIN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM
The four main spiritual practices of Tibetan Buddhism are Renunciation, Bodhicitta, Emptiness and Vajrayana.
Renunciation has the connotation of turning away from something. It means to turn away from worldly pursuits to achieve happiness and turn toward inner and spiritual means to achieve happiness and fulfilment. It is the beginning of the spiritual quest after realising the limitations of wealth, fame and material possessions to bring lasting happiness.
Bodhicitta is a type of great love and compassion that informs and motivates our spiritual pursuits. Upon reflection of the insubstantial nature of the world and the vicious cycle of looking for satisfaction in objects which are inherently unsatisfying we realise the unnecessary suffering of ourselves. Bodhicitta is therefore as humble as it is grand. Humbly bowing in respect to all living creatures in deep appreciation of our shared suffering and shared pursuit of emancipation. I cannot achieve my own peace when my brothers and sisters of the world are still trapped in suffering. Bodhicitta is the courageous attitude that we are all in this together and if I am to end suffering I aim to end all suffering.
As the Dalai Lama has assured us:
“I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquillity comes from the development of love and compassion.”
Shunyata: It is through realising the truth of emptiness that gives rise to the deepest wisdom and the power to purify ignorance and transcend suffering. Therefore it is probably the most widely practised meditation and contemplation of Tibetan Buddhism.
In its most simplest form emptiness is the fact that everything changes and therefore has no lasting identity or substance. When we look at anything and label it, that thing is in no way fixed and what we are labelling is the present moment appearance of something that is in flux. Because labels don’t change but things do .
No matter how good the picture or representation of something is it is always different from the lived experience of it. That is why with mindfulness we are taught to try and be aware of the present moment in a non judgemental way and therefore taking in more of reality and less of our opinions about reality. Reality is only truly touched fully when we experience things directly without the mediation of language. Seng Tsan a great Zen master says:
“If you want experience the truth simply give up your opinions for or against anything and the truth with reveal itself.”
Meditating on emptiness by seeing things without judgement or labels and particularly seeing yourself without any judgement or labels opens up a whole new mysterious world filled with its own deep wisdom, unconditional love and radiant bliss.
Literally it means the diamond path and it is usually practiced after the realizations of renunciation, bodhicitta and emptiness. The void filled with love, wisdom and bliss are understood to be the nature of all beings and all things and is sometimes called the ground or source of being. Vajrayana is a skillful means to directly relate with this underlying reality and bring it into the world through visualization, mantras and blissful energy.
The foundation of Vajrayana is faking it until you make it. Essentially visualising yourself as an emanation or extension of the underlying fabric of reality which has been understood to be void, love and bliss. There are many different deities or enlightened figures in Tibetan Buddhism which a practitioner can visualise themselves as but essentially it is visualising and imagining yourself as a fully enlightened being made of love and light. As a modern saying goes ‘whatever you can conceive you can achieve’ so there’s great intelligence in this ancient inner technology which employs the imagination to conceive of yourself as an enlightened being radiating love, bliss and benefiting every single sentient being in the universe.
The second stage of Vajrayana is using the bodies subtle energy system to help connect with bliss and access ever deeper states of consciousness. Working with energy channels in the body and chakras the meditator experiences the unity of all beings and transforms mundane desire into a powerful fuel igniting a super charged path to the enlightened state. All this untapped blissful energy is within all being and Vajrayana brings it to the surface and it is literally working with the blissful rays of the underlying source of reality.
SHUNYATA THE MYSTERY
In old China, the universe was described as appearing first as q’i (chee), an emanation of Light, not the physical light that we know, but its divine essence sometimes called Tien,Heaven, in contrast to Earth. The q’i energy polarized as Yang and Yin, positive and negative electromagnetism. From the action and interaction of these two sprang the “10,000 things”: the universe, our world, the myriads of beings and things as we perceive them to be. In other words, the ancient Chinese viewed our universe as one of process, the One energy, q’i, proliferating into the many.
In their paintings Chinese artists depict man as a small but necessary element in gigantic natural scenes. And since we are parts of the cosmos, we are embodiment of all its potentials and our relationship depends upon how we focus ourselves: (1) harmoniously, i.e., in accord with nature; or (2) dis harmoniously, interfering with the course of nature. We therefore affect the rest: our environment, all other lives, and bear full responsibility for the outcome of our thoughts and acts, our motivations, our impacts. Their art students were taught to identify with what they were painting, because there is life in every thing, and it is this life with which they must identify, with boulders and rocks no less than with birds flying overhead. Matter, energy, space, are all manifestations of q’i and we, as parts thereof, are intimately connected with all the universe.
Tibetan metaphysics embraces all of this in discussing Sunyata, which can be viewed as Emptiness if we use only our outer senses, or as Fullness if we inwardly perceive it to be full of energies of limitless ranges of wave-lengths/frequencies. This latter aspect of Space is the great mother of all, ever fecund, from whose “heart” emerge endless varieties of beings, endless forces, ever-changing variations — like the pulsing energies the new physicists perceive nuclear subparticles to be.
That is: the dance of Siva.It is the dance of attraction and repulsion between charged particles of the electromagnetic force. This is a kind of “transcendental” physics, going beyond the “world of opposites” and approaching a mystical view of the larger Reality that is to our perceptions an invisible foundation of what we call “physical reality.” It is so far beyond the capacity or vocabulary of the mechanically rational part of our mind to define, that the profound Hindu scripture Isa Upanishad prefers to suggest the thought by a paradox:
तदेजति तन्नैजति तद्दूरे तद्वन्तिके- ।
तदन्तरस्य- सर्वस्य तदु सर्वस्यास्- य बाह्यतः ॥
tadejati tannaijati taddūre tadvantike |
tadantarasya sarvasya tadu sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ ||
It moves. It moves not. It is far, and it is near. It is within all this, And It is verily outside of all this.
Or as Schrödinger would have it:
Consciouness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular….Consciouness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that; there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian Maya).
In short, the mystic deals with direct experience or “Aparokshanubhuti” the intuitive scientist is open-minded.
My back ground of science and spiritual upbringing is awestruck with the philosophy of shunyata. Shunyata or Purnata? Will this Tibetan Singing bowl reveal the message to me? Will this sprout the seed of spirituality within? Only practice and time will reveal the mystery….
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