Since ancient times, Buddhist monks and nuns have used bells as part of their daily meditation practices. Among other things, bells are considered a meditation enhancer, as they help practitioners keep their attention focused on the present moment. The sound of the meditation bell is thought to promote a sense of peace and calmness. Advanced Buddhist meditators sometimes practice with bells and other instruments for hours at a time.
The Buddhist meditation bell is used today for a variety of reasons. They include:
- To mark the beginning and end of your session. You can ring your bell a couple of times to introduce ritual and ceremony into your practice.
- To clear your space. A bell can create an atmosphere of purity and inspire deeper meditation. Some people believe that the sound of a meditation bell wards off negative energies.
- As an object of meditation. For an alternative to concentrating on the breath during sitting meditation, you can use the ephemeral sound of the meditation bell to help keep the mind centered.
Two common types of meditation bells
Also referred to as Tibetan prayer bells, tingsha consist of a pair of small metal cymbals held together by a leather string. They are usually about 3”-4” in diameter and produce a pleasant, melodious ringing on contact. Tingsha are popular meditation bells in the West where they are often used to begin and end a meditation or yoga session. They have their origins in Tibetan Buddhism where they are played during certain rituals: the tingsha sound is believed to attract non-human entities that will be benefitted by these specific forms of compassion practice.
Larger tingsha emit a low-toned sound that continues to vibrate for a long time. Smaller ones provide a higher-pitched, pure sound. Though the two Tibetan prayer bells may vary slightly in pitch, the tones are chosen to be harmonious. The sound produced by each of the disks in a pair of the very best hand-crafted tingsha cymbals is practically identical.
The Tibetan Buddhist meditation bell
Traditionally paired with a hand-held metal object called a vajra, the Tibetan bell – or Buddhist meditation bell – is a familiar and widely available instrument. Traditionally, the bell and vajra are part of Tibetan Buddhist rituals where they represent wisdom and skillful means. They are often used together with a small hand-held drum.
Buddhist bells are customarily cast by hand from a special metal alloy in an elaborate and lengthy process and they may present imperfections. They are usually decorated with auspicious symbols. There are bells of every quality, from cheap, mass-produced shrill ones to the beautiful, resonant bells made by master bell-crafters.
Modern and ancient meditation bells
You might be wondering whether a modern Buddhist meditation bell or a traditional one is a better choice. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Modern meditation bells
Although tingshas and Tibetan bells are generally used in traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice, modern bells offer something that older bells may not. Modern manufacturing methods produce instruments that emit a purer, more consistent sound than the older versions. Like traditional bells, modern ones vary in weight, pitch and construction. When picking the right meditation bell for you, let your ears be the judge.
Ancient meditation bells
Originally, Tibetan bells were constructed by skilled Tibetan craftsmen who had an eye and an ear for finesse and precision. However, some recent versions are just dismal imitations of the originals. Many “antique” or “ancient” bells are actually brand new – they’re just made to look old. If old-fashioned bells appeal to you, it’s always best to buy from a reputable source.