One of the wonderful skills I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh is how to use a bell, or ringing bowl, as an aid to coming back to myself and achieving mindfulness. I almost always start and end my meditations by “inviting” the bell to sound.
Here is a very beautiful teaching by Thây on skillful use of the ringing bowl, or bell, and how it can be a friend to our meditation practice. A the end of the teaching, I’ve included a beautiful gatha, sung by Thây, called “Inviting the Bell” from the album Drops of Emptiness. May this teaching and this music be an inspiration to you and your practice.
Inviting the Bell
Thich Nhat Hanh
I’m going to tell you how to invite a bell to sound, with a small instrument like this, made of wood. The tranquility in us, the peace in us, we have to call them. There’s tranquility and calmness and peace and joy in us, but we have to call them so that they can manifest themselves. This tranquility, that love, that joy, that stability, sometimes we call them Buddhahood, or the nature of Buddha in us.
The Buddha is someone who is very calm, very tranquil. The Buddha is somebody who has joy, compassion and calmness, and the Buddha is not somebody made of materials like wood or gold. When we invite the bell, it’s one of the means to call the joy in us, the tranquility in us, so that we can awaken the Buddha in us. There is a baby Buddha in each of us, and we have to be aware of it. In a practice center like Plum Village, when we invite the bell to sound, we have a chance to touch the Buddha in us, we have a chance to call the nature of Buddha in us, so it can manifest itself.
If we do it correctly, peace will be there in our hearts, and we will immediately become calm water, and we will reflect reality as it is. If we are not calm, the image we reflect will be a distorted image, and when the image is distorted by our minds, the image is not the reality, and it causes lots of suffering. So we have to call tranquility, to invite it to manifest itself.
When I invite the bell to sound, it is because the bell is considered as a friend, someone who helps us to come back to ourselves, become calm. That is why, when I start inviting the bell to sound, I have to pay respect to the bell like this (Thay bows), exactly as we do to our friend. We pay our respect and love to our friend, so I pay respect to the bell: I join my palms, I make a lotus flower or a tulip, and I offer this flower to my bell, to my friend. Then I take my bell and put it on the palm of my hand, lift it to the level of my eyes, and look at it, and I breathe. We have to practice to do it.
When I hold the bell in my hand, like this, I start breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in, I calm myself, and breathing out I smile. My hand becomes a flower, like a lotus, and the bell becomes a diamond, a jewel in the heart of the lotus. Have you heard the mantra “Om mani padme hum?” It is in Sanskrit, and it means, “Oh, the jewel in the lotus flower!”
When you breathe like that, very deeply in mindfulness, with calmness, you become the lotus flower, because there is mindfulness in you that gleams like a jewel. It is a practice, it is not a prayer. Look at my hand, it looks like a lotus flower with five petals, and in its heart there is a jewel. I breathe in with that image, and then I become a lotus flower with a jewel in me. There’s a short poem that you should learn by heart, if you want to invite the bell to sound:
Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness,
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May all the hearers awaken from forgetfulness,
And transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.
Click the arrow icon below to hear Thich Nhat Hanh singing “Inviting the Bell” in Vietnamese. It’s from the album Drops of Emptiness: Songs, Chants and Poetry from Plum Village, France