We have already talked about the use of some sounds used in meditation –
… for example the use of Mantras, chanting and the bell used to signal the beginning and end of Zen Buddhistmeditation.
Now it is time to look at others that are used as tools in meditation.
In Asia it is very noticeable that all the Buddhist Temples or Wats have large drums, gongs and often bells
… as part of the decor, either inside –
… or in the case of the bells and gongs,usually outside.
Sometimes these are impressively big –
… in Wat Doi Suthep in the hills just outside Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand –
… there is a gong that is about 8 feet in diameter, and several large bells that are 6 feet or more in height.
In a temple in Laos I saw a drum where the drum skin itself was made from the entire hide of a water buffalo,
… (which are big animals – bigger than a cow !).
It seems that they like the deep bass notes that these large instruments produce,
… and certainly on listening to them, the bigger the drum or bell or gong – then of course the deeper the sound –
… but also the further it carries, and the longer it resonates.
As a result of this, the sounds produced are more powerful in their effect…..it can really be dramatic if you are standing next to an 8 foot gong when it is hit !
It’s almost as if you feel the sound not just with your ears, but with your whole body, which seems to resonate with the sound, right down to your bones.
In many Wats –
…(incidentally the strict and correct meaning of Wat is – a Temple that also has a school and accommodation for monks within the grounds –
… although many temples are called ‘Wat’ that no longer have schools or monks…for example Angkor Wat in Cambodia).
Anyway – inside many Wats, the monks are woken up for their first meditation of the day, by a single big drum.
Typically the drum starts off with a very slow and quiet beat, which slowly gets louder and faster, rising to a peak, and then slowing down again and becoming softer again.
… (Much nicer to wake up to than an alarm clock !)
The very big gongs and bells are usually only used for special rituals, and are sometimes carried in processions.
Another form of sound that is very dramatic is the Tibetan use of long horns or trumpets, that again are used normally only for special occasions.
They are anything up to about 15 feet long, and are usually played two or three together.
As one would expect, they are very low toned, and has been compared to the sound of ‘elephants singing’ –
… I cannot comment on that, as although I have seen many elephants – but never heard them sing !!
The Tibetans also have ‘singing bowls’ like the one on the left – these are usually in a set of 7,
… and are put in a line in front of a Buddha image, and usually kept filled completely with water.
However, when they are emptied, they can make an amazing sound in two ways –
… firstly by being struck by a piece of wood, which gives a prolonged ringing with many overtones –
… and secondly, by running the same piece of wood around the top rim of the outside of the bowl.
Once you get the speed and pressure right, a very penetrating and powerful sound begins to be produced. Softly at first, and then louder and louder as it continues – it has incredible force, and can be heard a long way away.
Once again, only used for special occasions and special meditation “Pujas” or ceremonies.
These bowls are becoming more and more rare, as originally they were made from seven different combined metals, and were only made by the Tibetan monks, according to a secret recipe.
Since the closure of nearly all the Tibetan monasteries by the Chinese, these bowls are not made any more.
I have seen modern copies of these bowls, made in different materials, including glass and crystal. They all have a very pleasant sound, but come nowhere near to the sound of the original Tibetan 7 metal bowls, in either strength, complexity, or duration of the sounds made.
Another interesting use of sound in the context of meditation is where a piece of music itself is used as a meditation tool.
We have already seen where the Sufis use music as sound to do dancing meditation to – (in the Dance page).
Another branch of the Sufis, who used to live in the mountains of Lebanon, meditated to music made using drums, flutes, reed instruments rather like oboes, and other instruments less commonly.
The music itself was a meditation.
Unfortunately, because of all of the problems with war and so on in Lebanon, this branch of the Sufis have apparently disappeared, or moved on somewhere else.
However, there still exists an alternative that we can use.
Maurice Ravel, the French composer who lived from 1875 to 1937, is said by some authorities to have been a Sufi in secret.
He called himself an Atheist, although he was very interested in the Spiritualist movement.
His famous work, Bolero, which is almost his best well known composition, can be used as a meditation by itself.
In my CD and MP3 page I have a download and a CD available for you, with instructions how to use Bolero as a meditation.
In the meantime, if you have a copy, or access to a copy of this music, then the way to use it is as follows;-
Sit quietly, as with the other meditations that we have done, and listen to Bolero, preferably with headphones or earphones, and have the volume set a little bit on the loud side.
Close your eyes, and listen to the music ….breathe slowly and deeply…..and while you are listening…
..try to put the sounds of the different instruments in different parts of your body..
..what I mean is….when the music starts, it is basically just a drum….try to put that sound in the area of your 1st Chakra, (remember – between the genitals and the anus)..
…then the next instrument is a reed instrument – often an oboe….put that in the area of your heart chakra..
..then the high flute sound that comes next…put that at the level of your third eye chakra, between your eyebrows……
…as the repeats of each of the three main themes of the music….(the low drum theme…the middle oboe or clarinet or saxophone theme…and the high flute or piccolo theme)…keep happening..
…..try to put them in each respective chakra as above…
….and keep bringing the sounds back to their relevant place…..(the whole musical piece lasts about 15 minutes…and ends with a big crescendo and discord)..
..them come back to the present and have a big stretch !
I don’t think that this is the best meditation in the world,
… and I don’t know if Ravel actually meant it to be used as a meditation when he wrote it –
… but it is an interesting exercise in sound meditation all the same, and worth a try.
Yet one more fairly common way that sounds are used in meditation is in the form of soft background music.
This seems to be very popular in the West – and can also be relaxing in itself, as well as helping to minimize the effects of other ‘outside noises.’
Obviously the music needs to be as relaxing and ‘mellow’ as possible – so that it will help in meditation – and NOT make you feel like getting up and dancing.
There is a huge amount of such music available ( much of it with names like “Music to Meditate to” or something similar).
Some that I personally would recommend are as follows;-
Any music by Paul Horn – especially one where he is playing in the Taj Mahal, and another in the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Almost anything by Shawkie Roth.
Many tracks recorded by Kitaro.
Some by Bearns and Dexter.
Another alternative is to get a recording of sounds of nature – there are many different ones, but most tend to be too short – so check the playing time carefully.
With all of these added music tools it is important that they are only playing SOFTLY in the background –
… otherwise the music itself can intrude on your meditation and make it less effective.
On the bottom of many pages of this website (including this page), there is a Survey page – where I ask what you would like to see included in the future, please share any thoughts that you may have.
Let’s make this website even better !
On a page a little further on in this website we will be talking about Guided Meditations – my own personal feeling is that this is the very easiest and most effective way to learn about, and practice, meditation.
It will talk a bit about why this is so effective, but the main focus will be on different Guided Meditations that I will be offering – that I think will be very worthwhile for you.