Monday, May 11, 2009

Prayer Bells: Like Audible Prayer Flags?

As mentioned elsewhere, I have a lifelong fascination with bells, and have indeed given over some time to their study. The bells that I enjoy the most are Chinese, such as those in the photograph above: a magnificent set dating from around 433BCE, from the tomb of Marquis Yi, of Zeng (would you like to hear them?) Do you know? I once had the opportunity to buy a reproduction of a set not unlike this one. I gave the fellow USD $1000 to hold it for me while I went to find a truck, and when I finally returned with a truck, he had already sold them to someone else. Such is the marketplace mind.

Here is what the bells look like, close up. One sees reproductions all over, and is tempted to think, "These can't be useful." However, in acoustical studies, the replica bells compare very favorably with originals. Did you know, in the most secret studies of bells, they can be used in medical diagnosis, or divination?

I have never been to a Buddhist temple anywhere in the world that did not have bells in evidence, and often in great profusion. These range from the roof bells that adorn the eaves, or the standards on top of gyaltsens, to the large sounding bells.

Above is one of Kyabje Tarthang Rinpoche's Peace Bells, manufactured by Rudolph Perner, in Passau, Germany. According to Rinpoche, "In the Buddhist tradition a bell symbolizes wisdom. The hollow of the bell symbolizes the wisdom of cognizing emptiness, while the clapper represents the skillful means that causes this wisdom to resound in the mind and in the wider world." Rinpoche placed one of these bells at each of the four most significant places of Buddhist pilgrimage: Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar.

The special Lumbini bell dedication includes the following language: "Each time this great bell symbolizing the Buddhavacana rings out, sound flows from its open heart through the sutras, mantras, and prayers upon its surface, and fills the mind of all who hear its melody with the blessings and peace of Dharma." I think this is a very important statement... a very important reminder.

Sort or makes one want to go out and start casting prayer bells, doesn't it?

In one way, its easy, and in another way, it is really quite complicated. The sacred Peace Bells that Kyabje Tarthang Rinpoche commissioned were, "...designed by some of the world's best sound technicians," to "resonate at the heart level." Therefore, the purity of the sound is a major consideration (the Peace Bells can be heard up to 14 miles away).

There is also the practical issue of money. I do not know what these bells cost to make, but I would be very, very surprised if the casting alone was under USD $100,000 per bell.

If you want to get an idea about what goes into making high quality bells, you can visit the website of Petit & Gebr. Edelbrock: a German bell foundry that has been in business since 1690. There is also a nice tutorial (in English) on the Verdin website. Verdin is an American firm that began in 1842, in Cincinnati, Ohio, by French immigrants. I would also be very much remiss if I did not mention Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in continuous operation since 1570: they cast the original Liberty Bell, and also cast Big Ben. Of amusing interest: the Whitechapel Foundry has agreed to honor the warranty on the Liberty Bell, as long as it is returned in the original packaging. Just to give you an idea of costs, a 60" diameter (at the lip) bell from open stock is £39,481 (around USD $60,000).

So, the challenge to making prayer bells for everyone would be to come up with a smaller bell, say around 6 inches, with prayers cast or inscribed, at a cost which would allow their production in quantity.

I have also long thought to have bells done up to chime the Vajra Guru Mantra, and indeed, entered into some preliminary talks on the subject with a manufacturer. It is possible, and would be magnificent in every respect. However, it would cost a very serious sum of money to do it correctly.

Anyway... something else to think about. Sooner or later America is going to have to show the flag on a major (non-sectarian, no monkey business, honestly generous) Buddhist project, and this is just one more idea.

(Personally speaking, I hope it will be the world's biggest Buddhist library -- because we really do libraries best -- but that is another rant for another day.)

Stumble Upon Toolbar

0 reader comments: