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Singing bowls are not Tibetan !!! Let's stop this destructive myth of the Tibetan culture

If there is one name that is widely used and is totally erroneous, it is that of "Tibetan bowls" because they are in fact not Tibetan at all! These objects. labeled as "Tibetan singing bowls", marketed as Tibetan ritual instruments, and stamped as "Dharma products" are neither ancient, nor of Tibetan origin, nor of ritual origin.


As Tenzin Dheden, a graduate student at York University, Toronto representative of the Canada Tibet Committee (CTC), and founder of "Khapse Conversations", a series of discussions with Tibetan scholars, points out :

"The scholarly consensus is that “Tibetan” singing bowls and sound baths are a thoroughly Western invention and their alleged Tibetanness a modern myth. There is no credible historical evidence, whatsoever, of Tibetans ever having used singing bowls"

Although one sometimes reads that "Tibetan singing bowls" can be traced back to a Bon-Po Buddhist and shamanistic tradition, the making and use of bowls specifically for "singing" (as opposed to bowls that are meant to be struck) are considered a modern phenomenon.


"History tells us that these metallic bowls were originally food bowls from North India or Nepal, and today, the bowl has become an object of orientalist fetishization and a star product of the sound bathing industry."

Historical recordings and accounts of Tibetan music are silent on singing bowls. Such bowls are not mentioned by Percival Landon (a visitor in 1903-1904) in his notes on Tibetan music, nor by any other visitor.

Similarly, although missionaries interested in traditional Tibetan healing practices noted resonant and sonorous sounds, they make no mention of singing bowls.


Tenzin Dheden exposes the danger of labeling what is not Tibetan as Tibetan:


The Tibetan singing bowl doesn’t exist and isn’t real, but the racist mythologization of Tibetan people most definitely is. The singing bowl industry aggressively markets itself as reproducing an “ancient Tibetan ritual.”
This Western practice of essentializing Tibetan culture and capitalizing on that cultural commodification forces marginalized Tibetan refugees into a tricky situation — they get the economic opportunity to sell some metal bowls to fascinated white people but at the cost of being a willing participant in the orientalist imagination of Tibetanness, which in turn causes great cultural trauma and pain to the Tibetan people.

and to add:

"Sound energy enthusiasts tend to blur a variety of New Age beliefs and claim that each “Tibetan singing bowl” has its own “frequency,” “chakra,” “planet,” “energy” and accumulated “psychic history.” Diehard connoisseurs travel across the planet hunting for authentic antique Tibetan singing bowls, which they insist have been infused with “sacred ancient sound technology,” unlike cheap and fraudulent “modern knock offs.”
When confronted about their easily falsifiable claims of Tibetan cultural linkages, you find that “sound healers” often dismiss Tibetan people’s disavowal of knowledge by clinging onto the conspiracy theory that singing bowls are purposely shrouded in secrecy because Tibetans are guarding their ancient sound-based spiritual knowledge from prying outsiders.
They insist there exists a secret lineage of metalworking “shamans” who pass ancient mysteries down through the centuries. This example of wilful white ignorance is so patently absurd, I’m not sure whether I should laugh at its sheer silliness or cry at the exploitation of my cultural heritage by bigoted Westerners.
In the Western imagination, Tibetan identity/brand is largely confined to a mythical, asexual, masculine spiritual figure. In this light, my existence as a queer, fashion-loving, atheist Tibetan woman starts to become disorienting and surreal. Now that I have made these confessions, tell me, do I still qualify as sufficiently “Tibetan” to the orientalist eye?
Western bourgeois fantasies about Tibet and the harmful racial stereotypes they peddle simply have no need for the real Tibet and the suffering my country endures.
The real Tibet is subservient to the myth of Tibet. This myth, however, has real power and it has become the dominant framework through which the West perceives Tibetan political struggle. The myth reduces Tibet to a museum exhibit. The myth conflates the politics of Tibet to a question of the survival of a dying, one-dimensional civilization. The myth prevents Tibet’s political concerns from being taken seriously. The myth invites sentimentalities rather than political expediency. The myth ensures Tibetans never get the institutional and governmental support we tirelessly lobby for.

For my part, I remember a retreat in Switzerland that I attended a few years ago. It was given by a Tibetan lama. The organizers had placed a singing bowl next to the place where he was going to teach.

When he arrived, he sat down, wrapped himself in his shawl, in silence. Then he bent down to pick up the bowl, raised his arm to present it to us and asked, "What is this?" The audience answered unanimously "a Tibetan bowl!" to which he retorted:


"This is a Tibetan bowl that is not Tibetan. There are not and have never been singing bowls in Tibet. Look for them in the monasteries in Tibet! You will not find them! Look for them in the rituals! They are not there! We use tingshas."

he said, putting the bowl down. He then took the pair of small cymbals that lay next to it and struck them. Then, without adding another word, he began his teaching.


So we invite everyone who walks in Buddhism to change their names and to respect what is Tibetan and what is not, because using the name "Tibetan-Tibetan" should not become a commercial phenomenon... It is a matter of respecting things as they are and respecting the Tibetan culture.


And I will add:

"Never forget that the black sheep is the one who sees the ultimate reality and it is not because 99.9% of the population is in ignorance that the black sheep must turn to ignorance in order to be like everyone else".
Valérie

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