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#1803 - Thursday, May 20, 2004 - Editor: Jerry  

Daily Dharma  

"During retreats Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) encouraged participants to give calm, bright-eyed attention to each daily activity, whether eating a meal, drawing a Buddha, or just walking quietly, aware of the contact between our foot and the earth which supports it.  In order to encourage this kind of mindfulness, a 'bell master' sounded a large bell regularly, and everyone stopped their activity, breathed three times, and recited silently, 'Listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.'  'A bell is a bodhisattva,' Thay said, 'It helps us to wake up.'"

~~Peter Levitt

From the book, "The Heart of Understanding," published by Parallax Press    


ASIAN BELLS: general description and casting

The word Buddha means to awaken, and so sound of bells is central to Buddhist practices.

Through Buddhism, and its spread through Asia, the large temple bell evolved and was eventually taken up in the West. Buddhist temple bells have evolved into slightly different shapes in the various regions of East and South East Asia. They are generally fairly cylindrical in shape and have a thickened rim around the mouth of the bell.

Buddhist bells are usually struck by large logs of wood suspended horizontally beside the bell. These must be large enough to excite the fundamental frequency of the bell, and not too hard, so that the lower frequency modes are the most prominent in the sound. The nipples found on Japanese and Korean bells, and other surface details generally found on Buddhist bells have important spiritual significance, but are unlikely to make an audible difference to the sound of the bell.

Large Buddhist bells are usually heard in isolation, and their sound is complex and varied. However smaller untuned bells are arrayed in large sets around temples in Thailand. Devotees strike each bell for the forgiveness of a sin as they ascend the temple, and the complexity of the resulting sounds are extraordinary.

The Emille Bell in Kyong-ju, Korea Typical Japanese Boncho bells at Iwasawa foundry in Kyoto (a Korean style bell is in the foreground)
Thia bells at a temple near Chiang-mai

A Ming dynasty Chinese bell in the Beijing Bell Museum

Cambodian Bells at the Asten Bell Museum in Holland




Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

all creeping things -
the bell of transience.





The drilbu or hand bell is always played in the left hand at heart level.  It is held at the middle of the handle (rather than the end) and swung back and forth on its fulcrum.  The sound of the bell reminds the meditator of the inherent emptiness of all things, and the enlightened quality of wisdom one must develop to attain this realization.       

Skye Chambers
Highlights 218

Hi Skye,

I've been interested in Goenkaji for some time but have
never done the program. Could you give us a few words on
your own understanding of the approach and perhaps something
on your experience of the practice?

Thanks, Larry

Hi Larry,

Happy to be of service.

During the 9 days of sacred silence (in my case with 70
people), no meeting of eyes, no reading, tv or radio, no
entertainment none of the usual external entertainment one
starts to experience sensory deprivation and strong esp and
psychic hallucinations appear, annoying at first. On the
last day of sacred speech, which by the way is like an
enormous dam of love bursting we literally ran into each
other's arms, hung off our bunks into the wee hours, going
over the amazing experience. All had experienced these
strong psychic hallucinations from being deprived so
unexpectedly. I just ignored them.

My most prominent impression during and after the retreat,
other than the amazing waves of peace and serenity i felt,
was that we are SO MUCH stronger than we ever realize, Jan
knows this. Because it does become a TORTURE! We were
meditating in total silence from 5am till 9pm and the monkey
mind/body plays all sorts of tricks to try and tempt you to
stop!! catch the plane to Bali, anywhere, anything is
better than this :-)

Three times a day Goenkaji joined us for 1 hour periods,
guiding our mediation and giving dharma talks. He entered
from a side door sat on a dias in in the lotus position in
front of us, females one side of the hall, males the other
so as not to divert attention at any time.

On the first day "GONG" 4AM! shower, we are quite rested
and not in need of much assistance, so the meditation begins
with the buddha's technique of concentrating on the breath,
as it flows out across the little triangle between the nose
and mouth and to bring ones attention back there constantly
whenever our thoughts have carried us away again.

On the third day "GONG" 4AM! shower, we are to meditate on
a circle at the top of the head. We all burst out laughing
- oops - at the end of the day when he comes out and says
"feels like little ants running around up there doesn't it".
He also explains that today and tomorrow may become really
hard to endure and the mind will try to find excuses for why
we should not continue. But it is not wise to get up of the
operating table with your guts open, we will bleed
psychically everywhere, so just press on. And sure enough
it became harder.

On the fourth day "GONG" 4AM! we are to meditate on each
and every portion of the head, for we are unable, like
experienced yogis, to feel the whole body down to the toes,
as though a bucket of water had been dropped from above. We
all nod when he says at the end of the day "bet you couldn't
feel this part here or there" etc and it was so, we are
blind to much of our own body. That fourth day is grueling
because we also begin the 1 hour 3 times a day sitting
without moving a muscle. Wow thats a challenge, one really
competes with oneself now. When one gets an itch or the
limbs start to burn from constant unrelieved pressure,
nothing can be done about. At the end of each hour Goenka
comes through his door to release us. All eyes have been
glued to that door for the last half hour praying for his
entrance to relieve us from our pain. Hilarious. Though
not at the time.

On the fifth day "GONG" 4AM! shower, we are instructed to
meditate on every minute portion of our upper limbs, which
of course is not easy and the grueling 1 hour 3 times a day
sitting, continue now till the end of the 9th day. On the
sixth day, the lower portions of the body.

On the eight the whole body.

On the 9th i began to feel a vibration just outside the skin
which seemed to vibrate so fast it is still?? Some sort of
a bliss body? It felt like bathing in rays of sunshine and
i felt so alive and aware of myself and everyone around me.
I had learned so much. Now i refuse to believe myself,
whenever i cry "i can't" anymore. We can, but it was tough,
for this sensory overloaded 20th century child.

The vegetarian food was exquisite, males and females dined
in separate rooms facing a panoramic vista of blue blue
eucalyptus mountains, ahh how the marvels nature mesmerized
us. After the fourth day all heavy grain food stops after
lunch and the evening meal consists of fruit only.

I could go on forever, but that is how it affected me.
Naturally others spoke of different effects, some none at
all. A pregnant woman and her 10 year old attended and she
and we were all astounded that her child had been able to
sit patiently through every meditation throughout the whole
nine days!

At the end of the retreat one pays only for what one got out
of it. Payment is not compulsory. But many must have been
contributing over the years because the retreat is looking
gorgeous, zen gardens and all.

much love skye

P.S After the first 10 days, one has become what is called
an "old student" and is now free to use the retreat for any
length of time, 1hour, 3 days or whatever and also to become
a volunteer worker.    


from Dominican Spirituality. "Dominican Life is Fraternal."

It is impossible to live day by day, year after year, in community, standing beside the same person in choir, sitting beside him in the refectory, without being tried in many ways. Then there are the bells that keep ringing, summoning the religious to stop one thing and take up another. Said one sister: "One day I counted thirty-four bells from 5 A.M. to 9 P.M. There is nothing but bells, bells, and more bells." Such regularity is one of the greatest mortifications of religious life.

St. John of the Cross writes that the common life not only consoles and supports the religious but also tries and tests him. St. Therese of Lisieux tells of the annoyance she suffered from the nun who constantly rattled her rosary. That does not bother most of us, but it bothered her. Another nun, washing handkerchiefs, splashed the laundry water into her face. It is not necessary to describe more of the well-known vexations of the community life. To bear them for a lifetime demands the exercise of many virtues.

  Red Bells

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