Singing Bowls and the Chakras

According to Christopher Tompkins (Sanskrit scholar and yogi – http://shaivayoga.com/Home.html), our current chakra system stems from Purnananda Swami who wrote about this one system (‘system of six chakras’) 500 years after the original source, the Kubjika Tantra, (itself one of nine Tantrik lineages) in 1577 CE. However, it now transpires there are many such systems (Tantras) with some being based on 5 chakras, or 6, 7, 9, 10, 15, 21, 28, etc – according to which Tantrik text you are looking at. Some of these chakras are in regions totally unfamiliar e.g. the palette. Then in 1918 Sir John Woodroffe (under his pen name Arthur Avalon) published his English translation of Purnananda’s book (‘The Serpent Fire’). Purnanada’s book had no information regarding what to do with that system.

 

Regarding the seven notes for the chakras, we should also bear in mind that the Sanskrit alphabet has 50 letters (the ‘Garland of Letters’) and in our familiar system the first six chakras have a total of fifty petals. Therefore, taking the Root chakra as our example, there are four petals each with its own sound. Then there is a Bija mantra linked to each chakra. So, in this Root chakra there are five sounds and not one, and with the Heart chakra 13 sounds, etc. Then a further complication arises with each Bija mantra, as these are those for the five elements. These can be placed in any chakra – only adhering to the same ascending sequence. For example, the Earth element could be placed in the Solar Plexus chakra and followed on with the Water element placed in the Heart chakra, and then Fire situated at the Throat, etc. This would result in the sounds of the Bija mantras being in different chakras to that of the current system. In addition to this, it further transpires that there is a translation error regarding the sound (spelling) of these Bija mantras. However, Woodroffe was a Sanskritist, and in Purnanada’s book the actual Bija mantras are missing their vowels. It was common parlance to assume the short ‘a’ in such instances. And so, we have inherited the sequence Lam, Vam, Ram, Ham, Om. But actually: – LAM, VIM, RUM, YAIM, HAUM, OM.

 

 

Working with music since 1964 and with singing bowls since 1971, I’ve yet to discover any ancient texts that put a musical note to the sounds for the chakras. Even were these ancient people to have done so, it is highly unlikely for this to be the seven notes of our C Major scale! – let alone in the pitch standard of today and in Equal Tempered tuning (which we only adopted in the 20th century) when one such unpublished system of five chakras (from the heart chakra upwards – no lower three chakras) comes from 500 – 700 CE. I contest that at such an early date any kind of familiarity with Western music (as it was then!) is most improbable.  It is undeniable that correspondences could have been found within the musical scales of India but I’m not yet aware of any tradition (ancient or modern) regarding this.

 

 

Tibetologist Dr. Alain Presencer (1981 LP ‘The Singing Bowls of Tibet’) and I believe singing bowls are not, and were never intended to be, musical instruments. The nature of the sound of singing bowls is such that several sounds are heard together when struck. This is not the case with musical instruments that produce a distinct musical note when struck (or blown or bowed or sung [apart from overtone singing]). In this regard, it matters little whether we refer to a system of 5, 6, 7, 10, 28 chakras, whatever, it will remain very demanding to fit any one singing bowl to one single exact frequency.

 

Even if we’re not concerned with ancient systems but are happy to link seven chakras to seven musical notes, singing bowls are a poor choice for applying this system. In my experience, apart from sounding several frequencies (more akin to a musical ‘chord’), hand-hammered singing bowls will often produce slight variations in their sound when struck at different points around the rim. When I first find a bowl, I will experiment to find that strike point which seems to produce the optimum sound from the bowl.  However, I also have a problem with these seven notes spanning one octave out of seven. This seems a narrow span of tones for seven chakras that refer to the spiritual evolution of our consciousness unfolded through initiatory experience. Fabian Maman uses seven notes in his model of sound healing although these follow a cycle of Fifths and so cover more than one octave: F, C, G, D, A, E, B (F2 to B5. 1997).  Then, James D’Angelo, another musician in the field, favours a pentatonic scale also beginning on F: F, G, A, C, D, F, G. This extends just beyond the octave (applied to seven chakras).

 

The system of chakras is part of our ‘nature’. An additional problem lies in our modern music (based, as it is, upon the ‘Fixed Pitch’ piano) being out-of-tune with the ‘nature’ of sound (harmonics or the overtone series). In the time of Pythagoras, the notes of our diatonic scale derived from the ratios found in the overtone series. E.g. 9/8, 5/4, 6/5, etc. This is called ‘Pure Tuning’. When a guitar string is plucked it is possible to hear the various overtones sounding harmoniously together. Furthermore, it is then possible to isolate one of these overtones through gently placing a finger upon the point of one of these ratios e.g. two thirds of the length of the string. When we then press the string down from this position upon a certain fret to hear this harmonic (pitch) it would not be quite the same sound frequency. This is because our current ‘Equal Tempered’ tuning system has derived the several notes of the scale from an algorithm. However, there have always been problems with tuning this scale stemming from trying to resolve the ‘Pythagorean Comma’. (Please see diagram/table below – courtesy of Wikipedia). This is not the case with other musical scales in the world that derive from different geometric progressions. It must also be said that bells and singing bowls don’t obey the same law that governs musical instruments. Each bowl has its own unique set of overtones.


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