The Brass Bowl

Creating an other-worldly atmosphere



Some years ago I visited the Fleet Space Theatre in Balboa Park where an exhibit in its science museum seemed to fascinate a crowd of onlookers. I drew close to read a placard claiming this intriguing treasure was from some Oriental dynasty, thousands of years old.  It was a simple brass bowl 18 inches across, decorated with engraved Chinese figures. What attracted us was seeing the contained water in a raging boil without flames beneath it. A woman was rubbing the bowl, which seemed magical. Was she a wonderworker? No, because others took her place and could do the same as she did.

I looked around at neighboring faces, especially those of the children, and saw wonder and amazement. I finally got to try it, experimenting until water droplets started leaping a foot or more from the water’s surface. The trick was rubbing the bowl at exactly its resonant frequency, as discovered by trial and error. The same effect occurs when an opera star shatters a wine glass with her voice. Acoustic engineers design symphony halls to amplify resonance, much like when our voice echoes at a certain frequency in a room.

I continued working the same pressure and rhythm until the water churned as a small sea storm inside. But rubbing the bowl so vigorously was tiring. And it emanated an eerie, hypnotic sound like tinkling chimes that seemed to echo in my body and mind. The experience was both calming and exhilarating because I sensed the physical boundaries between my body and the brass bowl. All walls and spectators seemed to dissolve. If it were not that my arms had grown too tired and I had to stop, I anticipated complete transcendence into my surroundings ― never to return.

Tibetan Buddhist monks have long used such decorative “singing bowls” in their ritual worship, producing a rich, deep tone that promotes tranquility with powerful healing properties. My experience of transcendence left me feeling peace of soul in mystical communion with life.

The old traditional Catholic Mass appeals to all our senses through incense and chanting, altar chimes with the Eucharist raised, the touch and taste of wine and bread taken in Holy Communion, and the glitter of gilded robes and candlelight. It can promote that other-worldly atmosphere where dedicated participants achieve resonance with God, but, like the singing bowl, this comes only with sustained effort.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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