The Continuing Myths and Fallacies of the Gong [Part 1]

[As of July 9, 2016, I have added additional content at the end of this blog in order to clarify a few things. ~ MB]

Rarely a week goes by without some sort of amazing claims being made on the internet about the powers of Gongs or Singing Bowls. There is an unbelievable amount of 'fact' that is really more personal opinion, or even wishful thinking. I've written before about the folly of assigning various Chakras to Singing Bowls (That's a Heart Bowl, that's a Crown Bowl) and how that's more a way to sell bowls than anything. I remember years ago, when buying Singing Bowls, that they were just Singing Bowls. There was no description or properties assigned to them. It was just, “Here's a stack of bowls, go through them and see what you like.” Now, especially if you look on Ebay, There are Heart Bowls, Root Bowls, Crown Bowls, Healing Bowls, and even complete Chakra sets of bowls. These are all labels that were assigned to them by someone. And they are great selling points. “This is a beautiful Heart Bowl that will just open up your Heart Chakra!”  “I'll take it!Æ

Along with this, is the idea of the bowls being made of 5, 7, or even 10 different metals. “This one contains actual meteorite from high atop the himalayas!” I'm sure that one must be amazing! But they are all basically made of the same age old formula for bell bronze: around 20-23% tin to 80-77% copper, with some trace amounts of other metals (so yes, there could be 5-10 metals due to impurities of the ore used, but those quantities are so small they don't have any real affect on the sound of the finished product). That's it. And that works because it's a very sonorous metal alloy. And before you write to me saying, “Well, I have a bowl that has a lot of silver in the alloy, so there!,” I. Don't. Care.

This brings us to Gongs and how they are not immune to the same sort of fantasy. This week, a German article came across my Facebook page that talks about the 7 Chakras and how they are available to be played on the Gong. Take a look at the picture below:




In this photo we see the Gong divided into 7 specific regions representing the 7 Chakras. This comes from The 7 Chakras and the Gong.   

The article is in German, but I have roughly translated 2 key paragraphs:


Now the gong comes into play. It is a musical instrument that vibrates, and at the same time, different frequency tones ring out. In addition, you can feel its sound waves, when you hold your hand in front of the gong. When you play the gong below, it sounds deeper than when it is played above, near the suspension [cord].

Yes, you can get different tones out of it. Yes, there is some difference between hitting the top, which is somewhat restricted in movement by the cord, versus hitting the bottom, which is freer to vibrate. To a certain degree, you can/will get a deeper sound/tone/note playing the Gong at the bottom because the metal is freer to vibrate and create larger sound waves. But it must be noted that these variations on most Gongs are slight.


I often experience the Gong player interpret the chakras in the gong. They divide the gong physically from the bottom to the top into 7 sections and allocate one the Chakras to each gong section. Example: Someone comes to the sound healer for advise. It is noted that there is a lack of grounding. Now the client is recorded when the gong is struck down below. This is for the root chakra Muladhara (1). The next client wants to be more open and relate to people. That would be the heart chakra Anahata (4). There we hit the gong at about the middle, and the heart chakra is addressed. In the picture above I would play (3), Chakra Manipura (at the navel, the solar plexus chakra).
Now to say that playing at the bottom of the Gong activates the root Chakra is a bit of wishful thinking. Play the bottom of a 40" Gong and then play the bottom of a 20" Gong. You will no doubt experience 2 very different notes and types of vibrations. You can try this out on all different sizes of Gongs and the note will be different. Now tell me how all of these can activate the root Chakra.

The same with different types of Gongs, even of the same size. A 32" Chinese Chau would most likely produce a different note than a same size Wind Gong, or Paiste/Meinl Gong, or a Gamelan Gong. Also, different metals (bronze, nickel-silver, steel, brass) will affect the sound/tuning of same sized Gongs. Now tell me again how all of these can activate the root Chakra.

The second part would be what size and type of mallet you use. Different mallets played in the same place will activate different notes/tones/vibrations. So tell me, how will playing the bottom of any Gong activate the Root Chakra? And if you move up just above the center, you will activate the Heart Chakra?

This is mystical snake oil, wishful thinking. There is no scientific basis what so ever for this. And there are so many variables between Gong choice/mallet choice/playing style, that even 2 different people playing the same Gong may produce different notes/sounds/vibrations.

The moral of the story is this: don't believe everything you see on the internet, even if it appears well written and logical. Check things out. Look for research and other sources to back it up. And be particularly suspect when claims are made about activating specific Chakras.

If someone can provide better translations, or can translate the whole article cited, then please do. Otherwise, let's discuss this…

~ MB

In part 2 of this blog, we'll look at quantum physics, Buddhism, and sound.

Addendum: If you are part of my Facebook circle, then you will know how this blog has opened up a huge discussion. If you have not seen it or been a part of it, then I am posting a clarification that I put up on Facebook in 7/9/16 in response to Satya Singh, the writer of the original article that I reference and commented on in this blog: 


Satya Singh, it’s good to have you here. I would like to clarify a few things:
1) As I wrote in my blog, I welcome anyone else to better translate your article, especially the complete article. I did my best on what was relevant to what I was writing about. My German is minimal at best.
2) I chose these 2 quotes because they are the type of thinking I wanted to address. I also did link to, and point people at, your original article in hopes that they would take it upon themselves to investigate it.
3) Unfortunately, I did not make it clear that I was not pointing a finger at you, but rather pointing a finger at the examples written in your article, and also using your photo as a visual example of what was written. I apologize if people took my article as a criticism of you personally, as that was not my intent.
4) Your article was just another of many other such articles, conversations, email, etc, that has come my way that either advocates or talks about the wide misinformation surrounding Chakras/energy systems/auras and other beliefs, and how they are connected to Gongs, Singing Bowls, Bells, and other sound producing instruments. If anyone reads through my past blogs, they will see that I have written extensively on this very subject before.
5) I am very pleased to see such a wide and open discussion (although I am surprised as to how this particular conversation has exploded). As a writer, I am glad when people don’t just read something and then move on. I feel that discussion is vital to reach mutual understanding and to learn and grow as much as possible. I don’t write for myself. I write for you, who ever reads my words in hope that we can share ideas and information. I also welcome new information that comes my way and causes me to change my stance on something. To not be open to change it to not be open to live. 


Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™




Comments

  1. Thank you! So good to see the application of common sense... as well as physics! And, in my own view, by suggesting certain areas of the gong chime with specific chakra, aren't we then in effect imposing limitations on the capabilities and 'reach' of the gong? To paraphrase: not my will but Thy Will be done...through the voice of the gong.

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  2. Thank you for a dose of humor and insight. The folded edge is a stiffener that minimizes edge motion, which accounts for the very different sounds of cymbals with free edges and the very limited change in sound from top to bottom. Most of the differentiation in gong sounds vary along the radial distance from the center, the compressibility of the mallet or stick end and the bio-mechanics of the stroke, and take many years to learn. The myths are all about supposed shortcuts.

    Some of my favorite percussion albums (along with "Song of the Sacred Gong") are Glen Velez's "Rhythm of the Chakras", based on decades of ethno-musicological studies and practice. You can't learn that from a magazine!

    I don't believe you can even learn to play chakras from a recording. You have to put in the time listening to a gong master in the room, or in Nature.

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  3. Thank you. I am so grateful to keep learning.

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  4. I knew it...Thank you for verifying what I thought was obvious.But they try to make it so convincing.The Gong Experience is different for everyone.I never speak or introduce or anything before I do a Gong session.I want the individual to have their own experience without anyingluence.All I do is make sounds with Gongs so people can ride the waves to wherever it takes them.I dont care about any of that fluff.OK if it means something to you but to lay that trip on the rest of us is bunk.Thanks Michael you are a guiding light.

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  5. Good old common sense that seems to missed. Play and experience without limitations. Labels and constructs are misleading. Trust in yourself... your truth. Great article Michael.

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  6. Great article, Michael, I agree on all accounts with you.
    However, you may find, when Satya will have translated his article in english, that you're both agreeing on many points.
    For example, Satya says that dividing a gong in 7 parts for the chakras is a nonsense...
    What we all agree on, is that Google is worth shit at translating German :D

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I knew that from originally reading the article, but failed to convey that in the blog, hence my addendum…

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    2. It will be interesting to read Satya's translation to english :)

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  7. when an argument is based on a series a premises, one should be aware of them.

    Premise #1: there is some understanding/belief out there is an invisible "ONLY" in front of the words "play gongs in this way".

    Critique: there is a difference between *focus* and *exclusion*. we are free to play gongs in any way we feel INCLUDING playing with a focus on the Chakras.
    There is a Qigong and Acupuncture Master (Yang Hua Zou) working at Illinois Masonic Hospital. When he returns to China he has 2-3,000 people in his classes. He told me there is no more powerful a force in the universe than the human mind - not even the sun is stronger. The point in his saying this to me was to impress upon me how much intention and focus matters, and in this case how I was to practice Qigong.
    We can play gongs and just allow the vibrations to do their good thing and engage artistically, or whatever and/or/but we can also hold a focus within our own body temple or mind, perhaps coupled with breath, to create balance and then let the gong be the amplifier, because that's what the gong does anyway.

    Premise #2: that the gong itself is divided into different zones correlating with chakras.

    Critique: it's not so much that the gong has the Chakras....
    I pretty sure it was never really Yogi Bhajan's intent to have this be written in stone. He was more giving folks [a] perspective to consider that he himself uses.
    it's on the practitioner to consider, reflect on, and fully digest as a frame of reference,....or not. it's not invalid to see the gong in terms of chakras if that is how one is oriented.
    I do group sessions and will occasionally 'work the chakras'.
    Usually, I'm relating in terms of rhythm/space, tone, harmonics, textures, the dynamics in volume, etc between my gongs in a very spacial and non-linear way, but will move back and both and combine both the nonlinear and the spatial.

    there is much else involved, for me, in playing the gong - the gong is a teacher in so many ways.

    more on that some day.... maybe on my own blog

    Blessss!
    Dharam
    --
    Gong Songs
    www.gongsongs.com

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  8. P.S. Yogi Bhajan has also said that "the Gong is God"......
    Have you ever tried to tackle that one? : o ) !!

    he is speaking from a very subjective sense, and making claims that are far from inaccurate...... but not Truth in the common absolute sense.

    He wants people to meditate, and consider ideas beyond their normal state of mind.....

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  9. It is interesting how this post has exploded in many ways. While I'm grateful that so many people have read it and joined the discussion, I must say that I am a bit disappointed (and bewildered) that only 1/10th of those people have checked out part 2.

    In all fairness, I encourage everyone who has read part 1, to read part 2 and the upcoming part 3. I feel it's important to present more than one side of this argument so that we can all stretch our thinking a bit about what this idea of playing Gongs/Bowls/Bells means.

    ~ MB

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