Zen Bowls and Other Buddhist Accessories

In Buddhism, there are a number of items that go along with daily, or weekly, practice. Items such as zen bowls, mala, prayer wheels, and gongs are very popular. They not only look pretty to Westerners, but have actual uses within Buddhist religion. The zen bowls are used for a lot of different things, but their most popular use is with Tibetan Buddhist rituals and meditation. The mala are not just a fashion accessory, they are also used to keep track of reciting mantras by counting the beads.

In Westernized Buddhism, a lot of these items have kind of gone by the wayside. I believe that zen bowls are on the rise, but more with secular meditation practices. Mala beads are more of a fashion statement nowadays, prayer wheels are rarely seen unless you’re in a temple, and gongs are used in Yoga and/or meditation studios. And there’s nothing wrong with this. All religions adapt and evolve, it’s healthy. To be honest, a religion shouldn’t be based on it’s past traditions or fundamentals; it should be able to modernize and thrive with current conditions.

Buddhist Facts Part 1

This is part one in our ongoing series of Buddhist facts that you should know.

-Founded in 500 BC in the Northeastern part of India by Siddhartha Gotama (the Buddha)
-The Buddha is not a god, but a teacher
-The language is was written in was Pali, thus the religious text is the Pali Canon
-Primarily practiced in Southeast Asia
-It’s the 4th largest religion in the world with over 350 million adherents
-The 3 major schools of Buddhism are Vajrayana, Theravada, and Mahayana
-Theravada Buddhism is more Atheist, while Mahayana is polytheistic
-Buddhism’s spiritual leaders are monks, though they are called “lamas” in Tibetan Buddhism, and they perform their rituals in meditation halls and temples
-Some schools main goal is to personally reach nirvana, while others is to help others reach nirvana
-Primarily, the cessation Suffering is Buddhim’s main teaching. That the cessation of Suffering is our ultimate way of being
-Many schools of promote Buddhism promote non-violence, being kind, and to avoid drugs and alcohol

Other Good Sources for Learning About Buddhism

This blog is more of a hobby than a professional resource on Buddhism. I stand by the info I present here, but it is in no way backed my any universities or institutions. And if you’re on my site learning about one topic and are curious about another, chances are since this is a fairly new site, I don’t have an article on the topic yet! So here are a number of Buddhist sources that I’ve used in my own research or that I just find to be really impressive:

Wikipedia.org : It’s Wikipedia. Pretty much 99.99% of the info on their is correct and it’s got everything you’d ever want to know about Buddhism. They do a good job of categorizing it too so it’s easy to surf around and travel down the Buddhist rabbit hole.

Buddhanet.net : This is probably the most massive resevoir of Buddhist information on the web. It has countless articles, e-books, podcasts, more links, etc… It’s not the easiest site to use, but it’s not too bad.

SingingBowlZen.com : They are a smaller site but still have great articles on Buddhism and Meditation. I like them a lot because they write for beginners and try to make these topics easier to understand. Check out their “Learn About Buddhism” section.

Please submit any other resources on Buddhism that you think are especially valuable as well.

Why Buddhism?

I’m assuming that you’re on this site because you’re curious about Buddhism, or are already a Buddhist. So if you haven’t quite made up your mind yet about this 2,500 year old religion, there’s probably that obvious question in the back of your mind, “Why Buddhism?” I’ll explain to you my personal reasons for coveting Buddhism and why so many other people do as well.

Buddhism can be religion, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Historically, the teachings of the Buddha were viewed more as a philosophy, and in fact, the Buddha didn’t want his practice to become a religion or receive metaphysical associations. But over the centuries, Buddhism branched off into various schools and evolved into more of a religion; it sometimes borrowed from local mythologies to introduce gods/goddesses, higher planes of existence, etc…

I was drawn to Buddhism because of one truth: Life is Suffering. That is the heart of what the Buddha taught. The sooner that you realize that life isn’t perfect, the sooner you’ll attain “enlightenment” or just a better-rounded life. There is so much suffering in our lives that it’s almost silly to get angry about it. If we can learn to just let the negativity pass and realize that the positive won’t last forever, we’ll be far better off. And that’s what spoke to me the most.

Buddhist Tools

Mala Beads (or Buddhist Rosary) are used in meditation to help keep track the amount of times a mantra is repeated. These are not unique to Buddhism and are also used in Hindu and other religions.

Tibetan Singing Bowls are a type of gong that have been used for hundreds, some say thousands, of years in Buddhism. Buddhist singing bowls traditionally were made of 7 secret metals but are now popularly made with crystal. They can be rung like a gong or rubbed with a stick to make beautiful and long-lasting tone.

Prayer Flags are used in Buddhism to bless a space. They traditionally include 5 different colored blocks of fabric (each with symbols and mantras printed on them) and represent the five elements.

Prayer Wheels are cylinder-shaped objects used primarily in conjunction with Tibetan Buddhism. They have the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra inscribed upon them and spinning the prayer wheel is supposed to have the same effect as actually reciting the mantra.

Tingsha are essentially two little cymbals strung together by a chain or something else. They product a beautiful tone and are used in very similar circumstances as singing bowls (for meditation, sound healing, music, etc…)

Buddhist Statistics

I live in America. And Buddhism here is not widely practiced so it’s not as talked about that the religion is hugely popular in other parts of the world. Here are some Buddhist statistics I found online that help to put things in perspective:

  • There are currently about 350 million Buddhists. That’s roughly 6% of the world’s population, making it the 4th largest religion (behind Christianity, Islam, and Hindu). Of the practicing Buddhists, 185 million practice Mahayana, 125 million are Theravada, and 20 million associate with Vajrana (or Tibetan).
  • The top 5 countries in terms of Buddhist per capita are Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.
  • The top 5 countries measured by total numbers of Buddhists are China, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Buddhist Holidays

A list of popular Buddhist Holidays.

Buddhist New Year: Depending on which school of Buddhism, the Buddhist new year can occur as early as January and as late as April.

Vesak or Visakah Puja (“Buddha Day”): Celebrating the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the first full moon in May.

Magha Puja Day (Fourfold Assembly or “Sangha Day”): Occurs on the full moon of March. It is observed to commemorate an important event in the Buddha’s life.

Asalha Puja Day (“Dhamma Day”): Celebrates the Buddha’s first teaching and happens during the July full moon.

Uposatha (Observance Day): Holy days that take place on the new moon, full moon, and quarter moon days.

Pavarana Day:
This day is the end of the Rains retreat (vassa). In the next month, the kathina ceremony is held, where the normal people gather to make offerings to the Sangha.

Abhidhamma Day:
Celebrated on the full moon in October.

Songkran: A Thai Buddhist festival that lasts for many days during the middle of April.

Loy Krathong (Festival of Floating Bowls): Takes place throughout Thailand on the full moon night of the Twelfth Lunar month.

The Ploughing Festival: When the moon is half-full in may, celebrates the Buddha’s first moment of enlightenment.

The Elephant Festival: An elephant festival on the third Saturday of November.

The Festival of the Tooth: In August on the night of the full moon there is a special procession for one of the Buddha’s teeth.

Bodhi Day (Enlightenment Day): Honors the enlightenment of the Buddha. Buddhists observe Bodhi Day usually on the eighth of December.

Getting to Know the Buddha

The Buddha was one of the most important men to ever walk the earth. After his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, he came to analyze all arguments in a cool and confident manner. So much so, that all who came in contact with the Buddha understood that they were in the presence of someone real special. Part of this was the sincerity he shared with everyone; he strived to share his knowledge of enlightenment with all who wanted to listen and they were all transformed for the better.

For example, a classic story of the Buddha’s wisdom goes as follows: A woman’s baby died and she took him with her to see the Buddha. The Buddha asked the woman to go to town and go from house to house gathering mustard seeds from houses where no one had died. The woman assumed that there was to be a mystical ritual involving the mustard seeds. But as she went from home to home, she realized the lesson about death that the Buddha had taught her.

One way the Buddha described his mission was to spread a “religion of infinite compassion.” Neither caste nor class mattered to the Buddha; he welcomed everyone and was able to see right into their true character. However, he did feel a certain superiority. But it was not in a cocky way, but more like a teacher’s relationship with their student. And even though he did believe that his purpose on earth was to spread the message of enlightenment, he refused to let other refer to him as a god.

Who was the Buddha?

The Buddha is just the name given to Siddhartha Gotama. He was a real man who live over 2,500 years ago in (or around) India. Born into a life of wealth, he was sheltered from the real world. Once he became an adult he decided that the aristocratic palace life was not for him and that he needed to leave and seek out truth. Upon leaving he tried out and practiced many different spiritual disciplines. He found none of them to be the real truth and eventually developed his own path to enlightenment. The first big breakthrough was when he meditated under the Bodhi tree for many days and became enlightened.

The main point of his enlightenment was that life is suffering and until we accept that fact, there’s nothing we can do to cease the suffering. From there, he developed a massive group of followers and spent the remaining decades of his life developing and teaching Buddhism. Some schools of Buddhism believe the Buddha to be more mystical while others approach the topic more philosophically.