What’s the significance of the bell? The bell is a bell of mindfulness to encourage us to know when to begin or to end something. It acts like a bodhisattva, gently calling us back to awareness of the present moment. When the bell is rung three times, we stop whatever we are doing and relax and become aware of our breathing. We stay still and silent until the sound dies away. By stopping to breathe and restore our calm and our peace we become free and restore our mindfulness.
How is the bell used? Within the practice we refer to inviting the bell to sound, rather than “striking” or “sounding” the bell. The small rod used to invite the bell is therefore known as the bell inviter. The person inviting the bell (“the bell master”) needs to feel really solid, at peace and present in the moment. Accordingly he or she needs to concentrate their awareness so that the bell will produce a beautiful sound and be of maximum benefit to the Sangha. To help the bell master accomplish this it is useful to first focus on one’s breath and recite the following gatha:
With body, speech and mind in perfect oneness
I send my heart along with the sound of the bell.
May all who hear it awaken from forgetfulness
And transcend all anxiety and sorrow.
Usually before we invite the mindfulness bell to sound it is important to wake up the bell. To wake up the bell we gently strike the edge of the bell with the inviter and hold it there, creating a short muffled sound. This allows the Group to prepare for the full sound of the bell.
The sound of the bell gives us an opportunity to come back to our breath and dwell in the present moment. On hearing the sound of the bell, we stop what we are doing and concentrate for at least three breaths. The following gathas can help us in this practice:
Listen, listen, this wonderful sound
Brings me back to my true self.
The sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha
calling me back to my true home.
Before inviting the bell again, the bell master will allow enough time for three in- and out-breaths.