A Guide to Inviting Bells in the Tradition of Plum Village

This Plum Village bell guide was assembled by Mitchell Ratner, Sr. Dinh Nghiem, Valerie Stains, and Sr. Tung Nghiem (Sr. Pine) and other monastic and lay practitioners, 2012-14.

Basic terms

  • Waking the bell: a muffled sound of the bell done by inviting the bell and holding the inviter on the rim of the bell. Usually one long breath (in-breath and out-breath) between waking up and inviting the bell. The intent is to alert practitioners that there will be a full sound of the bell. If the wake up sound is not heard by everyone, there may be a second wake up sound of the bell to ensure that it has been heard by all.
  • Inviting the three sounds: used to open or close a formal activity, such as a sitting or Dharma talk. It consists of three bells with at least three long breaths between each sound of the bell. The sounds should be equally spaced with the same tone and volume.
  • Conclusion (signal) bells: two sounds of the bell with one or two seconds between them. Usually used at the end of sitting meditation and at the end of the silent period of a silent meals.
  • Small (or mini) bell: a hand-held bell — held in the palm of the hand or attached to a holding rod.
  • Activity bell: a large hanging bell, invited before an activity. The pattern of sounds is a flowing wake-up series of seven sounds: long, long, long, short, short, long, long. Then pause for one breath and invite three longer, louder sounds with increasing volume.
  • Bell of mindfulness: used during Dharma sharings, Dharma talks, and outdoor walking meditation to return practitioners to their breath and to the present moment. Wake the bell and follow with one sound.

Before you invite the bell to sound

Before you invite the bell to sound, breathe in and out and recite this verse to yourself.

Body, speech and mind in perfect oneness
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May the hearers awaken from their forgetfulness
and transcend the path of all anxiety and sorrow.

As you read one line you breathe in. As you read the next line you breathe out.

 

How Many? When?

A single session of sitting meditation

  • Initiation of meditation: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of meditation: wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.
  • After practitioners have massaged their legs, to indicate that they should stand: Wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell. (Practitioners turn to the left.)
  • To bow to the Buddha: one sound of the small bell.

A session of sitting and walking meditation

  • Initiation of meditation: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of meditation: wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.
  • To stand after practitioners have massaged their legs: wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell. (Practitioners turn to the left.)
  • To start the walking meditation: one sound of the small bell.
  • To announce that practitioners should stop and face the centre when they return to the cushion from which they started walking: wake the small bell and follow with one sound of the small bell.
  • To bow to each other: wake the small bell and follow with one sound of the small bell.
  • To bow to the Buddha: one sound of the small bell

A session of sitting, walking, and sitting meditation

  • Initiation of meditation: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of meditation: wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.
  • To stand after practitioners have massaged their legs: wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell. (Practitioners turn to the left.)
  • To start walking: one sound of the small bell
  • To announce that practitioners should stop and face the centre when they return to the cushion from which they started walking: wake the small bell and follow with one sound of the small bell.
  • To bow to each other: wake the small bell and follow with one sound of the small bell.
  • To begin meditation after practitioners have sat down: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of meditation: wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.
  • To stand after practitioners have massaged their legs: wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell.
  • To bow to the Buddha: one sound of the small bell.

A session of sitting meditation and sutra reading

  • Initiation of meditation: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of meditation: wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.
  • To stand after practitioners have massaged their legs: wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell. (Practitioners sit facing the center.)
  • Before opening verse: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Chanting and sutra readings, as indicated in Chanting from the Heart.
  • At conclusion of sutra reading: invite two sounds of the bell and then a third bell after the sound has almost fallen off. (Usually, after one or two breaths.)
  • During a chanting of “Sharing the Merit,” there are two sounds of the bell during the chant and a final bell right after the last word of the chant.

Dharma sharing

  • To begin Dharma sharing: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of Dharma sharing: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • To stand after practitioners have massaged their legs: wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell
  • To bow to the Buddha: one sound of the small bell

Silent meals with introduction

  • If people are already eating: wake the bell followed by one sound of the bell
  • Before the introduction: wake the bell
  • After the introduction: one sound of the bell
  • To begin the Five Contemplations: wake the bell.
  • At conclusion of Five Contemplations: invite the bell.
  • After 20 minutes (often used to indicate practitioners can go for additional food, leave the meal, or end the silence): wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.

Silent meals

  • If people are already eating: wake the bell followed by one sound of the bell
  • To begin the Five Contemplations: wake the bell.
  • At conclusion of Five Contemplations: invite the bell.
  • After 20 minutes (often used to indicate practitioners can go for additional food, leave the meal, or end the silence): wake the bell and follow with two conclusion bells.

Dharma Talk

  • To begin Dharma talk: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Conclusion of Dharma talk: wake the bell and follow with a series of three bells.
  • Wake the small bell followed by one sound of the bell to indicate to practitioners that they should massage their legs and prepare to stand.
  • After practitioners have massaged their legs: one sound of the small bell to indicate that practitioners should stand.
  • To bow to each other: one sound of the small bell.
  • To bow to the Buddha: one sound of the small bell.