The Ornate History of the Rin Bell

Rin Bell placement with striker in front

The history of the rin bell is deeply intertwined with meditation practice. During meditation, everything around you is involved in the experience – from your meditation cushion to your surroundings. Indeed, silence itself is an integral part of the meditation experience, but sound is as well. The rin bell acts as a stark counterbalance to silence, calling attention to your own awareness.

For the unfamiliar, rin bells or rin gongs are a type of bowl-shaped standing bell that are usually placed on a pillow, which allows them to vibrate freely. A lacquered wooden stand traditionally supports the pillow and bell. Striking them on the outside with a mallet or striker will produce a clear, lingering tone. 

The History of the Rin Bell

Buddhist practitioners use rin bells to accompany periods of meditation and chanting. Families would also use them domestically for household worship. In Japanese temples, Buddhist monks use the rin along with a rei or inkin (a small hand bell). Bronze temple bells, known as keisu bells,  are usually hand-hammered and sometimes decorated on the outside. In Chinese Buddhist temples the chanting of prayers may be punctuated by the striking of a qing, typically a hammered bronze bowl between 10 and 15 cm in diameter. The muyu or mokugyo, percussive instruments, are often paird with the qing or keisu.

Metal bells are thought to have originated in China, with large bronze bells being cast as early as the 13th to 11th centuries BCE.  As Buddhism spread across China in the 2nd to 7th centuries CE, many large bells were produced for rituals, some made from cast-iron.

Early Chinese standing bells, called nao, were in the shape of goblets ranging from 8 to 50 centimeters across. The best rin bells today are made in Japan from brass or bronze. Their sizes may vary from a few centimeters to a meter across – the larger the bell, the deeper the sound. Small rin bells may be held gently in the hand. The shape, size, and thickness of the bell contribute to its unique sound, making each rin bell truly one of a kind. The artistry involved in creating these bells further adds to their allure.

The Sound of Meditation

Photo by Raimond Klavins

Although the history of the rin bell is predominantly Chinese and Japanese, today the instrument cuts across cultures. Many traditions now utilize the clear, long-lasting vibration of a rin bell for relaxation, meditation, and music therapy. Consequently, composers have called for standing bells in a number of contemporary classical music scores, such as John Tavener’s Total Eclipse (1999). Kabuki theaters in Japan frequently use them as well.

The rin bell’s sound serves as a gentle reminder to be fully present in the moment, embracing the stillness within.

Especially during meditation, the rin bell can serve as a focal point, grounding practitioners in the present moment. Its ethereal sound becomes a point of concentration, drawing the mind away from distractions.

The accompanying multicolored cushion adds a touch of vibrancy to the meditative space, symbolizing the myriad hues of life. It creates a warm and welcoming environment, inviting practitioners to immerse themselves fully in the present moment.

The rin bell resonates in the hearts and minds of people everywhere. It stands as a reminder of the power of sound to elevate the human spirit and connect us with our inner selves.

Rin Bells from Still Sitting

Rin bell front view with striker

Still Sitting offers rin bells made in Japan in three unique sizes with excellent tones. Depending on the size of the bell, tone and resonance will change. The type of striker affects the sound as well; we’ve experimented with different strikers and found that wood or metal sounds best on a brass bell. 

Read more from Still Sitting about how rin bells have brought friends and family closer together.

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