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Tibetan singing bowls are not Tibetan?

This month, a friend forwarded me a Toronto Star article titled “Loss. Grief. Acceptance. How the ancient Tibetan practice of sound baths brought me peace.” He jokingly wondered why his parents never bothered to give him “sound baths.” I agreed.

Allow me to briefly assume the role of a Tibetan cultural ambassador to inform all who are willing to listen that the practice of sound baths are neither “ancient” nor “Tibetan.”

The scholarly consensus is that “Tibetan” singing bowls and sound baths are a thoroughly Western invention and their alleged Tibetanness a modern myth. There is no credible historical evidence, whatsoever, of Tibetans ever having used singing bowls.

History tells us that these metallic bowls were originally food bowls from North India or Nepal, and today, the bowl has become an object of orientalist fetishization and a star product of the sound bathing industry. These bowls are thus as Tibetan as the white Toronto Star author who bathed in its vibrations. Needless to say, these bowls are as spiritual and sacred to a Tibetan person as the exotic English teacup is for the average North American.

The Tibetan singing bowl doesn’t exist and isn’t real, but the racist mythologization of Tibetan people most definitely is. The singing bowl industry aggressively markets itself as reproducing an “ancient Tibetan ritual.”

This Western practice of essentializing Tibetan culture and capitalizing on that cultural commodification forces marginalized Tibetan refugees into a tricky situation — they get the economic opportunity to sell some metal bowls to fascinated white people but at the cost of being a willing participant in the orientalist imagination of Tibetaness, which in turn causes great cultural trauma and pain to the Tibetan people.

Sound energy enthusiasts tend to blur a variety of New Age beliefs and claim that each “Tibetan singing bowl” has its own “frequency,” “chakra,” “planet,” “energy” and accumulated “psychic history.” Diehard connoisseurs travel across the planet hunting for authentic antique Tibetan singing bowls, which they insist have been infused with “sacred ancient sound technology,” unlike cheap and fraudulent “modern knock offs.”

When confronted about their easily falsifiable claims of Tibetan cultural linkages, you find that “sound healers” often dismiss Tibetan people’s disavowal of knowledge by clinging onto the conspiracy theory that singing bowls are purposely shrouded in secrecy because Tibetans are guarding their ancient sound-based spiritual knowledge from prying outsiders.

They insist there exists a secret lineage of metalworking “shamans” who pass ancient mysteries down through the centuries. This example of wilful white ignorance is so patently absurd, I’m not sure whether I should laugh at its sheer silliness or cry at the exploitation of my cultural heritage by bigoted Westerners.

In the Western imagination, Tibetan identity/brand is largely confined to a mythical, asexual, masculine spiritual figure. In this light, my existence as a queer, fashion-loving, atheist Tibetan woman starts to become disorienting and surreal. Now that I have made these confessions, tell me, do I still qualify as sufficiently “Tibetan” to the orientalist eye?

Western bourgeois fantasies about Tibet and the harmful racial stereotypes they peddle simply have no need for the real Tibet and the suffering my country endures.

The real Tibet is subservient to the myth of Tibet. This myth, however, has real power and it has become the dominant framework through which the West perceives Tibetan political struggle. The myth reduces Tibet to a museum exhibit. The myth conflates the politics of Tibet to a question of the survival of a dying, one-dimensional civilization. The myth prevents Tibet’s political concerns from being taken seriously. The myth invites sentimentalities rather than political expediency. The myth ensures Tibetans never get the institutional and governmental support we tirelessly lobby for.

If you find “sound baths” healing, great! Good for you! But if you can, however, please kindly stop mythologizing and exoticizing Tibetans, and leave us out of your pseudo-scientific New Age nonsense. We are quite preoccupied resisting China’s violent settler colonial rule and fighting to preserve our rich cultural heritage as it is.

Source – TheStar