Buddhist vs. Christian Bells

Ringing a Japanese Temple Bell (near Kyoto)

I loved the deep vibrant sound of the Japanese Buddhist temple bells which often filled the air of my home city in Kyoto Japan.  But I have met several Japanese who do not like temple bells because they remind them of all the silly rituals that their family had to pay Buddhist priests to perform for their family.  I have also met Japanese who, though they disliked their own Buddhist bells, nonetheless loved Christian church bells they had heard on their foreign travels — they felt them “romantic”.   Likewise I have met many Catholic Americans living in Japan that, though did not like church bells because it reminded them of many negative memories they had of their Church experiences, nonetheless loved the Buddhist bells — they felt them “mysterious”.

Funny how we can enjoy something if it does not have baggage.  Or maybe there is baggage in our pleasures.  Maybe we wrap a naive idealization of another culture around the bells sounds that allows them to resonate with us.  Or maybe we just wrap happiness (without idealization).   I, fortunately, have no negative connotations with Christian bells but have never much liked them.  But Japanese temple bells resonated with me deeply from the first time I heard them.

Are bells beautiful in and of themselves?  Can we have an experience without baggage?

My bell story is a simple illustration of how experiences are not raw.  The second  a perception touches our minds, our minds attach feelings, ideas and past experience to the experience.

Question for Readers: What sort of bells do you like or dislike and why?

Links of Interest:


Filed under Cognitive Science, Philosophy & Religion

16 responses to “Buddhist vs. Christian Bells

  1. DaCheese

    Context and associations are always a factor. Your ex-girlfriend’s favorite song, the album you were listening to when X happened in your formative years, etc.

    At one point in my life I developed a mental hang-up, where certain songs that I had once loved now produced something akin to a panic attack! All because of the associations I had inadvertently attached to them.

  2. Ed

    I love bells… big and small. I also have memories and such attached to bells, but they are not negative. I was raised in a catholic neighborhood of Chicago and we could hear the church bells nearly 8 blocks away. At Dharma Field in Minneapolis, a large bell is used to announce the rhythm of the morning and evening routines. Beautiful either way.

  3. It’d be easier to list the ones I don’t like.

    Alarm bells.
    The recess bell, from school.

    Can’t think of any others right now.

    Church bells, temple bells, meditation bells, the Glockenspiel, the dinner bell, train bells, tram bells, bicycle bells, cowbells, the little bells you hang on cats, jingle bells, windbells… I like them all.

    I also like the sound of the mu’ezzin’s call to prayer. Tripoli on a Friday during Ramadan sounds like a polyphonic postmodern choir concert.

  4. I don’t like the alarm bells that go off in my car when I don’t fasten my seat belt. It reeks of a religion of sanctimonious judgmentalism.

  5. soe

    I wonder if japanese temple bells sound similar to the burmese ones. Here’s a wiki link about the largest built one.


  6. Ed

    @ Looney… I am with you on this… all that, “I know what’s good for you” government crap….

  7. @ DaCheese:
    Once Wagner use to be popular everywhere until Hitler loved him.

    @ Ed:
    Odd, isn’t it. What is it that makes bells universally lovable?

    @ Petteri :
    Does “Petteri” mean Peter in Finish?
    Ah, for me, the old pager bells which means I need to call the hospital for an emergency case use can be very negative.
    I use to live in Pakistan and China where both used loud speakers to propagandize the people. The call to prayer were over nasty loud speakers in my Pakistani Shiite village and we couldn’t talk above them. My association is not pleasant like yours.

    @ Looney :

    @ Soe :
    Interesting article. Apparently the bell didn’t sound good.
    Here are several Buddhist Bells in Burma (I think) and none sounded like the Japanese ones. But I suppose some do:
    a Gong
    Rocking Bells

    @ Ed :
    Does the Tea Party have their own bells? (smile)

  8. I love bells and chimes, but dislike bells that play songs they shouldn’t. Ie. songs with notes too close together that cause dissonance.

  9. I had a friend yesterday describe the bells he dislikes as dissonant too. Interesting.
    Yet that friend loves a lot of dissonant music.

  10. It’s the unintentional dissonance I dislike. We vacation at Lakeside up on Lake Erie, it’s a nice, quiet Methodist community. They have these bells that attempt to play old hymns, but many of the notes come too fast and the sustained notes clash.

    I do enjoy music with dissonance and have even written with dissonance.

  11. I’m curious about the temple in the photo…
    The monk looks Korean, has Korean robes (not the dark Japanese ones), and the bell also looks Korean (I don’t know if Japanese temples have the same bells but many were taken from Korea over the centuries). Have you noticed any other differences at this temple? Do you know what the name is?


  12. Ah, I just notice it was taken from Tricyle.
    I thought it was a picture of the temple in Kyoto…

  13. Wow, Joseph, good eye. I fished around for a good photo and found the Tricycle pic and liked it. I didn’t stop to see if it was Japanese. I guess I expected much better publishing integrity from Tricycle than I do from myself. 🙂
    Maybe tonight I can hunt for a Real Japanese bell.
    Again, great eye!
    Your blog looks interesting, I wills start following.

  14. @ Joseph
    I found a pic, near Kyoto (Otsu). I searched using: 仏教鐘 — Kanji helped. Thanks again

  15. @Sabio, yes, Petteri is Finnish for Peter.

  16. I admit I like Japanese bells precisely because I do not associate them to any emotional states (e.g., childhood trauma). But there could

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