Usually, when someone sounds the bell, we don’t say ‘hit’ it, we say that they should ‘invite the bell to sound’.
This person should wake the bell with a half sound – but before doing so, they must practice mindful breathing to prepare themselves. A particular verse is used for breathing in and out and to make themselves available to the bell, qualifying them as a bell master. You cannot just pick up the instrument and make it sound; you must prepare yourself.
The four-line verse is this:
“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 anxiety and sorrow.”
And then you’re calm, fully aware, and fully present. Now you can invite the bell to sound.
By offering half a sound, the whole community becomes aware that a full sound is about to be heard. And everyone stops thinking, stops talking, and prepares themselves to receive the full sound: the voice of the Buddha calling them back to their true home.
The half sound allows time to prepare yourself for the reception of the full sound, the voice of the Buddha. You finish what you were saying in a few seconds. And you not only stop your talking but also your thinking. You go home to yourself with your inbreath. And you enjoy breathing, to become prepared for the sound, the sound as the voice of the Buddha from within calling you back to your true home.
And then the bell master will allow you time, for at least one inbreath and one outbreath, before they invite the bell, so that a full sound will be offered to the whole community. And then everyone will enjoy breathing in and breathing out at least three times.
And when you breathe in, you say:
“I listen, I listen.” And when you breathe out, you say: “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.”
No thinking – just listening very deeply to the sound of the bell, which will bring you back to your true home, in the here and now.
And the one who speaks stops speaking and thinking about what to say next, and deeply enjoys his or her inbreath and outbreath, enjoys being in their true home.
That is the living dharma: being in your true home.
And the one who listens to the talk also stops listening and enjoys their inbreath and outbreath. Very nourishing, very healing.
In Plum Village in France, we not only enjoy the sound of the Great Bell within our center, but whenever the church bell nearby sounds, we also stop and enjoy the church bell.
Not only that, but every time the clock plays music, every quarter of an hour, we also stop thinking and stop talking, go back to our breath, and enjoy breathing in and out, whether we are in the dining hall or the kitchen.
So, the music of the clock is like the mindfulness bell that helps us to come home and to enjoy our home.
When you hear the telephone ringing, you also practice. You are not supposed to run to the telephone. You’re supposed to stay wherever you are, because the sound of the telephone is also the voice of the Buddha calling you back to your true home.
Stay wherever you are and go back to your inbreath: “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.” And then, having practiced like that twice, do walking meditation to the telephone, or take it out and answer.
And if you want to make a phone call, prepare yourself before dialling the number. Practice going home to yourself. There is also a verse for you to practice:
“Words can travel thousands of kilometres.
They are to bring about more understanding, mutual understanding.
I vow that what I am going to say will be beautiful like flowers and embroideries.
I vow that everything I’m going to say will help with more mutual understanding and compassion.”
Then, you are qualified to make a phone call. And when you hear the sound at the end of the line, you know that the other person is listening, breathing in and out, and you know that you have a chance to practice breathing in and out with them, so that both of you are breathing in and out mindfully at the same time.
It’s a very beautiful practice. We call it ‘telephone meditation’.
And then, in Plum Village and the Deer Park Monastery, if we use the computer, it is programmed so that every quarter of an hour there will be a bell of mindfulness, so that you can stop your work and go home and enjoy your inbreath and outbreath.
And you know that when you call Plum Village or Deer Park you don’t expect them to answer right away after the first ring. They are breathing in and out: “Listen, listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.” And you deeply enjoy your inbreath and outbreath, three times.
Enjoy the mindfulness bell, enjoy your inbreath and outbreath three times. If you’d like to use different kinds of verses, you might use the verse, “I have arrived. I’m home.” Or you might like to say: “I listen, I listen deeply. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.”
Or you may say:
“Breathing in, I feel calm and relaxed. Breathing out, I smile.”
Calming. Smiling. Breathing in, I establish myself in the present moment. Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment. Calming, smiling.
Present moment, wonderful moment. When you come home to the present moment with your inbreath, you become fully alive, fully present.
You can touch life in the here and now. You feel that you are alive. You touch the miracle that you are alive, because to be alive is the greatest of all miracles. And with only one inbreath, you can touch that miracle. That is why you can say, “Present moment, wonderful moment.”
Someone might ask you, “My dear friend, has the most wonderful moment of your life arrived?” It would be a pity if such a moment never arrived.
You might say: “Oh, it does not seem to have arrived, that wonderful moment, but I am sure that it will arrive soon, sometime in the future.”
That is our tendency. But if we keep living like we have for the past 20 years, it will not arrive in the next 20 years. It might not arrive at all, that moment we call the most wonderful of our life. And for many, many of us, that moment does not arrive at all until we die.
The Buddha said: “You have to make the present moment the most wonderful moment of your life.” And this is possible, because if you are able to go home to the present moment, to the here and now, and become fully alive, fully present, you can touch all the wonders of life within and around yourself.
Everything belonging to you is a wonder: your eyes, your ears, your nose, your body, your mind. But if you are not mindful, you don’t touch them deeply, you don’t know that they are wonders until you die and you begin to regret that you have not lived at all.
That is why our true home must be sought in the here and now. It can be touched in the here and now.
[This transcript has been edited for readability.]