Bowling ‘em Over


Buddha and the ringing sound of Tibet come to a Prague 2 tenement, heralding a time of natural healing and the listening. By Garry Mason

 It promises to be the biggest bring-a-bowl bash of its kind – a Super Bowl, in fact. Over 300 people, Tibetan bowls in hand will lay harmony to simplify their cells, while the head bowl meister, Vlastimil Marek, will see over 20 years of hard work, jail sentences, meditation and patience come to fruition.

 But the translator, journalist, lecture, new age musician, tour guide, Zen teacher and sound therapist is apparently unfazed by the magnitude of the ‘happening’ that will take place in Prague next week.

 ‘It may even get in the Guinness Book of Records’ jokes 46-year-old Marek as he sits in his incense-filled house in Prague 2. But he is not one to take his task lightly. Marek has dedicated himself to opening the hearts, minds, spirits and ears of his fellow country-folk, and he is having considerable success. It’s not difficult to understand why, after spending just five minutes Marek’s sound therapy: Lie down a cynic, get up relaxed.

 Marek’s three weekly radio shows, during which he plays new age music and talks about related issues, have a healthy following – judging by the amount of mail and telephone calls he receives. And at his fortnightly seminars, Marek regularly attracts 50 students – most of whom are first-timers.

 It hasn’t always been that way, though. He says that when he first tried to spread the world of alternative living and healing in the mid-1970s, he just met with mockery. In fact, in 1987, it was more than mockery that landed him a two month jail sentence for the crime of celebrating the Harmonic Convergence – a global astrological occurrence.

 He says that much of the opposition lies in the usual means of human expression.

 “After 40 years of propaganda, the Czech people are very resistant to words. They are suspicious,” he says. “That is why so many political parties have problems articulating themselves. There is a lack of new words and new terms because our life changed so drastically and dramatically but we only have the old words. So it was my life task to find another way to help them.”

 Marek has great faith in the Czech people. Not only because of the centuries of mystical heritage, dating back to Rudolf II. but also because of the recent past, before the revolution. “We will offer the capitalist world a solution. The Czechs have learned from our very cruel personal experience. Because of the past, we are able to meditate as individuals. In Czechoslovakia, collectivism came to its limits. We couldn’t wait for the revolution to come outside: we had to have a revolution inside ourselves.”

 Despite Marek’s skepticism of the spoken word, he has used it to its full potential. In the three years before the revolution, he delivered a total of 450 private and illegal lectures on how to awaken people to their inner harmonies and change their ways of perception. He says that once he has people’s ears, he can convince them with positive vibrations, and the best medium for this is music. And the purest form of music comes from the vibration of the Tibetan bowl.

 Marek believes that traditional music is too complicated for our simple body cells. He starts from the premise that every cell of the known world vibrates and creates an imperceptible sound. Marek says that in order for our lives to be harmonious, the cells within our bodies should be calmed and brought into harmony with each other. “This way, you can soothe the angry and aggressive person,” he says.

 “When I was at school, I had to visit concerts. We were told, ‘This was composed by Smetana. He was born in this year, and this symphony is this.’ It had no feeling or heart, only rationality and only information,” says Marek. “After Gregorian chant, music became complicated and composers consciously worked with emotions. Now they are raping us. When I listen to Wagner, I cry when I don’t want to cry. Wagner somehow raped me. New age music is coming back to the roots before Gregorian chant to single instruments, like the Tibetan bowl.”

 Marek came to Tibetan bowls relatively late in life. It was 1990. Progressing from blazing trails in Czechoslovakia with his brand of embryonic new age acoustic music in the mid-1970s Marek became obsessed with Far Eastern mysticism. “I studied everything I could get my hands on in the 1970s about Buddhism and Japan. I wanted to be ready for when I met my spiritual master.”

 When Marek finally made it to Japan in 1979, he experienced only disappointment, failing to meet his mentor. Instead, this happened in 1981, when he traveled to Poland, where a Korean Zen master tutored him in secret. On his return to Czechoslovakia, Marek found that his interest in music was undiminished. He toyed with gongs for a few years until he went to Totnes in Devon, England, where he found his destiny – the bowls.

 Of varying size and weight, the heavy bronze utensils originate in Tibet and Bhutan. Marek’s collection of 40 are sacred to him and are in fact very precious. Most of them are over 50 years old. Tibetan bowls are no longer made, since the Chinese invaded their country of origin and destroyed most of the monasteries and temples – in the process destroying the secrets of the craftsmen. Now Marek imports them from Germany – around 600 to date.

 When struck, they give of a pure, ringing tone. Marek uses this in a technique he calls “sound bathing.” By placing several of the bowls around a person’s horizontal body, one on the chest and one held above. Marek creates a field of sound when the bowls are struck randomly one by one. This pure sound, he says, irons out the disharmonies in the cells.

 Not only that, it also concentrates the mind. “If you perceive the world with only your eyes, it is not necessary to concentrate ,” asserts Marek. “The eye is a liar. It is seeking. The ear is always finding. If you shut your eyes, everything will still be there when you open them, so it is not so important to concentrate. With listening, it is deferent. If you miss something I say, then it is gone.

 “This has been a century of seeing. The next century will be more and more the century of listening.”

 And if we listen closely, we will almost certainly hear Vlastimil Marek preaching his simple philosophies well into the century.

 Marek will hold a Tibetan bowl happening at The Art Klub, Karlínské nam. 7, Prague 8, on Thursday, Nov 25, 1992 at 8 p.m. Some bowls will be provided.