The Gaṇḍī Sūtra
Degé Kangyur, vol. 71 (mdo sde, sha), folios 301.b–303.b.
Translated by Annie Bien
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
While the Buddha is dwelling in the Bamboo Grove monastery near Rājagṛha, together with a thousand monks and a host of bodhisattvas, King Prasenajit arises from his seat, bows at the Buddha’s feet, and asks him how to uphold the Dharma in his kingdom during times of conflict. In reply the Buddha instructs the king about the gaṇḍī, a wooden ritual instrument, and tells him how the sound of this instrument, used for Dharma practice in a temple or monastery, quells conflict and strife for all who hear it. He describes how to make, consecrate, and sound the gaṇḍī. He explains that the gaṇḍī symbolizes the Perfection of Insight and describes in detail the many benefits it confers.
This translation was produced by Annie Bien with the assistance of Dr. Robert Thurman, Dr. Paul Hackett, Geshe Dorji Damdul, and Robert Beer. The translator is also thankful to Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, Leslie Kriesel, Anming Karrer-Bien, Tarini Mehta, and Ven. Yeshe Choedup for their advice.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
While the Buddha is dwelling in the Bamboo Grove monastery near Rājagṛha, together with a thousand monks and a host of bodhisattvas, King Prasenajit rises from his seat, bows at the feet of the Buddha, and asks him how to uphold the Dharma in his kingdom during times of conflict. In reply the Buddha instructs the king about the gaṇḍī,1 a wooden beam that is ritually struck to produce sound,2 and tells him how the sound of this instrument, used for Dharma practice in a temple or monastery, quells conflict and strife for all who hear it. He then describes how to make, consecrate, and sound the gaṇḍī. He explains that the gaṇḍī symbolizes the Perfection of Insight and describes in detail the many benefits it confers.
The gaṇḍī, sometimes misleadingly translated into English as “gong,” refers to a wooden beam cut from specific trees to particular proportions. From as early as the first century ᴄᴇ down to the present day, it has been widely used in Buddhist monasteries as an instrument for summoning monks to assembly.3 To hear its sound is said to quell all disruptive thoughts, dispel obstacles, and pacify all conflicts and negative forces. The role of the gaṇḍī in Buddhist monastic life appears to have been quite varied, extending to both nontantric and tantric forms of ritualism and daily life. As an example of its diverse functions in the day-to-day monastic itinerary, the Vinayavastu classifies five different types or uses of the gaṇḍī: the gaṇḍī for assembling monks, the gaṇḍī for meetings, the gaṇḍī for death ceremonies, the gaṇḍī for renunciation, and the gaṇḍī for emergencies.4
There is to our knowledge no extant Sanskrit or Chinese version of The Gaṇḍī Sūtra. According to the colophon to the Tibetan translations, it was translated into Tibetan by Dharmaśrībhadra and Tsültrim Yönten and subsequently edited by Rinchen Zangpo, which dates the Tibetan translation included in the Kangyur to the early eleventh century ᴄᴇ. The text is, however, also recorded in the Denkarma5 catalog of the Tibetan imperial translations, so it appears that it was first translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan by an unknown translator no later than the early ninth century, as the Denkarma is dated to 812 ᴄᴇ. It is not recorded in the Phangthangma catalog of Tibetan imperial translations.6
This English translation was prepared based on the Tibetan translation in the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur.
Thus did I hear at one time. The Bhagavān was dwelling in the Bamboo Grove, in the Kalandakanivāpa near Rājagṛha, together with a great saṅgha of a thousand monks and a great gathering of bodhisattvas. They were all worthy ones. Their contaminations were exhausted, their duties fulfilled, their work concluded, their burdens put down, their personal welfare attained, their bonds to existence destroyed, and their minds fully liberated through perfect knowledge.
At that time, King Prasenajit arose from his seat and went to meet the Bhagavān. He bowed his head down at the feet of the Bhagavān and addressed him with these words: “Bhagavān, in the future, during times of conflict, all beings will have evil minds, quarrelsome minds filled with desire, hatred, and delusion. While intensely coveting others’ possessions and striving to devour one another, they will cause the previous period when teachings were given by the Bhagavān to decline. They will cause the abandonment of the true Dharma. They will go against the Buddha, the Dharma, and those who are free of desire. Please teach a way to eliminate such behavior so that beings may be strongly inclined to awakening.”
Thus entreated, the Bhagavān declared, “King, since you make this request for the sake of the welfare of all beings, for their benefit and happiness, and in order to protect the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha, your inquiry is excellent! Excellent! Therefore, listen closely and keep this in mind! [F.302.a] I will explain.”
Thereupon, the Bhagavān entered the meditative absorption called resounding everywhere. When the Bhagavān entered that meditative absorption, all hells were terminated. All those who had been filled with hatred became free from their hatred and wholly devoted to the mind of awakening.
The Bhagavān said, “Prasenajit, this is the mother of all beings. She gives birth to buddhas and bodhisattvas. She is venerated, worshiped, contemplated, and cultivated by all hearers, solitary buddhas, and perfect buddhas. Taking the form of the sound of the Perfection of Insight, she nurtures all beings. She is the vanquisher of all non-Buddhists, the pacifier of angry thoughts, the subduer of sinful thoughts, the dispeller of hateful thoughts, the destroyer of deluded thoughts, and the banisher of lustful thoughts. She is the protector of the mind of awakening, the intensifier of the mind of buddhas, and the supporter for the genesis of buddhas. She is the destroyer of all fights, quarrels, strife, conflicts, miseries, and all those of bad character who contravene the monastic code. She is the pacifier of sudden illness and death and of untimely death, epidemics, and so forth. She is the subduer of foreign armies, destroyer of Māra, and dispeller of torments. She is the extender of the fortunate era, bestower of long life and freedom from disease, pacifier of the dread of death, and intensifier of freedom and prosperity. To those who hear this and rejoice, she bestows results, like a wish-fulfilling gem. The Mother, the Perfection of Insight, is present in the form of the gaṇḍī.” [F.302.b]
Having heard this, deep conviction rose in King Prasenajit, and he entreated the Bhagavān: “Bhagavān, what is the size of this gaṇḍī? What is its color? What are its specifications? How is it to be struck? By what is it to be struck? At what time, on what occasion, and for how long should it be struck? How should it be placed?”
When the Bhagavān had said this, King Prasenajit paid his respects to the Bhagavān repeatedly and then departed. When the Bhagavān had spoken these words, the entire assembly, along with the world with its gods, humans, asuras, garuḍas, and gandharvas, rejoiced and praised what the Bhagavān had said.
GaN DI’i mdo (Gaṇḍīsūtra). Toh 298, Degé Kangyur vol. 71 (mdo sde, sha), folios 301.b–303.b.
GaN DI’i mdo. bka’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma) [Comparative Edition of the Kangyur], krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug ste gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (The Tibetan Tripitaka Collation Bureau of the China Tibetology Research Center). 108 volumes. Beijing: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (China Tibetology Publishing House), 2006–2009, vol. 71, pp. 816–823.
GaN DI’i mdo (Gaṇḍīsūtra). Stok 298, Stok Palace Kangyur vol. 86 (mdo sde, ci), folios 251.a–254.b.
Denkarma (pho brang stod thang ldan dkar gyi chos ’gyur ro cog gi dkar chag). Toh 4364, Degé Tengyur vol. 206 (sna tshogs, jo), folios 294.b–310.a.
Helffer, Mireille. “Le Gandi: Un Simandre Tibétain d’Origine Indienne.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 15 (1983): 112–125.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
Hu-von Hinüber, Haiyan. “Das Anschlagen der Gaṇḍī in buddhistischen Klöstern. Über einige einschlägige Vinaya-Termini.” In Papers in Honour of Prof. Dr. Ji Xianlin on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday, edited by Li Zheng and Jiang Zhongxin, 2: 737–768. Beijing: Peking University Press, 1991.
Monier-Williams, Monier. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
Rhys Davids, T. W and William Stede, ed. The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary. London: The Pali Text Society, 1921–25.
Sobkovyak, Ekaterina. “Religious History of the Gaṇḍī Beam: Testimonies of Texts, Images and Ritual Practices.” Asiatische Studien - Études Asiatiques 69, no. 3 (2015): 685–722.
- lha ma yin
The traditional adversaries of the gods who are frequently portrayed in brahmanical mythology as having a disruptive effect on cosmological and social harmony.
- byang chub
Awakening refers to the state of realization and understanding possessed by a buddha regarding the nature of things.
- ’od ma’i tshal
The famous bamboo grove near Rājagṛha where the Buddha regularly stayed and gave teachings. It was situated on land donated by King Bimbisāra of Magadha and was the first of several landholdings donated to the Buddhist saṅgha during the time of the Buddha.
- bcom ldan ’das
Epithet of a buddha.
- bde bar gshegs pa
Epithet of a buddha.
- byang chub sems dpa’
One dedicated to perfect awakening in order to liberate all living beings.
- dhar+ma shrI bha dra
The Indian scholar who assisted with the translation of the text into Tibetan. His dates are unknown but he lived sometime during the late 10th century to the middle of the 11th century.
- dri za
A class of celestial spirits and minor gods (deva) in both Hindu and Buddhist cosmologies who are said to live on scents. They are messengers, singers, and skilled musicians and dancers.
A percussion instrument made from a wooden beam cut from specific trees to particular proportions, it has been widely used in Buddhist monasteries as an instrument for summoning monks to assembly.
Lower class of divine beings described as eagle-type birds with gigantic wingspans. They are traditionally enemies of the nāgas. In the Vedas, they are said to have brought nectar from the heavens to earth.
- nyan thos
One who listens to the Buddha’s teaching in order to reach liberation.
- bya ka lan da ka gnas pa
A park outside Rājagṛha where the Buddha often resided, within the Bamboo Grove (Veṇuvana). The Tibetan rendering bya ka lan da ka makes it clear that the Tibetans considered the kalandaka to be a kind of bird, while Sanskrit and Pali sources generally agree that it is a kind of squirrel. It is therefore likely that this word refers to the Indian flying squirrel, Petaurista philippensis.
A class of beings related to the demon Māra (literally “death” in Sanskrit) or a term for the demon Māra himself. Māra and the māras are portrayed as the primary adversaries and tempters of people who vow to take up the religious life, and māras can be understood as a class of demonic beings responsible for perpetuating the illusion that keeps beings bound to the world and worldly attachments and the mental states those beings elicit.
- ting nge ’dzin
State of mental absorption or one-pointed concentration.
A semidivine class of beings who live in subterranean and aquatic environments and who are known to hoard wealth and esoteric teachings. They are associated with snakes and serpents.
- mu stegs pa
Those of religious or philosophical orders that were contemporary with the early Buddhist order, including Jains, Jaṭilas, Ājīvikas, and Cārvākas. Initially, the term tīrthika or tīrthya may have referred to non-brahmanic ascetic orders. Tīrthika (“forder”) literally translates as “one belonging to or associated with (possessive suffix –ika) stairs for landing or for descent into a river,” or “a bathing place,” or “a place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams” (Monier-Williams). The term may have originally referred to temple priests at river crossings or fords where travelers propitiated a deity before crossing. The Sanskrit term seems to have undergone metonymic transfer in referring to those able to ford the turbulent river of saṃsāra (as in the Jain tīrthaṅkaras, “ford makers”), and it came to be used in Buddhist sources to refer to teachers of rival religious traditions. The Sanskrit term is closely rendered by the Tibetan mu stegs pa: “those on the steps (stegs pa) at the edge (mu).”
Perfection of Insight
- shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa
The profound nondual understanding of the ultimate reality of emptiness of all things, it is personified as a goddess described as the “Mother of all Victorious Ones” (Sarvajinamātā).
- gsal rgyal
King of the Kośala state during the time of the Buddha.
- yi dwags
A class of beings who, in the Buddhist tradition, are particularly known to suffer from hunger and thirst and the inability to acquire sustenance.
- rgyal po’i khab
Modern Rajgir. Nearby is Vulture Peak mountain (Gṛdhrakūṭaparvata), where the Buddha is said to have taught the Prajñāpāramitā and other teachings, and the Bamboo Grove (Veṇuvana) where the Buddha regularly gave teachings.
- kun tu sgra sgrogs pa
The name of a meditative absorption.
- rin chen bzang po
A famous translator and editor of canonical texts during the second spread of Indian Buddhism into Tibet. He lived from 958–1055.
- rang sangs rgyas
One who has attained liberation entirely through their own contemplation as a result of progress in previous lives but, unlike a buddha, does not have the accumulated merit and motivation to teach others.
- tshul khrims yon tan
The Tibetan translator of this text. His dates are unknown but he lived sometime during the late 10th century to the middle of the 11th century.
- dgra bcom pa
One who has accomplished the final fruition of the path of the hearers and is liberated from saṃsāra.