The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff
Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 274.a–275.a.
Translated by the Sarasvatī Translation Team
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff is a short text that deals with the practical matters relating to the use of the mendicant’s staff known in Sanskrit as a khakkhara, or “rattling staff.” It begins with a simple ritual during which a Buddhist monk ceremoniously takes up the ringing staff in front of his monastic teacher. The text then provides a list of twenty-five rules governing the proper use of the staff. The rules stipulate how a Buddhist monk should or should not handle it in his daily life, especially when he goes on alms rounds and when he travels.
This translation was produced by the Sarasvatī Translation Team. Its members acknowledge the help of Peter Skilling, who provided copies of several publications related to the ringing staff and made helpful comments on an earlier version of this translation. They are grateful for the help provided by an anonymous reviewer, a vinaya scholar. They also acknowledge with love and gratitude the privilege of having had, as team editor, Steven Rhodes, who passed away in 2017.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The renunciant’s staff is a religious implement shared by the ascetic cultures of Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism, and other Indian traditions.1 The practice of ascetics carrying a staff when they wander about must be very old. Pāṇini’s Sanskrit grammar (ca. fourth century ʙᴄᴇ) already mentions maskarin, a staff bearer, as a name for a renunciant. Makkhali Gosāla, the founder of the Ājīvikas and a contemporary of the Buddha, is known by the epithet maskarin.2 The Buddhist saṅghas in India developed a staff, called a khakkhara3 in Buddhist Sanskrit texts, that, as far as we know, is unique in conception and design. Consisting of a metallic head, a long shaft, and a lower tip, it is included among the eighteen requisites of a Buddhist monastic.4 The canonical Vinaya texts of the Sarvāstivāda tradition, such as the Vinayavastu and the Vinayasūtra of Guṇaprabha, mention the ringing staff in passing as one of the regular items in a Buddhist monk’s possession.5 These texts provide neither a focused discussion of the staff nor a list of rules governing its use.
Two sūtras in the General Sūtra section of the Kangyur are focused on the single subject of the ringing staff. The Sūtra on the Ringing Staff (Toh 335) is the longer of the two and concerns itself with the religious significance of the staff and the benefits to be gained from its use. It also describes the staff’s symbolism and its constituent parts. The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff (Toh 336), which is translated in the following pages, sets forth a simple ritual for a monk to receive a ringing staff along with twenty-five dharmas (chos), or rules, stipulating how the staff is to be properly utilized.
In most modern Buddhist cultures, the ringing staff has been reduced to a mere ritual artifact. From the contents of the twenty-five rules, it appears that the use of the staff was once associated with several practical purposes: (A) protection against animals (no. 1), (B) a walking aid (no. 2), (C) collecting alms (nos. 3, 6, 13, 14, 15, and 20), and (D) travel (nos. 21, 23, and 24). The predominance of alms collection and, to a lesser extent, travel in the list perhaps indicates the ringing staff’s main functions. Many of the twenty-five rules, therefore, show the occasions of the staff’s use. In addition, many items in the list are rules prescribing how the staff should and should not be used. We find in these rules a concern for the positive image of the Buddhist saṅgha, as they also define proper behavior surrounding a religious instrument that is recognized as symbolically powerful.
The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff does not contain the common framework expected of a text belonging to the sūtra genre. Rather, it looks like a supplementary text dealing with practical matters. One single text in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka includes materials found in both Toh 335 and Toh 336. The De daoti cheng xizhang jing (得道梯橙錫杖經, Taishō 785) was translated in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420 ᴄᴇ). It contains a Chinese version of the Sūtra on the Rattling Staff that concludes with the rejoicing of the teaching’s audience.6 It then proceeds to present additional materials, among which a list of twenty-five rules related to the way of carrying the ringing staff is found. For the purpose of clarity, we will call this “the list in the Chinese sūtra.” After the end of the sūtra, the translator adds an appendix that gives a second list of twenty-five rules. We will call this “the list in the Chinese appendix.” The list of twenty-five rules in the appendix is said to be “translated based on the Indian Tripiṭaka to make the future reader aware of its origin.”7 The Chinese translation indicates that there was an opinion that regarded the twenty-five rules and the Sūtra on the Rattling Staff as belonging to the same text. At the same time, the translator of the Chinese version also tells us that an independently circulated version of the twenty-five rules enjoyed canonical status.
Between the two lists of twenty-five rules in the Chinese, the list in the appendix is closer to the list in the Tibetan translation. Although significant differences remain, the list in the Chinese appendix and the list in the Tibetan translation follow the same order with just one exception.8 There is a Dunhuang Tibetan manuscript that contains a portion of The Sūtra on the Rattling Staff and The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff.9 The colophon of this manuscript states that these two Tibetan texts were translated from the Chinese by the chief editor-translator Bandé Chödrup.10 This information indicates that both texts may have been translated from the relevant portions of De daoti cheng xizhang jing (Taishō 785),11 with The Rite for the Protocols Associated with Carrying the Ringing Staff most likely based on the list in the Chinese appendix. More research on the available Tibetan textual witnesses is required before we can speak more conclusively about the nature of that dependence and the transmission of the Tibetan text.
The list in the Chinese sūtra has an order and a structure of its own,12 and several of its rules are different in substance from the other two lists. Our translation only records the significant differences between the list in the Chinese appendix and the list in the Tibetan translation by providing the Chinese and its English translation when an item in the Chinese appendix differs in its sense from its Tibetan parallel.13 The list in the Chinese sūtra is discussed only when it sheds light on the interpretation of the items in the other two lists.
The present translation is based on the Degé Kangyur, with reference to variants in other versions noted in the Comparative Edition (dpe bsdur ma).
One who wishes to take up the ringing staff [F.274.b] should kneel before an honorable one and say three times, “Honorable one, I request your attention. Today, I, named so-and-so, request you, honorable one, to be my teacher for carrying the ringing staff.”
“Do not hold it with dirty hands. When entering a dwelling of the saṅgha, do not rest it with its head and lower tip removed.14 When entering the homes of householders, point the lower tip behind you.
“In the morning, when conditions are right for you to go to the home of a householder to beg for alms, rattle the staff three times at their door. If no one responds when you rattle it three times, you should rattle it five times. If no one responds when you rattle it five times, you should rattle it seven times. If no one responds when you rattle it seven times, you should proceed to another household and rattle it seven times. If you are satisfied after having gone to seven households, then in that case say three times, ‘I shall eat.’
“There are twenty-five rules associated with carrying the rattling staff:
1. “Carry it to guard against snakes on the ground.
3. “Carry it to collect alms.
5. “Do not go among the saṅgha while carrying a rattling staff.
7. “Do not rest it on your shoulders hanging on to its two ends.
10. “Do not go into toilets carrying a rattling staff.
14. “Go to the door of a patron and rattle the staff three times. If no one responds, you should rattle it five times. If no one responds when you rattle it five times, you should rattle it seven times. If no one responds when you rattle it seven times, you should proceed to another household and rattle the staff there.21
15. “When the patron answers the door, lean the rattling staff against your right arm and rest it there.22
16. “Do not let it touch the ground when put in a dwelling.
17. “Always put it by your bed.
18. “Clean it from time to time.
’khar gsil ’chang ba’i kun spyod pa’i cho ga. Toh 336, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 274.a–275.a.
’khar gsil ’chang ba’i kun spyod pa’i cho ga. 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. 72, pp. 789–91.
’khar gsil ’chang ba’i kun spyod pa’i cho ga. Phukdrak Kangyur (mdo sde, go), folios 52.b–54.a.
’dul ba gzhi (Vinayavastu). Toh 1, Degé Kangyur vol. 1 (’dul ba, ka), folios 1.b–311.a; vol. 2 (’dul ba, kha), folios 1.b–317.a; vol. 3 (’dul ba, ga) folios 1.b–293.a; and vol.4 (’dul ba, nga) folios 1.b–302.a.
’khar gsil gyi mdo. Toh 335, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 271.a–274.a.
Guṇaprabha. ’dul ba’i mdo (Vinayasūtra). Toh 4117, Degé Tengyur vol. 159 (’dul ba, wu), folios 1.b–100.a.
Takakusu Junjirō, and Kaigyoku Watanabe, eds. Taishō shinshū Daizōkyō. 85 vols. Tokyo: Taishō Issaikyō Kankōkai, 1924–32.
Dedao ticheng xizhang jing 得道梯橙錫杖經. Taishō 785. Appendix of Taishō 785: Chi xizhang fa 持錫杖法. Translator unknown.
Nanhai jigui neifa zhuang 南海寄歸內法傳. Taishō 2125. Written by Yijing.
Beer, Robert. The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Boston: Shambhala, 2003.
Buswell, Robert E., and Donald S. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.
Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. Accessed June 10, 2016.
Edgerton, Franklin. Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Grammar and Dictionary. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953.
La Vallée Poussin, Louis de. Catalogue of the Tibetan manuscripts from Tun-huang in the India Office Library. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Olivelle, Patrick. Ascetics and Brahmins: Studies in Ideologies and Institutions. London: Anthem Press, 2011.
Silk, Jonathan A. “Chinese Sūtras in Tibetan Translation: A Preliminary Survey.” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University 22 (2019): 227–46.
- btsun pa
An honorific term for an ordained person.
- dge tshul
- mkhan po
An abbot or a principal ordination master.
- kun tu spyod pa
- khar gsil
- cho ga
- slob dpon
A spiritual teacher.
- tshe dang ldan pa
An honorific title, literally meaning “life possessing,” that is applied especially to royal personages and Buddhist monks.