Jataka 59

Bherivāda Jātaka

The Stubborn Drummer

as told by Eric Van Horn

originally translated by Robert Chalmers, B.A., of Oriel College, Oxford University

originally edited by Professor Edward Byles Cowell, Cambridge University

There are many stores in the Pāli Canon about monks and nuns who were stubborn and refused to be taught. This is one of them.

Don’t over-do it.” This story was told by the Master while at Jetavana. It is about a certain stubborn monk. When the Master asked him whether it was true that he was stubborn, the monk said it was true. “This is not the first time, brother,” the Master said, “that you have shown yourself to be stubborn. You were the same in bygone times as well.” And so saying, he told this story of the past.

Once upon a time when Brahmadatta was reigning in Benares, the Bodhisatta was reborn as a drummer, and he lived in a village. Hearing that there was to be a festival at Benares and hoping to make money by playing his drum to the crowds of holiday-makers, he went to the city with his son. There he played his drum, and he made a great deal of money.

On his way home with his earnings, he had to pass through a forest that was infested with robbers. As the boy kept beating away at the drum without ever stopping, the Bodhisatta tried to stop him by saying, “Don't behave like that. Only beat the drum now and again as if some great lord were passing by.” But in defiance of his father’s command, the boy thought the best way to frighten the robbers away was to keep beating steadily on the drum.

At the first notes of the drum, the robbers scampered away thinking some great lord was passing by. But hearing the noise continue, they saw their mistake and came back to find out who it really was. Finding only two people, they beat and robbed them. “Alas!” cried the Bodhisatta, “by your ceaseless drumming you have lost all our hard-earned money!” And, so saying, he repeated this stanza:

Do not go too far, but learn to avoid excess.

For over-drumming lost what drumming had won.

The Stubborn Drummer

Figure: The Stubborn Drummer

His lesson ended, the Master showed the connection and identified the birth by saying, “This stubborn monk was the son of those days, and I was the father.”