Two Ways of Beating a Drum – Jataka Tales

Buddha’s Tales for Young and Old
The Buddha told this story while living in Jetavana
monastery about a disobedient monk. The Buddha said,
“This is not the first time that you are disobedient. You were
just so in the past, too.” And the monks present asked the
Buddha to tell the story of the past.
This is how it was:
Once upon a time there was a drummer living in a small
country village. He heard there was going to be a fair in the
city of Benares. So he decided to go there and earn some
money by playing his drums. He took his son along to
accompany him when playing music written for two sets of
The two drummers, father and son, went to the Benares
Fair. They were very successful. Everyone liked their drum
playing and gave generously to them. When the fair was over
they began the trip home to their little village.
On the way they had to go through a dark forest. It was
very dangerous because of muggers who robbed the travelers.
The drummer boy wanted to protect his father and
himself from the muggers. So he beat his drums as loudly as
he could, without stopping. “The more noise, the better!” he
The drummer man took his son aside. He explained to
him that when large groups passed by, especially royal
processions, they were in the habit of beating drums. They
did this at regular intervals, in a very dignified manner, as if
they feared no one. They would beat a drum roll, remain
silent, then beat again with a flourish, and so on. He told his
son to do likewise, to fool the muggers into thinking there
was a powerful lord passing by.
But the boy ignored his father’s advice. He thought he
knew best. “The more noise, the better!” he thought.
Meanwhile, a gang of muggers heard the boy’s
drumming. At first they thought it must be a powerful rich
man approaching, with heavy security. But then they heard
the drumming continue in a wild fashion without stopping.
They realized that it sounded frantic, like a frightened little
dog barking at a calm big dog.
So they went to investigate and found only the father
and son. They beat them up, robbed all their hard-earned
money, and escaped into the forest.
The Buddha then identified the births in this way:
“The drummer is today this disobedient monk. And I
who am today the Buddha was his father.”
* * *
The Buddha told this story also while living in Jetavana
monastery about another disobedient monk. The story is the
same as just before, except here the father and son are conch-
blowers. And here it is the father who keeps blowing his
conch as they pass through a dark forest, and the son who
admonishes his father not to do so.
The Buddha identified the births in this way:
“The conch-blowing father is today this disobedient
monk. And I who am today the Buddha was his son.”
* * *
The moral: “Overdoing leads to a downfall.”

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