The Verses of Nāga King Drum
Degé Kangyur, vol. 72 (sa), folios 204.b–208.b.
Translated by Sonam Tsering Ngulphu and Norzin Dolma
under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha
The Verses of Nāga King Drum contains the Buddha’s narration of a tale from one of his past lives as the nāga king Drum. While traveling with his younger brother Tambour, they come under verbal attack by another nāga named Drumbeat. Tambour’s anger at their mistreatment and desire for retaliation prompts Drum to counsel Tambour on the virtues of patience and nonviolence in the face of aggression and abusiveness. Through a series of didactic aphorisms, he advises his brother to meet disrespect and persecution with serenity, patience, compassion, and insight, in order to accomplish what is best for oneself and others. The Buddha now recounts King Drum’s wise counsel as a helpful instruction for his own followers.
Translated by Sonam Tsering Ngulphu and Norzin Dolma.
The translation was completed under the patronage and supervision of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha.
The Verses of Nāga King Drum1 is a short sūtra composed entirely in verse, in which the Buddha recounts an episode from one of his former lives as a nāga king to illustrate and explain the importance of practicing patience and nonviolence in order to maintain harmony within the monastic community. The sūtra refers to a time when discord had broken out among the monastic saṅgha. This prompts the Buddha to outline the types of behavior that are worthy of someone who has adopted the religious life. His lesson takes the form of a parable from one of his previous lives as a righteous nāga king named Drum. The story recounts how King Drum, accompanied by his brother Tambour, set out in search of the Dharma, only to encounter the belligerent nāga Drumbeat, who proceeds to harass and verbally abuse the two brothers. Tambour is unable to withstand such ill treatment from someone he considers inferior and, in a burst of anger, makes plans to lay waste to Drumbeat’s city. However, King Drum intervenes with wise counsel as to why one should eschew violence at all costs and face belligerence with patience and wisdom. Tambour takes this message to heart, and his need for retaliation is assuaged. The Buddha concludes the sūtra by disclosing that in their past lives, he was King Drum, Ānanda was Tambour, and Devadatta was Drumbeat.
There are no known Sanskrit manuscripts or Chinese translations of this sūtra. As for the Tibetan translation, the text is found in Kangyur collections of different periods and is also recorded in the Denkarma2 and Phangthangma3 catalogs of Tibetan imperial translations. Thus, it appears that it was first translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan no later than the early ninth century, as the Denkarma is dated to 812 ᴄᴇ. This provides us with the only information to date the Tibetan translation, as the text does not include a translators’ colophon. Hence, we do not know the names of the Tibetan translators and editors involved in the translation. This English translation was prepared based on the Degé Kangyur in consultation with the Comparative Edition (Tib. dpe bsdur ma) and the Stok Palace Kangyur.
Homage to all buddhas and bodhisattvas!
This completes The Verses of Nāga King Drum.
klu’i rgyal po rnga sgra’i tshigs su bcad pa. Toh 325, Degé Kangyur vol. 72 (mdo sde, sa), folios 204.b–208.b.
klu’i rgyal po rnga sgra’i tshigs su bcad pa. 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), 2006–9, vol. 72, 613–23.
klu’i rgyal po rnga sgra’i tshigs su bcad pa. Stok Palace Kangyur (stog pho brang bris ma bka’ ’gyur). Vol. 54 (mdo sde, ga), folios 351b-357a.
dkar chag ’phang thang ma / sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa. Pe cin: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003.
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.
Herrmann-Pfandt, Adelheid. Die lHan kar ma: ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2008.
- kun dga’ bo
The Buddha’s cousin and principal attendant.
- lhas byin
A cousin of Buddha Śākyamuni who broke with him and established his own community. He is portrayed as engendering evil schemes against the Buddha and even succeeding in wounding him. He is usually identified with wicked beings in accounts of previous lifetimes.
- yan lag brgyad
Abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, intoxication, eating after noon, dancing and singing, and lying on an elevated bed.
A semidivine class of beings who live in subterranean aquatic environments where they are known to guard wealth and esoteric teachings. Nāgas are associated with serpents and often assume a snakelike appearance. In Buddhist art and in written accounts, nāgas are regularly portrayed as being half human and half snake, and, as mentioned in this sūtra, said to have the ability to change into human form. Some nāgas are Dharma protectors, but they can also bring retribution if they are disturbed. Nāgas likewise fight one another, wage war, and destroy the lands of others by causing lighting, hail, and flooding.
Rite of restoring vows
- gso sbyong
A group of eight vows taken for one day on certain days of the month to restore one’s connection to the virtuous path. The Tibetan translation glosses the practice (rather than translating the original Sanskrit) as “reviving (virtue) and purifying (nonvirtue).” The vows include the traditional five “lay precepts,” plus the vows not to sit on high cushions or thrones, not to eat at inappropriate times, and not to engage in or listen to song or dance.
- thub pa
Indian sage or wise man (often a wandering ascetic or hermit).
Here also used as a specific epithet of the Buddha Śākyamuni.
- shAkya thub pa
The buddha of this age; the historical buddha.
- rang sangs rgyas
An individual who, in his or her final life, attains realization by realizing the nature of dependent origination without relying upon a spiritual guide.
- de bzhin gshegs pa
A frequently used synonym for a buddha. The expression is interpreted in different ways, but in general it implies one who has arrived at the realization of the ultimate state.
Here used as a specific epithet of the Buddha Śākyamuni.