I. Sagātha Vagga
Stealing the Scent
Translated from the Pali by Andrew Olendzki.
For free distribution only.
Originally published in Insight Journal, Spring 2001.
This lively exchange between a forest-dwelling monk and a benevolent deity is filled with poetic movement and gives us a glimpse of the care with which some people practiced in the time of the Buddha. Since the working definition of stealing was "taking what has not been given," the Devata is correct — in a very strict sense. Notice that the monk at first reacts defensively, denying that he is doing anything wrong, and then tries to shift the blame to others who do even worse. After recognizing a veiled compliment, he finally realizes that the Devata is trying to help him, at which point he encourages further help. The Devata ends the exchange sharply, revealing an intriguing and capricious character who is willing to help, but only on his own terms. This is a role often played by nature spirits and other minor deities in the Pali texts.
This lotus blossom which you sniff,
Though it's not been offered to you,
Is thus something that's been stolen.
You, sir, are a stealer of scents!
But I don't take, nor do I break;
I sniff the lotus from afar.
So really what reason have you
To call me a stealer of scents?
He who uproots them by the stalk,
And consumes the pale lotuses;
The one engaged in such cruel work,
Why do you not say this of him?
A person who's ruthless and cruel,
Defiled like a workman's garment,
To him my words would mean nothing.
But it's fitting I speak to you.
For an unblemished person, who's
Always pursuing purity,
Even a hair-tip of evil
Seems to him as large as a cloud.
Truly, O yakkha, you know me,
And have sense of compunction for my welfare.
Do please, O yakkha, speak again,
Whenever you see such a thing.
I don't live to serve upon you;
Nor will I do your work for you.
You should know for yourself, O monk,
How to go along the good path.