Why was The Deva so hard on the monk for smelling a pink lotus in the Gandhatthenasutta?

Hey guys and gals how are you doing?
Here is the sutta SuttaCentral
The only thing I can think of is maybe because he is a monk he should try reduce sensual pleasures. I don’t get it though because the deva acted like smelling the flower was stealing from the flower.

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Hi @RockLee the sutta is rather self explanatory isn’t it? :anjal:

. The deity haunting that forest had compassion for that mendicant, and wanted what’s best for them. So they approached that mendicant wanting to stir them up.
Impelled by that deity, that mendicant was struck with a sense of urgency (saṁvega).

The keyword here is saṁvega


The deva saw danger in a minor transgression

Genuinely asking here so is sniffing a lotus a minor transgression then?

Yes. One who inclines the mind to sensual pleasure, even for as long as a finger-snap, is not doing himself a favor. Quite the contrary he is as if sinking into debt of samsara and is as a thief who steals one’s peace & happiness of Nibbana, the highest peace.


Oh, I see now thank you

Just to be clear, it’s not a Vinaya offense at all. But that doesn’t change the meaning of the sutta.

BTW, socially it’s considered bad form to smell flowers (intentionally) that you are going to offer to a shrine.


could you please explain the reasoning behind this practice for those unfamiliar with it?

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I’m not sure I know the reasoning. I imagine it’s kind of like sticking your finger in someone’s soup to taste it before you hand it to them.

With things like that, when I hear about them I don’t ask why. I just do.


My guess is that not smelling them (as a lay person making an offering) has to do with the integrity of the gift.
Similar to your soup example, I presume it’s much like opening and using a present before giving it to someone for their birthday.

Back to the question of the OP…I like to look at the warning from the Deva as a metaphor for restraint from even a teeny, tiny indulgence of the senses. It’s lovely to think the Deva was watching out for this Bhikkhu and it spurred him back to his practice :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


Even if one is well-restrained in the senses, it doesn’t imply that the extent of gratification and danger has been understood. Also:

There is, bhikkhus, the sign of the beautiful: frequently giving careless attention to it is the nutriment for the arising of unarisen sensual desire and for the increase and expansion of arisen sensual desire. - SN 46.2

Perhaps the deva saw the act of sniffing the lotus as a sign that sensuality was still well-intact and not decreasing.

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Bhikkhus, I will teach you restraint and nonrestraint. Listen to that….

“And how, bhikkhus, is there nonrestraint? There are, bhikkhus, forms cognizable by the nose that are desirable, lovely, agreeable, pleasing, sensually enticing, tantalizing. If a bhikkhu seeks delight in them, welcomes them, and remains holding to them, he should understand this thus: ‘I am declining away from wholesome states. For this has been called decline by the Blessed One.’

“Such, bhikkhus, is nonrestraint."


In hindsight the deva might have called it theft literally because the fragrance wasn’t given to the monk. The fragrance molecules are ever so slightly used up by smelling and the flower is considered to be a sentient being who is not percepient. Hence it is said that one takes fragrance from the flower.

The fragrance molecules are ever so slightly used up by smelling and the flower is considered to be a sentient being who is not percepient. Hence it is said that one takes fragrance from the flower.

Oh okay btw is this a buddhist view or is this like an already established fact?

As far as i understand plants are living beings. Sentient is a wrong word tho, they are alive but not percepient, asaññasattā.

Vinaya has a rule against destroying plants

The damaging of a living plant is to be confessed.

It is said

"People were offended and annoyed and spread it about, 'How can these Sakyan contemplatives cut down trees and have them cut down? They are destroying one-facultied life.'Pc2

As i understand it they are form only, hence only of physical faculty.

It is also said in mn98

Know the grass and trees,
Tiṇarukkhepi jānātha,
though they lack self-awareness.
na cāpi paṭijānare;
They’re defined by birth,
Liṅgaṁ jātimayaṁ tesaṁ,
for species are indeed diverse.
aññamaññā hi jātiyo.

It is a common interpreration but some people might disagree.

I think that if scent belonged to the flower one would be a ‘thief of scent’ whereas the interpretion i first came up with makes one ‘a thief of peace’.

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oh okay i see wow I didn’t know that

I’d propose that we are overthinking things a bit. I don’t deny that the event happened. But it’s possible that the deva was speaking poetically (it was a verse after all). Trying to figure out how this is legal theft I believe is taking it too literally.

The Vinaya rule about plants is about damaging them. There is no plant in existence that can be damaged by smelling. And theft is only theft when it involves stealing from a human (or non-human being if I recall correctly although not sure). You can’t steal something from another object.

And there is a limit to what a set of rules can be expected to do. Making a rule that you shouldn’t smell flowers isn’t practical. But that doesn’t mean that a monk should spend his time sniffing lotus blooms.

If you look at the other suttas in this chapter you can see that the devas are not doing this to enforce Vinaya rules. They are trying to get the monks to work harder at following the teachings. In this sutta, when the monk is accused, his immediate response is “But what about those other people who are doing really bad things…” And the deva rightly calls him out for not thinking correctly about how to evaluate his own behaviour.


I didn’t know that and last Vesak someone handed me a flower that I could carry in procession and offer at the shrine. I smelled it, without touching it, and was totally mortified when the flower was taken back and I was given another one to offer whilst being told not to smell it. … Much later that afternoon I noticed the original flower lying on a table outside the kitchen, wilting and forlorn. Lesson learned.


Hi, Bhante in what countries is it considered bad form to smell flowers?

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Maybe a servant sniff tester like a food tester in royal n pharaoh days ? Cleopatra? Or Caesar hmm the buddha was poisoned in a dharma once on a home visit on his path wasnt he maybe a sutta may explain more on this ?