According to the Gandhatthena Sutta (SN 9.14), a monk sniffing a flower in the wilderness, that was not given to him, is considered stealing, even if it's only a hair-tip's worth of evil.

Why is sniffing a flower in the wilderness considered to be stealing?
Does that apply to lay followers too?

I have heard that on one occasion a certain monk was dwelling among the Kosalans in a forest thicket. Now at that time, after his meal, returning from his almsround, he went down to a lotus pond and sniffed a red lotus.

Then the devata inhabiting the forest thicket, feeling sympathy for the monk, desiring his benefit, desiring to bring him to his senses, approached him and addressed him with this verse:

You sniff this water-born flower
that hasn't been given to you.
This, dear sir, is a factor of stealing.
You are a thief of a scent.

[The monk:]
I don't take, don't damage.
I sniff at the lotus
from far away.
So why do you call me
a thief of a scent?

One who
digs up the stalks,
damages flowers,
one of such ruthless behavior:
why don't you say it of him?

[The devata:]
A person ruthless & grasping,
smeared like a nursing diaper:
to him
I have nothing to say.
It's you
to whom I should speak.

To a person unblemished,
constantly searching for purity,
a hair-tip's worth of evil
seems as large
as a cloud.

[The monk:]
Yes, yakkha, you understand me
and show me sympathy.
Warn me again, yakkha,
whenever again
you see something like this.

[The devata:]
I don't depend on you
for my living
nor am I
your hired hand.
You, monk,
you yourself should know
how to go to the good destination.

The monk, chastened by the devata, came to his senses.

  • Did Buddha confirm this? Or just an opinion of the devata? If Buddha didn't confirm that it was stealing, then I wont worry much next time i stop and smell the roses.
    – user5056
    Oct 8, 2017 at 1:11

3 Answers 3


In my understanding, this story illustrates a different point. The key verse is:

To a person unblemished, constantly searching for purity, a hair-tip's worth of evil seems as large as a cloud.

Meaning, when we cultivate purity, we shouldn't stop at the literal fulfillment of precepts, we should take it all the way to perfection (paramita) and ensure that in our mind there's not even a trace of egoistic/indulging intent.

This level of perfectionism is excessive for lay people, but for professional practicioners of dharma, this level of scrutiny is minimum requirement for developing the right level of detachment from this world, before Jhana practice can come to fruition.

  • 1
    This sounds like - She told Ajaan Fuang that her mind seemed more of a mess than it was before she began meditating. He replied: "Of course it does. It's like your house. If you polish the floor every day, you won't be able to stand the least little bit of dust on it. The cleaner the house, the more easily you'll see the dirt. If you don't keep polishing the mind, you can let it go out and sleep in the mud without any qualms at all. But once you get it to sleep on a polished floor, then if there's even a speck of dust, you'll have to sweep it away. You won't be able to stand the mess."
    – ruben2020
    Oct 8, 2017 at 5:19

I guess one possibility is that "steal" is an inaccurate translation, and that a better translation might centre more on the "conceal" and "stealth" meanings of the words (e.g. concealing or taking a scent by stealth, secretly ... and observed only by a deva).

Another possibility is that it's taking what is not given: what is given (by lay-people to bhikkhus) are "requisites" -- food, medicine. The scent of a flower is not a requisite; taking the scent might be considered a sensual craving.


It's like if a person, maintaining his live by sensuality, lives on pleasure gained bt sensuality, would take the Dhamma, make use of it for his/here livelihood, which run out in the same way.

Maintaining one selfs needed pleasure, entertaining, by unrightouse means. Such counts as stealing, because the sacrify for it has not been done.

One should not make an effort everywhere,

should not be another's hireling,

should not live dependent on another,

should not go about

as a trader in the Dhamma.

Paṭisalla Sutta: Seclusion

That is why it is good to stay in ones own range.

Sakunagghi Sutta: The Hawk.

Maintaining one livelihood, physical and mental, within the wrong range is very risky and destructs the certain economies, leads to inbalance and the hawk might catch.

It's very compassionated by a certain Deva if pointing out such dangers.

(Maybe it is understood good in that unusual way of comparison)

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose or other low wodily gains by means of trade and exchange]

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