Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 54-55:
na pupphagandho paṭivātameti na candanaṃ tagaramallikā vā |
satañca gandho paṭivātameti sabbā disā sappuriso pavāti || 54 ||
candanaṃ tagaraṃ vā’pi uppalaṃ atha vassikī |
etesaṃ gandhajātānaṃ sīlagandho anuttaro || 55 ||
54. The fragrance of flowers drifts with the wind as sandalwood, jasmine or lavender. The fragrance of virtue o’ersweeps the wind, all pervasive is virtue of the good.
55. Sandalwood or lavender, lotus or the jasmine great, of these many fragrances virtue’s fragrance is supreme.
The Story of the Question Raised by the Venerable Ānanda
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke these verses, with reference to a question raised by the Venerable Ānanda.
One evening, absorbed in meditation, Venerable Ānanda pondered the following thought: “The Buddha possesses the three perfumes of excellence; namely, the perfume of sandal, the perfume of roots, and the perfume of flowers. However, each of these perfumes goes only with the wind. Is there possibly a substance whose perfume goes against the wind, or is there possibly a substance whose perfume goes both with the wind and against the wind?” Then the following thought occurred to him: ‘What is the use of my trying to determine this question all by myself? I will ask the Buddha, and the Buddha alone.” Accordingly he would approach the Buddha and put the question to him. The story goes:
Now one evening the Venerable Ānanda arose from profound meditation and drew near to the place where sat the Buddha, and when he had drawn near, he addressed the Buddha as follows, “Venerable, there are these three substances whose perfume goes only with the wind and not against the wind. What are the three? The perfume of roots, the perfume of sandal, and the perfume of flowers. These are the three substances whose perfume goes only with the wind and not against the wind. But, Venerable, is there possibly a substance whose perfume goes both with the wind and against the wind?”
Said the Buddha in answer to the question, “Ānanda, there is a substance whose perfume goes with the wind, a substance whose perfume goes both with the wind and against the wind.” “But, Venerable, what is that substance whose perfume goes with the wind, that substance whose perfume goes both with the wind and against the wind?” “Ānanda, if in any village or market-town in this world any person seeks refuge in the Buddha, seeks refuge in the Dhamma, seeks refuge in the Sangha; if he refrains from taking life, from taking that which is not given, from indulgence in the sins of the flesh and from lying, and avoids occasions of heedlessness through the use of liquor or spirits or other intoxicants; if he is virtuous; if he lives the life of a householder in righteousness, with a heart free from the stain of avarice; if he is liberal and generous, if he is open-handed, if he takes delight in giving, if he is attentive to petitions, if he takes delight in the distribution of alms, in all parts of the world monks utter his praise. If in such and such a village or market-town either a man or a woman seeks refuge in the Buddha… if he takes delight in the distribution of alms, deities and spirits speak his praise. If in such and such a village or market-town either a man or a woman seeks refuge in the Buddha… if he takes delight in the distribution of alms, such acts as these, Ānanda, are the substance whose perfume goes both with and against the wind.”
Explanatory Translation (Verse 54)
pupphagandho paṭivātaṃ na eti candanaṃ tagara mallikā vā na
paṭivātaṃ eti sataṃ gandho ca paṭivātaṃ eti sappuriso sabbādisā pavāti
pupphagandho [pupphagandha]: the fragrance of the flowers; paṭivātaṃ [paṭivāta]: against the wind; na eti: does not waft; candanaṃ [candana]: sandal wood; tagaraṃ [tagara]: lavender; mallikā vā: or jasmine: na: does not (waft against the wind); sataṃ [sata]: (but of such noble individuals as the) Buddha; gandho [gandha]: the sweet smell (of virtue); ca paṭivātaṃ eti: wafts against the wind; sappuriso [sappurisa]: the virtuous person; sabbādisā pavāti: blows in all directions
The world knows many a sweet smelling flower and fragrant object. But, the fragrance of all these moves only leeward. None of these, however strong their fragrance may be, spread their sweet smell against the wind. But, in contrast, the sweet smell of virtue of a spiritually evolved individual spreads in all directions and is universally experienced.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 55)
candanaṃ tagaraṃ vā api uppalaṃ atha vassikī
etesaṃ gandhajātānaṃ sīlagandho anuttaro
candanaṃ [candana]: sandal wood; tagaraṃ [tagara]: lavender; vā api: also; uppalaṃ [uppala]: water lily; atha: and again; vassikī: jasmine; etesaṃ gandhajātānaṃ [gandhajātāna]: of all these fragrances; sīlagandho [sīlagandha]: the sweet smell of virtue; anuttaro [anuttara]: is supreme
Sandalwood, lavender, water-lily and the jasmine exude fragrance. Of all these varieties of fragrances the sweet-smell of virtue is the most supreme. This is because the fragrance of virtue is universally favoured. Besides, the fragrance of virtue spreads in all directions, even against the wind.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 54-55)
[A note on Ānanda:]
The two verses (54 & 55) were spoken by the Buddha in response to a question put to him by Venerable Ānanda. In the history of Buddhism, Venerable Ānanda occupies a crucial place. Most of the discourses spoken by the Buddha were recorded by Venerable Ānanda. It was he who recounted these discourses to the assembly of monks who gathered at the First Council to confirm the word of the Buddha. The recurring phrase ‘evaṃ me Sutaṃ.’ (Thus have I heard) which prefaces most of the discourses in the Buddhist scripture, is indicative of the fact that the discourse was recounted by Venerable Ānanda, just as he had heard it when the Buddha first spoke.
Venerable Ānanda was the personal attendant of the Buddha. The body of teaching that is presently characterized as Buddhism is largely the teachings gathered by Venerable Ānanda as the constant companion of the Buddha. Venerable Ānanda is, at times, referred to as the ‘Treasurer of the Buddha Word’. How Venerable Ānanda came to assume this exalted position has also been extensively recorded in Buddhist literature. The Buddha had no regular attendant during the first twenty years of His ministry. There were several monks who used to attend on the Buddha and accompany Him on the rounds for alms carrying his extra robes and the bowl. The monks who served thus were Nāgasamāla, Nāgita, Upavāna, Sunakkhatta, Cunda, Sāgata, Rādha, and Meghiya.
One day, as the Buddha went on a long journey accompanied by the Venerable Nāgasamāla, and came up to a junction, the monk suggested to take one road, whereas the Buddha suggested the other. The monk did not accept the words of the Buddha, and was about to put the bowl and the robes of the Buddha on the ground before taking the road of his choice. The Buddha asked for the bowl and the robes before they were put on the ground, and took the other road. The monk who went along the road of his choice was robbed of his bowl and robes and was struck on the head by highway robbers. He came back to the Buddha with a bleeding head, to be reminded of his disobedience and consoled by the Buddha.
On another day, as the Buddha was on his way to the village of Jantu in the company of the Venerable Meghiya, the latter chose to go to a mango grove and practice meditation, and handed over to the Buddha His bowl and the robes. The Buddha thrice advised him against taking that step, but he went his way. He returned to the Buddha and confessed how he failed in his meditation. When the Buddha came to Sāvatthi, and was in the Jetavana Monastery, he expressed to the assembly of monks His dissatisfaction with the conduct of these monks, and suggested to have a regular attendant as He was advancing in years. The Buddha was over fifty-five years in age at this time.
The Venerable Sāriputta stood up immediately, saluted the Buddha, and volunteered to be the regular personal attendant of the Buddha. The Buddha declined his offer as his services as the foremost disciple of the Buddha was needed elsewhere. Other leading disciples too offered their services. However, they too were not accepted by the Buddha. Then the monks induced the Venerable Ānanda, who was so far silent, to offer to serve as the personal attendant of the Buddha. However, he waited to be nominated by the Buddha Himself. The Buddha said: It is not necessary for Ānanda to be induced by others. He will serve me on his own accord.”
The Venerable Ānanda agreed to serve the Buddha regularly, subject to eight conditions. They were: (1) He should not be given the fine robes received by the Buddha; (2) He should not be given the delicious food received by the Buddha; (3) He should not be accommodated in the fragrant chamber of the Buddha; (4) He should not be asked to go with the Buddha to accept alms on invitations; (5) The Buddha would consent to invitations accepted by him; (6) Visitors from far off places who came to see the Buddha should be allowed in with him; (7) He should be allowed to consult the Buddha whenever he had any doubt for clarification; and that (8) He should be told the discourses the Buddha preached in his absence.
After the Buddha consented to these eight conditions, the Venerable Ānanda became the regular attendant of the Buddha. Thenceforth, he began to attend on the Buddha and serve hot and cold water and three kinds of dental tools. He used to massage the body of the Buddha, and be awakened the whole night, holding a wooden torch, so that he could be summoned by the Buddha at any time. He used to walk nine times round the fragrant chamber every night. He also did the sweeping and cleaning of the fragrant chamber himself. He served and followed the Buddha like His shadow until His passing away,
However, the Venerable Ānanda did not attain arahathood during the lifetime of the Buddha. He became an arahant a few weeks after the passing away of the Buddha, and was a key figure in the First Council of the five hundred arahants who recited the teachings of the Buddha, at the invitation of the Venerable Mahā Kassapa, at Rājagaha. Thus, many Suttas start with ‘evaṃ me Sutaṃ.’