The scent of virtue

The scent of flowers
– sandalwood, jasmine, and rosebay –
Doesn’t go against the wind.
But the scent of a virtuous person
Does travel against the wind;
It spreads in all directions.

The scent of virtue
Is unsurpassed
Even by sandalwood, rosebay,
Water lily, and jasmine.

Slight
Is the scent of rosebay or sandalwood,
But the scent of the virtuous is supreme,
Drifting even to the gods.

Mara does not find the path
Of those endowed with virtue,
Living with vigilance,
and freed by right understanding.

Dhammapada v. 54-57, translated by Gil Fronsdal

These verses seem to belong together. They all describe and praise virtuous behavior, referring to the basic precepts about harmlessness, truthfulness, generosity, etc.

Wholesome actions travel against the wind (spread in all directions), are more powerful than the most powerfully scented flowers, and protect a person from unwholesome actions and thoughts (Mara), primarily one’s own.

One aspect of the scent of flowers is that it is invisible; likewise (mostly) with our virtuous behavior. Our wholesome behavior starts with what we carry in our minds, our intentions and attitudes. For example, if we dwell on how unjust the world is, to us in particular, others might not see it, but we are laying the foundation for unwholesome speech and behavior. If we make an effort to understand and forgive the inconvenient behavior of others and resolve to make our own actions wholesome, then we (invisibly) give energy to our own virtuous behavior.

Of course, there is a feedback loop that comes into play. As the header on this blog states, virtuous actions, words and thoughts all support each other in a complex interaction. But I think today’s quotation leans in the direction of wholesome thoughts.

Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking & pondering,
that becomes the inclination of his awareness.

(MN 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Full text of the sutta is here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.019.than.html)

To get the most out of these verses, I think it’s worth reflecting on the analogy of scented flowers and also (if you’re inclined) the full text of Majjhima Nikaya 19, the sutta quoted above. That text offers a practical and inspiring roadmap for training the mind in virtue.

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