Taking that which is not given
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
It seems pretty obvious, don’t steal, to the point where I couldn’t think about much to add to it, but the last bit of wording is in such a way that it can point to a more subtle depth than I’m clever enough to perceive in most moments.
This morning, I came across the Gandhatthena Sutta: Stealing the Scent, a beautiful exchange between a monk and a nature spirit on the subtle ways we may take what is not given. there is also an excellent commentary by the translator. Personally, I’d like to believe that the flower offers its scent to us, but I recognize that the desire of taking is what’s at the muddied root of this lotus.
Gandhatthena Sutta: Stealing the Scent
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:
Translator’s note: 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.