Home » Excerpts » The Toilet Cleaner’s True Fragrance

True filth is non-physical –
they are the mental poisons
of greed, hatred and delusion.

Stonepeace | Books

Nidhi supported himself by cleaning toilets. That was why not only his clothes, but his entire body was permeated with odor associated with human waste. People tended to avoid Nidhi for that reason, not only when he was working, but even on his days off. That made Nidhi very lonely. He wanted friends. “I have it!” Nidhi thought. “All I have to do is to make some clothes that don’t smell!” Nidhi quickly sewed some rags together and made a robe. “I’ll be able to make friend with this!” he thought. Nidhi went into the city in high spirits. But people frowned as soon as they saw him. No one realized that Nidhi did not smell as bad as he usually did. Everyone assumed, “Nidhi is bound to smell bad,” because he always had in the past.

Nidhi became even more lonely. “Who is responsible for my smelling the way I do?” he asked himself. “Who do you think makes it possible for you to relieve yourselves every day?” he shouted while running in the field where he disposed the human waste that he collected every day. He picked up a stone lying at his feet and threw it as far as he could. He then lay in the field with his arms stretched out, gazing at the sky. As he lay there, he heard a voice. “What’s the matter, Nidhi?” You seem in bad spirits today…” Surprised, Nidhi got up and looked around. An elderly, rather emaciated man made his way towards Nidhi. As the man approached, Nidhi realised he was blind. “You come here often to dispose the wastes in your buckets, don’t you?” the man said. “I live here with just the insects and the birds for company. Many people would say that I live in poverty, but I do not feel I lack anything. But there is one thing that you have about which I am envious.”

“What!? You’re envious of me?” “That’s right,” the old man said, “You do work that benefits others.” Just heard the old man’s words completely cleared Nidhi’s heart and mind. “You don’t smell as bad as you usually do,” the old man continued. “Did anything happen?” Blushing, Nidhi replied, “Well, no… actually, yes… Thank you very much.” Happily, Nidhi returned to work the next day. Everyone still averted their eyes as they passed him, but it didn’t bother him in the least. About that time Shakyamuni Buddha came to spread the Dharma in this town. Everyone went to hear him. Nidhi wanted to go too, but he felt the odor that clung to his body would bother the others, so he didn’t. One day as Nidhi was carrying his usual load of human waste, a row of monks on their begging rounds came towards him. Nidhi immediately noticed that one of the monks was Shakyamuni Buddha. “What a noble bearing,” Nidhi thought, but he immediately returned to himself and turned off on a side street.

While harbouring the joy of having at least been able to reverently observe the Buddha’s face, Nidhi continued walking down the side street. He then saw the same row of monks with the Buddha among them, again walking towards him. No matter how after he turned down a side street to avoid the group, it was the same – they always came directly towards him. In his haste to get out of their way, Nidhi finally slipped and dropped the load of human wastes that he was carrying. “What should I do? The road that the Buddha is taking has been dirtied…!” As he cowering at the awful thing he had done, Nidhi felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Shakyamuni Buddha. “Don’t try to avoid me, Nidhi,” the Buddha said. “After all, you are wearing the same sort of robe that we are. And you diligently perform work that others try to avoid. That is your true fragrance!” When Nidhi placed his hand together in joy and gratitude, the figure of Shakyamuni Buddha became one with the figure of the elderly man that he had met in the field.

Adapted From Commentary On The Mahalanka Sutra
Aiko Watanabe

One Response to “The Toilet Cleaner’s True Fragrance”

  1. Sandra Ho December 28, 2015

    Very enlightened by this story! Great underneath meaning in story – slowly digest 😀

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