The Bhikshu with the Fragrant Breath

From Nagarjuna's Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom
(Dharmamitra Translation)

This concept (Dharma giving) is illustrated in a story told in connection with King Ashoka who in a single day was responsible for the creation of eighty-thousand Buddha images. Although he had not yet achieved the stage of "seeing the Way", still, he did maintain a minor degree of faith and bliss in the Dharma of the Buddha. Every day he invited bhikshus to enter the palace to receive offerings. Every day he retained one Dharma Master in order of seniority to speak the Dharma.

One day there was a young Dharma Master, a master of the Tripitaka, who was intelligent and handsome and next in order to speak the Dharma. He sat down next to the King. His mouth exuded an exotic fragrance. The King was filled with extreme doubt and suspicion. He was of the opinion that this constituted a deliberate impropriety arising from a desire to employ a fragrant scent to influence the retinue in the royal palace.

The King asked the bhikshu, "What do you have in your mouth? Open your mouth so I can see into it." [The bhikshu] then opened his mouth for [the King] and it turned out that there was nothing whatsoever therein. He was ordered to rinse out his mouth with water after which the fragrance remained just as before. The King asked, "Venerable One, is this fragrance newly manifest or has it abided with you for a long time?"

The bhikshu replied, saying, "It has been like this for a long time. It is not the case that it is just manifesting now."

[The King] continued to inquire, "How long has it been this way?"

The bhikshu replied in verse, saying:

It was at the time of Kaashyapa Buddha
That I gathered the Dharma underlying this fragrance.
It has remained so like this for a very long time,
And has always been fresh as if newly arisen.
The King said, "Venerable One, I do not yet understand this brief explanation. Pray, expound on it more extensively for me."

He replied by saying, "The King should listen well and single-mindedly to my explanation. In the past, during the time of Kaashyapa Buddha's Dharma I was a Dharma-proclaiming bhikshu who, in the midst of the great assembly, constantly took pleasure in expounding on the immeasurable qualities of Kaashyapa, the World Honored One, on the reality mark of all dharmas, and on an incalculable number of methods to access Dharma. I conscientiously and earnestly set forth praises and offered instruction to everyone. From this time on forward to the present I have always had a marvelous fragrance coming forth from my mouth. This has been the case in life after life without cease. It has constantly been just as it is this very day." He then spoke forth a verse:

The fragrance from the flowers on the shrubs and the trees
Is utterly surpassed by this incense-like fragrance.
It's able to pleasure the minds of all people.
In life after life it abides without ceasing.
At this time the King was filled with a mixture of shame and delight. He said to the bhikshu, "This is such as has never been before. The merit of speaking the Dharma brings such a great fruition as this."

The bhikshu said, "This may be thought of as the blossom. It is not yet the fruit."

The King asked, "What then is its fruit? Pray, expound upon this for my sake."

He replied, "Briefly speaking, the fruits are tenfold. May the King listen earnestly." He then set forth a verse for his sake:

There's a grand reputation and finely-formed features.
One experiences bliss and is the object of reverence.
There shines awesome brilliance like the sun and the moon.
So thus one becomes a man loved by all people.

There's eloquence and also there's prodigious wisdom.
One's able to end then the grip of the fetters.
One destroys all suffering and reaches nirvana.
And so in this manner the count reaches to ten.
The King said, "Venerable One, How is it that one gains such a reward as a result of praising the qualities of the Buddha?"

At that time the bhikshu replied in verse, saying:

If one praises the qualities possessed by the Buddha
And causes this to be heard everywhere by all people,
On account of results which come forth as reward,
One comes to be known by a grand reputation.

If one praises the actual qualities of Buddha
And causes all people to experience delight,
On account of the [force] which is born from this merit,
In life after life features always are fine.

If one explains for people offenses and blessings,
Allowing them to reach a place of peace and delight,
On account of the merit which is thus produced,
One experiences bliss and is always content.

The power of praising the merits of Buddha
Causes everyone hearing to have minds which are humbled.
On account of the power produced by this merit,
One eternally garners men's reverence as reward.

When one displays forth the torch of the speaking of Dharma
And illumines and awakens then all of the people,
On account of the power produced by this merit
One's awesome bright brilliance shines forth like the sun.

If in many a fashion one praises Buddha's merits
And delights thus the hearts of all [by those words],
On account of the power produced by this merit,
One is ever the object of people's affection.

If with clever discourse one praises Buddha's merits
Which cannot be measured and can't be exhausted,
On account of the power produced by this merit,
One's eloquent speech is never brought to an end.

If one praises the marvelous dharmas of Buddha
Which are such as no one can ever surpass,
On account of the power produced by this merit,
One possesses great wisdom which is pure in its nature.

When one praises the qualities possessed by the Buddha,
One causes afflictions of men to be scant.
On account of the power produced by this merit,
Fetters are cut off and defilements destroyed.

Because both kinds of fetters are brought to an end,
Nirvana in this body has already been achieved,
As when torrents of rain pour down from the sky
All fires are extinguished and no embers remain.
Once again he addressed the King, saying, "If there still remains anything to which you've not awakened, now is the time to bring questions forth. The arrows of wisdom should be used to smash your armor of doubts."

The King replied to the Dharma master, "My mind has been both delighted and awakened such that now there remain no more objects of doubt. The Venerable One is a blessed man well able to speak forth the praises of Buddha."

When one speaks forth the Dharma in accord with the various causes and conditions discussed above and so brings about the deliverance of beings, this qualifies then as the giving of Dharma.