The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic. One day he went down to a lotus pond and smelled one of the flowers. A tree fairy who lived there called the Bodhisatta out for stealing the flower’s scent since the flower had not been given to him. The Bodhisatta was taken aback by her accusation and asked why she did not confront the other man at the pond who was digging up lotus stalks to make fiber. A goddess like her, the tree fairy answered, would never stoop so low as to speak to an ordinary man like him. But the hair-tip-sized sin of a person seeking truth and purity appears like a black cloud in the sky. The Bodhisatta appreciated the tree fairy’s explanation and asked her to inform him if she ever saw him committing any other offenses. The tree fairy told him she was not there to serve him and went back into her home.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
One of the Buddha’s disciples was living in the forest. One day he went down to a lotus pond and leaned in to smell a flower. A tree fairy living there called him an odor thief, and this frightened the disciple so much that he went back to the Buddha’s monastery to speak with the Buddha about it. The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past a goddess had once done the same thing to him.
The tree fairy from the Bodhisatta’s time was an earlier birth of Uppalavanna, one of the Buddha’s top female disciples.