Kisa Gotami and the Mustard Seed

During the time of the Buddha, in the city of Shravasti, lived a young woman named Gotami.  She was so thin that people called her Kisa Gotami, meaning Skinny Gotami. Kisa Gotami married very young and gave birth to a son, who she was very devoted to. One day, soon after her son had learned to walk, she found him motionless in the yard. She tried everything to wake him, but nothing seemed to work. In her anguish and grief she was unable to see and comprehend, that her son had died.

When she didn't manage to revive him herself, Kisa Gotami asked her relatives to help. They could see that the child was dead and tried to convince Kisa Gotami of this, but she was determined that his small limp body was still alive, and that there must be some medicine that could restore him.

Carrying his dead body in her arms she went along the streets, going from door to door asking if anyone had the medicine that would cure her son. It was clear to everyone she asked that the child was beyond the help of medicines, and that poor Kisa Gotami was so distraught that she couldn't accept her child's death. They tried to help her but all they could do was to say that they didn't have the right medicine, and that she should try somewhere else.

Kisa Gotami wouldn't give up and continued searching for the medicine. Some tried to help and console her, some just thought she was mad and closed the door to her, and some even chased her away. Eventually she came to the house of one of the elders. So the elder said to Kisa Gotami, “Good woman, go and see the Buddha, the Enlightened One, and ask him whether he has any medicine for you.”

So she asked where the Buddha might be and quickly hurried there, still cradling her dead son’s lifeless body in her arms. When she reached the place where the Buddha was staying, she went straight up to the Buddha and fell down at his feet, crying out to him, “Lord Buddha, I beg you, please give me the medicine which I need to wake my child from his sleep.” The Buddha understood Kisa Gotami’s situation and state of mind and said to her, “Good woman, I do have some medicine for you, but in order for this medicine to work you need to obtain a small quantity of mustard seed from a house in the city…”

“Oh yes, Lord Buddha”, burst out Kisa Gotami, “I can certainly do that,” and got up to hurry away. Mustard seed was one of the cheapest spices available, and she knew that virtually every house in the city would have some.

But the Buddha hadn't quite finished speaking. “Good woman,” he said, “you need to obtain this mustard seed from a house in the city where no one has died, where no one has ever lost a loved one.”

Confidently, she knocked at the first door she came to and asked whether they could give her a small quantity of mustard seed. The occupants could see the state that Kisa Gotami was in, still clutching her son’s body, and willingly gave her the mustard see that she wanted. She suddenly remembered the second part of the Buddha’s instructions, and turning back to the householder asked, “Has anyone ever died in this house, or have any of you ever lost a loved one?”

“Yes,” came the reply, “Our grandmother died a few weeks ago.” Kisa Gotami was disappointed and gave back the mustard seed but went on to the next house. At the next house the same thing happened. And again at the house after that. In her all-consuming grief Kisa Gotami was not about to give up and continued on from house to house asking the same questions. At one house a father had died, at another it was a daughter, at a third it was a husband.

As the day wore on, the realisation that she wasn't going to find a house that was untouched by death gradually seeped into Kisa Gotami’s mind, but she kept asking. From door to door she went, but the outcome was always the same.

As the daylight faded Kisa Gotami's mind finally began to realise that she wasn't alone she was just one amongst many grieving parents. Finding the Buddha again, he asked her whether she had managed to get the mustard seed, and she replied, “No Lord Buddha, I have not. Mustard seed is easy to obtain, but a house untouched by death cannot be found.”


The source of all being, life and consciousness, the very matrix  of existence is waiting patiently for your recognition.


Siddhārtha Gautama, most commonly referred to as the Buddha, was born around 564 BC, in Lumbini Province, Nepal. His father was the king of the Sakya clan. King Śuddhodana called upon eight Brahmins to predict his son's future. While seven of them declared that the prince would either be a Buddha or a great king, the Brahmin Kaundinya was confident that he would become a Buddha.

Śuddhodana, who was determined that his son should be a great king, confined the prince within the palace and surrounded him with earthly pleasures and luxury, thereby concealing the realities of life that might encourage him to become an ascetic.

After leading a sheltered existence surrounded by luxury and pleasure in his younger years, Prince Siddhārtha ventured out of his palace for the first time at the age of 29. He set off from the palace to the city in a chariot, accompanied by his charioteer Chandaka.

On this journey he first saw an old man. When the prince asked about this person, Chandaka replied that aging was something that happened to all beings alike. The second sight was of a sick person suffering from a disease. Once again, the prince was disturbed at the sight, and Chandaka explained that all beings are subject to disease and pain. This further troubled the prince.

The third sight was of a dead body. As before, Chandaka explained to the prince that death is an inevitable fate that befalls everyone. After these three sights Siddhārtha was sorrowful and troubled. Later Siddhārtha came upon a fourth sight, an ascetic who had devoted himself to finding liberation from sorrow and trouble.

Siddhārtha returned to the palace but kept thinking about what he saw as the true nature of life. He knew his father would try to stop him so he left the palace at night and over the next six years wandered from place to place, in search of understanding the mystery of life and death.

Finally in Bodh Gaya he resolved to sit in meditation under a peepal tree until he achieved liberation from the fears and sorrow of impermanence. According to Buddhist texts, he meditated without moving from his seat for seven weeks (49 days), facing inner temptations and demons and emerged free as Gautama the Buddha.