The Story of Kisagotami

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Short Stories
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Kisagotami was the daughter of a rich man from Savatthi; she was known as Kisagotami because of her slim body. Kisagotami was married to a rich young man and a son was born to them. The boy died when he was just a toddler and Kisagotami was stricken with grief. Carrying the dead body of her son, she went about asking for medicine that would restore her son to life from everyone she happened to meet. People began to think that she had gone mad.

But a wise man seeing her condition thought that he should be of some help to her. So, he said to her, “The Buddha is the person you should approach, he has the medicine you want; go to him.” Thus, she went to the Buddha and asked him to give her the medicine that would restore her dead son to life.

The Buddha told her to get some mustard seeds from a house where there had been no death. Carrying her dead child in her bosom, Kisagotami went from house to house, with the request for some mustard seeds. Everyone was willing to help her, but she could not find a single house where death had not occurred. Then, she realized that her’s was not the only family that had faced death and that there were more people dead than living. As soon as she realized this, her attitude towards her dead son changed; she was no longer attached to the dead body of her son. She left the corpse in the jungle and returned to the Buddha and reported that she could find no house where death had not occurred.

Then the Buddha said, “Did you not get the single pinch of mustard seed?” “No, that did I not, Venerable. In every village the dead are more in number than the living.” Said the Buddha, “Vainly did you imagine that you alone had lost a child. But all living beings are subject to an unchanging law, and it is this:

“The prince of death, like a raging torrent, sweeps away into the sea of ruin all living beings; with their longings still unfulfilled. Gotami, you thought that you were the only one who had lost a son. As you have now realized, death comes to all beings; before their desires are fulfilled death takes them away.

On hearing this, Kisagotami fully realized the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality of the aggregates and attained sotapatti fruition.

Soon afterwards, Kisagotami became a nun. One day, as she was lighting the lamps she saw the flames flaring up and dying out, and suddenly she clearly perceived the arising and the perishing of beings. The Buddha, through supernormal power, saw her from his monastery, and sent forth his radiance and appeared to her in person. Kisagotami was told to continue meditating on the impermanent nature of all beings and to strive hard to realize Nibbàna (nirvana). She reached higher stages of spiritual awakening.

It is from this incident that the Buddha was prompted to utter the following verse which forms part of the Dhammapada scripture:

Though one should live a hundred years without seeing the Deathless State, yet better indeed, is a single day’s life of one who sees the Deathless State.

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