Kisa Gotami

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Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An old man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could bring the child back to life if she could find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a house that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arahat.

The following Dhammapada verse[1] (in Pali and English) is associated with her story:

In the "Gotami Sutta" (SN 5.3), Bhikkhuni Kisa Gotami declares:

I've gotten past the killing of [my] sons,
have made that the end
to [my search for] men.
I don't grieve,
I don't weep....
It's everywhere destroyed — delight.
The mass of darkness is shattered.
Having defeated the army of death,
free of fermentations I dwell.[2]

Happy indeed is the mother Happy indeed is the father Happy indeed is the wife Who is a lord so glorious

The story is the source of the popular aphorism: "The living are few, but the dead are many".

A literary tradition has evolved round the story of Kisa Gotami, much of it in oral form and in local plays in much of Asia. The Therigatha (or "Verses of the Elder Nuns") in the Pali Canon recounts a version of the story. A number of popular similar alternative versions also exist.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

The story of Kisa Gotami is recited by Australian musician Nick Cave in the song "Hollywood" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds from their seventeenth studio album, Ghosteen (2019).[4]

The story is played out in the kids television series Bluey “Bumpy and the Wise Old Wolf Hound” Season 1 Episode 31.


  1. ^ Dhammapada, Ch. VIII, verse 114. See, for instance, Buddharakkhita (1996).[1]
  2. ^ Thanissaro (1998).
  3. ^ Richard Winter, Cambridge Buddhist Centre
  4. ^ Grow, Kory (10 October 2019). "Nick Cave Looks for Peace and Finds Hope on 'Ghosteen'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 4 November 2019.


External links[edit]