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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 before he could bring the child back to life if she should 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 Arhatship. Eventually, she became an arhat.
Yo ca vassasatam jeeve
Though one should live a hundred years
- 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.
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.
- Dhammapada, Ch. VIII, verse 114. See, for instance, Buddharakkhita (1996).
- Thanissaro (1998).
- Richard Winter, Cambridge Buddhist Centre
- Buddharakkhita, Acharya (1998). Sahassavagga: The Thousands (Dhp VIII). Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/dhp/dhp.08.budd.html.
- Thanissaro Bhikkhu (trans.) (1998). Gotami Sutta: Sister Gotami (SN 5.3). Available on-line at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn05/sn05.003.than.html.
- C. Rhys Davids and K. Norman: Poems of Early Buddhist Nuns, Pali Text Society, pp. 88–9. Retaken at: http://mindfulnessmethod.wordpress.com/articles/kisa-gotami/