Krsa Gautami and the Mustard Seed
On day, when the rainy season had ended, Krsa Gautami, the wife of a rich
man, was plunged deep into grief by the loss of her only son, a baby boy who
had died just when he was old enough to run about.
In her grief Krsa carried the dead child to all her neighbors in
Kapilavastu, asking them for medicine. Seeing her, the people shook their
heads sadly out of pity.
"Poor woman! She has lost her senses from grief. The boy is beyond the
help of medicine."
Unable to accept the fact of her son's death, Krsa then wandered through
the streets of the city beseeching for help everyone she met.
"Please, sir," she said to a certain man, "give me medicine that will cure
The stranger looked at the child's eyes and saw that the boy was dead.
"Alas, I have no medicine for your child," he said, "but I know of a physician
who can give what you require."
"Pray tell me, sir, where I can find this physician."
"Go, dear woman, to Sakyamuni, the Buddha, just now residing in Banyan
Krsa went in haste to the Nigrodharama; and she was brought by the monks
"Reverend Lord," she cried, "give me the medicine that will cure my boy!"
Lord Buddha, Ocean of Infinite Compassion, looked upon the grief-stricken
mother with pity.
"You have done well to come here for medicine, Krsa Gautami. Go into the
city and get a handful of mustard seed." And then the Perfect One added: "The
mustard seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child,
husband, parent, or friend."
"Yes, Lord!" exclaimed Krsa, greatly cheered. "I shall procure the
mustard seed at once!"
Poor Krsa then went from house to house with her request; and the people
pitied her, saying: "Here is the mustard seed: please take all you want of
Then Krsa would ask: "Did a son or daughter, father or mother, die in your
"Alas! The living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of
our deepest grief!"
And there was no house but that some relative, some dear one, had died in
Weary and with hope gone, Krsa sat down by the wayside, sorrowfully
watching the lights of the city as they flickered up and were extinguished
again, And at last the deep shadows of night plunged the world into darkness.
Considering the fate of human beings, that their lives flicker up and are
extinguished again, the bereft mother suddenly realized that Buddha, in his
compassion, had sent her forth to learn the truth.
"How selfish am I in my grief!" she thought. "Death is universal: yet
even in this valley of death there is a Path that leads to Deathlessness [for] him
who has surrendered all thought of self!"
Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Krsa Gautami
went to the edge of a forest and tenderly laid the dead body in a drift of
"Little son," she said, taking the child by the hand, "I thought that
death had happened to you alone; but it is not to you alone, it is common to
There she left him; and when dawn brightened the eastern sky, she returned
to the Perfect One.
"Krsa Gautami," said the Tathagata, "did you get a handful of mustard seed
from a house in which no one has ever lost kith or kin?"
"That, Lord, is now past and gone," she said. "Grant me support."
"Dear girl, the life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and
inseparable from suffering," declared Buddha, "for there is not any means, nor
will there ever be, by which those that have been born can avoid dying. All
living beings are of such a nature that they must die whether they reach old
age or not.
"As early-ripening fruits are in danger of falling, so mortals when born
are always in danger of dying. Just as the earthen vessels made by the potter
end in shards, so is the life of mortals. Both young and old, both those who
are foolish and those who are wise - all fall into the power of death, all are
subject to death.
Of those who depart from this life, overcome by death, a father cannot
save his son, nor relatives their kinsfolk. While relatives are looking on
and lamenting, one by one the mortals are carried off like oxen to the
slaughter. People die, and their fate after death will be according to their
deeds. Such are the terms of the world.
"Not from weeping nor from grieving will anyone obtain peace of mind. On
the contrary, his pain will be all the greater, and he will ruin his health.
He will make himself sick and pale; but dead bodies cannot be restored by his
"Now that you have heard the Tathagata, Krsa, reject grief, do not allow
it to enter your mind. Seeing one dead, know for sure: 'I shall never see him
again in this existence.' And just as the fire of a burning house is
quenched, so does the contemplative wise person scatter grief's power,
expertly, swiftly, even as the wind scatters cotton seed.
"He who seeks peace should pull out the arrow lamentations, useless
longings, and the self-made pangs of grief. He who has removed this
unwholesome arrow and has calmed himself will obtain peace of mind. Verily,
he who has conquered grief will always be free from grief - sane and immune -
confident, happy, and close to Nirvana, I say."
Then Krsa Gautami won the stage of Entering-the-Stream, and
shortly afterwards she became an Arhat [found Nirvana for herself]. She was the first woman to have attained
Nirvana under the dispensation of Sakyamuni Buddha.
And once upon a time a certain householder approached the Perfect One and
declared that he, aspiring to live the religious life, had renounced all
"What you, O householder, call 'worldly practice' is one thing," said the
Master, "but what is meant by 'worldly practice' in the Āryan discipline is
"These eight Precepts in the Āryan discipline conduce to the renunciation
of worldly practices: 1) Through making no onslaught on living beings, harming
is renounced, 2) through taking only what is voluntarily given, pilfering is
renounced, 3) through speaking truthfully, deceit is renounced, 4) through
gracious speech, malicious speech is renounced, 5) through the absence of
coveting, greed is renounced, 5) through the absence of invective, angry blame
is renounced, 7) through the absence of vindictiveness, wrathful rage is
renounced, and 8) through humility, self-conceit is renounced.
"When I say that through making no onslaught on living beings harming is
renounced, I mean that an Āryan disciple considers the matter this way:
" 'I am attaining the renunciation of those fetters because of which I was
one who made onslaught on living beings. Verily, if I were to harm living
beings, conscience would upbraid me; intelligent persons, having found me out,
would censure me; and at the dissolution of my body at death, I should arise
in a world of woe. But those painful mind-and-body aggregates which would
arise because of onslaught on living beings come not to be when onslaught on
living beings is renounced.'
"And in like manner the Āryan disciple reasons concerning the other seven
"O householder, it is like a hungry dog, weak from starvation, who might
find his way to a slaughter-yard. Suppose the butcher flings that dog a bare
bone with only a trace of blood on it. Do you think that the dog's hunger
would be allayed by such a bare bone?
"In the same way, householder, an Āryan disciple reflects, 'Sensual
pleasure has been likened by the Master to a bare bone, of great suffering, of
great tribulation, which is only the beginning of a long series of
sufferings,' and having by higher insight penetrated the truth of the matter,
and having laid aside that indifference which is based upon diversity, he
develops only that indifference whish is based upon unity, and in which all
hankering after worldly things is brought to an end."