The Mustard Seed
There was a rich man who found his gold suddenly transformed into
ashes; and he took to his bed and refused all food. A friend,
hearing of his sickness, visited the rich man and learned the
cause of his grief. And the friend said: "Thou didst not make
good use of thy wealth. When thou didst hoard it up it was not
better than ashes. Now heed my advice. Spread mats in the bazaar;
pile up these ashes, and pretend to trade with them."
The rich man did as his friend had told him, and when his
neighbors asked him, "Why sellest thou ashes?" he said: "I offer
my goods for sale."
After some time a young girl, named Kisa Gotami, an orphan and
very poor, passed by, and seeing the rich man in the bazaar,
said: "My lord, why pilest thou thus up gold and silver for
And the rich man said: "Wilt thou please hand me that gold and
silver?" And Kisa Gotami took up a handful of ashes, and lo! they
changed back into gold.
Considering that Kisa Gotami had the mental eye of spiritual
knowledge and saw the real worth of things, the rich man gave her
in marriage to his son, and he said: "With many, gold is no
better than ashes, but with Kisa Gotami ashes become pure gold."
And Kisa Gotami had an only son, and he died. In her grief she
carried the dead child to all her neighbors, asking them for
medicine, and the people said: "She has lost her senses. The boy
At length Kisa Gotami met a man who replied to her request: "I
cannot give thee medicine for thy child, but I know a physician
And the girl said: "Pray tell me, sir; who is it?" And the man
replied: "Go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha."
Kisa Gotami repaired to the Buddha and cried: "Lord and Master,
give me the medicine that will cure my boy."
The Buddha answered: "I want a handful of mustard-seed." And when
the girl in her joy promised to procure it, the Buddha added:
"The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has
lost a child, husband, parent, or friend."
Poor Kisa Gotami now went from house to house, and the people
pitied her and said: "Here is mustard-seed; take it!" But when
she asked, "Did a son or daughter, a father or mother, die in
your family?" They answered her: "Alas! the living are few, but
the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief." And
there was no house but some beloved one had died in it.
Kisa Gotami became weary and hopeless, and sat down at the
wayside, watching the lights of the city, as they flickered up
and were extinguished again. At last the darkness of the night
reigned everywhere. And she considered the fate of men, that
their lives flicker up and are extinguished. And she thought to
herself: "How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all;
yet in this valley of desolation there is a path that leads him
to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness."
Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Kisa
Gotami had the dead body buried in the forest. Returning to the
Buddha, she took refuge in him and found comfort in the Dharma,
which is a balm that will soothe all the pains of our troubled
The Buddha said:
"The life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and
combined with pain. For there is not any means by which those
that have been born can avoid dying; after reaching old age there
is death; of such a nature are living beings.
"As ripe fruits are early in danger of falling, so mortals when
born are always in danger of death.
"As all earthen vessels made by the potter end in being broken,
so is the life of mortals.
"Both young and adult, both those who are fools and those who are
wise, all fall into the power of death; all are subject to death.
"Of those who, overcome by death, depart from life, a father
cannot save his son, nor kinsmen their relations.
"Mark! while relatives are looking on and lamenting deeply, one
by one mortals are carried off, like an ox that is led to the
"So the world is afflicted with death and decay, therefore the
wise do not grieve, knowing the terms of the world.
"In whatever manner people think a thing will come to pass, it is
often different when it happens, and great is the disappointment;
see, such are the terms of the world.
"Not from weeping nor from grieving will any one obtain peace of
mind; on the contrary, his pain will be the greater and his body
will suffer. He will make himself sick and pale, yet the dead are
not saved by his lamentation.
"People pass away, and their fate after death will be according
to their deeds.
"If a man live a hundred years, or even more, he will at last be
separated from the company of his relatives, and leave the life
of this world.
"He who seeks peace should draw out the arrow of lamentation, and
complaint, and grief.
"He who has drawn out the arrow and has become composed will
obtain peace of mind; he who has overcome all sorrow will become
free from sorrow, and be blessed."
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