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

is dead."

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

who can."

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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