The Mustard Seed

From the Dhammapada:

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 sale?”  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.”  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.”

The search: 

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 hearts.

Heart advice:

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 I while relatives are looking on and lamenting deeply, one by one mortals are carried off, like an ox that is led to the slaughter.  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 anyone 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.”




Filed under Buddhist sutras

2 responses to “The Mustard Seed

  1. Yes..well..its quite a reality check. Most of us are looking for our happy ending…we question how can God be fair if we dont get our happy ending..but sometimes we dont get our happy ending..hopefully in its place we know God better and truth..doesnt make grieving less painful thou…or make loss easier to go thru..well shoot…im still looking for my mustard seed


  2. It sure is a sad yet sobering story. Death is the hardest thing for anyone to go through. It is more difficult when it is someone very close to us – especially our own child. Hopefully this story can inspire others to give deeper meaning to their life.

    It took a Master to help Kisa Gotami recognize her self-centered fixation and awaken a compassionate heart. Soon afterwards she achieved the first stage of realization called Sotapanna. With this insight she could more easily discern reality from illusion which also gave her a more peaceful heart.

    We may not have our own teacher (ie. mustard seed) right now to shake us from our dream, yet this story can help us remember that each moment is certainly precious. When we are MINDFUL of how to interact with others that is a gift we can give selflessly.

    Can we LOOK at a human being as an innocent child would?

    We can if we constantly remember to train our mind. The more we are PRESENT during each moment will benefit others as well as ourself. Half-hearted hugs turn into warmer ones. A weak handshake turns into a tight one and empty-words carry a tone of loving kindness. Knowing that this could be our last time together (with our friends and loved ones) spurs us towards a stronger and right Mindfulness.


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