Kisagotami lost her child and went mad. The Buddha’s skilful teaching helped her see a wider truth


One day when the Buddha was teaching a woman called Kisagotami, burst in on him. She was distraught and on her hip she carried a baby. She threw herself at the Buddha’s feet:

‘Lord, I beg you, give me medicine for my child.’

But it was quite clear that the child was dead. Kisagotami had gone mad with grief and carried the baby’s corpse with her wherever she went. For some time the Buddha was silent. Then he said: ‘If you want the child to be cured then bring me a mustard seed from the town. But there is one condition. The mustard seed must come from a house where nobody has died.’

Kisagotami ran to the first house and asked: ‘Can you give me a mustard seed so that I may give medicine to my child?’

‘But, of course.’

And has there been a death within this house?’

‘Oh yes,’ they replied. ‘There have been many.’

At the next house she asked:

‘Is this house free of death?’

‘Why no,’ they answered, ‘many have died beneath this roof.’ And so it continued. Everywhere the answer was the same. ‘The living are few, but the dead are many.’

Then Kisagotami sat down quietly and her mind gradually became calm. She thought to herself:  ‘It will be the same at every house. The Buddha saw this, he knew it would be so.’

So she left the village and went to the charnel ground. She laid the child down and she said these words:

‘What is true for the village is true for the town;

The fate of these people is not theirs alone.

And for the whole world, for the Gods in the sky,

This truth is immortal: all things must die.’

Then Kisagotami made her way to the place where the Buddha was sitting and she bowed before him. ‘Lord, the work of the mustard seed is done.’

(From The Therigatha Commentary rendered by Vishvapani)