Kisagotami and her dead child

Kisa Gotami lived in Savatthi. She was known as Kisa Gotami because of her slim body. She married a rich young man and a son was born to them. The son died when he was a toddler and Kisa Gotami was stricken with grief. Carrying her dead son, she went everywhere asking for medicine to restore her son to life. People thought she had gone mad. But a wise man seeing her pathetic condition, decided to send her to the Buddha.

He advised her: "Sister, the Buddha is the person you should approach. He has the medicine you want. Go to him."

Thus she went to the Buddha and asked him to give her the medicine that would restore her dead son to life. The Buddha told her to get some mustard seeds from a home where there had been no death. Overjoyed at the prospect of having her son restored to life, Kisa Gotami ran from house to house, begging for some mustard seeds. Everyone was willing to help but she could not find a single home where death had not occurred. The people were only too willing to part with their mustard seeds, but they could not claim to have not lost a dear one in death. As the day dragged on, she realised hers was not the only family that had faced death and that there were more people dead than living. As soon as she realised this, her attitude towards her dead son changed; she was no longer attached to the dead body of her son and she realised how simply the Buddha had taught her a most important lesson: that everything that is born must eventually die.

She buried her dead son and told the Buddha that she could find no family where death had not occurred. Then the Buddha said: "Gotami, you should not think that you are the only one who has lost a son. As you have now realised, death comes to all beings. Before their desires are satiated death takes them away."

Perceiving the fleeting nature and impermanency of life, Kisa Gotami decided to renounce the worldly life. She requested the Enlightened One to admit her to the Order of bhikkhunis. Accordingly, the Buddha sent her to the community of nuns where she was admitted as Bhikkhuni Kisa Gotami.

She was hardworking and always mindful and conscientious of her religious duties, and strove diligently for her spiritual development to purify her mind of all mental defilements.

One night, she lighted some oil lamps and sat down a short distance away. Then she started looking at the flames. She noticed while some flames flared up, others flickered out. With her mind concentrating on the flames, she meditated as follows: "Even as it is with these flames, so also is it with living beings in this world: Some flare up, while others flicker out; only those who have attained Nibbana are no longer seen."

The Buddha through his supernormal power, saw Kisa Gotami from the Jetavana Monastery. He sent forth his radiance and exhorted her to continue meditating on the impermanent nature of all component things. The Buddha also commented: "One who lives a hundred years without perceiving the Deathless State; a life of one day is better if one has perceived the Deathless State." (Dhammapada 114)

After the discourse, Kisa Gotami attained Arahanthood.

See also poem on Kisagotami in The Light of Asia, by Sir Edwin Arnold
One who lives a hundred years without perceiving the Deathless State; a life of one day is better if one has perceived the Deathless State.

Dhammapada 114

Kisagotami the poem