K ISAGOTAMI is the name of a young girl, whose marriage with the only son of a wealthy man was brought about in true fairy-tale fashion. She had one child, but when the beautiful boy could run alone, it died. The young girl in her love for it carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it. But a Buddhist mendicant, thinking, "She does not understand," said to her: "My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has." "Oh, tell me who that is!" said Kisagotami. "The Buddha can give you medicine: go to him," was the answer.
She went to Gautama, and doing homage to him, said: "Lord and Master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?"
"Yes, I know of some," said the Teacher.
Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required, so she asked what herbs he would want. "I want some mustard-seed," he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added: "You must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent, or slave has died." "Very good," she said, and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her. The people said: "Here is mustard-seed, take it." But when she asked, "In my friend's house has any son died, or a husband, or a parent, or slave?" they answered: "Lady! what is this that thou sayest; the living are few, but the dead are many." Then she went to other houses, but one said: "I have lost a son"; another, "We have lost our parents"; another, "I have lost my slave."
At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and, summoning up resolution, she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage. He said to her: "Have you the mustard-seed?" "My Lord," she replied, "I have not; the people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many." Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system—the impermanency of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, and, accepting her lot, she became a disciple and entered the first Path.
The following lines, ascribed to some of her Sisters in the Order and given in the Psalms (translated by Mrs. Rhys Davids), would apply to Kisagotami:—
"Lo! from my heart the hidden shaft is gone,
The shaft that nestled there hath he removed;
And that consuming grief for my dear child,
Which poisoned all the life of me, is dead.
To-day my heart is healed, my yearning stayed,
Perfected the deliverance wrought in me."