Friday, 1 February 2013

Mustard Seeds

Here is an old story, retold by me:

Once, long ago in India, there lived a woman called Gotami. From her childhood she was nick-named Kisa Gotami, which means 'Skinny Gotami'. Because she was not beautiful she struggled to find a husband. Eventually she did marry and soon found that she was pregnant.

Gotami felt happiness for the first time. The months passed and she endured the discomforts of pregnancy. The fire of labour came to her, and she endured it, and bore a son.
He was the most beautiful being she had ever seen, and she was filled with love and joy.

But soon after birth, the child died.

The grief Gotami felt tore her world apart.
She began passing through the village, cradling the body of her child, asking for help. One man, seeing her sorrow and pain, told her that outside the village a great Guru was giving teachings. He was known to have incredible powers and could surely help her.

She went to the Guru at once.

As she neared, he could see that the baby this woman held was dead.
"Please," she begged him, her eyes shining with panic and grief, "Please make me some medicine which will help my baby."
"I will help you," the Guru answered, "Go back to the village and collect a handful of mustard seeds, one from each house. Bring them back to me and I will make you a medicine."

Gotami stood up and turned to leave, but the Guru asked her to wait.
"Each seed," he said to her quietly, "Must come from a household where no one has encountered death."

Nodding, Gotami turned and ran back to the village.

She pounded on the door of the first house she came to. A husband and wife answered. She told them about the mustard seeds that she needed. They shook their heads sadly.
"I'm sorry," the man told Gotami, "Both my parents died last year, within weeks of each other."
"I'm sorry," the woman also said, "When I was a young girl my father died in my mother's arms."

Gotami expressed her sadness for them and then hurried on to another house.

This time a woman answered, two little boys running around her feet. Gotami winced and quickly related the words of the Guru.
The woman, who had looked happy, looked suddenly sad.
"I'm sorry for you," she said, "But when I was younger my brother became depressed and he took his own life. So I cannot give you the seeds you need."

Gotami paused longer, talking with the woman, telling her how sorry she was.

The next house she came to, Gotami was slower. Her panic was fading. She knocked on the door and it was answered by an old man. As before, this man told Gotami how his wife of many years had died a few summers before. He wept as he told her, and Gotami held his hand and listened to him speak.

Gotami went to one more house. A woman younger than Gotami came smiling to the door. Gotami made her request, a tiny spark of hope in her heart. But when the young woman saw the dead child that Gotami carried, she began to weep.
"I cannot help you," she said through her sobs, "I was pregnant before, but the child died inside me, before even reaching birth."
Gotami put her arm around the girl and they wept together.

As she left the village, Gotami turned towards the forest.
She found a secluded clearing, underneath a tall, broad tree. There she dug a hole and she laid her son in it. She kissed him once and covered him with earth.
Then she walked slowly back to the Guru.

As she neared, the Guru could see that Gotami no longer carried the child. Her face was tear stained but calm.  She could see that the Guru's eyes were burning with compassion for her.

"Teacher," she said, "There was none in the village who had not encountered death."

He nodded, "There is nothing that lives which will not die, and there is no being living who has not felt suffering." 

Gotami nodded, understanding that she was not alone in her sorrow.

Then the Buddha said the following teaching to her, "It is better to live one day seeing the Supreme Truth, than to live one hundred years in ignorance of it."

Gotami became a follower of the Buddha. The story says that she eventually attained the freedom of Enlightenment.

Today I pray to her.


  1. The Dalai Lama comments on this traditional story:

    "Kisagotami’s search taught her that no one lives free from suffering and loss. She hadn’t been singled out for this terrible misfortune. This insight didn’t eliminate the inevitable suffering that comes from loss, but it did reduce the suffering that came from struggling against this sad fact of life."

  2. Nomi you brave and beautiful soul. 'true dat' as my daughter would say.
    I wish that you are surrounded by love at this time....and to add mine love to it.
    Annie x

  3. Stories the holders of truths. That is a beautiful story Nomi, it touched on the losses that have touched so many this last month. Healing thoughts to you and Andy.

  4. I hope you have found the calm that comes after the tears. The Greek word for weeping is Lysis - it is also the word for loosening. Through tears grief will loosen it's hold on you. Love to you beautiful one. xx

  5. What a beautiful story, which I read with tears in my eyes. It's a reminder of the healing power of reaching out to others who share our pain. From one babyloss mama to another, thank you also for sharing this story Nomi.

    1. I'm glad it spoke to you too.

      Love to you and your lost little one xxx

  6. Beautiful - thank you for sharing. I have never heard this story before. Hope you are holding up, my dearest Nayana. Thinking of you xxx

    1. Hello and thank you. It is a traditional story about Lord Buddha. It was a favourite of mine before I lost my daughter, which seems strange now. But it is helping me. And I finally understand something of its true meaning, in the midst of despair and fear and love.


  7. Thank you, Nomi, for this. Stories have so much power, they give us meaning. Even now, after all this time, I find healing in it. Take care. xxx

  8. I am coming to believe we only truly lose the ones we never meet, and maybe not them either.
    I am full of love and admiration for you.
    I know you have others, but my Dartmoor bolthole is open to you should you wish it.
    Thank you