Stories of Select Disciples of the Buddha: Kisa Gotami
During the life- time of the Buddha, Gotamī was born in a very poor family in the famous city of Srāvastī in North India. Since she was extremely lean and thin, people called her “Kisā Gotamī”. She was married in a rich family there, but did not get any happiness that is expected in a rich family. As she had come from a poor family she was taunted all the time. Moreover, as she was childless, she had to constantly hear caustic and cutting comments.
After a few years her fortune favored her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. But the happiness of having a child did not last long. When the child was two or three years old, he died. The child was the cause of her respect and honor in the family. His death was unbearable for her. She became extremely unhappy. She started lamenting, holding the child to her heart. When people got ready to take the child to the cremation ground, she requested them to call in a good doctor who could bring her dead child to life by giving some medicine. But is there any medicine that can bring a dead person to life? People were at a loss as to how to console her. Then a kind person suggested that she should go to the Buddha, who was very compassionate and also a great physician. He was dwelling in the Jetavana monastery at that time.
Weeping and wailing, and embracing her dead child, Kisā Gotamī went to the Buddha at Jetavana monastery. She laid the dead child at the feet of the Lord and began to pray to him to bring him back to life. The Buddha saw her plight and asked her to go to the city and get a pinch of mustard seeds from any family where no one had died.
Feeling happy, Kisā Gotamī, went to the city to get mustard seeds from such a family. But she could not find even a single family where no one had died. Having gone around to all the houses of the city she felt tired and then she realized that it is the law of nature for every being to die. It was to teach this law that the Buddha had sent her on this errand. Having realized this truth, she gave the dead body of her son for the last rites and went back to seek refuge in the Buddha.
The Blessed One taught her Dharma. She was ordained into the Bhikkhunī Sangha – the Order of the nuns. As a result of her great accumulation of Pāramīs in her previous births, she practiced Vipassana seriously and became a Ṥrotāpanna, and then an Arahant. She taught Vipassana to many suffering women and helped them come out of suffering. The Blessed One declared her the foremost among those of his female disciples who wore rough clothes.