There was once a woman from the city of Savatthi by the name of Kisa Gotami, known for her wisdom and kindness. Her many uncountable merits earned her, as a husband, the son of a nobleman, and she bore him a single child. In the dark of a storm, in a flash of lightning, with animals baying just outside her window, Kisa Gotami realized that her baby was not crying. Death had claimed the child in his sleep.
Kisa Gotami pleaded with God and the spirits, and with every devil by name, but none of them would answer her prayers. Thus, her dead babe in arm, she went out into the morning marketplace to find a medicine that could cure death.
"Please," she would plead to the merchants. "My son needs medicine. He’s ill."
"Kisa, your son is dead."
But she would not hear their words. Thus she wandered the market, asking everyone if they knew a medicine for death. The woman the whole city once looked to for advice was now the center of everyone’s pity.
She arrived with her dead baby to a certain apothecary and, once again, begged for a medicine with which to cure death. He told her, “No. No, I don’t have anything to cure death. But if anyone does, it would be the ascetic Gautama. He was a brilliant doctor before he retired, you know.”
"Where can I find this man?" Gotami screamed, clutching her dead child.
"He is staying in the Jeta Grove, where they’re building the monastery."
Gotami fled the medicine shop without another word. That same day, she rushed into the Jeta Grove, where the Buddha was lecturing a large assembly, many of whom knew of Kisa Gotami’s plight.
Crying, reeking of death, and stained by the city, Gotami threw herself at the Buddha’s feet, disturbing the lecture and laying her dead son flat on his back.
"Please," Kisa Gotami said, ignoring the murmurs about her. "I’ve been told that you once practiced medicine, and that you knew a cure for death. I beg you, sir, bring my son back to life. Please! My husband is amongst the city’s wealthiest-I can pay you any fee."
"Yes," the Buddha said. "I know the cure for death."
A collective gasp went through the crowd, and the Buddha’s closest disciples gave him a suspicious look.
"Any price," Gotami said, weeping. "Anything!"
"Very well," the Buddha said. "I require but a mustard seed-the other reagents I have. But it cannot be any common mustard seed. It must come from a family that has never known death. If you bring me such a seed, I will be able to prepare your cure."
"Oh, most generous doctor! Enlightened sage! Thank you! Thank you!"
"Ah-Leave the child," the Buddha said, as Gotami stood. "I can prepare the rest of the cure while you search."
For the first time in two days, Kisa Gotami traveled without the presence of her son’s corpse.
When she was finally out of sight, the Buddha cast his gaze at the child’s body, rotted, riddled with maggots and broken.
Kisa Gotami returned to the Jeta Grove and found the Buddha, sweeping wood-dust from the construction site.
"Kisa Gotami," the Buddha said in greeting.
"Blessed Sage," Kisa replied.
She was smeared over with the grime of the road, and old tears had carved paths through the dirt on her cheek. Despite this, the Buddha said, “Your wandering has done you well.”
"Oh, Gautama, how selfish was my grief. I went from family to family, and pretended for two long days that there might exist some clan of immortals. Those wives alive in Savatthi who haven’t already lost a son are bound to lose one someday. And if they never lose a son, then a son is bound to lose a mother. And how many parents lay buried beneath our feet!"
"Your observation is accurate in every way, Kisa Gotami. Neither those wise nor those foolish are immune to death. However great a father roars, he can never waken a dead daughter. However much a mother begs the gods, a dead son will never cry again. One by one, Gotami, we each die. This is but a greater disappointment among a thousand lesser ones, and just as a Sage does not mourn a broken pot, a Sage does not mourn death.
"Your tears painted trails down your face, once, Gotami, but those trails did not lead you to peace of mind. For four days, you suffered the elements as if you wandered a jungle instead of the heart of a great city. But your sorrow accomplished nothing for your son. Be prepared, Gotami, for you will suffer many other deaths in your time, and some day, your own. Destroy the attachment that causes your grief, and you will lead a better life."
"It is time to bury the baby."