A Mustard Seed

Gotami loved her son. She gave him all her attention from the moment he was born. She took time to prepare nutritious foods that he liked. She would bathe him everyday in water warmed by the noonday sun. She made him comfortable clothing to wear. Gotami washed clothes for other people by day and yes, even at night, after her little boy had gone to sleep. All her neighbors knew how hard she worked. Yet she did it all with so much love in her heart…for her little one.

Then one summer, Gotami’s village was stricken with cholera. Many people died. Gotami’s little boy did not escape the plague. He too, died. Gotami held the small lifeless body in her arms. She cooed and rocked her dead child trying to bring back the tender loving moments she once had with him. But all she could feel was terrible pain.

Everyone felt sorry for Gotami. Her neighbors tried to console her. They brought her food and stayed with her. But they were horrified when Gotami refused to let go of the little boy’s body. Someone tried to take the body away from her. That was when Gotami got up and stepped out into the streets. There, she walked along crying, for she did not know what else to do to ease the pain. “Do you know how to bring him back?” she asked just about anybody who happened to cross her path. The village chief offered to pay for a grand funeral for her son. But the grief stricken mother just walked on.

Finally, Gotami’s wandering brought her to a park where there was a gathering of people under a big tree. An old woman who had been walking near Gotami for a little while now turned to her and said, “See that master sitting over there. He is the Buddha. He is very wise. They say he knows how to end suffering. They say he has a special gift of the heart called compassion. I am going to ask him to teach me. From what I’ve heard about him, if anybody could help you, it would be him! So come along with me and dry your tears. Look, the people are leaving. Let’s hurry.”

The old woman led the way and soon she and Gotami were standing face to face with a man dressed in a plain robe. The old woman bowed and stepped aside. Gotami lifted her son’s body and said,. “Please, my boy was a good boy. I would do anything if you would only make him live again, PLEASE!”

The man looked into Gotami’s eyes. He understood the suffering that he saw in them. In a gentle and reassuring voice, he said to her, “Would you please bring me a mustard seed from a household where no one has died?”

Gotami’s eyes lit up. For the first time since her son’s death, she had hope again. She bowed quickly and hurried away still carrying her boy.

The first house Gotami approached, a kind looking woman answered the door. “Yes, I can give you a mustard seed. Please take this bag here. I have more than enough. I live alone here. I am so sorry about your son. But I must tell you that my husband passed away last year. He did not leave us any money. All my four children are now working for rich people in the next village. I never see them anymore. They send me money regularly. I am a bad mother… I miss them so…” the woman could not continue for she started to sob uncontrollably. She gave the small bag of mustard seed to Gotami and ran back into her house.

At the next house Gotami found that there too, a beloved grandfather had recently passed away and the entire household was still in mourning. Unable to help Gotami, they gave her a small blanket to wrap her son.

Gotami was determined to find a household where no one had died. She felt sure that the next house would be the one. But there she was told that a fire two years ago had claimed the life of the mother. The eldest son saw how tired Gotami was. He invited her in and gave her some japatti and curry and some sweet milk to drink. He persuaded her to leave her son’s body with him. “I promise you that he would be safe here. Besides, this way, you would walk much faster.”

And so, Gotami went on searching. Big houses, small houses, huts and shacks but at each one, she met with the same answer, “Yes, but someone died...” Some people made her listen to all the details. Sometimes, she heard stories from people who had suffering greater than hers. They all tried to console her and wished her luck.

Very early the next morning, the peddlers on the streets were just arriving to open their stalls with many things to sell. One of them saw Gotami walking towards the park. Her footsteps were gentle and relaxed. Her face showed no expression. Gone was the look of struggle that was so evident just the day before.

Under the tree, the man called the Buddha sat. Gotami walked directly to him and knelt in front of him.

“Great teacher, yesterday, I learnt the impermanence of our fragile existence. I understand now that I am not alone in my suffering. But, there was something more. Yesterday, I connected to other people because of my loss. They connected to me because of their loss. Yet, despite their suffering, some of them had the strength to be kind to me. They listened to me. They consoled me. Their caring for me touched me deeply and eased my pain. One family helped me bury my son late last night. I know I am still very sad but I want to become your student and learn to strengthen myself. In time, I hope that I too could help others and care for others.”

Gotami followed the Buddha and gradually learnt to care for everyone as she once did towards her son.

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