Archive for February, 2011

I stumbled upon the Buddhist tale of Kisa Gautami and I was inspired to share it here.  Maybe there is something pertinent to our study of learning to sit with ambiguity (or perhaps our desire to inject ambiguity where there sometimes is no room…?). 

Kisa Gautami or The Parable of the Mustard Seed – as shared by Unitarian Minister Joshua Snyder


There is an old story about a woman named Kisa Gautami who went to see the Buddha.  Her young child of only two had recently died, and the mother was understandably grief-stricken.  She was so overwhelmed by her emotions of pain and loss, that she would not let go of her dead child.  She would carry it around with her as if it were still alive.  In modern psychological terms, this is known as denial, and it actually a common and even necessary part of the grieving process.  However, this mother was stuck there.  She could not let go, could not say good bye, and carried her child’s corpse, and her own suffering with her where ever she went.

As I said, one day this woman went to visit the Buddha.  She laid the child at his feet and asked him to bring her child back to life.  The Buddha of course was not able to do this; that is the founder of a different religion.  But he was moved by her great suffering, and out of compassion decided that he needed to help this woman.  So he told her, “I will grant what you wish but first you must bring me a mustard seed from a village that has never experienced loss or grief from a loved one.”  Elated, the woman leapt up and scurried from village to village looking for the one place where no one had experienced the pain of loss.  This should be easy she thought.   So she would enter a village and talk to the people who lived there.  However, in every household someone had a tale to tell of their mother dying, or their brother, or their husband.  Story after story this woman heard, each one more tragic than the last.  It broke her heart to hear all of this pain and grief, and yet it also comforted her.  She knew and understood what they were experiencing.  She too was in the midst of her own grief, and yet having it reflected back at her proved to be a balm.  She returned to the Buddha, not with a mustard seed because she found no village or household which had not experienced loss.  Rather she returned transformed, ready to say good-bye to her dead child.  In fact, in some versions of the story, she joins the Buddhist order of nuns and attains enlightenment.

This story is about the concept of impermanence.  We must accept the reality of impermanence if we are to be fully alive and not tethered to something we cannot change.  Kisa Gautami did not want to accept death, she was looking for some ambiguity where there was none.  When she agrees to journey to find a mustard seed from a village that has never experienced loss or grief, I believe there is some sitting with ambiguity there as she becomes willing to search for this possibility.  In the end what she finally finds seems to bring her comfort.  If she had not been willing to venture out, if she were more black-and-white thinking… I think she may still be dragging the child’s corpse around at the end of the tale.

What struck you about the story?  What lessons are here for us to take in and sit with?


current music faves:  pj harvey rid of me

current show faves:  big love, infomania, bill maher

breakfast today:  reece’s peanut butter puffs (…sugary delish!), coffee with vanilla creamer

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