Kisa Gotami was distraught. Her only son, a toddler, had just died. In desperation and grief she ran from door to door of her village and asked for medicine that could revive her dead son. Most villagers thought that she had gone mad, however one wise old man said in a comforting voice, “I do not have the medicine you need. But you can go to the neighboring village where the saint Sakyamuni has come. Maybe he can help you.” (Buddha was known as Sakyamuni, meaning a monk from the Sakya clan.)
Kisa was overjoyed to hear his words. She ran back home and picked up the body of her dead son and ran all the way to the neighboring village. Out of breath, she reached the place where the Buddha was seated. She placed her son’s body near his feet and fell to her knees and pleaded with folded hands, “Please, my Lord! Please revive my only son!”
Buddha looked at Kisa Gotami and understood that she was not in a condition where he could reason with her. He then said, “Very well, I will revive your son! However, you must first bring me a single mustard seed before sunset from that home where nobody has died.”
On hearing these words, Kisa Gotami felt energized. “How hard this can be? Surely I will find at least one home where nobody has died!” She thought as she picked up the body of her son. She bowed before the Buddha and took his leave. She then started running as she went from door to door of the village. In a few hours she had gone to all homes of the village and had found not a single home that was free of death. She then went running back to her own village in the hope of finding at least one home that was free of death.
By evening she was exhausted. She had scoured all the homes in the few villages that were in the vicinity and found not a single home that was free of death. Not knowing what to do she sat down on the bank of a river to ponder. The sun was low in the sky and she looked at it and thought, “Should I back to the Buddha and ask his help? Surely he must be having a remedy to the situation? There is still time, the sun has still not set!”
Suddenly it occurred to her that if death was so common why was she finding it so hard to accept it? Every home in all the surrounding villages had been seared by the loss of a loved one. How was her situation so unique? Now the true message of what the Buddha was trying to convey sank in.
She let out a loud wail and collapsed in tears as wave upon wave of sorrow washed over her. She clutched the body of her son tightly and rocked back and forth as she wept. After a few minutes of this she gained control over her grief and rose up. She had finally accepted the loss of her only son.
Now a new resolve came upon her. She picked up the body of her son and made her way back to her village. She collected a few villagers and performed the last rites of her son. She then trudged back to the Buddha and bowed before him and asked that he accept her as his disciple.
Buddha’s essential message was that change is ever present and everything is impermanent. However due to the possessiveness of the ego we tend to resist change. This is the root of our sorrow.
For this reason, every religion has the same message of countering the ego, not allowing it to dominate our lives. This is why “The Golden Rule” is the dominant part of every religious tradition. (The golden rule is that we must do to others what we would expect them to do to us if we were in a similar situation. The golden rule works only when we are able to sideline our ego and see a situation from other’s point of view.)
Many of us have already faced soul-searing loss of loved ones. Many more shall face similar situations in the future. Nobody wishes this upon himself or herself but we have to play with the cards we are dealt with. The solution is not to run away from life or love. The challenge for all of us is to allow ourselves to be awash with love without clinging to it. This is accomplished by keeping our ego in check. When we allow love and life to flow freely without clinging or clutching, it multiplies. Our life vibrates with the silent joy that is ever-present in the very fabric of the universe. Living at the level of the soul we become worthy of Aberjhani’s words:
“This fire that we call Loving is too strong for human minds. But just right for human souls.”