Tipitaka >> Sutta Pitaka >> Khuddaka Nikaya >> Therigatha >> Therigatha10.1
Adapted from Archaic Translation By Mrs. Rhys Davids 1909
Compared with the Pali Tipitaka at

10.1 Kisa-Gotami, Daughter Of Poor People Of Savatthi, Foremost Of The Theris Who Wore Rough Clothing
She was born, when Padumuttara was Buddha, in the city of Hansavati, in a clansman's family. And one day she heard the Master preach the Dhamma, and assign foremost rank to a Bhikkhuni with respect to the wearing of rough garments. She vowed that this rank should one day be hers. In this Buddha-era she was reborn at Savatthi, in a poor family. Gotami was her name, and from the leanness of her body she was called Lean(kisa/krusha) Gotami. And she was disdainfully treated when married, and was called a nobody's daughter. But when she bore a son, they paid her honour. Then, when he was old enough to run about and play, he died, and she was distraught with grief. And, mindful of the change in folk's treatment of her since his birth, she thought: 'They will even try to take my child and expose him.' So, taking the corpse upon her hip, she went, crazy with sorrow, from door to door, saying: 'Give me medicine for my child!' And people said with contempt: 'Medicine! What's the use?' She understood them not. But one sagacious person thought: 'Her mind is upset with grief for her child. He of the Tenfold Power will know of some medicine for her.' And he said: 'Dear woman, go to the Very Buddha, and ask him for medicine to give your child.' She went to the Vihara(monastery) at the time when the Master(Buddha) taught the Doctrine, and said: 'Bhagwa(Lord Buddha), give me medicine for my child!' The Master, seeing the promise in her, said: 'Go, enter the town, and at any house where yet no man has died, from there bring a little mustard-seed.'She 'It is well, lord!' she said, with mind relieved; and, going to the first house in the town, said: 'Let me take a little mustard, that I may give medicine to my child. If in this house no man has yet died, give me a little mustard.' 'Who may say how many have not died here?' 'With such mustard, then, I have nought to do.' So she went on to a second and a third house, until, by the might of the Buddha, her frenzy left her, her natural mind was restored, and she thought: 'Even this will be the order of things in the whole town. The Bhagwa(Lord Buddha) foresaw this out of his pity for my good.' And, thrilled at the thought, she left the town and laid her child in the charnel-field(cremation ground), saying:

'No village law  is this, no city law, 

No law for this clan, or for that alone; 

For the whole world yes, and the gods(angels) in heaven – 

This is the Law: ALL IS IMPERMANENT!'

So saying, she went to the Master(Buddha). And he said: 'Gotami, have you got little mustard?' And she said: 'The cause is in the karma(deeds), Lord, not in the little mustard. Please give me the teaching.' Then the Master(Buddha) spoke thus:

'To him whose mind on children and on goods(riches)

Is centered, clinging to them in his thoughts, 

Death comes like a great flood in the night, 

Taking away the village in its sleep'. 

When he had spoken, she was confirmed in the fruition of the First (the Stream - entry/Sotapana, first divine awakening) Path, and asked for ordination. He consented, and she, thrice saluting by the right,  went to the Bhikkhunis, and was ordained. And not long afterwards, studying the causes of things, she caused her insight meditation (Vipassana[1]) to grow. Then the Master(Buddha) said a Glory-verse: 

'The man who, living for an hundred years,

Sees never the Ambrosial Path(to eternity/immortality), 

Had better live no longer than one day, 

So he behold within that day the Path'.

When he had finished, she attained Arahantship(enlightenment equal to Buddha). And becoming pre-eminent in ascetic ways, she was accustomed to wear dress of triple roughness. Then the Master(Buddha), seated in the Jetavana Grove(Monastery) in a gathering, and assigning rank of merit to the Bhikkhunis, proclaimed her first among the wearers of rough dress. And she, looking back at what great things she had won, uttered this Hymn before the Master, in praise of friendship with the elect:

Friendship with noble ones throughout the world

The Sage has praised. A fool, in truth, grows wise

If he but entertain a noble friend. (213)

Go to the holy people! In them who go 

Wisdom(panna) does grow; and in that pious love

From all your sorrows shall you be released. (214)

Mark Sorrow well; mark how it does come, 

And how it passes; mark the Eightfold Path

That ends woe, the Four great Ariyan Truths. (215)

Woeful is woman's lot! has he declared, 

Tamer and Driver of men:

Woeful when sharing home with hostile wives, 

Woeful when giving birth in bitter pain,

Some seeking death, or ever they suffer twice, (216)

Piercing the throat; the delicate poison take.

Woe too when mother-murdering embryo 

Comes not to birth, and both alike find death. (217)

'Returning [2] home to give birth to my child, 

I saw my husband in the jungle die.

Nor could I reach my parents before troubles came. (218)

My baby boys I lost, my husband too.

And when in misery I reached my home, 

Lo! where together on a scanty pyre,

My mother, father, and my brother burn!' (219)

O wretched, ruined woman! all this weight 

Of sorrows have you suffered, shed these tears

Through weary round of many thousand lives. (220)

I too have seen where, in the charnel-field(cremation ground),

Devoured was my son's tender flesh [3]

(by scavenging animals)

Her relatives now dead, herself outcast, 

Her husband is dead,

She has now gone to immortality (221)

I have now understood

the Ariyan path, on the Eightfold Path

That goes to the state ambrosial(eternity/immortality). 

Nibbana have I realized, and gazed 

Into the Mirror of the holy Dhamma(path of eternal truth). (222)

I, even I, am healed of my hurt, 

Low is my burden laid, my task is done, 

My mind is fully set at liberty(vimutti/vimukti). 

I, theri Kisa-gotami, have uttered this! (223)

[1] Vipassana : This refers to the foremost insight meditation called 'Vipassana' taught by Buddha in which attention is focussed on inner phenomenon (breath,body,emotions , sensations & mind) with detachment (samata/equanimity) leading to self-awakening & enlightenment.
[2] She here incorporates the story of Patachara (her teacher) in her own Hymn, as if more fully to utter, as (the plight of) 'Woman,' the pageant and tragedy of the woeful possibilities inherent in 'woman's lot,' of which her own case was but a phase. Criticism may discern in this another 'fault' –geologically speaking–in the historical concordance between verses and commentary. Yet here, anyway, is a feature that no verse of purely literary construction would ever have borne. And in aesthetic intensity the verses gains wondrously through this groundwave of deeper tragedy underlying Kisa-gotami's own sorrow, and through the blended victory in the end.
[3] Dogs, jackals, tigers, panthers, cats, etc., as the scavengers of exposed corpses.

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Gotami was the daughter of a poor man. Because of the leanness of her body she was referred to as Kisa Gotami or "Lean Gotami". She was fortunate, however, in marrying the son of a rich merchant. But the treatment she received from her in-laws was not in keeping with a lady of noble birth. They never let her forget her beginings.

Before long Kisa Gotami conceived and gave birth to a son. She adored her child and lavished her attention and love on him. The child was just beginning to walk when he succumbed to a fatal sickness and died. Kisa Gotami, who had never experienced death before, was devastated. The in-laws who had mistreated her had accepted her after the birth of her son. As such she had lavished her attention on her son and centred her life around the child who had brought about her acceptance. Determined to seek medicine that would bring him back to life, she placed her dead child on her hip and went from house to house in search of a skilled physician.

The villagers began to laugh at her and call her names. Could she not see that her child was dead? But the grief-stricken Gotami persisted. A certain wise man, feeling compassion for the distraught woman, directed her to the Buddha. Paying obeisance to the Buddha, Kisa Gotami asked Him to bring her child back to life.

The Buddha, with his divine eye, saw that Kisa Gotami was spiritually advanced due to past life efforts. Her mind, however, was not ready for the Dhamma due to her unbearable grief.

Seeing that Kisa Gotami had never before experienced death, the Buddha asked her to bring Him a few mustard seeds from a house where there had been no death. Kisa Gotami lived in a village where extended families lived together. She went from house to house with her dead child, only to find that she could not find a house where a death had not occurred. Before long Kisa Gotami realized that death was common to all beings. Disposing of her dead child in the cemetery, she went back to the Buddha for consolation.

The Buddha questioned her if she had obtained the mustard seeds. Gotami informed the Buddha that in every family in the village there had been a death. "The dead", she said, "seem to outnumber the living."

Seeing that Kisa Gotami was ready for the Dhamma, the Buddha taught her the impermanence of all things. At the end of the four-line discourse, Kisa Gotami, who was spiritually ripe, attained the first stage of sainthood, Sotapanna. She then asked permission to be ordained as a nun.

The nun Kisa Gotami practised the teachings of the Buddha in earnest. One day, as she was about to put out the lamp in the Dhamma hall, she was attracted by the flame. Concentrating on the dancing flame she reflected, "Even as it is with this flame, so also it is with living beings. Some flare up while others flicker out. Only they that have reached Nibbana are seen no more."

The Buddha, realizing that Kisa Gotami was close to reaching her goal, projected a radiant image of Himself and using her reflections instructed her as follows: "Even as it is with this flame, so is it also with living beings. Some flare up while others flicker out. Only they that have reached Nibbana are seen no more. Therefore, better is the life of one who sees Nibbana though living but for an instant than to endure a hundred years and not see Nibbana." At the end of the discourse Kisa Gotami attained the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

In gratitude Kisa Gotami describes the great joy the Buddha gave her and encouraged others to associate with the Noble Ones.

Kisa Gotami, who had suffered greatly as a poor woman of low birth, related to other women who were in pain. The life of a woman was difficult and fraught with suffering. Women were often treated as chattel and abused. Many men had more than one wife. Kisa Gotami, who had suffered as a woman, was compassionate to the suffering of women. She describes some of the ordeals that women she knew had to experience and her relief in release from suffering. It is only when one understands the plight of women in India at the time of the Buddha that one can truly appreciate the radical change that He instituted and the gratitude that women such as Kisa Gotami felt towards Him for recognizing that women were as spiritually capable as men.

Once she was approached by Mara, the evil one, who tried to seduce her but Gotami was strong and undefeatable.

The Buddha dispensed the Dhamma because of the impermanence of all things, for it is this impermanence that results in suffering. The Buddha often used the suffering caused by the death of a loved one to illustrate the impermanence of all conditioned phenomena. He then helped the spiritually advanced such as Kisa Gotami to attain the supreme bliss of the unconditioned Nibbana. Kisa Gotami took on ascetic practices and wore coarse robes patched from the discarded rags she found at charnel grounds. The Buddha declared that Gotami was foremost among the nuns who wore coarse garments, one of the thirteen ascetic practices.

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