12. The Story about the Elder Nun Kisā Gotamī
Kisā Gotamī’s story is another of the really memorable stories in this collection: having made the usual aspiration at the time of the Buddha Padumuttara, no further lives are recorded until she is born in her last life, to a poor family in Sāvatthī.
She gained a good marriage but was despised by the family until such time as she had a son, at which point she was treated with respect. Unfortunately this didn’t last, as the young lad died while still a child.
Gotamī, unable to face the fact that her child had died, which, besides the grief involved in losing a child, would also have the unwanted consequence of lowering her status again, wandered around asking for medicine for her dead child, which no one could supply.
One wise man thought to send her to the Buddha, who is a physician who could cure all ills, and she readily went along. The Buddha asked her to bring a mustard seed to him, but there is a catch, it must be from a household that never saw a death in the family.
Full of hope she went into town and started on her quest, but after a few houses she realised every house she went to has seen a death in the family, and that death is not for her son alone, but is a pervasive phenomena in life, and that this is a universal teaching.
She abandoned her child in the charnel ground and returned to the Buddha a wiser person than when she left, and he taught her with a verse, which saw her established in the first stage of Awakening. Later he taught her again, and that time she attained Liberation.
Again here there is no explanation for why she attained her foremost position as one who wore rough robes, and it does not seem to be prefigured in the story. It is simply stated that that was what she was good at, and eventually she was placed foremost for it.
The counterpart to this nun amongst the monks was Mogharājā. He was one of Bāvarī’s sixteen students, who made an epic journey across India to meet and ask questions of the Buddha. His answers were enough for most of them to attain Liberation.
Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics,
lūkhacīvaradharānaṁ, yad-idaṁ Kisā Gotamī.
amongst those who wear robes made of rough materials, that is to say, Kisā Gotamī.
In the twelfth (story), “Amongst those who wear robes made of rough materials,”
tīhi lūkhehi samannāgataṁ paṁsukūlaṁ dhārentīnaṁ, Kisā Gotamī aggā ti dasseti.
it shows why Kisā Gotamī, amongst those who wore robes brought from the cemetery that are rough in three ways, The Ṭīkā describes these as being:
‘Gotamī’ ti tassā RTE:
‘Gotamī’ was her name,
thokaṁ kisadhātukattā SHB, PTS:
but as she was somewhat thin by nature she was called ‘Kisā It means: thin, skinny. Gotamī’.
Ayam-pi SHB, PTS:
At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara,
Haṁsavatiyaṁ kulagehe nibbattitvā, SHB, PTS:
she was reborn in a good family home in Haṁsavatī,
Satthu Dhammadesanaṁ suṇantī,
and while listening to the Teacher teach the Dhamma,
Satthāraṁ ekaṁ bhikkhuniṁ lūkhacīvaradharānaṁ
° seeing the Teacher place a certain nun
aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapentaṁ disvā,
as being foremost amongst those who wore robes made of rough materials,
adhikārakammaṁ katvā taṁ ṭhānantaraṁ patthesi.
she did a great deed and aspired for that position herself.
Her Last Life
Sā kappasatasahassaṁ devamanussesu saṁsaritvā,
After being reborn amongst gods and humans (only) for one hundred thousand aeons,
when this (Gotama) Buddha arose,
Sāvatthiyaṁ duggatakule nibbattitvā, SHB, PTS:
she was reborn in a poor family in Sāvatthī,
vayappattakāle ekaṁ kulaṁ agamāsi.
and when she reached maturity she went to a good family.
Tattha naṁ duggatakulassa dhītā ti paribhaviṁsu.
There they abused her as a daughter of a poor family.
Sā aparabhāge puttaṁ vijāyi, athassā sammānam-akaṁsu.
Later, she gave birth to a son, and then she was treated with respect.
So panassā dārako ādhāvitvā paridhāvitvā kīḷanavaye ṭhito,
But when the boy had reached playing age, running here and running there,
kālam-akāsi, tassā soko udapādi.
he died, and grief arose in her.
Sā: ‘Ahaṁ imasmiṁ yeva gehe hatalābhasakkārā hutvā,
She thought: ‘In this home, where gains and respect have been cut off,
puttassa jātakālato paṭṭhāya, sakkāraṁ pāpuṇiṁ,
and since the time of the birth of my son, I have gained respect,
ime mayhaṁ puttaṁ bahi chaḍḍetum-pi vāyameyyun.’-ti
they will endeavour to cast away my son.’
Puttaṁ aṅkenādāya: “Puttassa me bhesajjaṁ dethā,” ti
With her son on her hip, saying: “Give medicine for my son,”
gehadvārapaṭipāṭiyā PTS: -
she wandered successively to the door of (various) homes,
diṭṭhadiṭṭhaṭṭhāne manussā: “Kattha te matakassa RTE:
and men, wherever they saw her, saying: “Where did you ever see medicine for one who is dead?”
pāṇiṁ paharitvā parihāsaṁ karonti.
clapped their hands and mocked her.
Sā tesaṁ kathāya neva saññattiṁ RTE:
Although they spoke like this, she wasn’t convinced.
Atha naṁ eko paṇḍitapuriso disvā,
Then, after a certain wise man had seen her,
‘Ayaṁ puttasokena cittavikkhepaṁ pattā bhavissati,
and thought: ‘Her mind has been overthrown by grief for her son,
etissā pana RTE:
but although no one else will know of a medicine,
Dasabalo va jānissatī,’ ti cintetvā,
the One of Ten Powers will know,’
evam-āha: “Amma, tava puttassa bhesajjaṁ añño jānanto nāma natthi
he said: “Lady, there is no one knowing the medicine for your son other
sadevake pana PTS omits:
than the Greatest Person in the world with its gods, the One of Ten Powers,
dhuravihāre vasati, tassa santikaṁ gantvā pucchāhī.” ti
who dwells in a nearby monastery, go into his presence and ask (Him).”
Sā: ‘Saccaṁ puriso kathetī,’ ti puttam-ādāya,
She, thinking: ‘This man speaks the truth,’ carrying her son,
Tathāgatassa Buddhāsane nisinnavelāya parisapariyante ṭhatvā,
stood on the edge of the (four) assemblies at a time when the Realised One was sitting on his Buddha seat,
“Puttassa me bhesajjaṁ detha Bhagavā,” ti āha.
and said: “Give medicine for my son, Fortunate One.”
Satthā tassā upanissayaṁ disvā,
The Teacher, seeing she had the supporting conditions,
“Bhaddakaṁ te Gotami PTS:
said: “It is fortunate for you, Gotamī, that you came here for medicine,
gaccha nagaraṁ pavisitvā, koṭito paṭṭhāya sakalanagaraṁ caritvā,
go, enter the town and wander through the whole town starting from one end,
yasmiṁ gehe koci matapubbo natthi, tato siddhatthakaṁ āharāhī,” ti RTE, ChS:
and at whatever home there has not been a death, from there bring a mustard seed.”
Sā: PTS omits:
Saying: “Very well, reverend Sir,”
tuṭṭhamānasā antonagaraṁ pavisitvā, paṭhamagehe yeva:
she entered into the town with a hopeful mind, and at the first home
“Dasabalo mama puttassa bhesajjatthāya siddhatthakaṁ āharāpeti:
° she said: “The One of Ten Powers has me bring a mustard seed as medicine for my son,
siddhatthakaṁ me dethā,” ti āha.
please give me a mustard seed.”
“Handa, Gotamī” ti nīharitvā, adaṁsu.
Saying: “Come, Gotamī,” and stretching forth, they gave (it to her).
“Ahaṁ evaṁ gahetuṁ na sakkomi: SHB, PTS:
“I am not able to take it,
‘Imasmiṁ gehe koci matapubbo nāma SHB, PTS omit:
(but first must ask): ‘In this home has there not been a death?’ ”
“Kiṁ vadesi Gotami, ko idha matake gaṇetuṁ sakkotī?” ti
“What did you say, Gotamī, who is able to count those who have died here?”
“Tena hi alaṁ nāhaṁ gaṇhissāmi, RTE omits:
“Then that is enough, I will not take it,
Dasabalo maṁ yattha matapubbo natthi, tato naṁ gaṇhāpetī,” ti āha. SHB, PTS:
the One of Ten Powers (told) me that from a home where there has not been a death, from there I have to take it for him.”
Sā iminā va niyāmena tatiyagharaṁ SHB:
Having gone to the third house in this way, she realised:
“Sakalanagare ayam-eva niyāmo bhavissati,
“The whole city will be this way,
idaṁ hitānukampakena Buddhena diṭṭhaṁ bhavissatī.” ti
this must have been foreseen by the Awakened One, who is beneficent and compassionate.”
Saṁvegaṁ labhitvā, tato va PTS omits:
She became spiritually anxious, departed from there,
āmakasusānaṁ gantvā, SHB, PTS:
went to the charnel grounds, and took her son with her hand,
“Puttaka, ahaṁ imaṁ maraṇaṁ taveva uppannan-ti cintesiṁ,
° and saying: “Son, I thought there was death only for you,
na panetaṁ taveva, mahājanasādhāraṇo, esa Dhammo,” ti vatvā,
but it is not only for you, for the (whole) population it is the same, this is the Dhamma,”
puttaṁ āmakasusāne chaḍḍetvā, imaṁ gātham-āha:
she abandoned her son in the charnel grounds, and spoke this verse:
“Na gāma-Dhammo no nigamassa Dhammo,
“Not a village Teaching, nor a town Teaching,
Na cāpi yaṁ SHB, PTS:
Nor is this a Teaching for one family alone,
Sabbassa lokassa sadevakassa,
For the whole of the world with its gods,
Eso va ChS:
There is this Teaching of impermanence.” The verse is quoted from the Traditions about Kisā Gotamī, Therī-Apadāna, 3.2 vs. 27.
Evañ-ca pana vatvā, Satthu santikaṁ agamāsi.
Having spoken thus, she went into the presence of the Teacher.
Atha naṁ Satthā: “Laddho te, Gotami, PTS:
Then the Teacher said to her: “Gotamī, did you get the mustard seed?”
“The business with a mustard seed is finished, reverend Sir, but give me something for support.”
Athassā Satthā Dhammapade imaṁ gātham-āha:
Then the Teacher spoke this verse to her found in the Dhammapada:
“Taṁ puttapasusammattaṁ byāsattamanasaṁ naraṁ,
“That person whose clinging mind is intoxicated by children and cattle,
suttaṁ gāmaṁ mahogho va maccu ādāya gacchatī.” ti
death will carry away like a sleeping village by a great flood.” Dhp 287.
Sā gāthāpariyosāne yathā ṭhitā va Sotāpattiphale patiṭṭhāya pabbajjaṁ yāci,
At the end of the verse as she stood there she was established in Stream-Entry and requested the going forth,
Satthā pabbajjaṁ anujāni. RTE:
and the Teacher allowed the going forth.
Sā tikkhattuṁ Satthāraṁ padakkhiṇaṁ katvā, vanditvā,
She circumambulated the Teacher three times, worshipped him,
bhikkhunī-upassayaṁ gantvā, pabbajjañ-ca SHB, PTS:
went to the nunnery, received the going forth and higher ordination,
na cirasseva SHB:
and in no long time, while wisely reflecting, she developed insight.
Athassā Satthā imaṁ obhāsagātham-āha:
Then the Teacher spoke this lustrous verse:
“Yo ca vassasataṁ jīve apassaṁ Amataṁ padaṁ,
“The one who lives for a hundred years not seeing the Deathless state,
ekāhaṁ jīvitaṁ seyyo passato Amataṁ padan.”-ti
is surpassed by one living for one day seeing the Deathless state.” Dhp 114.
Sā gāthāpariyosāne Arahattaṁ pattā, RTE:
At the end of the verse she attained Liberation,
parikkhāravalañje paramukkaṭṭhā hutvā,
and in the use of the requisites she became pre-eminent,
tīhi lūkhehi samannāgataṁ cīvaraṁ pārupitvā vicari.
and wandered around after covering herself with a robe that was rough in three ways.
Aparabhāge Satthā Jetavane nisinno,
Later as the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood,
bhikkhuniyo paṭipāṭiyā ṭhānantaresu ChS:
as he was assigning the places of the nuns in order,
imaṁ Theriṁ lūkhacīvaradharānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapesī ti.
he placed this Elder Nun in the foremost position amongst those who wore robes that are rough in three ways.
last updated: March 2015