The story of Kisa Gotami
During the Buddha's time there lived a lady called Kisa Gotami. A son was borned to her. She looked after him with great care. However, the child died as soon as he was able to walk. His mother was grief-stricken.
It is a Buddhist practice to cremate a dead body. The mother, who had not seen death before, did not allow the body of her beloved son to be cremated. She thought that her son was ill and wanted to bring him back to life.
The mother went from house to house carrying the body of her dead son asking, "Have you got any medicine to cure my son?" The people replied, "The boy is dead, no medicine will bring him back to life." Finally she came to the house of a wise man. He felt that he should help her and said, "I do not know of any such medicine, but go and ask Gotama Buddha. He will tell you of suitable medicine."
So she went to the Buddha and asked him if he knew of a medicine to cure her son. "Yes", said the Buddha, "I know of a medicine for this purpose. Go and get some mustard seeds from a house in which no one has died."
Kisa Gotami thanked the Buddha and carrying the body of her dead son, went in search of mustard seeds. At each house, she said,"The Buddha has asked me to bring some mustard seeds from a house in which no one has died, as medicine for my dead son. Is this such a house?" The householders replied, "We are very sorry but one of our family members died in this house some time ago." This was the reply she had at every house in town. Therefore she could not get any mustard seeds.
She realized that in every house and in every family someone had died. She realized that in the whole town the number of people who had died was more than those who were living.
Kisa Gotami went to the Buddha and said, "It is impossible, Sir, to get the mustard seeds which you asked me to get. Someone has died in every family." The Buddha explained that his medicine was really for her and not for her son, "You imagined that only your son was dead but it is the constant lot of beings." He explained the Dhamma to her and spoke this verse:
"Death seizes and carries away
The worldly man, whose mind
Is set on families and on owning herds
As a great flood (carries away) a sleeping village."
The Buddha granted her request to be admitted into the order of nuns. Later, on a day when it was her turn to light the lamp in the meeting hall, she observed the flame. She noticed the movement and continuity of the flame and remarked:
"Even so it is with living creature, they rise and pass away and on attaining Nirvana they are no more known."
The Buddha understood her thoughts and said:
"Rather than live a thousand years,
But not achieved Nirvana,
Better is the life of a single day
For him who sees Nirvana."
[(This story is found in the book of stories relating to the verses of the Dhammapada and in the Poems of the Nuns (Theri Gatha)]