In the ten-day Vipassana retreat, Goenka Ji tells us a story about Kisa Gotami. Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An older man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could bring the child back to life if she could find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a home that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally, the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arahat.
I had heard this story on previous retreats, but this time it struck a chord with me. What made me emotional was how painful it must have been for Kisa Gotami to realize that her son has died and there is nothing she can do about it. The gut-wrenching realization is almost like a physical ache in your heart.
When things do not go our way, and we want it to happen badly – it is painful to face reality and move on. In the human predicament, situations come and go, what is common is our desire/aversion towards specific outcomes and the joy/pain when that happens. When we recognize that the pain or pleasure is common across everybody – that is a sign of genuine compassion.
In the story of Kisa Gotami – yes, it is excruciating to have your only son die – there is no denying that. It is even more painful to accept that and move on. You had so many dreams, future built on your son and when he died all that comes crashing – the reality as you imagined it is not going to happen and that is devastating to the human mind. For her to realize that her son has died and she cannot do anything about it – is what I connected with.
Everybody on the planet goes through these life situations. When we see a fellow human being overcome her challenges and face reality – there is a shared understanding of what it takes to accept it. And if we connect at that level, then we are connecting with the human predicament and the ability to transcend it – which is genuine compassion. As long as we identify with the human form, we will have to overcome such situations, and in some ways, that is what we need. Imagine reading a novel where everything goes well, and nothing happens – who would read such a book. The very reason things do not work forever in our lives because it is our destiny to transcend them.
Imagine if we truly understood what connected us as humans – will we still fight over our skin colour or what part of the land we were born? Can you feel the shared connection?