There was once a rich man who one day discovered that his gold had suddenly transformed into ashes. Being so upset, he took to his bed and refused all food. A friend, hearing of his sickness, visited the rich man and learned the cause of his grief.
The friend said: "You did not make good use of your wealth. When all you did was hide it, it was no better than ashes.
Now listen my friend....
Spread mats in the bazaar; pile up these ashes, and pretend to trade with them."
The rich man did as his friend had told him, but his fellow merchants and neighbours asked him "Why are you selling ashes?"
He answered: "These are my goods and I offer my goods for sale."
After some time a young girl, named Kisa Gotami, an orphan and very poor, passed by. Seeing the rich man in the bazaar, she said: "My lord, why pilest thou this gold and silver up, for sale?"
The rich man said: "Wilt thou please hand me that gold and silver?" And Kisa Gotami took up a handful of ashes, and lo! they changed back into gold.
Considering that Kisa Gotami had the mental eye of spiritual knowledge and saw the real worth of things, the rich man gave her in marriage to his son.
He said: "With many, gold is no better than ashes, but with Kisa Gotami ashes become pure gold."
And Kisa Gotami had an only son, and the son died. In her grief she carried the dead child to all her neighbors, asking them for medicine, and the people said: "She has lost her senses. The boy is dead".
At length Kisa Gotami met a man who replied to her request: "I cannot give thee medicine for thy child, but I know a physician who can." The girl said: "Pray tell me, sir; who is it?" And the man replied: "Go to Sakyamuni, the Buddha."
Kisa Gotami repaired to the Buddha and cried: "Lord and Master, give me the medicine that will cure my boy." The Buddha answered: "I want a handful of mustard-seed." And when the girl in her joy promised to procure it, the Buddha added: "The mustard-seed must be taken from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend."
Poor Kisa Gotami now went from house to house, and the people pitied her and said: "Here is mustard-seed; take it!"
But when she asked "Did a son or daughter, a father or mother, die in your family?" They answered her: "Alas the living are few, but the dead are many. Do not remind us of our deepest grief." And there was no house but some beloved one had died in it.
Kisa Gotami became weary and hopeless, and sat down at the wayside, watching the lights of the city, as they flickered up and were extinguished again. At last the darkness of the night reigned everywhere. And she considered the fate of men, that their lives flicker up and are extinguished. And she thought to herself: "How selfish am I in my grief! Death is common to all; yet in this valley of desolation there is a path that leads him to immortality who has surrendered all selfishness."
Putting away the selfishness of her affection for her child, Kisa Gotami had the dead body buried in the forest. Returning to the Buddha, she took refuge in him and found comfort in the Dharma, which is a balm that will soothe all the pains of our troubled hearts.
The Buddha said: "The life of mortals in this world is troubled and brief and combined with pain. For there are not any means by which those that have been born can avoid dying; after reaching old age there is death; of such a nature are living beings. As ripe fruits are in danger of falling, so mortals when born are always in danger of death. As all earthen vessels made by the potter end in being broken, so is the life of mortals. Both young and adult, both those who are fools and those who are wise, all fall into the power of death; all are subject to death.
"Of those who, overcome by death, depart from life, a father cannot save his son, nor kinsmen their relations. While relatives are looking on and lamenting deeply, one by one, mortals are carried off like an ox that is led to the slaughter. So the world is afflicted with death and decay, therefore the wise do not grieve, knowing the terms of the world. In whatever manner people think a thing will come to pass, it is often different when it happens, and great is the disappointment; Such are the terms of the world.
"Not from weeping nor from grieving will anyone obtain peace of mind; on the contrary, his pain will be the greater and his body will suffer. He will make himself sick and pale, yet the dead are not saved by his lamentation. People pass away, and their fate after death will be according to their deeds. If a man live a hundred years, or even more, he will at last be separated from the company of his relatives, and leave the life of this world. He who seeks peace should draw out the arrow of lamentation, and complaint, and grief. He who has drawn out the arrow and has become composed will obtain peace of mind; he who has overcome all sorrow will become free from sorrow, and be blessed."