Religious References to Mustard

These references include some writings by later religious scholars as well as the religions’ primary scripture.

In many cases, mustard is referred to because of its very small size. Faith, being powerful, is effective even when held in as small a quantity as a mustard seed. On the other hand, pride can be overwhelmingly and negatively powerful even when it is as small as a mustard seed.


From the Persian Bayan of Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi:

"There is no-one but that, should he mention the letter of paradise,
the spirits of the angels connected to them shall at that moment, gaze upon him and bless him on behalf of God. But when someone mentions the letters of hell, should he do so out of love for them, the spirits of the Satans of hell shall gaze upon him. If he does not seek refuge with God, they shall bring upon him whatever they are capable of, even if it be only a perturbation of the heart. But if he should seek refuge with God, and invoke his anger against them, they shall be unable to find any faith into him, nor shall they be able to have his faith even to the extent of nine ninths of ten tenths of a grain of mustard-seed."

From the writings of Bahá'u'lláh:

"Be vigilant, that ye may not do injustice to anyone, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. Tread ye the path of justice, for this, verily, is the straight path . . . Decide justly between men, and be ye the emblems of justice amongst them . . . Beware not to deal unjustly with any one that appealeth to you, and entereth beneath your shadow . . . "

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The Woman and the Mustard Seed

The story of the woman and the mustard seed is a popular one. In the story, a woman whose child had died came to the Buddha and asked that he return the child to life. After listening to the woman and feeling her despair, he asked her to go out into the community and bring back to him a mustard seed from a house where no person had died.

Hopeful of being able to meet the Buddha’s request, she went from house to house in the village seeking just one home where no one had died. Unsuccessful, she left the village and searched from town to town. After days, exhausted and worn, she returned to where the Buddha was staying and received another audience. At that moment she realized that death and suffering fall on all houses, and decided to become a disciple of the Buddha.

The Dhammapada

At the time of the Buddha’s death, it’s said that 500 of his followers met to recall and preserve the many teachings they had heard from the Buddha in his lifetime. These teachings, passed down verbally at first, then transcribed in writing later, have become beloved readings of many followers.

In Canto XXVI of the Dhammapada, Buddha answers the question: "Who is a Brahman (enlightened one)?" Among his answers is the following:

"He who, like water on a lotus leaf, or a mustard seed on the point of an awl, does not cling to sensuous pleasures, him I call Brahman."

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Parable of the Mustard Seed

Three of Jesus’ disciples - Matthew, Mark, and Luke - all documented a parable from Jesus’ teachings. Jesus likened the growth of the church from humble beginnings to the growth of a tiny mustard seed that develops into a large and strong plant that provides shelter and shade.

From the King James Version:

Matt.13:31-32 - Another parable put he (Jesus) forth unto them saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed his field: (32) Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

Mark 4:30-32 - And he (Jesus) said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? (31) [It is] like a grain of mustard seed, which when sown, in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth: (32) But when it is sown, it groweth up, and becometh greater than all herbs, and shooteth out great branches; so that the fowls of the air may lodge under the shadow of it.

Luke 13:18-19 - Then said he (Jesus), Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? (19) It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.

Faith as a Mustard Seed

Matthew also recorded this metaphor Jesus told his disciples:

Matthew.17:20 - And Jesus said unto them, (his disciples,) Because of your unbelief: for verily I (Jesus) say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

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You will also find many Christian organizations that have named themselves after the mustard seed in the parable.

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The Upanishads, a collection of reflections on reality and the soul, date to 600 BCE. In the following, the soul is simultaneously described as smaller than a mustard seed, yet greater than the sky:

He who consists of mind, whose body is life-breath, whose form is light, whose conception is truth, whose soul is space, containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odors, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world . . . this Soul of mine within the heart is smaller than a grain of rice, or a barley-corn, or a mustard-seed, or a grain of millet, or the kernel of a grain of millet. This Soul of mine is greater than the earth, greater than the atmosphere, greater than the sky, greater than these worlds. [Chandogya 3.14.2-3]

To see more, try a search such as http://google.yahoo.com/bin/query?p=mustard+upanishads

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The Koran (Qur’an)

Luqmān is a wise man who rejects worldly desires and seeks inner perfection. The Qur’ān uses the mythical Luqmān as a means of expressing lessons directing human behavior. Luqmān is attributed with the following (Luqmān 16): “O my dear son, verily though there be aught of the weight of a mustard-seed, and though it be [hidden] in a rock, or in the skies, or in the earth, God will bring it to light: for, behold, god is unfathomable [in His wisdom], all-aware."

Mustard Seed, Faith, and Pride

The sayings of Muhammed also include this admonition extolling the power of faith and the danger of pride:

"He will not enter hell, who hath faith equal to a single grain of mustard seed in his heart; and he will not enter Paradise, who hath pride equal to a single grain of mustard seed in his heart."

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In Parshas Vayeira, Abraham was sent three angels, whom he served tongue with mustard.

"The way of the righteous and men of good deeds is to love peace and take pleasure in the welfare of their fellow man and draw them closer to the Torah. They would not wantonly destroy even a mustard seed. They are grieved and oppressed at the sight of waste and destruction. If they could save anything from being destroyed they would do so with all their power. The wicked are not so. They are the brethren of all despoilers. They are happy in destroying themselves". (Sefer HaChinuch, 529). 13th Century

In the 13th century, the scholar Nahmanides (also known as Ramban) said that at the instant following creation, all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small space, no larger than a grain of mustard.

"Mustard seed is food for doves": Shabbat 128a

For more information, try a search such as: http://google.yahoo.com/bin/query?p=mustard+judaism

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From The Chuang-Tzu: "If there is not sufficient depth, water will not float large ships. Upset a cupful into a hole in the yard, and a mustard-seed will be your boat. Try to float the cup, and it will be grounded, due to the disproportion between water and vessel."

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