Brief notes on Buddhist thought and practice
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The Four Sights

Although his father had surrounded him with luxury, the young Prince Siddhartha was still curious about the world.

So his father let him go out into the city, but first he made sure that the people outside the palace looked like those inside: young, healthy, and happy. All the old, sick, and poor were removed from sight.

When the prince went out with Channa, his charioteer, the people lined the streets, waving banners and cheering. At first, the trick worked. The prince began to think that perhaps he had been wrong, and the world was indeed a wonderful, happy place. But then something happened.

Some say it all happened on one trip around Kapilavastu; others say it took place over four journeys. Some say the gods intervened in disguise; others say it was simply the way of nature.

But as Channa drove the prince, something walked across the chariot's path. Siddhartha asked Channa if it was a man. Yes, said Channa. But how could it be? It was bent over. Its hair was white, and it had no teeth. It was thin and weak.

The prince had seen an old man.

He questioned Channa more, and learned that this would happen to him, if he lived long enough, as it happened to all. Siddhartha was deeply disturbed.

Later he encountered a sick man. And later still, he witnessed the grief of mourners as a corpse burned on a funeral pyre. All of this confirmed his suspicions about the true nature of things.

But then, he saw something else. A man, with shaved head and saffron robe, who looked serenely calm.

A monk! Channa explained that this man was seeking a way out of suffering, and this really set him to thinking...

  1. What feelings do you get when you think of old age, illness, and death?
  2. Is the world a happy place, or a place of suffering? Why do you think so?
  3. Why do you think Siddhartha found the monk so intriguing?
Next time: Rahula


  1. Im 13 and I was wondering why are the four sights an important event in the life of Siddhartha?

  2. The first three sights made him completely aware of the suffering of life; the last one suggested a possible way to go beyond suffering.

    Did I just do your homework?