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  • Thong Tri Temple

The Story of Buddha: The Four Sights (4)

Updated: May 30, 2022

July 25, 2020 | Compassion {Karuṇā}



As Siddhartha grew older, his mind became more contemplative and calm. He often seemed to be thinking further and further away.


King Suddhodana, remembering the old prophecy from the Brahmins, that his son would either become a great king or a great teacher, had secretly hoped to steer his son in the direction of the throne. Thus, the King shielded the Crown Prince Siddhartha from any religious teachings and from knowledge of human hardship and suffering.


The King of Shakya commanded his court to build three magnificent palaces for the prince. Each palace was designed to suit the change in weather all year round – one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. There was no need for Siddhartha to leave the palaces during those seasons. He was accommodated with all manner of luxurious food and clothing, silk and sandalwood from Kasi, and the most skilled entertainment, singing and dancing from female musicians and concubines. Night and day a white parasol, held over the prince, protected him from heat, cold, dust, leaves or dew. As such, he was raised in the upmost indulgence and blissful ignorance.


King Suddhodana married Siddhartha to a beautiful and virtuous princess, who was the daughter of King Suprabuddha and Siddhartha’s cousin, Princess Yasodhara. Both Siddhartha and Yasodhara were sixteen years of age.


Despite having a life full of comfort, Siddhartha still found his heart full of questions. He felt the need to find a way out, to live a more honest, meaningful and beautiful life.


One day, on the day of the agricultural celebration known as the Plowing Ceremony, Siddhartha followed his father to the field to watch the people. The scene before him was of a beautiful spring day. The sky is clear, the birds are racing, the lush flowers are in full bloom. Siddhartha looked deep into the landscape and realized that life is not as beautiful and peaceful as it appears. He saw farmers and cattle toiling under the hot sun. The birds scrambling to devour struggling insects in the newly plowed fields. Hunters hiding in the bushes to shoot down the birds. Tigers in the forest stalking hunters. What an endlessly brutal scene! Just for a morsel of food to live, people and animals used all means to kill each other. It became clear to Siddhartha that life is suffering.


At the age of 29, Siddhartha ventured outside of the palace with no one except his charioteer, Chandaka. As he took a walk outside the four gates of the city, he was met with what is known as “the Four Sights.”


Out of the East Gate, Siddhartha met an old man with gray hair, missing teeth, blurred vision, and deaf ears. The Prince was surprised by this sight and inquired about this person. Chandaka explained to him that the man was displaying signs of old age, and all people grow old and age in this manner.


Out of the South Gate, Siddhartha saw a sick man lying on the grass, crying and groaning in great pain. Once again, Chandaka explained to him that all beings are subject to illness and pain.


Out of the West Gate, Siddhartha saw a corpse lying in the middle of the road. Flies buzzed and rose up around the body. As he had before, Chandaka replied that death is an inevitable fate of all those who are living.


Siddhartha was deeply troubled by the realization that life is subject to old age, sickness, and death. These scenes, as with the Plowing Ceremony, left him feeling immensely sorrowful about the sufferings of sentient beings. Siddhartha was disillusioned by the impermanence of our physical existence and felt that there might be something better.


Finally, Siddhartha went to the North Gate and met a solemn and noble monk. He felt a deep affection for the monk and rushed to greet him to inquire about his spiritual practice. The monk replied, “I am a monk and I am devoted to rid myself of all ties to the world, to pray for enlightenment, so that all sentient beings will be liberated like me.” When Siddhartha heard these words, he resolved to follow the monk’s example.


Moved by all he had seen, Siddhartha decided to leave his life as the crown prince of the Shakyas.


To be continued...


May you all be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering!


Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.


References:

“Chơn Lý,” Tác Giả Đức Tổ Sư Minh Đăng Quang (Language in Vietnamese)

“Phật Học Phổ Thông,” Tác Giả Hòa Thượng Thích Thiện Hoa (Language in Vietnamese)

“The Seeker’s Glossary of BUDDHISM,” Edited by the Van Hien-Study Group, Sutra Translation Committee of the United States & Canada

“A Simple Path – Basic Buddhist Teachings,” by His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama

“The Buddha and His Teachings,” by Venerable Narada Mahathera (Sri Lanka 1970), Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.

"Kinh Tụng Hằng Ngày," Biên Soạn Thượng Tọa Thích Nhật Từ (Language Vietnamese)

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