Prince Siddhartha lived a luxurious life and was the heir to the throne. But what made him give up everything to be an ascetic? The following article will provide you with detailed information.
Despite being in the flower of his youth, Prince Siddhartha showed no interest in the boisterous life, which worried his father — King Suddhodana. The King remembered the soothsayers’ prophecy that the Prince would leave the palace and become an ascetic when he grew up. Deep down in his heart, the King did not want his son to become ordained. Instead, the Prince was supposed to become a perfect heir to the throne. Thus, King Suddhodana created a plan to prevent his son from knowing the suffering of life. Despite living a life of luxury full of pleasure, the Prince decided to go out of the palace through its four gates to explore the normal life.
The first sight: An old person
Prince Siddhartha, accompanied by his servant Channa, left the palace through the Eastern gate for the first time. Driving around for a while, the Prince saw an old man with a cane, bent back, wrinkled skin, and white hair and beard. The Prince found that man’s appearance very strange because he hadn’t seen anyone like him in the palace. The Prince asked Channa: “What is that person?” Channa replied that was an old person. When getting old, our skin would wrinkle, our hair and beard would turn white, our back would begin to stoop with age, etc. The Prince then asked: “Will I grow old?” Channa answered: “You will get old, I will also get old, everyone will.” The Prince then turned back to the palace and mused about old age.
The second sight: A sick person
For the second time, the Prince departed through the Southern gate and saw a man lying beside a pool of blood and mucus on the roadside, coughing badly and groaning painfully. Channa explained to the Prince that was a sick person and “the Prince, likewise, would get sick in his old age, as does everybody”. The Prince then returned to the palace, engrossed in thought again: “Will I be sick like that? One day, will I also lie and moan like that?”
The third sight: A dead person
On his third excursion, Prince Siddhartha departed through the Western gate and saw four people carrying a stretcher, on which they laid a person covered in white cloth. The mourners were weeping and wailing. “What are they doing?” asked the Prince. “My Prince, that is a funeral, they are taking the corpse to a funeral pyre,” said Channa. Indeed, the Prince had never seen a dead person before. Buddhist texts say King Suddhodana did not allow such a scene to appear inside the walls of the capital. The sick, the elderly, and the deceased had to be transferred to the outskirts so that the Prince could not see them. So, learning of death by seeing it firsthand caused a great shock in the Prince’s mind about the truth of life. He was in such a sad and pensive mood. The Prince realized that life was really fleeting and miserable.
“Returning to the palace,” Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh shared, “the Prince sat deep in thought. He thought: ‘Why is a human born to be old, get sick and then die in the end? What is death? Why is it so tragic? Why does a dead body lie so still without moving whatsoever?’. Then, his thoughts continued: ‘Where do we come from? Is there anyone who determines human destiny?’ Such questions kept filling his mind day and night, troubling him greatly. Whatever the court ladies performed was unable to liven him up.”
The fourth sight: Prince Siddhartha met an ascetic
On his fourth excursion, Prince Siddhartha Gautama went to the Northern gate where he met an ascetic. The Prince approached him and asked: “Who are you?” The ascetic replied: “I am an ascetic. I left the secular life in order to end all worldly afflictions and suffering. I want to help everyone eliminate suffering too as this life is so miserable”.
Thay Thich Truc Thai Minh shared: “At that moment, he felt like something touched his heart and his whole body trembled. It felt like an ideal that lay deep inside the Prince and had already been embraced for many previous lives, urging him every day, every hour to leave the household life and become an ascetic. “This will be the path I follow,” he decided. Prince Siddhartha thanked the ascetic and ordered Channa to take him back to the palace. Since then, the Prince nurtured the ideal to become an ascetic like the religious man he met. Having ventured out of the palace, met the common people and encountered those sights, the Prince realised life was full of suffering. He wanted to find a way to the end of suffering for himself and others: Old age, sickness, death, struggling for livelihood, and more.