An Unexpected Sight

The King still wanted to be certain that his son would not see anything on his trip that might disturb his mind. This might make him want to leave the kingdom and follow the holy life. So the day before the Prince was about to travel to the city, the King sent his servants and soldiers out with this message: "By order of the King! Tomorrow the royal Prince Siddhartha will visit the capital city of Kapilavastu. Decorate your houses and the streets and let everything be colorful in his honor. Let those who are sick or old or in any way unhealthy stay indoors tomorrow. Nothing should be seen in the city that is not young and fair and beautiful." And then, very gently, the soldiers took all the street beggars and brought them to a part of the city where the Prince would not visit.

When the morning came, the charioteer Channa groomed the Prince's favorite horse, Kantaka, and drove out through the palace gates with his royal passenger. It was the first time the Prince had seen Kapilavatu since he was a small child, and it was the first that the most of the citizens of the city had ever seen their Prince.

Everyone was excited and lined the newly decorated streets to catch a glimpse of the handsome young man as he rode by. "How tall and good looking he is!" They said to one another. "How bright his eyes and his brow!" We are indeed fortunate that someday he will be our king."

And the Prince, too, was delighted. The city was sparkling and clean and everywhere he saw people laughing and cheering and even dancing. The streets where he rode were covered with the flower petals the citizens joyously threw towards their beloved Prince. "The song was true," he remembered happily. "This is indeed a golden, beautiful and wondrous city!"

But as the Prince and his charioteer were riding by they spotted an old, bent, sad-looking person among the joyous crowd. Curious-for the Prince had never seen anything like this before-he turned and asked, "Channa, who is that person over there? why is he stooping over and not dancing like the others? Why is his face not smooth and shining like everyone else's; why is it pale and wrinkled? Why is he so different from the others?"

And Channa pointed to that man, who remained unseen by everyone else, and answered the Prince, "Why Sir, that is just an old man."

"Old?" the Prince questioned. " Was this man always "old" like this before, or did it happen to him recently?"

"Neither, O Prince," Channa answered. "Many years ago that wrinkled man before you was young and strong as all the others you see here today. But slowly he lost his strength. His body became bent, the colors faded from his cheeks, he lost most of his teeth, and now he appears the way he does."

Surprised and saddened, Siddhartha asked again, "That poor man, is he the only one suffering the weakness of old age? Or are there any others like him?"

"Surely you know, O Prince, that everyone must experience old age. You, me, your wife Yasodhara, Rahula, everyone at the palace-we are all growing older every moment. Someday most of us will look like that man."

These words so shocked the gentle Prince that for a long time he remained speechless. He looked like a person who had just been frightened by a sudden lightning flash. Finally he regained his voice and spoke, "O Chana, I have seen something today that I never expected to see. In the midst of all these happy young people this vision of old age frightens me. Turn the chariot back to the palace ; all my enjoyment of this trip has fled. Turn back; I wish to see no more."

Channa did as commanded. When they arrived back home, the Prince entered his palace without greeting anyone, hurried upstairs to his own room, and sat by himself for a long time. Everyone noticed how strangely he acted and tried hard to cheer him up. But nothing helped. At dinner he did not touch any of his food, even though the chef prepared his favorite meal. He paid no attention to the music and dancing, but sat by himself thinking, "Old age, Old age, Old age..."