The Final Shock

Siddhartha and Channa again left the palace by chariot. With their accompanying ministers, musicians and servants they looked like part of a ceremonial parade. As before, the people lined the streets and feasted their eyes on the grand, royal procession.

But for a third time a vision appeared that only the Prince and his charioteer could see. A group of sad eyed people, carrying a long box in which a body covered in a orange sheet lay, appeared from one of the houses and slowly made its way down one of the side streets.

"Channa, why is that man in the box lying so still?" Is he asleep? And why are all those people crying? Where are they taking him? "He is dead man, Sire. They are going to the river where they will burn his body." The Prince was confused. "What do you mean by dead? And if they burn his body , will it not burn him? Please, Channa, explain what you mean so I can understand."

And so Channa explained, telling the Prince the truths his father had tried to hide from him all these years. "That man was once alive, as you and I are now. He was born, grew into a child, then he became a young man. He experienced the many pleasures and pains of life, raised a family, worked for a living and grew older. Then he began to get weaker and weaker. He was confined to his bed. Soon he was unable to recognize even his closest friends. He grew worse and eventually his breath left his body. And with his final breath, his understanding and life-force also left. Now he is dead. All that is left behind to see is the body he cared for so much while he was still alive. It lies there cold and without feeling. When his family burn the body he will not feel anything, because he has already left it behind."

"Tell me, Channa, is it unusual for people to die like this?" The charioteer answered "No, my Prince, not at all. It is true that there are some people who never get the chance to grow old, and there are some who are very rarely sick. But everyone, without exception, must one day die."

These words, uttered innocently by the charioteer, shocked the Prince deeply. "Do you mean," he exclaimed passionately, "that one day my wife, my child, my friends and myself will all be dead? And all these people I see here today, all dressed up so radiant, will also died? Oh, how blind is the world that it can dance and sing while death is just waiting for everyone! Why do they all bother to dress themselves in such fine clothes if one day they shall be wearing nothing more than a simple white sheet? Do people have such short memories that they forget about death? Or are their hearts so strong that the thought of death does not bother them? Come, Channa, turn the chariot around. I wish to return to the palace and think."

But instead, Channa drove the chariot to a beautiful garden. There all the most charming singers and dancers from the palace were waiting, along with musicians, ministers and a large feast prepared by the palace chefs. They all welcomed the Prince joyfully and cheered when he stepped from the chariot. But the Prince did not smile, nor did he say anything. His thoughts were totally absorbed in what he had seen that day.