Life of the Buddha

Electronically Distributed by Buddhanet

(Part One) 9. The Four Sights: Death

On returning to the palace after seeing the sick man, Siddhartha was very dissatisfied and depressed and was often seen in deep thought. The king, seeing him so changed, became very sad. Soon enough, the prince asked again for the king’s permission to leave the palace to learn more of life in the city. The king agreed, as he knew there was nothing to gain by trying to stop his son.

This time, again wearing the clothes of noblemen, Siddhartha and Channa went out from the palace and walked in many parts of Kapilavatthu. After they had journeyed a good part of the day, the prince saw a crowd of people coming along the street crying, while four men at the back were carrying a plank on which a very thin man lay flat and still. The carried man was like a stone, never saying a word. The crowd soon stopped and the plank bearers rested the person down on a pile of wood and set the wood on fire. The man did not move as the flames were burning the plank, and then his body, from all sides.

“What is this, Channa?” asked Siddhartha. “Why does that man lie there so still, allowing these people to burn him up? It’s as if he does not know anything.”

“He is dead,” replied Channa.

“Dead! Channa, does everyone die?”

“Yes, my dear prince, all living things must die some day. No one can stop death from coming,” replied Channa.

The prince was so shocked he did not say anything more. He thought that it was terrible that such a thing called death should come to everybody, even kings and queens. Was there no way to stop it? He went home in silence. He went straight to his own room in the palace and sat deep in thought for the rest of the day. Very sadly he pondered, “Everyone in the world must die some day; no one has found out how to stop it. There must be a way to stop it. I must find it out and help the whole world.”