Life of the Buddha

Electronically Distributed by Buddhanet

(Part One) 8. The Four Sights: Sickness

The king very unwillingly allowed the prince to visit the city a second time. He thought it would do no good to try to stop him, and would only add to his confusion and unhappiness. On his second visit to the city the king did not warn the people to be ready or to prepare the streets. The prince and Channa dressed up as young men from noble families so the people would not know them.

When they arrived, the city was quite different to their last visit. No more joyous crowds of people hailed the prince. There were no flags, bunting, flowers or well-dressed people, but simple folk going about their daily work to earn a living. A blacksmith was sweating and pounding to make knives. The jewellers and goldsmiths were making necklaces, bangles, earrings and rings out of diamonds, gold and silver. The clothes-dyers were dyeing cloths of lovely colour and hanging them up to dry. The bakers were busily baking bread, cakes and sweets and selling them to the customers, who ate them still hot. The prince looked at these simple common people. Everyone was very busy, happy and pleased in their work.

As the two walked along they came across a man on the ground, twisting his body, holding his stomach with both hands and crying out in pain at the top of his voice. All over his face and body were purple patches, his eyes were rolling, and he was gasping for breath.

For the second time in his life something made the prince very sad. At once the prince, being a very kind person and not liking to see people distressed, ran forward and rested the man’s head on his knee, saying, ” What is wrong with you? What is wrong?” The sick man could not speak, but only cry.

“Channa, tell me why this man is like this,” said the prince. “What is the matter with his breath? Why does he not talk?”

“Oh, my prince,” said Channa, “do not hold this man like that. This man is sick. His blood is poisoned. He has plague fever and it is burning all over his body. That is why he is crying loudly without being able to speak.”

“But are there any other men like this?” asked the prince.

“Yes, and you may be the next if you hold the man as close as that. Please put him down and do not touch him or the plague will come out of him and go to you. You will become the same as he is.”

“Are there any other bad things, besides this plague, Channa?”

“Yes, my prince, there are hundreds of other sicknesses as painful as this,” replied Channa.

“Can no one help it? Will everyone be sick? Can it happen at any time by surprise?” asked Siddhartha.

“Yes, my dear prince,” said Channa, “everyone in this world. No one can stop it and it can happen any time. Anyone may fall ill and suffer.”

The prince was even sadder as he returned to the palace the second time, dwelling on the man and his sickness.