The life of Prince Siddhattha was to change dramatically after he saw four particular sights, which led him to set forth in search of a way to wipe out the suffering of human kind for good.
Venturing out of the city gates he saw on four instances :-
- an age old man who was very feeble and rendered helpless due to age
- a sick man who was so bitten by disease and thus helpless.
- a dead man, his corpse being carried to the burial ground by his grieving kith and kin
- a mendicant monk who having renounced the worldly charms was thus in happiness and peace, unbitten by the nature's toll around him.
Coming across the old man
Fours years passed after his marriage. While on a visit to the outer skirts of the City, he sighted an aged man, who was so feeble that he could not walk properly. The Prince soon got down from his carriage and tried to help this man reach a sheltered place. His heart bled for this man as he tried to walk him. With his immense “mettha”, the Prince relieved him of his pain and was confident that he would become better.
The next day however, the Prince found him bitten by disease of old age and worse off than before. This shocked the Prince terribly, as he found that all his efforts had not brought this man any signs of recovery towards the better. For the first time in His life, the Prince became helpless in His need. He wanted to help this man but found that He could do only very little to help him.... to relieve him of his suffering, of pain and disease of old age. Nevertheless, He tried to relieve him with His “mettha” and other remedial healing methods, on which He had been successful thus far. This time it was all different. The Prince was sad and confused. He did not accept the fact that Man has been thus created like this, (as according to ancient tradition He too believed in “Athman”)..to be aged, ..and then get bitten by disease related to old age, leading to a lot of suffering. The Prince did whatever he could to comfort this man and when He left, He seemed to be okay.
The next day however, the Prince saw this man was dead and being carried away to the burial grounds on a stretcher. The fact that this man became aged, feeble with disease unable to fend for himself ..... and thereafter, died such a pathetic death, left a great impact in Siddhartha’s heart. That he was in pain and thus passed away leaving the body to be taken to the burial grounds, left a deep imprint in His mind. On the discussions that pursued with Channa, after seeing this man, the Prince learnt that there indeed are many others like this poor man, in the Kingdom of the Shakyans. The Prince was shocked. How could He reign above them, if His people are going to suffer like this, in old age, get bitten by disease and die helplessly. Being a Brilliant spiritual man, Sidhartha felt that this cannot be so. We simply cannot be thus created by Maha Brahma..., in this way .. to suffer and die..... There definitely must be a way out of this suffering. For according to the religious beliefs of ancient India, He too believed in God and therefore, did not want to accept that this suffering is the inheritance of man. There must be a way out too inherited by man. Deeply struck by this incident, He abandoned His trip to the Park and returned to the Palace immediately.
“Samana” – Mendicant monk.
Still perturbed by His realization of suffering, the Prince once again set out the next evening, on the visit to the parks in the outer skirts of the town, to relieve Himself of worries in His mind. I must mention here that the Parks those days were peacefully silent places where the beauties of nature were in their fullest. They had huge trees, lakes, streams, ponds and animals. The Parks are called “Arama” in Pali. The Pali word “rama” means joy. “Arama” literally means a place of joy for the visitors. They were quiet places full of loveliness. The Prince may have thought, that a visit to such a place with inherent beauties of nature, would do Him a world of good, in His present state of mind. On this evening, He spotted a mendicant monk, in saffron robes. The monk's placid footsteps, calm countenance, peaceful personality and the look of freedom, from the travails of the world, were so impressive, that the Prince thought how wonderful it would be, to become such a monk. Then it struck Him, that this is the way, to go in search for the truth. He knew, when one does not have any belongings in the world, one feels free. Thereby, enabling the qualities of the mind to mature and come forth, bringing the results of peace, and the realization of what causes suffering.
Living in the Palace, with its inherent possessions would never give the freedom of the mendicant monk but would only cause a hindrance to the path of truth and freedom. He resolved to leave the Palace and become a mendicant monk, and live a meditative life, striving on, until He finds out the truth that causes suffering. This way, He can help everyone lead a peaceful and happy life. Determined to do that the Prince returned to the Palace.
Just as He entered through the gates, a messenger brought Him the news that a baby son had been born to Him. The first words that came to His lips were “A Rahula was born” Rahula means a block on the way. A baby son means a fetter on the path to His resolve to become a mendicant monk. Therefore, the baby was named Rahula, after the Prince’s words.