The Three Sights

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Chapter Four: Springtime Excursions, or Three Sights

One day, the prince found out that spring had finally come to the land.  Grass had sprouted in the forest, their trees resounding with the songs of kokilas, and the ice on the lotus ponds had melted. He felt like an elephant that had been confined to a house, and he wanted to go out into the parks to look at the girls in their spring finery, so the king ordered a picnic entertainment for his beloved son.

He gave an order that expressly forbade the prince be exposed to the sight of any afflicted person on the highway, saying "Heaven forbid the sensitive prince even imagine himself distressed."  So outriders gently removed from the route all those who had mutilated limbs or other disabilities, and also the decrepit, the sick and all the usual, squalid beggars.

When the fortunate prince with his well-trained attendants came down to visit the king and formally ask permission to leave, the king had tears in his eyes.  He hugged him [" smelt his son's head"] and gazed lovingly at him, and finally gave him permission to go, but he just could not let him leave.

Finally, the prince mounted the four-horse golden chariot with its gold trappings and harness like flash lightning, and accompanied by his worthy retinue he entered the road which was strewn with heaps of gleaming flowers and bedecked with hanging garlands and waving banners.  It was like the moon rising into its starry sky.

They proceeded very slowly so that the crowds of people, their eyes wide with curiosity like blue lotuses, could get a glimpse of him.  They cheered, praising his personality, his glorious appearance, his personal beauty, and cried, "Long live the Prince."

People who did not normally go out in public also watched.  Hunchbacked men, forest hermits, dwarves and prostitutes -- they all bowed down as at a religious procession when military standards are lowered before the gods. 

High-born women got permission to go out on the rooftops when they heard from the seraglio attendants the cry, 'The prince is going out.'  They tripped over their slipped sashes, their eyes as dazed as if they had just awakened, their ornaments hastily put on, as filled with curiosity they crowded together.  

The jangle of metal belts and anklets resounding on the staircases and roofs frightened the pigeons in the dovecotes.  As the women scrambled, they muttered blame at one another, and some of the heavier women had trouble keeping up.  One or two had to really slow themselves down, as soon as they remembered to cover themselves up.

There they were, restlessly swaying in the windows, squashed together while their earrings got a good polishing, their ornaments all jingling.  Lotus-like faces shone between the clashing jewelry looking just like bouquets of flowers adorning the front gates of houses.

With the crowds of damsels, the mansions themselves seemed alive, their shutters flung open as if in eager curiosity, and the magnificent city appeared like heaven, its divine chariots packed with nymphs.

Their faces shone like lotuses through the narrow windows as their earrings tangled on one another's cheeks.  Gazing down on the prince in the road, the beautiful women seemed longing to fall to the ground.  Gazing with upturned faces at him, the men on the ground seemed longing to rise to the heavens.

Beholding the king's son radiant in his beauty and glory, the women whispered, 'His wife must be a very happy woman!'  But they meant this in the nicest way, and not from any baser feeling.

'He looks like Kama, the god of love, standing there with his long, sturdy arms, but we have a feeling he will leave this royal pomp and devote himself to religion,' and they bowed, full of kindly feelings towards him.

The prince, for a while, did feel a little pleasure, seeing for the first time that highway crowded with respectful citizens all dressed in their formal white garments, and that made him feel young and carefree.

But then the gods in their heavens, having observed the city rejoicing like a heaven itself, on purpose -- to stir the heart of the king's son -- created an old man who was going haltingly along the way.

The prince stared at the decrepit person so unlike any of the other bystanders, and in a lowered tone of voice asked in confidence of his driver, "Charioteer, who is that man who just turned up, with the white hair, his hand resting on a staff, his eyes hidden beneath his brows, his limbs all loose and bent?  Is that some kind of change due to illness or something?  Is it his natural state, or did he have some kind of accident?"

So the charioteer revealed the secret that should have been so carefully kept, not thinking he was doing anything wrong because those same gods had bewildered his mind.

"That is what happens when old age breaks us down.  It ruins our good looks, makes us weak and depressed, steals our enjoyment of life, wrecks our memory and is the general ruin of all our senses.

"Once, he too, drank milk in his childhood, and in the course of time learned to crawl.  Having step by step become a strong young man, now in the same way he has step by step reached old age."

Hearing this, the prince was somewhat taken aback and said to the charioteer, "What! Will this horrible thing happen to me, too?"

"It will undoubtedly, over time and after many years, happen even to you, my long-lived lord.  All the world knows that old age will eventually destroy their fine appearance; they accept that fact."

Then like a bull who has heard the crash of a thunderbolt close by, the Great-Soul whose mind had been purified by the merit of karma accumulated from eons of virtuous actions, was deeply agitated at this news of old age. 

With a long, deep sigh, and shaking his head, he raised his eyes that had been on the decrepit old man, and looking around at the cheering crowds, he said in distress, "So. Old age wins over the memory, the good looks and the energy of every single one of us, and yet the world is not even disturbed by it."  

"Since that's the way it is for us all, driver, turn back the horses.  Let's go home right now.  How can I enjoy an outing in the park with thoughts of old age overpowering me?"

Then the charioteer, at the king's son command, turned the chariot around, and the prince, distracted and distraught, entered the palace as if it were completely empty with no one around.

But he found no happiness even there at home because he was obsessed with the thought, 'old age, old age.'  

However, once more with his father's permission, he went out just as before.  Then the same deities created another man, this time with his body all diseased and seeing him, the son of Shuddhodana staring at the man, addressed his charioteer.  

"That man with the swollen belly going around hugging strangers, gasping for air as he plaintively says "mother" while his whole frame trembles, his arms and shoulders droopy, all pale and thin  -- please, who is that?"

And the charioteer answered, "Gentle Sir, that is the great affliction called sickness.  It results from an imbalance or inflammation of the [three] humours and has made even this once strong man lose control of himself so he has no idea what he is doing."

The prince, looking at the sick man compassionately, asked, "Is that just his own thing or can all beings get this 'sickness'?"

The driver replied, "Prince, everyone gets this, so with their bodies aching and racked with pain they seek consolation in all sorts of pleasures."

At that, his mind became very distressed, and he trembled like the reflection of the moon in troubled water, and full of sorrow he said in a low voice, "Even though they can see all this calamity of diseases people can still feel undisturbed? How awful that people are so foolish as to even smile while all this is going on!"

"Turn around, driver. Let's go right straight back to the king's palace.  Having heard this alarming news about disease, I could not possibly concentrate on having any fun."

So, having turned back, very much preoccupied and all joy gone, he entered his home.  And having noticed that Siddhartha was back for a second time, the king himself went to the city to investigate.

When he found out the reason for the prince's return, the king felt betrayed and although unused to dealing out severe punishment even when quite displeased, he really scolded the man whose duty it was to see that the road was clear.

Once again he arranged for all kinds of exotic and erotic entertainment for his son praying, "Let's hope that he will never be able to leave us, even if it is due to an addiction to the pursuit of pleasure."

But when his son found no pleasure in the various games, music and all the other activities that are available in women's apartments, the king once again gave orders for a ride outside, thinking to himself, "Well, maybe this is just what it will take to distract him."  And in his worry over his son's mental state, never even thinking of the harm that could result from hurried planning, he ordered the best singers and the other party girls to go along.  

With the royal road once again decorated and guarded, the king again had the prince go out, this time having ordered the charioteer and chariot to proceed in the opposite direction.

But just as the king's son was going on his way, the very same deities created a dead man, though only the driver and the prince -- no one else -- saw him as he was being carried along.

Then the prince said to the charioteer, "Who is that person, adorned but no longer breathing, that is being carried along by four men and followed by those mournful, wailing companions?"

The driver, knowing the truth, his mind having been overcome by the gods of 'pure mind and pure dwelling,' told the forbidden truth to his master.

"This is some poor man who, now deprived of consciousness, sensation, energy and other qualities, is lying as unconscious as a block of wood or a pile of straw, abandoned by both friends and enemies after having carefully prepared his body and stood watch over him."

Hearing the charioteer's words, he was somewhat startled and said to him, "Is that an unusual event, a sort of accident that happened, or do all living creatures end up that way?"

And the driver replied, "This is the final end of all living beings.  Whether an ordinary person, one of the middle class or an aristocrat, it makes no difference. Destruction is the fate of every single being in this world."

Then the king's son, as soon as he heard about death though he was normally calm and collected, immediately felt himself sinking down overwhelmed, and so he leaned into the end of the chariot pole with his shoulder and spoke up in a loud voice, "That's what is to become of all creatures? And yet the world just shrugs it off and lives totally absorbed in the world!   I think that men's hearts must be very hard indeed if they can remain calm in the face of such a thing!."

"Charioteer, go back.  This is neither time nor place for a joy ride.  How could any rational being who knows what destruction is just continue right along without caring about it?"

But even when the prince repeatedly commanded him, the charioteer did not turn around.  Instead, he drove them to Padmakhanda, The Lotus-and-Sword.  And there in that lovely glade which resembled Nandana, the Garden of Earthly Delights, with its flowering trees and cuckoos flitting joyously about, sparkling ponds gay with lotuses, and lots of cool refreshment, the king's son was abducted amidst troops of beautiful women.  

It was just as if he were some innocent too weak to withstand the temptations of Kubera's palace at his capital Aloka, alive with sinuous and shapely apsaras doing their seductive dances.


The kokila is the Indian cuckoo the sound of whose lyrical voice is considered the harbinger of spring and romance.

Next: Chapter 5 The Double-edged Sword.


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