Eastern Religions

Eastern Religions

6/29/2018 Four Sights – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS

https://elearn.sinclair.edu/d2l/le/content/112110/viewContent/3876260/View 1/2

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Th e Fo u r Sigh ts

Siddhartha lived a life of luxury in four golden palaces and was waited on hand and foot. He enjoyed

massages, harems of women and a wife, fancy food, plenty of games and entertainment. He knew nothing

of death, suffering, illness or old age. But as he grew up, Siddhartha started to get restless. He wanted to

go beyond his palace walls and see the world outside. Even though he had everything he could ever want

within the palace, he yearned for new experiences and felt like something was missing that he could not

really explain.

So, with the help of his friend, Channa, Siddhartha (much like a typical teenager) snuck out of the palace

during the night so his father would not know. Venturing into the world outside of his palace walls, he

sees, for the �rst time, artists and farmers, beggars and merchants. He experiences sights and smells he’s

never known and is overwhelmed with sensory overload. But the four sights that change his entire world

are the following:

1. Old man

2. Sick man

3. Dead man

4. Holy man

Siddhartha �rst sees a few elderly men. Whenever someone got very

old in the palace, they were removed somewhere else so Siddhartha

would not have to witness old age and suffering. Siddhartha is

confused by their old, leathered skin, missing teeth and crooked

posture. He asks Channa, “What is wrong with these men?” to which

Channa replies, “They’re old, my lord.” Siddhartha does not

understand and so Channa explains that this happens to us all…even

kings.

Siddhartha then witnesses a leper colony, prominent in India. He sees people with

their skin hanging off, hears their cries of pain and he is overcome with grief and

shock. He has never witnessed such sickness. Whenever someone got very sick in

the palace, they were removed somewhere else so Siddhartha would not have to

witness such suffering. Siddhartha is very concerned by their lesions, wails and

moans. He asks Channa, “What is wrong with these people?” to which Channa

replies, “They’re sick, my lord.” Siddhartha does not understand and so Channa

explains that this could happen to us all…even kings.

Siddhartha then sees a cremation. He sees a body being burned. Whenever

someone was dying in the palace, they were removed somewhere else so

Siddhartha would not have to witness death and suffering. This is the point in the

story where Siddhartha basically has a mental breakdown. He cannot wrap his mind around this. He has

never witnessed death and does not understand what is happening.

6/29/2018 Four Sights – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS

https://elearn.sinclair.edu/d2l/le/content/112110/viewContent/3876260/View 2/2

He asks “Channa, What is this? Why is this happening?” to

which Channa replies, “He’s dead, my lord.” Siddhartha does not

understand and begins crying and so Channa explains that this

will de�nitely happen to us all…even kings.

Siddhartha is overwhelmed with extreme confusion and

sadness. He doesn’t understand why his father kept this all from

him! Why has he been kept in a veil of illusion all this time? He is

lost and hurt as his whole world has fallen apart. In his state of

despair, he sees (guess what…) a Hindu sadhu! He sees this ascetic who has renounced material

comforts, sitting peacefully next to the cremation ghat. The sadhu is calm,

serene and re�ective. This makes a huge impact on Siddhartha, because he

cannot understand how anyone can be at such peace with the knowledge of

such suffering and death.

Siddhartha knows that after what he’s witnessed and experienced, he cannot

just simply go back to enjoying his privileged, sheltered life of nothing but

material pleasure. His innocence and naïve perception have been forever

stripped away. And so, Siddhartha, believing that the sadhu must be on to

something, decides to also renounce his princely past and become an ascetic

as well. This is called the Great Renunciation.

Buddhists say that the story of the four sights is a perfect metaphor that

every one of us can relate to. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to identify with the journey Siddhartha has

been through. Many of us have gone through similar trials where the way we thought things were

changed, where our world was turned upside down, where we could no longer live with the perception we

had before.

Though we know about old age, sickness and death, many of us choose to ignore or deny it. We may

pretend like it’s not going to happen to us. Buddhists say the only thing this willed ignorance does is

cause more suffering in the end. They say we can’t be truly happy or at peace if we don’t accept the

reality of our situation and the impermanence of everything. We ll re�ect more on this very distinct

Buddhist practice later during the Dharma section.


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