7. An Unexpected Sight
The King still wanted to be certain that his son would not see anythingon his trip that might disturb his mind. This might make him want to leavethe kingdom and follow the holy life. So the day before the Prince wasabout to travel to the city, the King sent his servants and soldiers outwith this message: "By order of the King! Tomorrow the royal Prince Siddharthawill visit the capital city of Kapilavastu (10). Decorate your houses andthe streets and let everything be colourful in his honour. Let those whoare sick or old or in any way unhealthy stay indoors tomorrow. Nothingshould be seen in the city that is not young and fair and beautiful." Andthen, very gently, the soldiers took all the street beggars and broughtthem to a part of the city where the Prince would not visit.
When morning came, the charioteer Channa (11) groomed the Prince's favouritehorse, Kantaka (12), and drove out through the palace gates with his royalpassenger.
It was the first time the Prince had seen Kapilavastu since he was a smallchild, and it was the first time that most of the citizens of the cityhad ever seen their Prince. Everyone was excited and lined the newly decoratedstreets to catch a glimpse of the handsome young man as he rode by.
“Howtall and good looking he is! “they said to one anorther. How bright hiseyes and his brow! We are indeed fortunate that someday he will be ourking."
And the Prince, too, was delighted. The city was sparkling and clean andeverywhere he saw people laughing and cheering and even dancing. The streetswhere he rode were covered with the flower petals the citizens joyouslythrew towards the beloved Prince. "The song was true," he remembered happily."This is indeed a golden, beautiful and wondrous city!"
But as the Prince and his charioteer were riding by they spotted an old,bent, sad-looking person among the joyous crowd. Curious-for the Princehad never seen anything like this before-he turned and asked, "Channa,who is that person over there? Why is he stooping over and not dancinglike the others? Why is his face not smooth and shining like everyone else's;why is it pale and wrinkled? Why is he so different from the others?"
And Channa pointed to that man who remained unseen by everyone else, andanswered the Prince, "Why Sir, that is just an old man."
"Old?" the Prince questioned. "Was this man always 'old' like this before,or did it happen to him recently?"
"Neither, O Prince," Channa answered. "Many years ago that wrinkled manbefore you was young and strong as all the others you see here today. Butslowly he lost his strength. His body became bent, the colour faded fromhis cheeks, he lost most of his teeth, and now he appears the way he does."
Surprised and saddened, Siddhartha asked again, "That poor man, is he theonly one suffering the weaknesses of old age? Or are there any others likehim?"
"Surely you know, O Prince, that everyone must experience old age. You,me, your wife Yasodhara, Rahula, everyone at the palace-we are all growingolder every moment. Someday most of us will look like that man."
These words so shocked the gentle Prince that for a long time he remainedspeechless. He looked like a person who had just been frightened by a suddenlightning flash. Finally he regained his voice and spoke, "O Channa, Ihave seen something today that I never expected to see. In the midst ofall these happy young people this vision of old age frightens me. Turnthe chariot back to the palace; all my enjoyment of this trip has fled.Turn back; I wish to see no more."Channa did as commanded. When they arrived back home, the Prince enteredhis palace without greeting anyone, hurried upstairs to his own room, andsat by himself for a long time. Everyone noticed how strangely he actedand tried hard to cheer him up. But nothing helped. At dinner he did nottouch any of his food, even though the chef prepared his favourited meal.He paid no attention to the music and dancing, but sat by himself thinking,"Old age, old age, old age..."