Siddhartha and Channa again left the palace by chariot. With their accompanyingministers, musicians and servants they looked like part of a ceremonialparade. As before, the people lined the streets and feasted their eyeson the grand, royal procession.
But for a third time a vision appeared that only the Prince and his charioteercould see. A group of sad-eyed people, carrying a long box in which a bodycovered in a white sheet lay, appeared from one of the houses and slowlymade its way down one of the side streets.
"Channa, why is that man in the box lying so still? Is he asleep? And whyare all those people crying? Where are they taking him?"
"He is a dead man, Sire. They are going to the river where they will burnhis body."
The Prince was confused. "What do you mean by "dead"? And if they burnhis body, will it not hurt him? Please, Channa, explain what you mean soI can understand."
And so Channa explained, telling the Prince the truths his father had triedto hide from him all these years. "That man was once alive, as youand I are now.
Hewas born, grew into a child, then he became a young man.
He experienced the many pleasures and pains of life, raised a family, workedfor a living and grew older. Then he began to get weaker and weaker. Hewas confined to his bed. Soon he was unable to recognize even his closestfriends. He grew worse and eventually his breath left his body. And withhis final breath, his understanding and life-force also left. Now he isdead. All that is left behind to see is the body he cared for so much whilehe was still alive. It lies there cold and without feeling. When his familyburns the body he will not feel anything, because he has alreadyleft it behind."
"Tell me, Channa, is it unusual for people to die like this?" The charioteeranswered, "No, my Prince, not at all. It is true that there are some peoplewho never get the chance to grow old, and there are some who are very rarelysick. But everyone, without exception, must one day die."
These words, uttered innocently by the charioteer, shocked the Prince deeply."Do you mean," he exclaimed passionately, "that one day my wife, my child,my friends and myself will all be dead? And all these people I see heretoday, all dressed up and so radiant, will also die? Oh, how blind is theworld that it can dance and sing while death is just waiting for everyone!Why do they all bother to dress themselves in such fine clothes if oneday they shall be wearing nothing more than a simple white sheet?
Do people have such short memories that they forget about death? Or aretheir hearts so strong that the thought of death does not bother them?Come, Channa, turn the chariot around. I wish to return to the palace andthink."
But instead, Channa drove the chariot to a beautiful garden. There allthe most charming singers and dancers from the palace were waiting, alongwith musicians, ministers and a large feast prepared by the palace chefs.They all welcomed the Prince joyfully and cheered when he stepped fromthe chariot. But the Prince did not smile, nor did he say anything. Histhoughts were totally absorbed in what he had seen that day.