Mar 12, 2023
Michael Haggiag

5. The Third Meeting


Prince Gautama had never thought about old age or sickness before and he's not handling it all that well. How will he take this last revelation?



Back in his palace Siddhartha is anything but happy. He isn’t enjoying himself any more. Getting old is one thing. It happens gradually. You think, “Well, I probably have years and years ahead of me. It’s not something I have to worry about now.” But sickness can strike at any time. Why hasn’t he seen any sick people about? The prince is beginning to get wise to the pleasure bubble around him and wants out. Early next morning he and Channa are up at the crack of dawn and out on the road. This time they run smack into a corpse!

The prince jumps back in horror. “Think of it! My own child, who is not even born yet, will end up like that one day, Channa.” Channa nods sadly. “One day we all will.”

People think this doesn’t happen anymore – running into corpses in the street and all - but we know better, don’t we?  In our world they hide things like that from sight just like King Suddhodana did. (I suppose it’s bad for business. Who wants to shop-til-you-drop if you think you’re really going to drop tomorrow!) After the Taj Mahal you took us to see Benares, remember?  You said it was the holy city of India. You told us that Indians follow the Hindu faith, which means they want to die in Benares and have their ashes scattered in the Ganges river because it’s going to wash away all their sins

You wanted to see the ghats too, but we were all pretty shocked when we found out they burn the bodies on big piles of wood along the shore. We could smell them in the smoke. That’s when a group of men in white robes raced by with a corpse on their shoulders. It was wrapped in a thin sheet and you could see the outline of a stiff body through the light material. One of them pushed past Angie who stepped back and screamed. I figured the body was about to go on the fire and reacted just the way Prince Siddhartha did:

“ Whaaat?!”

 I can still see that corpse in my mind like it was yesterday. It’s the sort of thing you don’t forget very fast.

Anyway, Siddhartha is not a happy camper. He feels like his world has been broken up into little pieces and it has. How is he ever going to get back some peace of mind when all he can think about is old age, sickness and death? He wanders around the palace and its beautiful gardens like a condemned man desperate to find a way out.

The next day he and Channa are on the road again. This time they meet a very different sort of person. He’s dressed in a simple robe with a begging bowl at his feet. He holds himself very still and straight like he’s in a trance. There’s a peaceful look on his face.

Siddhartha turns to his chariot driver: “Channa, what sort of man is that?” “ He’s an ascetic, my lord. He’s renounced the world.” “What’s he doing?” “Meditating.”

Siddhartha is eager to hear what this man has to say for himself. The ascetic looks up at Siddhartha and smiles. “ I’m a man who has given up everything to search for the deathless.”

Could this be a sign from the heavens? Is this the way out of the hell his thoughts have plunged him into?

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