Youth of Luxury and Pleasure
Young Siddhartha was surrounded by beautiful things, and kept captive within the palace grounds, so he would not be subjected to the sicknesses and poverty of the people of the kingdom. He had everything he could ever want: great teachers, beautiful girls, companionship, wonderful food. He grew into a talented athlete, an intelligent and charming young man. His future as a leader of the people seemed secure.
One afternoon in the young prince's childhood would affect him much later in life. He was sitting under an apple tree watching the plowing of the fields as the town prepared for the next year's crops. He noticed that the plowing had destroyed the grass and that the insects that had been nesting in these young shoots were dead. The young boy felt a sadness come over him, as if he were attached to the insects, as though he had experienced a personal loss. Yet the day was beautiful and the shade of the apple tree wonderfully cool. Joy rose up inside him, and he experienced a moment of utter perfection. Siddhartha was alive in the moment, his self set aside. The compassion and love he felt for the insects took him outside himself, and he was momentarily free. Legend has it that as the day wore on, and the shadows moved, the shadow of the apple tree continued to shield the young Siddhartha.
“Buddha” is a title, not a name. Therefore, when referring to Shakyamuni Buddha, one would say, “the Buddha.”
Marriage and the Birth of a Son
When Siddhartha was sixteen, he won the hand in marriage of a beautiful young girl named Yasodhara. Yasodhara was Siddhartha's cousin and was considered the loveliest girl in the kingdom. Legend has it that he managed to win her hand in a contest by piercing seven trees with one arrow.
At age twenty-nine, Siddhartha's life was as much the life of luxury as it had been before, except his wife was pregnant with their first child, indisposed and unable to entertain him. She beseeched her husband to find his own diversion, so Siddhartha wandered outside the gates of the kingdom after overhearing someone speak of the beauty of the spring in the forest just beyond.
The Four Signs
Suddhodhana tried to ensure that life outside the palace gates was just as perfect as life inside. When Siddhartha wandered outside, everywhere he went he saw happiness, health, and good cheer. Then suddenly an old decrepit man with white hair, withered skin, and a staff to lean on crossed his path. Leaning over to his companion and servant, Channa, Siddhartha asked, “What is this?”
Channa explained that before them was an old man, and he told Sid-dhartha that everyone would age similarly one day. Siddhartha was saddened and shocked by the sight of the old man and wondered how he could continue to enjoy such sights as his garden when such suffering was to come later.
A second trip outside the palace grounds brought the sight of a maimed man before the young prince. Channa assured him that a similar fate would not befall him, as he was healthy and well cared for. At home, the king continued to rain luxuries on the prince, hoping to distract him from these disturbing visions and his newfound knowledge. But a third visit outside his sanctuary found him confronting a funeral procession and a corpse. Channa explained death to Siddhartha and told him it was inevitable, but he was not to worry.
Siddhartha was overwhelmed. Sickness, old age, and death — how had he missed all this suffering in life? Finally, on another excursion with Channa, Siddhartha came upon a monk in yellow robes with a shaven head and an empty bowl. Channa explained that this ascetic had renounced all worldly goods. He praised the man so highly that Siddhartha returned home pensive. That night, the opulence of the palace disturbed him deeply. The four signs had left their mark, and the veil of luxury and riches had been removed. The world now seemed a place of suffering and pain.