Four sights

Four sights

A painting depicting the four sights.

The four sights are four encounters described in the legendary account of Gautama Buddha's life which led to his realization of the impermanence and ultimate dissatisfactoriness of conditioned existence. According to this legend, before these encounters Siddhārtha Gautama had been confined to his palace by his father, who feared that he would become an ascetic if he came into contact with sufferings of life according to a prediction. However, on his first venture out of the palace with his charioteer Channa, he observed four sights: an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. These observations affected him deeply and made him realize the sufferings of all beings, and compelled him to begin his spiritual journey as a wandering ascetic, which eventually led to his enlightenment. The spiritual feeling of urgency experienced Siddhārtha Gautama is referred to as saṃvega.

The Legendary Account of the Four Sights

Background

After the birth of the Prince Siddhārtha, King Śuddhodana called upon eight Brahmins to predict his only son's future. While seven of them declared that the prince would either be a Buddha or a great King, the Brahmin Kaundinya was confident that he would renounce the world and become a Buddha.[9]

Śuddhodana, who was determined that his son should be a great king, confined the prince within the palace and surrounded him with earthly pleasures and luxury, thereby concealing the realities of life that may encourage him to renounce these pleasures and become an ascetic.[11]

Observing the sights

After leading a sheltered existence surrounded by luxury and pleasure in his younger years, Prince Siddhārtha ventured out of his palace for the first time at the age of 29.[11][15] He set off from the palace to the city in a chariot, accompanied by his charioteer Channa (Sanskrit: Chandaka).[17]


On this journey he first saw an old man, revealing to Siddhārtha the consequences of aging.[21] When the prince asked about this person, Channa replied that aging was something that happened to all beings alike.[17]

The second sight was of a sick person suffering from a disease. Once again, the prince was surprised at the sight, and Channa explained that all beings are subject to disease and pain. This further troubled the mind of the prince.[17]

The third sight was of a dead body. As before, Channa explained to the prince that death is an inevitable fate that befalls everyone.[17] After seeing these three sights, Siddhārtha was troubled in his mind and sorrowful about the sufferings that have to be endured in life.[23]

After seeing these three negative sights, Siddhārtha came upon the fourth sight; an ascetic who had devoted himself to finding the cause of human suffering.[25] This sight gave him hope that he too might be released from the sufferings arising from being repeatedly reborn,[15] and he resolved to follow the ascetic's example.[17]

Aftermath

After observing these four sights, Siddhārtha returned to the palace, where a performance of dancing girls was arranged for him. Throughout the performance, the prince kept on thinking about the sights. In the early hours of morning, he finally looked about him and saw the dancers asleep and in disarray. The sight of this drastic change strengthened his resolve to leave in search of an end to the suffering of beings.[1][26]

After this incident and realizing the true nature of life after observing the four sights,[15] Siddhārtha left the palace on his horse Kanthaka, accompanied only by Channa. He sent Channa back with his possessions and began an ascetic life, at the end of which he attained enlightenment as Gautama Buddha.[27]

Literary Sources of the Buddha Legend

In the early Pali suttas, the four sights as concrete encounters were not mentioned with respect to the historical Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama.[28] Rather, Siddhārtha's insights into old age, sickness and death were abstract considerations.

Analogous passages for illness and death follow. Similarly, the Ariya-pariyesana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 26) describes rather abstract considerations:

These passages also do not mention the fourth sight of the renunciant. The renunciant is a depiction of the Sramana movement, which was popular at the time of Siddhārtha and which he consequently joined.

In the early Pali sources, the legendary account of the four sights is only described with respect to a previous legendary Buddha Vipassī (Mahāpadāna Sutta, DN 14).[31] In the later works Nidanakatha, Buddhavamsa and the Lalitavistara Sūtra, the account was consequently also applied to Siddhārtha Gautama.

Different versions

Some accounts say that the four sights were observed by Siddhārtha in one day, during a single journey. Others describe that the four sightings were observed by him on four separate occasions. Some versions of the story also say that the prince's father had the route beautified and guarded to ensure that he does not see anything that might turn his thoughts towards suffering.

References

  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c [1]
  3. ^ See also: List of companies acquired by Microsoft Corporation
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ See origin of name in Oxford Dictionaries- language matters
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^ . See also Life of Homer (Pseudo-Herodotus) and Cadoux.
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ For example, Izmir in the Library of Congress Country Studies (Turkey), by the US State Department, by the UN in legal treaty texts, by the British Foreign Office, in Encarta (first listing is Izmir, secondary is İzmir), in Webster's, by the BBC, by the TimesLondon , by CNN, by CBC, by NPR, by the Washington Post. The Turkish spelling İzmir is also seen in English texts, for example, in the Encyclopædia Britannica.
  15. ^ a b c
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c d e
  18. ^
  19. ^ According to Herodotus, the Ionian seizure of the city from the Aeolians was a celebrated deceit that had occurred in the following manner: Colophonians fleeing internal strife within their Ionian city had taken refuge in Old Smyrna. But soon afterwards, these defectors had taken advantage of an opportunity that had presented itself when native Aeolian Smyrniots had gone outside the city ramparts for a festival in honor of Dionysos, and had taken possession of the city. They forced an agreement upon the former inhabitants, who were obliged to take all their movable assets in the city and leave.
  20. ^ An earlier siege laid by Gyges of Lydia is recounted by Herodotus in the form of a story according to which the King of Lydia would have attacked the city to avenge the ill-treatment received from its inhabitants a certain Manes, a poet and a favorite of the sovereign.
  21. ^
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  24. ^ Boynuzsekisi village in the same plain as İzmir and inhabited in 1532 by 50 Muslim and 29 non-Muslim families who paid its taxes along with the city was an offshoot of the İzmir founded by city-dwellers according to some sources while the Ottoman records refer to the inhabitants of this village as living here since "evvel-kadim" – since times immemorial.
  25. ^
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  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Sukhamala Sutta (MN 38), translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
  30. ^ Ariya Pariyesana Sutta (MN 26), translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
  31. ^