Are we born to experience brief sprouts of joy and suffer the rest of our entire life? Is our life only meant to carry out the responsibilities and burdens of our karmic existence? Are we meant to for the cycle:
be born -> do our studies -> get into a job -> earn our living and that of our family -> get a partner -> have kids -> fend for our family -> get old -> get sick -> die?!?
Isn't that the useless cycle most people spend their entire life fulfilling? Most people don't realise and don't even want to accept the fact that our life has a completely different purpose, the cycle illustrated above is just a part of our life. Let us try to understand our purpose through the journey of Shakyamuni Buddha and the events known as "Four sights".
Siddhartha, belonged to the Kshatriya gana(clan) of the Sakya. He was born in Lumbini near Kapilavastu in Nepal. His father was the king of the Sakya clan. After the birth of his son, King Śuddhodana called upon eight Brahmins to predict his 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.
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 might encourage him to renounce these pleasures and become an ascetic.
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. He set off from the palace to the city in a chariot, accompanied by his charioteer Channa (Sanskrit: Chandaka). It is then, that he encountered the four signs.
1st sight: senescence
On this journey he first saw an old man, revealing to Siddhārtha the consequences of aging. When the prince asked about this person, Channa replied that aging was something that happened to all beings alike.
2nd sight: disease
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.
3rd sight: demise
The third sight was of a dead body. As before, Channa explained to the prince that death is an inevitable fate that befalls everyone. After seeing these three sights, Siddhārtha was troubled in his mind and sorrowful about the sufferings that have to be endured in life.
4th sight: asceticism
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. This sight gave him hope that he too might be released from the sufferings arising from being repeatedly reborn, and he resolved to follow the ascetic's example.
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.
Some time after this incident (the accounts differ considerably as to the timing) and realizing the true nature of life after observing the four sights, Siddhārtha left the palace on his horse Kanthaka accompanied only by Channa. This is known as the Great Departure. He sent Channa back with his possessions and began an ascetic life, at the end of which he attained enlightenment as Gautama Buddha.