The Four Sights are the 4 things that Siddhartha Gautama saw for the first time when he left the palace after living a sheltered life. When thinking about the four sights you need to try to think of it from the perspective of never seeing these things before and how your eyes would be opened to the truth.
My S3’s recently completed a task where they created eye’s that explained the sight and the significance of it inside. The Eye being opened symbolised the Truth being revealed. Here are some of their ideas.
First Sight – An Old Man
The first thing that Siddhartha saw was an Old Man – weak and frail. This is a major revelation as Siddartha would have come to the realisation that you are not young, fit and healthy forever. It is something that no one can escape.
Suffering is caused by old age because your body becomes weaker and sore and daily tasks may become hard due to this.
It is significant because it told Siddhartha that one day he too will become old and not live forever and be able to do everything he wants to do.
Second Sight – A Sick Man
The second sight was a sick man. After seeing the old man this would also be a shock as Siddhārtha had been sheltered from this and had never come across the concept of people getting sick, ill, helpless and even so ill they die.
Suffering is caused by the person being sick and not able to function. Suffering is also caused but the family worrying about this person.
This is significant because it shows that illness can affect everyone no matter what your circumstances are.
Another pupil put it:
sickness is inevitable and abnormal for someone who had never seen it. To see someone sick would be extremely alarming and confusing as they were unaware the body could do this.
Sickness is still a huge problem in society whether it is something as unforgiving as cancer or something as small as a cold it still affects us. It can happen to anyone, of any age, including Siddhārtha.
Third Sight – A Corpse
The third thing that Siddhartha saw was a corpse on a funeral pyre. This would have been a shock as this would be an awakening that life is not a continuous event. Think about it when people get a diagnosis of only a few months to live they change the way they live their lives some may write a Bucket List of things that they want to achieve before death. It changes their perspective.
“Death also affects the family of the loved one. If Siddhārtha never knew his family were going to die he may take them for granted. Whereas if he knew his family would die he would protect them and cherish the time he had with them.”
Fourth Sight – A Holy Man
After the first three Sights, Prince Siddhartha realises he has been duped throughout his life. He has been surrounded by luxury, shielded from suffering and true reality by his father. It is the fourth Sight which first awakens him to other possibilities and an escape from suffering. He sees a wandering holy man, a Sadhu, who appears happy in the midst of the suffering.
“The wise man is at peace with the world even though he has no possessions. This shows Siddhartha that he does not need material things to be happy. Siddhārtha feels betrayed by his family and so feels he must go find the truth.”
Did Siddhārtha really never experience these things?
It is highly unlikely that Siddhartha went through his whole life not experiencing any of these four sights. His teachings often take the form of stories with deeper meanings behind them and it is thought that this is such a story. Siddhartha is getting the point across as if you had never witnessed these four sights before in order to show the impact they have had on his life. He is emphasising the sheltered life he has lived.
Siddhartha returned to the palace. He went to see his father and asked, “Why have you lied about the existence of suffering, sickness, poverty, old age and death. Suddhodana said that if he had lied it was because he loved his son. But Siddhartha said that his father’s love “had become a prison, how can I stay here when there is so much suffering in the world, I have to do something about it”.
Siddhartha visited his wife and son as they slept to say good-bye. He could not wake them, for if he did, his love would not allow him to go. His heart was aching but he realised he had to leave them. The whole palace had fallen into a deep sleep, and a mysterious mist had descended. Only the great elephants were awake, and Siddhartha and Channa.
What does it mean by Going Forth?
He had reached the point where the conventions, the pattern of life that had been laid out for him was stifling. So he had to get out. In the story, Siddhartha resolved to take the example of the Sadhu to heart, and leave the palace and seek answers to his questions of why there is poverty, old age, disease and death. He had to Go Forth – to find the Truth.
Siddhartha realised that he had to separate himself from the demands of the group of which he was a part – he had to go his own, individual way. He needed to get away from the roles he was expected to play and that he did not choose. He felt that he had caught a glimpse of something richer, of new possibilities and that his old life was holding him back.
Siddhartha realised that he literally had to leave home. He therefore leaves parents, wife, child, tribe – and he goes at night. Siddhartha steals away from the group, he just slips out, otherwise they won’t let him go.
Going Forth is about is starting to control and determine your own identity yourself, and not letting others do it for you. This is what “leaving the group means”.
What Does Going Forth Mean?
Everyone has set roles that they fit into. We have to act a certain way in the different groups we are in.
In the family you function in a role, as son, daughter, mother, etc. The danger is that we over identify with a familial role as if this is just ALL you are, which is how families can become stifling. Often only when you have left home do you really relate to your parents as people, see them perhaps as fallible or funny, and have a much richer and perhaps more loving relationship with them.
Other groups that one may Go Forth from are your social scene, its fashions, its jargon, and its chitchat. Then you may go forth from an obsessive, unhealthy sexual or emotional relationship – one that is based on mutual emotional dependence and exploitation.
Then there is the Going Forth from the economic group and perhaps your job. There is the danger of over identifying with what you do. People ask, “What are you”…and you give them a job title, a role. You play or live a role.
Prince Siddhartha was raised a Hindu and had readily accepted the caste system. The caste system was a structure in society which was heavily related to the religious beliefs of reincarnation. It was strongly felt that actions in this life determined the life you would lead in the future – if you were evil and nasty you would be reincarnated into someone who suffered, if you were kind and good you were reincarnated into someone rich. This strong belief meant that many people felt you ‘deserved’ the life you had and that whilst you could still be kind to others there was no obligation to support the most vulnerable in society.
The Caste System
People were born into the caste system and then had to choose professions accepted within the caste system, which usually meant following your family’s jobs. You could not work your way through the castes, or marry someone from a different caste. If you broke the caste system you were rejected from society – you became an ‘out-caste’. This system had been heavily reinforced for thousands of years. (If you think about the different factions in Divergent with the factionless being like the Out-Caste)
The very bottom of the caste system was the ‘Untouchables’ to have any contact with this group immediately made you impure. You can see the broad strata in the image on the right.
Buddha was opposed to this structuring and said it was wrong to assign someone to a caste for their whole life. He said people should be judged on ‘merit’ (what they could do) rather than what they were born into. He changed his beliefs from his previous Hindu upbringing to something which was seen as completely radical for his time.
Buddha also believed that everyone could be on a path to enlightenment and could do things to improve their chances of achieving enlightenment, whereas Hinduism mainly left the religious roles to the Brahman’s, Buddha said everyone could find a spiritual path to enlightenment.
The Buddha also departed from Hindu beliefs about God. For the Buddha the aim of existence was to cease existing, to end suffering you had to end your own rebirths because you could never escape suffering.
Buddha believed there was no God which radically departed from Hindu beliefs. In Hinduism there was one God reflected in many other gods e.g. god of fertility, god of life, god of harvests etc. For the average Hindu householder they picked a god who would best serve them and built shrines to worship them, e.g. a farmer would choose the gods of rain, sunshine and fertility and worship them.
Buddha changed his life dramatically – from a wealthy prince ready to rule over a large empire established by his father to a wandering ascetic looking for truth. His previous life was full of luxury and material goods but his new life was austere and spiritual. With this change in circumstances there was a change in attitude and beliefs.
The 3 Dimensions of Going Forth
Going Forth’ can be broken down into three parts:
The Physical Journey. Prince Siddhartha physically leaves the palace, his life of luxury, his family, friends and the life he knows in search of something unknown. He rides out on his horse beyond the palace walls in search of truth.
The Emotional Break. Prince Siddhartha has to break his emotional ties to his family, his culture and his own identity. He must go forward independently and open his mind to new ideas and experiences.
The Psychological Shift: Prince Siddhartha has been awakened to a different reality and this changes the way he thinks. He wants to end suffering for all, he wants to find peace for himself, he has been challenged to think differently. He has had a culture-shock and he starts to question cultural values. So he goes in search of truth and an end to suffering.
Karma and Path to Enlightenment
Buddha’s idea of karma was also different. In Hinduism there was a linear approach to karma – a person would do something and immediately there was a consequence or an identifiable trace between cause and effect. However, Buddha saw Karma as much more complex and working in more challenging ways.
Buddha also accepted many ideas prevalent in Hindu culture – encouragement to be vegetarian and not to harm other living beings, ideas about searching for truth by looking within, the practices of meditation and yoga and so on. So whilst he went forth and revolutionized some beliefs, he also stayed true to many cultural beliefs.
Buddha taught his followers in many different ways and encouraged them to find their own path to enlightenment. He used stories, teaching, meditation, self-denial and other methods to show that there were many paths towards enlightenment. This was different to the Hindu tradition which prescribed particular practices.