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Chapter 14: Suffering: Broken Harmony

The father could not understand how they could prevent someone from knowing dukkha. So he again asked for advice.

They advised him that Siddhartha should not see death, otherwise life would become meaningless. He should not become aware of death; he should not know at all that death exists, that life is going to end. He should not become aware that old age comes; otherwise, youth will become meaningless. And he should never see a sannyasin, he should never see a sannyasin, otherwise if he can see a dancing, laughing, blissful sannyasin, his life will again become meaningless. So these three conditions were to be fulfilled: he should not see a diseased old man, he shouldn’t see someone who is dead, and he shouldn’t see someone blissful.

Siddhartha’s father arranged things in such a way that not even a dead leaf was seen by him, and no old man came nearby. Whenever he passed through the streets, the whole street would be arranged in such a way that no old man passed by. He was not aware that there is death and he was never allowed to see any sannyasin.

But how long can you prevent this? One day there was going to be a youth festival. Siddhartha was invited to preside over it. Young men and young women had come from all over the kingdom. He was riding on his chariot and some old man passed by. He asked his driver, “What has happened to this man?”

The chariot driver said, “I cannot deceive you. Nothing has happened to this man. This happens to everybody.”

Siddharth asked him, “Will I also be like that some day?”

The chariot driver said, “I cannot deceive you. No one is an exception.”

So Siddharth said, “Then let us go back. It is no use going to the youth festival. I have become an old man. If old age is to come, it has come anyway, and youth is useless because it is just a hiding place for old age.”

When they were driving back, a dead body was being carried by. Siddharth asked, “What has happened?”

The chariot driver said, “The second stage: after old age, this happens.”

Buddha says, “Then I am dead! Then life makes no sense at all. It is meaningless, it is futile.”

Then back home, just when he was at the door to his palace, he saw a sannyasin.

The parable tells it like this: that all this was impossible, that all this couldn’t just happen, so this dead man, this old man, and the sannyasin were arranged by destiny, by the deities - this couldn’t just happen. The tale, the myth, went like this: that this was all arranged by the deities because otherwise Buddha will not feel suffering. And if suffering is not felt, then you cannot attain that inner harmony which is bliss.

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