Every care was taken that on the way from the palace to the festival stadium, no old men should be seen, no dead bodies should be carried – nothing that could create a questioning in Buddha. But you cannot avoid reality for long. As the chariot was going towards the festival grounds, Buddha saw an old man. The old man was deaf and he had not heard that today he was not to pass on this road, he was to remain in the house or go somewhere else. He was deaf, he could not hear it, so just as usual he came out of his house; he was going to purchase something from the market.
Buddha, for the first time in twenty-nine years, saw an old man just on the borderline of death. He asked his charioteer, “What is the matter? What has happened to this man? I have never seen anything like this!”
The charioteer loved Buddha just as his own son. He could not lie. He said, “Although it is going against the orders of your father, I cannot lie to you. You have been prevented from seeing people getting old. Everybody gets old – I will get old. This is the way of life.”
Buddha immediately asked, “Am I also going to be old one day just like this man?”
The charioteer said, “I have to say the truth to you: I would like that this should not happen to you, but it is the law of nature; nothing can be done. Just as from childhood you have become a young man, from youth you will become one day old too.”
And then, just then, somebody died. Now you cannot prevent death. You cannot order death, “You are not to happen on this road, you can happen anywhere else.” Death is not in your hands. Somebody died, people were crying, and the dead body was there.
Buddha asked, “What has happened? Why are people crying?” He had never seen anybody crying, he had never seen anybody with tears; he had never seen anybody dead. He asked, “What has happened to this man? He is not even breathing!”
The charioteer said, “This is the second stage. First you saw the old man. Soon death will come to him too. It has come to this man.”
Buddha asked, “Am I also going to die one day?”
The charioteer – afraid of the king, but he must have been a man of some integrity – said, “Truth is truth, nobody can deny it. Your father the king is going to die, I am going to die, you are going to die. Death begins the day you are born. After birth there is no way to escape death.”
And just then they passed a sannyasin. Astrologers had said to the king, “Your son should not be allowed any contact with sannyasins, because those are the people who have renounced everything. Those are the people who teach that this world is illusion, that all your desires are going to lead you nowhere, that you are simply wasting your life, and death is coming close by every moment. Sannyasins have to be avoided.” And for twenty-nine years Buddha had no notion that there are people who are trying to find something which is beyond life and death.
This red-clothed sannyasin looked very strange to him – just as when you move into the world outside the commune you look strange to people. They are living a life of dreams. You suddenly come, and you shock them! Questions, enquiries: “What has happened to you? Why are you wearing a red robe?”