Siddhartha’s childhood and adolescence were very like ours; his parents wanted by all means to protect their son from knowing about the misery of the world. So he led his life confined between the walls of the gigantic palace where his parents lived and where everything seemed perfect and harmonious. He married, had a son and knew only the pleasures and delights of life. One night, however, when he turned 29, he asked one of the guards to take him into town. The guard objected, for the king could become furious, but Siddhartha was so insistent that the man eventually gave in, and they left the palace together.
The first thing they saw was an old beggar with a sad expression on his face, asking for alms. Further ahead they came across a group of lepers, and right after them a funeral procession passed by. “I have never seen this before!” he must have said to the guard, who may have answered: “Well, that’s old age, and that’s disease, and death.” On their way back to the palace, they came upon a holy man, his hair shorn and wearing only a yellow cloak, who said: “my life was a torment, so I have given everything up so that I don’t have to incarnate as myself and suffer old age and sickness and death all over again.”
The following night, Siddhartha waited until his wife and son had fallen asleep. He entered the room quietly, kissed them both and again asked the guard to escort him out of the palace; there he handed him his sword with the jewel-set hilt, his clothes made with the finest tissues that the human hand could weave, asking him to return them all to his father; then he shaved his head, covered his body with a yellow mantle and set out in search of an answer to the suffering of the world.