Buddha sees the four sights of suffering (a painting)

image: Creative Commons (painting of the four messengers, from a Laotian temple)

Friends, I invite you to enter your imaginations, because today we have a special guest. [Put on blanket and get stick. I hid both in the pulpit. I wear glasses, so I pulled those farther down my nose. Assume a more stooped posture and move with a slight shuffle and with more care, using the stick.]

[Entering character, speak from here on with an accent. I rolled my “r’s” and dropped my voice; made it more whispy and a little gravelly… tried to sound ancient and somethat mysterious.]

Good Morning, and thank you for the pleasure of joining you this morning.

If you remember only one thing from my time here today, may it be this:

A vision… has the power to transform the heart… and a heart transformed… has the power to change the world.

Now, many years ago, when I was a young woman, I had a dear friend. And this friend, she gave birth to a tiny baby boy. And then a sad thing happened. Only two days after this baby was born, my friend fell ill, and she died. And what could I do? I had no choice but to offer myself to the father of this tiny baby: the father who was the great king of the land. And this baby boy, you see, was the prince. Well, the king gratefully accepted my offer and so I went within the great stone walls of the palace to live, and to help raise this baby, this prince.

Now when the prince was still very young, only two weeks old, the king wished to know what future would be given to his son, the prince. So he called in the greatest seer in the land and asked this man to foretell the future of the prince. And the seer told the king, “One of two possibilities will be the future for this prince. Either he will become a great and fearsome warrior, or he will become a great and wise spiritual leader. “

Well, the king wished for his son to become a powerful warrior, and so he kept him safe within the walls of the palace and as the years passed and the boy grew, the king sent for all those skilled in the craft of warfare to come and to teach and to tutor his son, that he might indeed become a powerful warrior.

And there came a time when the boy had grown into a young man and my services were no longer needed, so the king, with great gratitude, sent me from the palace to return to my home in the town.

Well, one day I was in the market, and I looked up and who did I see but the prince himself! In the market! And I called to him and he cried back to me: “Mam!”(for that is what he called me) and he came running toward me and I could see his eyes and I could see that they had changed. His eyes were full with tears and the tears, they were streaming down his cheeks!

“Mam,” he said, “It is you!”

“Mam, I must tell you what have seen! I have seen visions today, Mam!”

“Mam, there was one: one who was poor, who was hungry, who was thirsty, and from these things was suffering so!”

“And Mam, there was another: one who was ill, who was sick, and in pain and was suffering in this pain.”

“And Mam, there was yet another: one in whom the life had gone out, Mam, one, in truth, who had died, Mam. I saw this.”

“And Mam, I saw yet one more: this one was dressed in only the simplest of cloths. This one owned nothing and yearned only, and fully, for a life of the spirit. Today I have seen these, Mam. I have seen these, and my heart, it is changed.”

And with that, he returned to the palace. And after that day, I never saw him again. But I heard what happened. That day, when the prince returned to the palace, having seen these visions, his heart was changed. And, too, his eyes could no longer see the way they once had done. Those things which were once beautiful to the prince, and brought him joy, were now no longer filled with beauty. Now those things caused him to feel sadness and suffering.

And the prince realized he could no longer live the life of a prince. So one night, under cover of darkness, he slipped from out of the great palace walls, and into the town, and into the world.

And you may know this prince by the name Siddhartha Gautama. And you will know him, too, as the great spiritual leader whose path was inspired by those visions: Buddha.


Props required: an old, neutral-toned blanket to use as simple clothing, and a long stick for a walking stick/staff. You can certainly modify this; simple is better so that you can get into constume almost instantly.

The childhood of Siddhartha Gautama is, to a significant extent, legend. I have used creative license here, imagining the role of a nanny in his life, from whose perspective this story can be intimately told.

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