Siddhartha Gautama lived sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BC. When he was born, sages gave his father a prediction that his son would either become a great king, or he would become a great spiritual leader. He was named Siddhartha, which means “he who achieves his aim”.
His father wanted him to become a great king, and so he decided to shield him from the outside world. He made sure that his son would see no suffering, death, or illness – nothing that would make him consider spiritual things.
So Siddhartha lived his life entirely in the palace, enjoying luxury, and comfort. He had the best food, a beautiful wife, and endless entertainment.
One day when he was 29, he decided that he wanted to see his kingdom. His father ordered that all the sick, old, and dead, should be moved so that Siddhartha would not run into any of them. As he left the palace, he was surrounded by subjects who adored him.
Despite his father’s attempts to hide things, he eventually saw an old man. He asked his charioteer what on earth had happened to that man, and his charioteer told him that this is what old age looked like, and that everyone had to get old eventually, even Siddhartha’s newborn son.
The next day, Siddhartha took a trip into the kingdom again, and this time he saw a man who was very sick. He was horrified, and asked his charioteer whether this happened to everyone as well. His charioteer told him that it did happen to everyone.
On the third day, he took another trip into the kingdom, and passed by a funeral. This was his first time seeing a dead body. His charioteer let him know that this also happened to everyone eventually.
Siddhartha’s eyes had been opened as he saw that everything coming into existence was going to disappear eventually. When he went back to the palace, he looked around at all the people enjoying themselves with games and music, and thought they must be very strong for being able to enjoy these temporary pleasures when old age and death were going to come for them eventually.
He took one more trip into the kingdom, and encountered an ascetic man who was practicing meditation. He asked his charioteer what this man was doing. His charioteer told him that this man was seeking the eternal, that which was beyond all change.
This gave him hope, and he knew what he had to do now. He went to the palace, left all of his possessions behind, and became an ascetic, beginning his seven year long journey to achieve enlightenment.