To celebrate our 25th year of publishing, we turned to the heavenly messengers that set Siddhartha Guatama on his path to becoming the Buddha. To quote Bhikkhu Bodhi, “If, in this process of awakening, we must meet old age, sickness and death face to face, that is because the place of safety can be reached only by honest confrontation with the harsh truths about human existence.”
Our back cover featured excerpts from the Mahāpadāna Sutta (Dīgha Nikāya 14.2.1-4), telling the original story:
As he was being driven to the pleasure park, Prince Vipassi saw an aged man, bent like a roof beam, broken, leaning on a stick, tottering, sick, his youth all vanished. At the sight he said to the charioteer, “Charioteer, what is the matter with this man? His hair is not like other men’s, his body is not like other men’s.”
“Prince, that is what is called an old man.”
“But why is he called an old man?”
“He is called old, Prince, because he has not long to live.”
“But am I liable to become old, and not exempt from old age?”
“Both you and I, prince, are liable to become old, and are not exempt from old age.”
Prince Vipassi was overcome with grief and dejection, crying, “Shame on this thing birth, since to him who is born old age must manifest itself!”
As he was being driven to the pleasure park, Prince Vipassi saw a sick man, suffering, very ill, fallen in his own urine and excrement, and some people were picking him up, and others were putting him to bed. At the sight he said to the charioteer, “What is the matter with this man? His eyes are not like other men’s, his head is not like other men’s.”
“Prince, that is what is called a sick man.”
“But why is he called a sick man?”
“Prince, he is so called because he can hardly recover from his illness.”
“But am I liable to become sick, and not exempt from sickness?”
“Both you and I, prince, are liable to become sick, and not exempt from sickness.”
Prince Vipassi was overcome with grief and dejection, crying, “Shame on this thing birth, since to him who is born sickness must manifest itself!”
As he was being driven to the pleasure park, Prince Vipassi saw a large crowd collecting, clad in many colors and carrying a bier. At the sight he said to the charioteer, “Why are those people doing that?”
“Prince, that is what they called a dead man.”
“But why is he called a dead man?”
“Prince, he is called a dead man because now his parents and other relatives will not see him again, nor he them.”
“But am I subject to dying, not exempt from dying?”
“Both you and I, Prince, are subject to dying, not exempt from it.”
Prince Vipassi was overcome with grief and dejection, crying, “Shame on this thing birth, since to him who is born death must manifest itself!”
As he was being driven to the pleasure park, Prince Vipassi saw a shaven headed man, one who had gone forth, wearing a yellow robe. And he said to the charioteer, “What is the matter with that man? His head is not like other men’s, and his clothes are not like other men’s.”
“Prince, he is called one who has gone forth.”
“Why is he called one who has gone forth?”
“Prince, by one who has gone forth we mean one who truly follows the Dhamma, who truly lives in serenity, does good actions, performs meritorious deeds, is harmless and truly has compassion for living beings.” . . .
Then Prince Vipassi said to the charioteer, “You take the carriage and drive back to the Palace, but I shall stay here and shave off my hair and beard, put on yellow robes and go forth from the household life into homelessness.”
Meeting the Divine Messengers
Buddhist scholar Bhikkhu Bodhi recounts the legend of young Siddhartha transformed by his meetings with four “divine messengers”—an old person, a sick person, a corpse and a wandering ascetic—and relates it to the stark encounters of modern life.
The Critters Project
In this interview with Yvonne Rand, the Zen teacher describes her practice of contemplating the carcasses of animals in various stages of decay and talks about her ”critters” book project featuring photographs by John Bigelow Taylor and Dianne Dubler.
”A dead body, left to decompose, constitutes a unique and complex ecosystem,” writes environmental educator Joanne Lauck, as she reveals the enthusiastic frenzy of a body breaking down.
You Guys Rock: Resonating with the Archetype
Bingo! Twenty-year-old Peter Fernando is transformed by his penetrating encounters with the fourth heavenly messenger—in a photo, in a film and in person.
A Heavenly Beach Bum
On a beach in Java, a divine being points the way for the young Ajahn Amaro.
A Black Hole
After leading Year to Live groups for ten years, Bonnie O’Brien Jonsson is diagnosed with breast cancer and faces her own up-close experience of death in what she comes to see as a yearlong cancer retreat.
In the voice of the Hag, Naomi Newman delivers a tirade on the indignities of aging, reminding us that we are all doing it!
Wise elders Ajahn Sumedho, Toni Packer, Ram Dass and Lou Hartman offer some words on getting old and the serendipitous delights of living.
Debra Kerrs’ tales from a nursing home feature the 104-year-old ”General,” a handsome professor and a friend’s dying mother.
Former Buddhist Peace Fellowship director Alan Senauke challenges Western students of Buddhism to examine our responsibilities to the suffering of the Burmese people—and offers a few possibilities for action.
Found in Translation
Intrigued by the altars of the Mexican Día de los Muertos, Barbara Gates takes a fresh look at the deaths (and lives) of her two fathers and finds a new acceptance of the unrequested turns of life and death.
The Best of Inquiring Mind
Heres a sneak peek at our new anthology, The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight, released this fall. Reconnect with your favorite articles and interviews.
Poetry: Death Poems
”Unhurried by their doom” might describe the Japanese poets and Buddhist monks who wrote these traditional poems at the end of life.
Practice: It’s Like This
Ajahn Sumedho contrasts death contemplation and his mother’s funeral.
The Dharma & The Drama
Wes Nisker’s study of the “Hard Sutra” brings his evolutionary reflections to the sufferings of growing older.