The Four Encounters

The story of the four encounters appears in various Buddhist scriptures as Shakyamuni's motivation for renouncing the secular world and pursuing a religious life. Shakyamuni was born a prince and led a secluded life within the palace, shielded from exposure to human suffering. On three rare excursions outside the palace walls he encountered a man withered with age, a person wracked with sickness and a corpse. Through these encounters, Shakyamuni awakened to the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. The fourth encounter was with a religious ascetic whose air of serene dignity inspired Shakyamuni to embark on a spiritual quest to understand how the sufferings of the human condition could be overcome.