Siddhartha’s Fourth Sign

By Andy Wistreich

The life story of the Buddha is a great source of teachings, very relevant to today.
Born into a royal family, before enlightenment, the Buddha was Prince Siddhartha. There had been a prophecy after his birth that he would either become a great emperor, or a great spiritual teacher.

Because his parents wanted a successor, they feared the latter possibility, so they kept him closeted in the palace, entertained (distracted), and satiated with every sort of worldly pleasure. Rather like our privileged lives before we notice that all is not well in the world, this was all he knew.

Driven by curiosity, just like us at a certain stage in our life, Siddhartha secretly ventures outside the palace four times, each time encountering a sign that causes him to reflect on the reality of the human condition. The first three signs are of ageing, sickness, and death respectively.

In our time, at a global level, we face the challenge of a global pandemic, and of mass extinction, which correspond to the second and third signs.

On his fourth venture into the outside world, Siddhartha witnesses a meditator sitting silently and peacefully on the ground, engaged in the deep inner process of going beyond ageing, sickness, and death. The prince is inspired. It is this fourth vision that leads him to renounce his palace and its pleasures and set out into the world to seek enlightenment, whereby he will transcend his own suffering and more importantly become a genuine and powerful support and teacher to others lost in the confusions of the world.

When people witness XR Buddhists’ actions – sitting in silent meditation inside or outside banks and other sources of the climate and ecological emergency, something touches them deep down. They are often drawn to read the placards around our necks and the leaflets we offer them. It’s not just the words they read that touches them, but the power of the stillness with which we sit in meditation.

There are many kinds of protest, violent and non-violent, loud, and silent etc. Protests make demands on those in power, to do what the protesters want. Occasionally they produce change of direction by their targets. They either inspire or annoy passers-by, probably in equal measure.

I am not sure that XR Buddhist actions are really ‘protests’ in this sense. The term ‘vigil’ is nearer to what they are, but still doesn’t quite convey the power of witnessing meditation, since vigil implies watchfulness, and meditation is more of a deepening into inner stillness.

Siddhartha’s consciousness was transformed by witnessing the fourth sign. As a result, he took a totally new direction in life, and completely turned his back on the old way of life.

Today there is no hope for our world if we continue with business as usual. The only possibility for emergence from the polycrisis is a global transformation of consciousness and collective will towards a completely different society, culture, economics, and politics.

If passers-by witness an XRB action it is hard to say just what is the impact. May it be transformative and help them to recognise the need for a new civilisation, harmonious with the ecology and with one another. When I participate in an action this is my wish.

Posts and articles are the views of their authors and not necessarily of the XR Buddhists group.

1 thought on “Siddhartha’s Fourth Sign”

  1. May your wish become actual Andy. A passer-by may pass 100vtimes then the 101th the vigil may resonate. This is all we can hope perhaps.

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