When faced with the four inevitable events of every life (birth, disease, aging, and death), we realize that most of our daily concerns are vain and superficial. Those things that seem so important in the moment fade away. We regain a sense of perspective; we realize what is truly important.
The parents of Siddhartha Gautama attempted to hide disease, old age, and death from him, in fear that he would turn away from a life of worldly pleasure. When hearing this story, many of us may think that their attempts were foolish and misguided. Gautama eventually did see aging, disease, and death, and those experiences led him to become the Buddha Shakyamuni.
Our society today also makes every effort to hide these four events: overwhelmingly, we give birth, experience illness, and die in hospitals, and the elderly are removed to nursing homes or exiled to retirement communities. Like the Buddha’s parents, we pretend that all of us are healthy and young, and that these four events are rare, unseemly, and aberrant. This pretense keeps us focused on our petty worldly concerns: gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and infamy, pleasure and pain.
I invite you to take some time today to visit the sick and the old, and to comfort those grieving the loss of a loved one. All spiritual traditions urge us to do so as an essential practice, not only for the sake of others, but ours as well. It will give you a clear perspective on reality.