Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life elaborate that the king had accordingly made all necessary arrangements to keep his son away from common society. He constructed three palaces for Siddhartha for different seasons, in different places, so his son would never come to know about the discomforts of the seasons. When it was hot he had a palace in the hills where it was always cool. When it was cold he had another palace by the side of a river where it was always warm.
No old man or woman was allowed to enter the palaces where he lived, only young people could gain access. The king gathered all the attractive young women of the kingdom around so that Siddhartha would remain allured, fascinated and remain enwrapped in dreams and desires. A sweet world of dream was created for him. The gardeners were instructed that dead leaves had to be removed in the night; fading, withering flowers had to be removed in the night, lest Siddhartha would become inquisitive. Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life also state that, seeing a dead leaf, the boy might just start asking about what had happened to the leaf and the question of death would invariably arise. Seeing a withering rose or petals falling, Gautama had the chance to ask, "What has happened to this rose?" and he had the possibility to start brooding and meditating, about death. In this context, it is said that whenever Buddha came and wherever he moved, trees would bloom out of season, trees that had been long dead would again start sprouting green leaves.
With passing time, Gautama had turned into a handsome young man, surrounded with pleasure, richness and happiness. Legends surrounding Gautama's early life state that Buddha had a cousin, Devadatta. It is believed that Devadutta, being extremely jealous about Gautama's way of living, tried to kill him in many ways. Once when Buddha was meditating, Devadatta threw a rock at him from the top of a hill; a great rock started rolling downward. He had always heard about the news that Gautama was being intentionally kept away from worldly mishaps, lest he would turn a world preacher and become enlightened. As a result, Devadatta tried to kill Buddha because he could not believe it, "How can Buddha become enlightened? We have played together; we have always been together in our childhood; we were educated together. If I am not enlightened, how is he enlightened?"
Devadatta, in this context, declared himself to be enlightened, although he was not. And he would have been accepted as enlightened if Buddha had not been there. But he could never declare himself, an unenlightened being to be enlightened in the presence of a Buddha. It was impossible. Legends surrounding Buddha's early life disclose that the only problem for Devadutta was how to destroy Buddha. He then released a rock. The story goes that the rock came close to Buddha and then unexpectedly changed its course.
Devadatta, furious, then released a mad elephant to kill Buddha. The mad elephant dashed out ferociously, but when he reached Buddha, he looked at him and he bowed down and touched his feet.
Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life speak about Siddhartha's father, who had kept his son absolutely unaware of death for twenty-nine years. But death is such an important phenomenon that it could not be avoided for a prolonged time. Gautama's profound knowledge could not be avoided or kept a secret. Sooner or later he had to enter into the world. The king was getting older and the son had to become knowledgeable about the ways of the world. Gradually thus, Siddhartha was allowed out, but whenever he would pass through any street of the capital, old men and women would be removed. Beggars would be removed. No sanyasin was allowed to appear while he was passing by, because seeing a sanyasin he had the chance to ask, "What type of man is this? Why is he in ochre robes? What has happened to him? Why does he look different, detached, distant? His eyes are different, his flavour is different, his presence has a different quality to it. What has happened to this man?" And then the question of renunciation would arise, and fundamentally the question of death would lead to an embarrassing situation.
But one day, it had to happen. It could not be averted any longer. One day Siddhartha had to become aware and he became aware. Legends surrounding Gautama's early life speak of a specific time when the prince was supposed to inaugurate the yearly youth festival. It was a beautiful evening; the youth of the kingdom had gathered to dance and sing and rejoice the whole night. The first day of the year, a nightlong celebration was about to begin and Siddhartha was deemed to open it. On the way he met what his father had been afraid of him ever seeing, he came across those three things of death, old age and sickness. The story that is narrated is poignant.
The story goes that Lord Indra, the chief of all the Lords, had become worried that a man who was capable of becoming enlightened was being distracted from his ascertained path. Something had to be done; Indra was of the view that existence should not be allowed to miss an enlightened being. It is said that Lord Indra then took a few Gods along with him down to earth. Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life continues speaking that the street was always cleared when Siddhartha passed, so it was impossible for any person to enter there. Only gods could enter, because They possess the invisible power to make Themselves become visible any moment. First a God, sick and feverish, passed by the chariot. If the street had been full of traffic, perhaps Siddhartha would have missed noticing him. But the street was empty, the houses were empty; there were no other vehicles, only his golden chariot. Siddhartha saw this man trembling, and surprised, asked his charioteer, "What has happened to this man?" Now, the man who was driving the chariot was in a fix because orders from the king were that this young man should not know that anybody ever turns sick. This man was so sick that it seemed as if he was going to fall down right there and die. But Indra was determined. He forced the charioteer to tell the truth. Of course it was clear. The charioteer answered unnervingly that he was not supposed to elaborate on the situation, but he could never lie to his master. The charioteer then blurted the truth that prior to the present situation, all people had been removed from the streets wherever Gautama travelled. He then expressed his wonder from where exactly had that man arrived from, because everywhere there guards posted and the army. Nobody was allowed to enter the path where the chariot moved every time. The charioteer concluded that the man was sick.
Siddhartha enquired, "What is sickness?" The charioteer explained that sickness was something that one is born with; everybody carries all kinds of sickness within the body. Sometimes, in a certain situation, a weakness that one carries within oneself receives support from the outside and one gets an infection, to become sick. To add more fuel to fire, in legends surrounding Buddha's early life, another god then appeared in the form of an old man, almost a hunchback, so old that Siddhartha could not believe his eyes. He asked from his charioteer what had happened to that man. The charioteer said, "This is what happens after many sicknesses.. .this man has become old." And then arrived a dead body, which was indeed a God posing by as the corpse that came by, with four gods carrying him on a stretcher. Siddhartha anxiously asked, what was happening. The charioteer replied that the dead man was into his last stage. After the stage of an old man, death is what that follows. Siddhartha then commanded, "Stop the chariot here and answer me truthfully: Is all this going to happen to me too?"
At that heightened moment Gautama witnessed a monk, another God pretending to be a monk. Siddhartha again asked what stage was that wherein a man is with a shaven head, a staff in his hand and a begging bowl. Legends surrounding Buddha's early life continued with the charioteer saying that the monk stage was not a stage like the others; that was a type of person who had become aware of life's misery, suffering, anguish, sickness, old age and death. The charioteer replied that the monk had dropped out of life and had embarked in search of truth, in search of finding something that was immortal, the deathless, the truth. Siddhartha perplexed with such revelations, commanded that he would return to the house. He had turned sick, 'sick unto death'. Gautama had become old, old even though to all appearances he seemed young. He exclaimed, "What does it matter if old age is a few years ahead of me, soon it is going to be walking by my side! I don't want to be like that dead man. Although I am alive for all ordinary purposes, I died with that dead man. Death is going to come; it is only a question of time, a question of sooner or later. It can come tomorrow or years from tomorrow; anyway, someday it is going to happen."
Siddhartha continued speaking to his charioteer that in the might he would like his charioteer to keep the chariot ready. Gautama would be the last type of man and he was indeed renouncing all that he possessed. According to Buddha, he did not find happiness in the materialistic world. He would thus like to seek it, to pursue it and wished to do everything that was necessary to find happiness. Going by legends surrounding Buddha's early life, what the astrologers had suggested to Buddha's father had looked like common sense. But common sense was superficial in Gautama's instance. They could not figure out one simple thing: 'that you cannot keep a man for his whole life unaware of reality. It is better to let him know from the beginning; otherwise, it will come as a big explosion in his life'. And that was precisely what had happened. The night Gautama proceeded away from his palace to the mountains, when he was crossing the boundary of his kingdom, his charioteer tried to persuade him to return to the palace. The charioteer was an old man. He had known Buddha since his childhood; he was almost the same age as Buddha's father. He urged, "What are you doing? This is sheer madness. Have you gone insane or what? Look back!" It was a full-moon night and his marble palace looked so exotic. In the light of the full moon, the white marble of his palace was a joy to see. People used to come from faraway places just to have a glimpse of Buddha's palace in the full moon. The charioteer once more pleaded Gautama to look back at least once towards his beautiful palace. He reminded Siddhartha that nobody else possesses such an exquisite palace.
Buddha looked back and replied to the old man that from where he was standing, he could not perceive any palace there but only an enormous fire. The palace was on fire, only up in flames. Gautama ordered his charioteer to just leave him there and go back if after all such incidents he was still seeing the palace. According to Gautama, he did not see any palace there, because death was approaching closer every moment. Legends surrounding Buddha's early life wholly culminate here when one hears that Buddha could not perceive any palace there because all palaces were bound to disappear sooner or later. "In this world, everything is momentary and I am in search of the eternal. Seeing the momentariness of this world, I can no longer fool myself."
Legends surrounding Gautama Buddha's early life also stores information about his married status. It is known that the day before Gautama Buddha left the palace in the middle of the night; a child had been born to his wife. Before leaving the palace, he wanted to look at least once the face of the child, his child, the symbol of his love with his wife. Quite apparently, he went into his wife's bedchamber. She was asleep and the child was lying next to her, covered by a blanket. He wanted to remove the blanket and see the face of the child, because perhaps he would never come back again. Gautama was embarking on an unknown pilgrimage. Nothing could be known of what would happen in his life in the next phase. He risked everything, his kingdom, his wife, his child, himself, in search of enlightenment. That was something he had only heard of as a possibility, something that had happened before to a few people who looked for it.
Gautama was as full of doubts as anyone, but the moment of decision had arrived. That very day he had witnessed death, he had witnessed old age, he had witnessed sickness and he had also seen a sanyasin for the first time. It had become an ultimate question within him: "If there is death, then wasting time in the palace is dangerous. Before death comes I have to find something that is beyond death." Gautama thus was determined to leave. Legends surrounding Buddha's early life mentions about a minor weakness in the human mind, in human nature, to which even Buddha was slave to. He wanted to see the child's face, he had not even seen the face of his own child. But he was afraid that if he removed the blanket, Yashodhara, his wife had the chance to wake up. There was every possibility she would wake up and start to ask, "What are you doing in the middle of the night in my room? And you seem to be ready to go somewhere..."
The chariot, meanwhile, was standing waiting the gate, everything was ready; Gautama was just about to leave when he had said to his charioteer, "Just wait a minute. Let me go and see the child's face. I may never come back again." But he could not look because of the fear that Yashodhara might wake up, start crying, weeping, "Where are you going? What are you doing? What is this renunciation? What is this enlightenment?" He did not even had the idea that there lied a possibility that the whole palace might get awakened. His old father would arrive and the entire entreaty would be spoiled. So he simply escaped. That ended a significant phase in early life, surrounded with legends.