Some say that it happened just after Siddhartha asked Chandaka what death was all about. Others say that it happened when they made a third trip beyond the wall of the great estate. However it happened, it was probably inevitable. As they crossed a road, a funeral procession passed, with a corpse apparently sleeping on a bier. Chandaka tried to draw him away, but Siddhartha was fascinated.
The body was surrounded by wailing people. Indeed, the prince had never seen such grief before. Even as they looked on, the mourners put the body in a box and placed it on a pyre, which they set afire.
It is hard to say who was more horrified, Siddhartha because they were about to burn a person, which he knew would be very painful, or Chandaka, who knew that there was no way Siddhartha was not going to learn what death was.
As the fire rose up, the body still lay peacefully on the pyre. Siddhartha was amazed that it did not awake, and, of course, he asked Chandaka how this could be.
The driver gave in and explained that the man was dead, and that none of his body could be used anymore because he had no consciousness. And so they were burning it because a body without consciousness was useless.
Once again Prince Siddhartha asked if losing one’s consciousness in this way was the fate of all people. And once again Chandaka conceded to him that it was.
“Even of princes, Chandaka?.”
“Even of princes, my lord.”
They returned to the palace, and Siddhartha spent some time sitting alone in his room, thinking. There had to be a way to avoid old age. And sickness. And death.