The next few bas-reliefs depict the Buddha's revelations as to the true measure of humanity. Until then, his education had been unreal, for his father had prohibited his seeing old age or illness, decrepitude or death. Until then also, he had lived shut off from the world in his palace. The classical Lalita speaks of his leaving the palace fortuitously, followed by three major encounters. In all the versions of Lalita in the world, from the Datong version deep in China to Borobudur deep in Indonesia, these three encounters are always given in the same chronological order. The Buddha, who has never been introduced to the power of money, first encounters poverty, in the person of a beggar. Next, he meets illness, in the form of a skin-and-bones figure. And finally, perhaps the worst of all, he meets up with death: he sees an inert form being washed and laid out in a shroud. This is no doubt the most incisive of the three shocks the Buddha undergoes on this memorable single day.

In his incomprehension of poverty, illness, and death, the Buddha turns to a hermit for advice. Here we see a Brahman (Hindu priest) explaining that someday we must all fall sick, grow old and die, that this is our common destiny. The explanation inspires the Buddha to seek to ease the way for his fellow man: his goal was not to erase these inevitable rites of passage, as many Western authors claim, but to smooth them.