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“Monks, there are these four kinds of excellent thoroughbred horses existing in the world.

In the Patoda sutta, the Buddha has used the simile of four kinds of excellent thoroughbred horses to describe four kinds of individuals in the world who develop spiritual urgency (samvega) and cultivate the Buddhist path of liberation in four different circumstances. The first individual becomes stirred and agitated and develops spiritual urgency just by hearing the news of someone who is suffering or has died. The second individual responds in a similar way when he sees a person unrelated to him who is suffering or has died. The third individual responds when someone in his own family is afflicted or has died, while the fourth individual responds when he himself is afflicted with severe pain or a life-threatening illness.

When spiritual urgency arises in a person, it may inspire the person to begin a spiritual journey with energy and courage while remaining in lay life or by becoming a monastic. Spiritual urgency will help one to avoid negligence and practice harder with more vigor, diligence, and perseverance to achieve one’s spiritual goal of being free from suffering.

One of the most significant examples of the arising of spiritual urgency is what Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha aspirant (Bodhisatta), felt when he was exposed to old age, sickness, and death for the first time at the age of 29 years. Until then, he had been protected from such experiences by his father, King Suddhodana, who had been alarmed by the prediction of some wise men that one day, the young prince may leave domestic life to become an ascetic and would eventually become a Buddha. When Prince Siddhartha realized that old age, sickness, death, and associated suffering are common to himself, his loved ones, and every human being, the prince was overwhelmed by spiritual urgency and decided to renounce the domestic life and royal comforts in order to search for a way out of human suffering.”