An Indian Tale
THE SON OF THE BRAHMAN
WITH THE SAMANAS
WITH THE CHILDLIKE PEOPLE
BY THE RIVER
To Romain Rolland, my dear friend
THE SON OF THE BRAHMAN
In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the
boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is
where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon,
together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light
shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing the sacred
ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured into his
black eyes, when playing as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred
offerings were made, when his father, the scholar, taught him, when the wise
men talked. For a long time, Siddhartha had been partaking in the
discussions of the wise men, practising debate with Govinda, practising with
Govinda the art of reflection, the service of meditation. He already knew
how to speak the Om silently, the word of words, to speak it silently into
himself while inhaling, to speak it silently out of himself while exhaling,
with all the concentration of his soul, the forehead surrounded by the glow
of the clear-thinking spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of
his being, indestructible, one with the universe.
Joy leapt in his father's heart for his son who was quick to learn,
thirsty for knowledge; he saw him growing up to become great wise man and
priest, a prince among the Brahmans.
Bliss leapt in his mother's breast when she saw him, when she saw him
walking, when she saw him sit down and get up, Siddhartha, strong, handsome,
he who was walking on slender legs, greeting her with perfect respect.
Love touched the hearts of the Brahmans' young daughters when Siddhartha
walked through the lanes of the town with the luminous forehead, with the
eye of a king, with his slim hips.
But more than all the others he was loved by Govinda, his friend, the son
of a Brahman. He loved Siddhartha's eye and sweet voice, he loved his walk
and the perfect decency of his movements, he loved everything Siddhartha did
and said and what he loved most was his spirit, his transcendent, fiery
thoughts, his ardent will, his high calling. Govinda knew: he would not
become a common Brahman, not a lazy official in charge of offerings; not a
greedy merchant with magic spells; not a vain, vacuous speaker; not a mean,
deceitful priest; and also not a decent, stupid sheep in the herd of the
many. No, and he, Govinda, as well did not want to become one of those, not
one of those tens of thousands of Brahmans. He wanted to follow Siddhartha,
the beloved, the splendid. And in days to come, when Siddhartha would become
a god, when he would join the glorious, then Govinda wanted to follow him as
his friend, his companion, his servant, his spear-carrier, his shadow.
Siddhartha was thus loved by everyone. He was a source of joy for
everybody, he was a delight for them all.
But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself, he found no
delight in himself. Walking the rosy paths of the fig tree garden, sitting
in the bluish shade of the grove of contemplation, washing his limbs daily
in the bath of repentance, sacrificing in the dim shade of the mango forest,
his gestures of perfect decency, everyone's love and joy, he still lacked
all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind,
flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night,
melting from the beams of the sun, dreams came to him and a restlessness of
the soul, fuming from the sacrifices, breathing forth from the verses of the
Rig-Veda, being infused into him, drop by drop, from the teachings of the
Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself, he had started to
feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother, and also the
love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever,
would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy him. He had started to suspect that
his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmans had
already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom, that they had
already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was
not full, the spirit was not content, the soul was not calm, the heart was
not satisfied. The ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not
wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit's thirst, they did not
relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods
were excellent—but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune?
And what about the gods? Was it really Prajapati who had created the world?
Was it not the Atman, He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not
creations, created like me and you, subject to time, mortal? Was it
therefore good, was it right, was it meaningful and the highest occupation
to make offerings to the gods? For whom else were offerings to be made, who
else was to be worshipped but Him, the only one, the Atman? And where was
Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat,
where else but in one's own self, in its innermost part, in its
indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was
this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and
bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught.
So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman,
there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody
showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and
wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! They knew everything, the Brahmans
and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of
everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the
origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, the arrangement of the
senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much—but was it valuable
to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important
thing, the solely important thing?
Surely, many verses of the holy books, particularly in the Upanishades of
Samaveda, spoke of this innermost and ultimate thing, wonderful verses.
"Your soul is the whole world", was written there, and it was written that
man in his sleep, in his deep sleep, would meet with his innermost part and
would reside in the Atman. Marvellous wisdom was in these verses, all
knowledge of the wisest ones had been collected here in magic words, pure as
honey collected by bees. No, not to be looked down upon was the tremendous
amount of enlightenment which lay here collected and preserved by
innumerable generations of wise Brahmans.— But where were the Brahmans,
where the priests, where the wise men or penitents, who had succeeded in not
just knowing this deepest of all knowledge but also to live it? Where was
the knowledgeable one who wove his spell to bring his familiarity with the
Atman out of the sleep into the state of being awake, into the life, into
every step of the way, into word and deed? Siddhartha knew many venerable
Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable
one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure
his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow
—but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have
peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not,
again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the
offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he,
the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a
cleansing every day, over and over every day? Was not Atman in him, did not
the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine
source in one's own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was
searching, was a detour, was getting lost.
Thus were Siddhartha's thoughts, this was his thirst, this was his
Often he spoke to himself from a Chandogya-Upanishad the words: "Truly,
the name of the Brahman is satyam—verily, he who knows such a thing, will
enter the heavenly world every day." Often, it seemed near, the heavenly
world, but never he had reached it completely, never he had quenched the
ultimate thirst. And among all the wise and wisest men, he knew and whose
instructions he had received, among all of them there was no one, who had
reached it completely, the heavenly world, who had quenched it completely,
the eternal thirst.
"Govinda," Siddhartha spoke to his friend, "Govinda, my dear, come with
me under the Banyan tree, let's practise meditation."
They went to the Banyan tree, they sat down, Siddhartha right here,
Govinda twenty paces away. While putting himself down, ready to speak the
Om, Siddhartha repeated murmuring the verse:
Om is the bow, the arrow is soul, The Brahman is the arrow's target, That
one should incessantly hit.
After the usual time of the exercise in meditation had passed, Govinda
rose. The evening had come, it was time to perform the evening's ablution.
He called Siddhartha's name. Siddhartha did not answer. Siddhartha sat there
lost in thought, his eyes were rigidly focused towards a very distant
target, the tip of his tongue was protruding a little between the teeth, he
seemed not to breathe. Thus sat he, wrapped up in contemplation, thinking
Om, his soul sent after the Brahman as an arrow.
Once, Samanas had travelled through Siddhartha's town, ascetics on a
pilgrimage, three skinny, withered men, neither old nor young, with dusty
and bloody shoulders, almost naked, scorched by the sun, surrounded by
loneliness, strangers and enemies to the world, strangers and lank jackals
in the realm of humans. Behind them blew a hot scent of quiet passion, of
destructive service, of merciless self-denial.
In the evening, after the hour of contemplation, Siddhartha spoke to
Govinda: "Early tomorrow morning, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the
Samanas. He will become a Samana."
Govinda turned pale, when he heard these words and read the decision in
the motionless face of his friend, unstoppable like the arrow shot from the
bow. Soon and with the first glance, Govinda realized: Now it is beginning,
now Siddhartha is taking his own way, now his fate is beginning to sprout,
and with his, my own. And he turned pale like a dry banana-skin.
"O Siddhartha," he exclaimed, "will your father permit you to do that?"
Siddhartha looked over as if he was just waking up. Arrow-fast he read in
Govinda's soul, read the fear, read the submission.
"O Govinda," he spoke quietly, "let's not waste words. Tomorrow, at
daybreak I will begin the life of the Samanas. Speak no more of it."
Siddhartha entered the chamber, where his father was sitting on a mat of
bast, and stepped behind his father and remained standing there, until his
father felt that someone was standing behind him. Quoth the Brahman: "Is
that you, Siddhartha? Then say what you came to say."
Quoth Siddhartha: "With your permission, my father. I came to tell you
that it is my longing to leave your house tomorrow and go to the ascetics.
My desire is to become a Samana. May my father not oppose this."
The Brahman fell silent, and remained silent for so long that the stars
in the small window wandered and changed their relative positions, 'ere the
silence was broken. Silent and motionless stood the son with his arms
folded, silent and motionless sat the father on the mat, and the stars
traced their paths in the sky. Then spoke the father: "Not proper it is for
a Brahman to speak harsh and angry words. But indignation is in my heart. I
wish not to hear this request for a second time from your mouth."
Slowly, the Brahman rose; Siddhartha stood silently, his arms folded.
"What are you waiting for?" asked the father.
Quoth Siddhartha: "You know what."
Indignant, the father left the chamber; indignant, he went to his bed and
After an hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman stood
up, paced to and fro, and left the house. Through the small window of the
chamber he looked back inside, and there he saw Siddhartha standing, his
arms folded, not moving from his spot. Pale shimmered his bright robe. With
anxiety in his heart, the father returned to his bed.
After another hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman
stood up again, paced to and fro, walked out of the house and saw that the
moon had risen. Through the window of the chamber he looked back inside;
there stood Siddhartha, not moving from his spot, his arms folded, moonlight
reflecting from his bare shins. With worry in his heart, the father went
back to bed.
And he came back after an hour, he came back after two hours, looked
through the small window, saw Siddhartha standing, in the moon light, by the
light of the stars, in the darkness. And he came back hour after hour,
silently, he looked into the chamber, saw him standing in the same place,
filled his heart with anger, filled his heart with unrest, filled his heart
with anguish, filled it with sadness.
And in the night's last hour, before the day began, he returned, stepped
into the room, saw the young man standing there, who seemed tall and like a
stranger to him.
"Siddhartha," he spoke, "what are you waiting for?"
"You know what."
"Will you always stand that way and wait, until it'll becomes morning,
noon, and evening?"
"I will stand and wait.
"You will become tired, Siddhartha."
"I will become tired."
"You will fall asleep, Siddhartha."
"I will not fall asleep."
"You will die, Siddhartha."
"I will die."
"And would you rather die, than obey your father?"
"Siddhartha has always obeyed his father."
"So will you abandon your plan?"
"Siddhartha will do what his father will tell him to do."
The first light of day shone into the room. The Brahman saw that
Siddhartha was trembling softly in his knees. In Siddhartha's face he saw no
trembling, his eyes were fixed on a distant spot. Then his father realized
that even now Siddhartha no longer dwelt with him in his home, that he had
already left him.
The Father touched Siddhartha's shoulder.
"You will," he spoke, "go into the forest and be a Samana. When you'll
have found blissfulness in the forest, then come back and teach me to be
blissful. If you'll find disappointment, then return and let us once again
make offerings to the gods together. Go now and kiss your mother, tell her
where you are going to. But for me it is time to go to the river and to
perform the first ablution."
He took his hand from the shoulder of his son and went outside.
Siddhartha wavered to the side, as he tried to walk. He put his limbs back
under control, bowed to his father, and went to his mother to do as his
father had said.
As he slowly left on stiff legs in the first light of day the still quiet
town, a shadow rose near the last hut, who had crouched there, and joined
"You have come," said Siddhartha and smiled.
"I have come," said Govinda.
WITH THE SAMANAS
In the evening of this day they caught up with the ascetics, the skinny
Samanas, and offered them their companionship and—obedience. They were
Siddhartha gave his garments to a poor Brahman in the street. He wore
nothing more than the loincloth and the earth-coloured, unsown cloak. He ate
only once a day, and never something cooked. He fasted for fifteen days. He
fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh waned from his thighs and cheeks.
Feverish dreams flickered from his enlarged eyes, long nails grew slowly on
his parched fingers and a dry, shaggy beard grew on his chin. His glance
turned to icy when he encountered women; his mouth twitched with contempt,
when he walked through a city of nicely dressed people. He saw merchants
trading, princes hunting, mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering
themselves, physicians trying to help the sick, priests determining the most
suitable day for seeding, lovers loving, mothers nursing their children—and
all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye, it all lied, it all
stank, it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful
and beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted
bitter. Life was torture.
A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of
thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to
himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied
heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal. Once
all of my self was overcome and had died, once every desire and every urge
was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the
innermost of my being, which is no longer my self, the great secret.
Silently, Siddhartha exposed himself to burning rays of the sun directly
above, glowing with pain, glowing with thirst, and stood there, until he
neither felt any pain nor thirst any more. Silently, he stood there in the
rainy season, from his hair the water was dripping over freezing shoulders,
over freezing hips and legs, and the penitent stood there, until he could
not feel the cold in his shoulders and legs any more, until they were
silent, until they were quiet. Silently, he cowered in the thorny bushes,
blood dripped from the burning skin, from festering wounds dripped pus, and
Siddhartha stayed rigidly, stayed motionless, until no blood flowed any
more, until nothing stung any more, until nothing burned any more.
Siddhartha sat upright and learned to breathe sparingly, learned to get
along with only few breathes, learned to stop breathing. He learned,
beginning with the breath, to calm the beat of his heart, leaned to reduce
the beats of his heart, until they were only a few and almost none.
Instructed by the oldest if the Samanas, Siddhartha practised
self-denial, practised meditation, according to a new Samana rules. A heron
flew over the bamboo forest—and Siddhartha accepted the heron into his soul,
flew over forest and mountains, was a heron, ate fish, felt the pangs of a
heron's hunger, spoke the heron's croak, died a heron's death. A dead jackal
was lying on the sandy bank, and Siddhartha's soul slipped inside the body,
was the dead jackal, lay on the banks, got bloated, stank, decayed, was
dismembered by hyaenas, was skinned by vultures, turned into a skeleton,
turned to dust, was blown across the fields. And Siddhartha's soul returned,
had died, had decayed, was scattered as dust, had tasted the gloomy
intoxication of the cycle, awaited in new thirst like a hunter in the gap,
where he could escape from the cycle, where the end of the causes, where an
eternity without suffering began. He killed his senses, he killed his
memory, he slipped out of his self into thousands of other forms, was an
animal, was carrion, was stone, was wood, was water, and awoke every time to
find his old self again, sun shone or moon, was his self again, turned round
in the cycle, felt thirst, overcame the thirst, felt new thirst.
Siddhartha learned a lot when he was with the Samanas, many ways leading
away from the self he learned to go. He went the way of self-denial by means
of pain, through voluntarily suffering and overcoming pain, hunger, thirst,
tiredness. He went the way of self-denial by means of meditation, through
imagining the mind to be void of all conceptions. These and other ways he
learned to go, a thousand times he left his self, for hours and days he
remained in the non-self. But though the ways led away from the self, their
end nevertheless always led back to the self. Though Siddhartha fled from
the self a thousand times, stayed in nothingness, stayed in the animal, in
the stone, the return was inevitable, inescapable was the hour, when he
found himself back in the sunshine or in the moonlight, in the shade or in
the rain, and was once again his self and Siddhartha, and again felt the
agony of the cycle which had been forced upon him.
By his side lived Govinda, his shadow, walked the same paths, undertook
the same efforts. They rarely spoke to one another, than the service and the
exercises required. Occasionally the two of them went through the villages,
to beg for food for themselves and their teachers.
"How do you think, Govinda," Siddhartha spoke one day while begging this
way, "how do you think did we progress? Did we reach any goals?"
Govinda answered: "We have learned, and we'll continue learning. You'll
be a great Samana, Siddhartha. Quickly, you've learned every exercise, often
the old Samanas have admired you. One day, you'll be a holy man, oh
Quoth Siddhartha: "I can't help but feel that it is not like this, my
friend. What I've learned, being among the Samanas, up to this day, this, oh
Govinda, I could have learned more quickly and by simpler means. In every
tavern of that part of a town where the whorehouses are, my friend, among
carters and gamblers I could have learned it."
Quoth Govinda: "Siddhartha is putting me on. How could you have learned
meditation, holding your breath, insensitivity against hunger and pain there
among these wretched people?"
And Siddhartha said quietly, as if he was talking to himself: "What is
meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is holding
one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony
of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and
the pointlessness of life. The same escape, the same short numbing is what
the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine
or fermented coconut-milk. Then he won't feel his self any more, then he
won't feel the pains of life any more, then he finds a short numbing of the
senses. When he falls asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same
what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long
exercises, staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."
Quoth Govinda: "You say so, oh friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha
is no driver of an ox-cart and a Samana is no drunkard. It's true that a
drinker numbs his senses, it's true that he briefly escapes and rests, but
he'll return from the delusion, finds everything to be unchanged, has not
become wiser, has gathered no enlightenment,—has not risen several steps."
And Siddhartha spoke with a smile: "I do not know, I've never been a
drunkard. But that I, Siddhartha, find only a short numbing of the senses in
my exercises and meditations and that I am just as far removed from wisdom,
from salvation, as a child in the mother's womb, this I know, oh Govinda,
this I know."
And once again, another time, when Siddhartha left the forest together
with Govinda, to beg for some food in the village for their brothers and
teachers, Siddhartha began to speak and said: "What now, oh Govinda, might
we be on the right path? Might we get closer to enlightenment? Might we get
closer to salvation? Or do we perhaps live in a circle— we, who have thought
we were escaping the cycle?"
Quoth Govinda: "We have learned a lot, Siddhartha, there is still much to
learn. We are not going around in circles, we are moving up, the circle is a
spiral, we have already ascended many a level."
Siddhartha answered: "How old, would you think, is our oldest Samana, our
Quoth Govinda: "Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age."
And Siddhartha: "He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the
nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as
old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will
not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of
all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will
reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to
deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not
"If you only," spoke Govinda, "wouldn't speak such terrible words,
Siddhartha! How could it be that among so many learned men, among so many
Brahmans, among so many austere and venerable Samanas, among so many who are
searching, so many who are eagerly trying, so many holy men, no one will
find the path of paths?"
But Siddhartha said in a voice which contained just as much sadness as
mockery, with a quiet, a slightly sad, a slightly mocking voice: "Soon,
Govinda, your friend will leave the path of the Samanas, he has walked along
your side for so long. I'm suffering of thirst, oh Govinda, and on this long
path of a Samana, my thirst has remained as strong as ever. I always
thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions. I have asked
the Brahmans, year after year, and I have asked the holy Vedas, year after
year, and I have asked the devote Samanas, year after year. Perhaps, oh
Govinda, it had been just as well, had been just as smart and just as
profitable, if I had asked the hornbill-bird or the chimpanzee. It took me a
long time and am not finished learning this yet, oh Govinda: that there is
nothing to be learned! There is indeed no such thing, so I believe, as what
we refer to as `learning'. There is, oh my friend, just one knowledge, this
is everywhere, this is Atman, this is within me and within you and within
every creature. And so I'm starting to believe that this knowledge has no
worser enemy than the desire to know it, than learning."
At this, Govinda stopped on the path, rose his hands, and spoke: "If you,
Siddhartha, only would not bother your friend with this kind of talk! Truly,
you words stir up fear in my heart. And just consider: what would become of
the sanctity of prayer, what of the venerability of the Brahmans' caste,
what of the holiness of the Samanas, if it was as you say, if there was no
learning?! What, oh Siddhartha, what would then become of all of this what
is holy, what is precious, what is venerable on earth?!"
And Govinda mumbled a verse to himself, a verse from an Upanishad:
He who ponderingly, of a purified spirit, loses himself in the meditation
of Atman, unexpressable by words is his blissfulness of his heart.
But Siddhartha remained silent. He thought about the words which Govinda
had said to him and thought the words through to their end.
Yes, he thought, standing there with his head low, what would remain of
all that which seemed to us to be holy? What remains? What can stand the
test? And he shook his head.
At one time, when the two young men had lived among the Samanas for about
three years and had shared their exercises, some news, a rumour, a myth
reached them after being retold many times: A man had appeared, Gotama by
name, the exalted one, the Buddha, he had overcome the suffering of the
world in himself and had halted the cycle of rebirths. He was said to wander
through the land, teaching, surrounded by disciples, without possession,
without home, without a wife, in the yellow cloak of an ascetic, but with a
cheerful brow, a man of bliss, and Brahmans and princes would bow down
before him and would become his students.
This myth, this rumour, this legend resounded, its fragrants rose up,
here and there; in the towns, the Brahmans spoke of it and in the forest,
the Samanas; again and again, the name of Gotama, the Buddha reached the
ears of the young men, with good and with bad talk, with praise and with
It was as if the plague had broken out in a country and news had been
spreading around that in one or another place there was a man, a wise man, a
knowledgeable one, whose word and breath was enough to heal everyone who had
been infected with the pestilence, and as such news would go through the
land and everyone would talk about it, many would believe, many would doubt,
but many would get on their way as soon as possible, to seek the wise man,
the helper, just like this this myth ran through the land, that fragrant
myth of Gotama, the Buddha, the wise man of the family of Sakya. He
possessed, so the believers said, the highest enlightenment, he remembered
his previous lives, he had reached the nirvana and never returned into the
cycle, was never again submerged in the murky river of physical forms. Many
wonderful and unbelievable things were reported of him, he had performed
miracles, had overcome the devil, had spoken to the gods. But his enemies
and disbelievers said, this Gotama was a vain seducer, he would spent his
days in luxury, scorned the offerings, was without learning, and knew
neither exercises nor self-castigation.
The myth of Buddha sounded sweet. The scent of magic flowed from these
reports. After all, the world was sick, life was hard to bear—and behold,
here a source seemed to spring forth, here a messenger seemed to call out,
comforting, mild, full of noble promises. Everywhere where the rumour of
Buddha was heard, everywhere in the lands of India, the young men listened
up, felt a longing, felt hope, and among the Brahmans' sons of the towns and
villages every pilgrim and stranger was welcome, when he brought news of
him, the exalted one, the Sakyamuni.
The myth had also reached the Samanas in the forest, and also Siddhartha,
and also Govinda, slowly, drop by drop, every drop laden with hope, every
drop laden with doubt. They rarely talked about it, because the oldest one
of the Samanas did not like this myth. He had heard that this alleged Buddha
used to be an ascetic before and had lived in the forest, but had then
turned back to luxury and worldly pleasures, and he had no high opinion of
"Oh Siddhartha," Govinda spoke one day to his friend. "Today, I was in
the village, and a Brahman invited me into his house, and in his house,
there was the son of a Brahman from Magadha, who has seen the Buddha with
his own eyes and has heard him teach. Verily, this made my chest ache when I
breathed, and thought to myself: If only I would too, if only we both would
too, Siddhartha and me, live to see the hour when we will hear the teachings
from the mouth of this perfected man! Speak, friend, wouldn't we want to go
there too and listen to the teachings from the Buddha's mouth?"
Quoth Siddhartha: "Always, oh Govinda, I had thought, Govinda would stay
with the Samanas, always I had believed his goal was to live to be sixty and
seventy years of age and to keep on practising those feats and exercises,
which are becoming a Samana. But behold, I had not known Govinda well
enough, I knew little of his heart. So now you, my faithful friend, want to
take a new path and go there, where the Buddha spreads his teachings."
Quoth Govinda: "You're mocking me. Mock me if you like, Siddhartha! But
have you not also developed a desire, an eagerness, to hear these teachings?
And have you not at one time said to me, you would not walk the path of the
Samanas for much longer?"
At this, Siddhartha laughed in his very own manner, in which his voice
assumed a touch of sadness and a touch of mockery, and said: "Well, Govinda,
you've spoken well, you've remembered correctly. If you only remembered the
other thing as well, you've heard from me, which is that I have grown
distrustful and tired against teachings and learning, and that my faith in
words, which are brought to us by teachers, is small. But let's do it, my
dear, I am willing to listen to these teachings—though in my heart I believe
that we've already tasted the best fruit of these teachings."
Quoth Govinda: "Your willingness delights my heart. But tell me, how
should this be possible? How should the Gotama's teachings, even before we
have heard them, have already revealed their best fruit to us?"
Quoth Siddhartha: "Let us eat this fruit and wait for the rest, oh
Govinda! But this fruit, which we already now received thanks to the Gotama,
consisted in him calling us away from the Samanas! Whether he has also other
and better things to give us, oh friend, let us await with calm hearts."
On this very same day, Siddhartha informed the oldest one of the Samanas
of his decision, that he wanted to leave him. He informed the oldest one
with all the courtesy and modesty becoming to a younger one and a student.
But the Samana became angry, because the two young men wanted to leave him,
and talked loudly and used crude swearwords.
Govinda was startled and became embarrassed. But Siddhartha put his mouth
close to Govinda's ear and whispered to him: "Now, I want to show the old
man that I've learned something from him."
Positioning himself closely in front of the Samana, with a concentrated
soul, he captured the old man's glance with his glances, deprived him of his
power, made him mute, took away his free will, subdued him under his own
will, commanded him, to do silently, whatever he demanded him to do. The old
man became mute, his eyes became motionless, his will was paralysed, his
arms were hanging down; without power, he had fallen victim to Siddhartha's
spell. But Siddhartha's thoughts brought the Samana under their control, he
had to carry out, what they commanded. And thus, the old man made several
bows, performed gestures of blessing, spoke stammeringly a godly wish for a
good journey. And the young men returned the bows with thanks, returned the
wish, went on their way with salutations.
On the way, Govinda said: "Oh Siddhartha, you have learned more from the
Samanas than I knew. It is hard, it is very hard to cast a spell on an old
Samana. Truly, if you had stayed there, you would soon have learned to walk
"I do not seek to walk on water," said Siddhartha. "Let old Samanas be
content with such feats!"
In the town of Savathi, every child knew the name of the exalted Buddha,
and every house was prepared to fill the alms-dish of Gotama's disciples,
the silently begging ones. Near the town was Gotama's favourite place to
stay, the grove of Jetavana, which the rich merchant Anathapindika, an
obedient worshipper of the exalted one, had given him and his people for a
All tales and answers, which the two young ascetics had received in their
search for Gotama's abode, had pointed them towards this area. And arriving
at Savathi, in the very first house, before the door of which they stopped
to beg, food has been offered to them, and they accepted the food, and
Siddhartha asked the woman, who handed them the food:
"We would like to know, oh charitable one, where the Buddha dwells, the
most venerable one, for we are two Samanas from the forest and have come, to
see him, the perfected one, and to hear the teachings from his mouth."
Quoth the woman: "Here, you have truly come to the right place, you
Samanas from the forest. You should know, in Jetavana, in the garden of
Anathapindika is where the exalted one dwells. There you pilgrims shall
spent the night, for there is enough space for the innumerable, who flock
here, to hear the teachings from his mouth."
This made Govinda happy, and full of joy he exclaimed: "Well so, thus we
have reached our destination, and our path has come to an end! But tell us,
oh mother of the pilgrims, do you know him, the Buddha, have you seen him
with your own eyes?"
Quoth the woman: "Many times I have seen him, the exalted one. On many
days, I have seen him, walking through the alleys in silence, wearing his
yellow cloak, presenting his alms-dish in silence at the doors of the
houses, leaving with a filled dish."
Delightedly, Govinda listened and wanted to ask and hear much more. But
Siddhartha urged him to walk on. They thanked and left and hardly had to ask
for directions, for rather many pilgrims and monks as well from Gotama's
community were on their way to the Jetavana. And since they reached it at
night, there were constant arrivals, shouts, and talk of those who sought
shelter and got it. The two Samanas, accustomed to life in the forest, found
quickly and without making any noise a place to stay and rested there until
At sunrise, they saw with astonishment what a large crowd of believers
and curious people had spent the night here. On all paths of the marvellous
grove, monks walked in yellow robes, under the trees they sat here and
there, in deep contemplation—or in a conversation about spiritual matters,
the shady gardens looked like a city, full of people, bustling like bees.
The majority of the monks went out with their alms-dish, to collect food in
town for their lunch, the only meal of the day. The Buddha himself, the
enlightened one, was also in the habit of taking this walk to beg in the
Siddhartha saw him, and he instantly recognised him, as if a god had
pointed him out to him. He saw him, a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing
the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently.
"Look here!" Siddhartha said quietly to Govinda. "This one is the
Attentively, Govinda looked at the monk in the yellow robe, who seemed to
be in no way different from the hundreds of other monks. And soon, Govinda
also realized: This is the one. And they followed him and observed him.
The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm
face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly.
With a hidden smile, quiet, calm, somewhat resembling a healthy child, the
Buddha walked, wore the robe and placed his feet just as all of his monks
did, according to a precise rule. But his face and his walk, his quietly
lowered glance, his quietly dangling hand and even every finger of his
quietly dangling hand expressed peace, expressed perfection, did not search,
did not imitate, breathed softly in an unwhithering calm, in an unwhithering
light, an untouchable peace.
Thus Gotama walked towards the town, to collect alms, and the two Samanas
recognised him solely by the perfection of his calm, by the quietness of his
appearance, in which there was no searching, no desire, no imitation, no
effort to be seen, only light and peace.
"Today, we'll hear the teachings from his mouth." said Govinda.
Siddhartha did not answer. He felt little curiosity for the teachings, he
did not believe that they would teach him anything new, but he had, just as
Govinda had, heard the contents of this Buddha's teachings again and again,
though these reports only represented second- or third-hand information. But
attentively he looked at Gotama's head, his shoulders, his feet, his quietly
dangling hand, and it seemed to him as if every joint of every finger of
this hand was of these teachings, spoke of, breathed of, exhaled the
fragrant of, glistened of truth. This man, this Buddha was truthful down to
the gesture of his last finger. This man was holy. Never before, Siddhartha
had venerated a person so much, never before he had loved a person as much
as this one.
They both followed the Buddha until they reached the town and then
returned in silence, for they themselves intended to abstain from on this
day. They saw Gotama returning—what he ate could not even have satisfied a
bird's appetite, and they saw him retiring into the shade of the
But in the evening, when the heat cooled down and everyone in the camp
started to bustle about and gathered around, they heard the Buddha teaching.
They heard his voice, and it was also perfected, was of perfect calmness,
was full of peace. Gotama taught the teachings of suffering, of the origin
of suffering, of the way to relieve suffering. Calmly and clearly his quiet
speech flowed on. Suffering was life, full of suffering was the world, but
salvation from suffering had been found: salvation was obtained by him who
would walk the path of the Buddha. With a soft, yet firm voice the exalted
one spoke, taught the four main doctrines, taught the eightfold path,
patiently he went the usual path of the teachings, of the examples, of the
repetitions, brightly and quietly his voice hovered over the listeners, like
a light, like a starry sky.
When the Buddha—night had already fallen—ended his speech, many a pilgrim
stepped forward and asked to accepted into the community, sought refuge in
the teachings. And Gotama accepted them by speaking: "You have heard the
teachings well, it has come to you well. Thus join us and walk in holiness,
to put an end to all suffering."
Behold, then Govinda, the shy one, also stepped forward and spoke: "I
also take my refuge in the exalted one and his teachings," and he asked to
accepted into the community of his disciples and was accepted.
Right afterwards, when the Buddha had retired for the night, Govinda
turned to Siddhartha and spoke eagerly: "Siddhartha, it is not my place to
scold you. We have both heard the exalted one, we have both perceived the
teachings. Govinda has heard the teachings, he has taken refuge in it. But
you, my honoured friend, don't you also want to walk the path of salvation?
Would you want to hesitate, do you want to wait any longer?"
Siddhartha awakened as if he had been asleep, when he heard Govinda's
words. For a long tome, he looked into Govinda's face. Then he spoke
quietly, in a voice without mockery: "Govinda, my friend, now you have taken
this step, now you have chosen this path. Always, oh Govinda, you've been my
friend, you've always walked one step behind me. Often I have thought: Won't
Govinda for once also take a step by himself, without me, out of his own
soul? Behold, now you've turned into a man and are choosing your path for
yourself. I wish that you would go it up to its end, oh my friend, that you
shall find salvation!"
Govinda, not completely understanding it yet, repeated his question in an
impatient tone: "Speak up, I beg you, my dear! Tell me, since it could not
be any other way, that you also, my learned friend, will take your refuge
with the exalted Buddha!"
Siddhartha placed his hand on Govinda's shoulder: "You failed to hear my
good wish for you, oh Govinda. I'm repeating it: I wish that you would go
this path up to its end, that you shall find salvation!"
In this moment, Govinda realized that his friend had left him, and he
started to weep.
"Siddhartha!" he exclaimed lamentingly.
Siddhartha kindly spoke to him: "Don't forget, Govinda, that you are now
one of the Samanas of the Buddha! You have renounced your home and your
parents, renounced your birth and possessions, renounced your free will,
renounced all friendship. This is what the teachings require, this is what
the exalted one wants. This is what you wanted for yourself. Tomorrow, oh
Govinda, I'll leave you."
For a long time, the friends continued walking in the grove; for a long
time, they lay there and found no sleep. And over and over again, Govinda
urged his friend, he should tell him why he would not want to seek refuge in
Gotama's teachings, what fault he would find in these teachings. But
Siddhartha turned him away every time and said: "Be content, Govinda! Very
good are the teachings of the exalted one, how could I find a fault in
Very early in the morning, a follower of Buddha, one of his oldest monks,
went through the garden and called all those to him who had as novices taken
their refuge in the teachings, to dress them up in the yellow robe and to
instruct them in the first teachings and duties of their position. Then
Govinda broke loose, embraced once again his childhood friend and left with
But Siddhartha walked through the grove, lost in thought.
Then he happened to meet Gotama, the exalted one, and when he greeted him
with respect and the Buddha's glance was so full of kindness and calm, the
young man summoned his courage and asked the venerable one for the
permission to talk to him. Silently the exalted one nodded his approval.
Quoth Siddhartha: "Yesterday, oh exalted one, I had been privileged to
hear your wondrous teachings. Together with my friend, I had come from afar,
to hear your teachings. And now my friend is going to stay with your people,
he has taken his refuge with you. But I will again start on my pilgrimage."
"As you please," the venerable one spoke politely.
"Too bold is my speech," Siddhartha continued, "but I do not want to
leave the exalted one without having honestly told him my thoughts. Does it
please the venerable one to listen to me for one moment longer?"
Silently, the Buddha nodded his approval.
Quoth Siddhartha: "One thing, oh most venerable one, I have admired in
your teachings most of all. Everything in your teachings is perfectly clear,
is proven; you are presenting the world as a perfect chain, a chain which is
never and nowhere broken, an eternal chain the links of which are causes and
effects. Never before, this has been seen so clearly; never before, this has
been presented so irrefutably; truly, the heart of every Brahman has to beat
stronger with love, once he has seen the world through your teachings
perfectly connected, without gaps, clear as a crystal, not depending on
chance, not depending on gods. Whether it may be good or bad, whether living
according to it would be suffering or joy, I do not wish to discuss,
possibly this is not essential—but the uniformity of the world, that
everything which happens is connected, that the great and the small things
are all encompassed by the same forces of time, by the same law of causes,
of coming into being and of dying, this is what shines brightly out of your
exalted teachings, oh perfected one. But according to your very own
teachings, this unity and necessary sequence of all things is nevertheless
broken in one place, through a small gap, this world of unity is invaded by
something alien, something new, something which had not been there before,
and which cannot be demonstrated and cannot be proven: these are your
teachings of overcoming the world, of salvation. But with this small gap,
with this small breach, the entire eternal and uniform law of the world is
breaking apart again and becomes void. Please forgive me for expressing this
Quietly, Gotama had listened to him, unmoved. Now he spoke, the perfected
one, with his kind, with his polite and clear voice: "You've heard the
teachings, oh son of a Brahman, and good for you that you've thought about
it thus deeply. You've found a gap in it, an error. You should think about
this further. But be warned, oh seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of
opinions and of arguing about words. There is nothing to opinions, they may
be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, everyone can support them or discard
them. But the teachings, you've heard from me, are no opinion, and their
goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a
different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is what Gotama
teaches, nothing else."
"I wish that you, oh exalted one, would not be angry with me," said the
young man. "I have not spoken to you like this to argue with you, to argue
about words. You are truly right, there is little to opinions. But let me
say this one more thing: I have not doubted in you for a single moment. I
have not doubted for a single moment that you are Buddha, that you have
reached the goal, the highest goal towards which so many thousands of
Brahmans and sons of Brahmans are on their way. You have found salvation
from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own
path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through
enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—thus is my
thought, oh exalted one,—nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings!
You will not be able to convey and say to anybody, oh venerable one, in
words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of
enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much, it
teaches many to live righteously, to avoid evil. But there is one thing
which these so clear, these so venerable teachings do not contain: they do
not contain the mystery of what the exalted one has experienced for himself,
he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is what I have thought and
realized, when I have heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my
travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but
to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself
or to die. But often, I'll think of this day, oh exalted one, and of this
hour, when my eyes beheld a holy man."
The Buddha's eyes quietly looked to the ground; quietly, in perfect
equanimity his inscrutable face was smiling.
"I wish," the venerable one spoke slowly, "that your thoughts shall not
be in error, that you shall reach the goal! But tell me: Have you seen the
multitude of my Samanas, my many brothers, who have taken refuge in the
teachings? And do you believe, oh stranger, oh Samana, do you believe that
it would be better for them all the abandon the teachings and to return into
the life the world and of desires?"
"Far is such a thought from my mind," exclaimed Siddhartha. "I wish that
they shall all stay with the teachings, that they shall reach their goal! It
is not my place to judge another person's life. Only for myself, for myself
alone, I must decide, I must chose, I must refuse. Salvation from the self
is what we Samanas search for, oh exalted one. If I merely were one of your
disciples, oh venerable one, I'd fear that it might happen to me that only
seemingly, only deceptively my self would be calm and be redeemed, but that
in truth it would live on and grow, for then I had replaced my self with the
teachings, my duty to follow you, my love for you, and the community of the
With half of a smile, with an unwavering openness and kindness, Gotama
looked into the stranger's eyes and bid him to leave with a hardly
"You are wise, oh Samana.", the venerable one spoke.
"You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!"
The Buddha turned away, and his glance and half of a smile remained
forever etched in Siddhartha's memory.
I have never before seen a person glance and smile, sit and walk this
way, he thought; truly, I wish to be able to glance and smile, sit and walk
this way, too, thus free, thus venerable, thus concealed, thus open, thus
child-like and mysterious. Truly, only a person who has succeeded in
reaching the innermost part of his self would glance and walk this way. Well
so, I also will seek to reach the innermost part of my self.
I saw a man, Siddhartha thought, a single man, before whom I would have
to lower my glance. I do not want to lower my glance before any other, not
before any other. No teachings will entice me any more, since this man's
teachings have not enticed me.
I am deprived by the Buddha, thought Siddhartha, I am deprived, and even
more he has given to me. He has deprived me of my friend, the one who had
believed in me and now believes in him, who had been my shadow and is now
Gotama's shadow. But he has given me Siddhartha, myself.
When Siddhartha left the grove, where the Buddha, the perfected one,
stayed behind, where Govinda stayed behind, then he felt that in this grove
his past life also stayed behind and parted from him. He pondered about this
sensation, which filled him completely, as he was slowly walking along. He
pondered deeply, like diving into a deep water he let himself sink down to
the ground of the sensation, down to the place where the causes lie, because
to identify the causes, so it seemed to him, is the very essence of
thinking, and by this alone sensations turn into realizations and are not
lost, but become entities and start to emit like rays of light what is
inside of them.
Slowly walking along, Siddhartha pondered. He realized that he was no
youth any more, but had turned into a man. He realized that one thing had
left him, as a snake is left by its old skin, that one thing no longer
existed in him, which had accompanied him throughout his youth and used to
be a part of him: the wish to have teachers and to listen to teachings. He
had also left the last teacher who had appeared on his path, even him, the
highest and wisest teacher, the most holy one, Buddha, he had left him, had
to part with him, was not able to accept his teachings.
Slower, he walked along in his thoughts and asked himself: "But what is
this, what you have sought to learn from teachings and from teachers, and
what they, who have taught you much, were still unable to teach you?" And he
found: "It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn.
It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome.
But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee
from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my
thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being
alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of
me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about
than about me, about Siddhartha!"
Having been pondering while slowly walking along, he now stopped as these
thoughts caught hold of him, and right away another thought sprang forth
from these, a new thought, which was: "That I know nothing about myself,
that Siddhartha has remained thus alien and unknown to me, stems from one
cause, a single cause: I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself! I
searched Atman, I searched Brahman, I was willing to to dissect my self and
peel off all of its layers, to find the core of all peels in its unknown
interior, the Atman, life, the divine part, the ultimate part. But I have
lost myself in the process."
Siddhartha opened his eyes and looked around, a smile filled his face and
a feeling of awakening from long dreams flowed through him from his head
down to his toes. And it was not long before he walked again, walked quickly
like a man who knows what he has got to do.
"Oh," he thought, taking a deep breath, "now I would not let Siddhartha
escape from me again! No longer, I want to begin my thoughts and my life
with Atman and with the suffering of the world. I do not want to kill and
dissect myself any longer, to find a secret behind the ruins. Neither
Yoga-Veda shall teach me any more, nor Atharva-Veda, nor the ascetics, nor
any kind of teachings. I want to learn from myself, want to be my student,
want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha."
He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time.
Beautiful was the world, colourful was the world, strange and mysterious was
the world! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green, the sky and the
river flowed, the forest and the mountains were rigid, all of it was
beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst was he,
Siddhartha, the awakening one, on the path to himself. All of this, all this
yellow and blue, river and forest, entered Siddhartha for the first time
through the eyes, was no longer a spell of Mara, was no longer the veil of
Maya, was no longer a pointless and coincidental diversity of mere
appearances, despicable to the deeply thinking Brahman, who scorns
diversity, who seeks unity. Blue was blue, river was river, and if also in
the blue and the river, in Siddhartha, the singular and divine lived hidden,
so it was still that very divinity's way and purpose, to be here yellow,
here blue, there sky, there forest, and here Siddhartha. The purpose and the
essential properties were not somewhere behind the things, they were in
them, in everything.
"How deaf and stupid have I been!" he thought, walking swiftly along.
"When someone reads a text, wants to discover its meaning, he will not scorn
the symbols and letters and call them deceptions, coincidence, and worthless
hull, but he will read them, he will study and love them, letter by letter.
But I, who wanted to read the book of the world and the book of my own
being, I have, for the sake of a meaning I had anticipated before I read,
scorned the symbols and letters, I called the visible world a deception,
called my eyes and my tongue coincidental and worthless forms without
substance. No, this is over, I have awakened, I have indeed awakened and
have not been born before this very day."
In thinking this thoughts, Siddhartha stopped once again, suddenly, as if
there was a snake lying in front of him on the path.
Because suddenly, he had also become aware of this: He, who was indeed
like someone who had just woken up or like a new-born baby, he had to start
his life anew and start again at the very beginning. When he had left in
this very morning from the grove Jetavana, the grove of that exalted one,
already awakening, already on the path towards himself, he he had every
intention, regarded as natural and took for granted, that he, after years as
an ascetic, would return to his home and his father. But now, only in this
moment, when he stopped as if a snake was lying on his path, he also awoke
to this realization: "But I am no longer the one I was, I am no ascetic any
more, I am not a priest any more, I am no Brahman any more. Whatever should
I do at home and at my father's place? Study? Make offerings? Practise
meditation? But all this is over, all of this is no longer alongside my
Motionless, Siddhartha remained standing there, and for the time of one
moment and breath, his heart felt cold, he felt a cold in his chest, as a
small animal, a bird or a rabbit, would when seeing how alone he was. For
many years, he had been without home and had felt nothing. Now, he felt it.
Still, even in the deepest meditation, he had been his father's son, had
been a Brahman, of a high caste, a cleric. Now, he was nothing but
Siddhartha, the awoken one, nothing else was left. Deeply, he inhaled, and
for a moment, he felt cold and shivered. Nobody was thus alone as he was.
There was no nobleman who did not belong to the noblemen, no worker that did
not belong to the workers, and found refuge with them, shared their life,
spoke their language. No Brahman, who would not be regarded as Brahmans and
lived with them, no ascetic who would not find his refuge in the caste of
the Samanas, and even the most forlorn hermit in the forest was not just one
and alone, he was also surrounded by a place he belonged to, he also
belonged to a caste, in which he was at home. Govinda had become a monk, and
a thousand monks were his brothers, wore the same robe as he, believed in
his faith, spoke his language. But he, Siddhartha, where did he belong to?
With whom would he share his life? Whose language would he speak?
Out of this moment, when the world melted away all around him, when he
stood alone like a star in the sky, out of this moment of a cold and
despair, Siddhartha emerged, more a self than before, more firmly
concentrated. He felt: This had been the last tremor of the awakening, the
last struggle of this birth. And it was not long until he walked again in
long strides, started to proceed swiftly and impatiently, heading no longer
for home, no longer to his father, no longer back.
Dedicated to Wilhelm Gundert, my cousin in Japan
Siddhartha learned something new on every step of his path, for the world
was transformed, and his heart was enchanted. He saw the sun rising over the
mountains with their forests and setting over the distant beach with its
palm-trees. At night, he saw the stars in the sky in their fixed positions
and the crescent of the moon floating like a boat in the blue. He saw trees,
stars, animals, clouds, rainbows, rocks, herbs, flowers, stream and river,
the glistening dew in the bushes in the morning, distant hight mountains
which were blue and pale, birds sang and bees, wind silverishly blew through
the rice-field. All of this, a thousand-fold and colourful, had always been
there, always the sun and the moon had shone, always rivers had roared and
bees had buzzed, but in former times all of this had been nothing more to
Siddhartha than a fleeting, deceptive veil before his eyes, looked upon in
distrust, destined to be penetrated and destroyed by thought, since it was
not the essential existence, since this essence lay beyond, on the other
side of, the visible. But now, his liberated eyes stayed on this side, he
saw and became aware of the visible, sought to be at home in this world, did
not search for the true essence, did not aim at a world beyond. Beautiful
was this world, looking at it thus, without searching, thus simply, thus
childlike. Beautiful were the moon and the stars, beautiful was the stream
and the banks, the forest and the rocks, the goat and the gold-beetle, the
flower and the butterfly. Beautiful and lovely it was, thus to walk through
the world, thus childlike, thus awoken, thus open to what is near, thus
without distrust. Differently the sun burnt the head, differently the shade
of the forest cooled him down, differently the stream and the cistern, the
pumpkin and the banana tasted. Short were the days, short the nights, every
hour sped swiftly away like a sail on the sea, and under the sail was a ship
full of treasures, full of joy. Siddhartha saw a group of apes moving
through the high canopy of the forest, high in the branches, and heard their
savage, greedy song. Siddhartha saw a male sheep following a female one and
mating with her. In a lake of reeds, he saw the pike hungrily hunting for
its dinner; propelling themselves away from it, in fear, wiggling and
sparkling, the young fish jumped in droves out of the water; the scent of
strength and passion came forcefully out of the hasty eddies of the water,
which the pike stirred up, impetuously hunting.
All of this had always existed, and he had not seen it; he had not been
with it. Now he was with it, he was part of it. Light and shadow ran through
his eyes, stars and moon ran through his heart.
On the way, Siddhartha also remembered everything he had experienced in
the Garden Jetavana, the teaching he had heard there, the divine Buddha, the
farewell from Govinda, the conversation with the exalted one. Again he
remembered his own words, he had spoken to the exalted one, every word, and
with astonishment he became aware of the fact that there he had said things
which he had not really known yet at this time. What he had said to Gotama:
his, the Buddha's, treasure and secret was not the teachings, but the
unexpressable and not teachable, which he had experienced in the hour of his
enlightenment—it was nothing but this very thing which he had now gone to
experience, what he now began to experience. Now, he had to experience his
self. It is true that he had already known for a long time that his self was
Atman, in its essence bearing the same eternal characteristics as Brahman.
But never, he had really found this self, because he had wanted to capture
it in the net of thought. With the body definitely not being the self, and
not the spectacle of the senses, so it also was not the thought, not the
rational mind, not the learned wisdom, not the learned ability to draw
conclusions and to develop previous thoughts in to new ones. No, this world
of thought was also still on this side, and nothing could be achieved by
killing the random self of the senses, if the random self of thoughts and
learned knowledge was fattened on the other hand. Both, the thoughts as well
as the senses, were pretty things, the ultimate meaning was hidden behind
both of them, both had to be listened to, both had to be played with, both
neither had to be scorned nor overestimated, from both the secret voices of
the innermost truth had to be attentively perceived. He wanted to strive for
nothing, except for what the voice commanded him to strive for, dwell on
nothing, except where the voice would advise him to do so. Why had Gotama,
at that time, in the hour of all hours, sat down under the bo-tree, where
the enlightenment hit him? He had heard a voice, a voice in his own heart,
which had commanded him to seek rest under this tree, and he had neither
preferred self-castigation, offerings, ablutions, nor prayer, neither food
nor drink, neither sleep nor dream, he had obeyed the voice. To obey like
this, not to an external command, only to the voice, to be ready like this,
this was good, this was necessary, nothing else was necessary.
In the night when he slept in the straw hut of a ferryman by the river,
Siddhartha had a dream: Govinda was standing in front of him, dressed in the
yellow robe of an ascetic. Sad was how Govinda looked like, sadly he asked:
Why have you forsaken me? At this, he embraced Govinda, wrapped his arms
around him, and as he was pulling him close to his chest and kissed him, it
was not Govinda any more, but a woman, and a full breast popped out of the
woman's dress, at which Siddhartha lay and drank, sweetly and strongly
tasted the milk from this breast. It tasted of woman and man, of sun and
forest, of animal and flower, of every fruit, of every joyful desire. It
intoxicated him and rendered him unconscious.—When Siddhartha woke up, the
pale river shimmered through the door of the hut, and in the forest, a dark
call of an owl resounded deeply and pleasantly.
When the day began, Siddhartha asked his host, the ferryman, to get him
across the river. The ferryman got him across the river on his bamboo-raft,
the wide water shimmered reddishly in the light of the morning.
"This is a beautiful river," he said to his companion.
"Yes," said the ferryman, "a very beautiful river, I love it more than
anything. Often I have listened to it, often I have looked into its eyes,
and always I have learned from it. Much can be learned from a river."
"I than you, my benefactor," spoke Siddhartha, disembarking on the other
side of the river. "I have no gift I could give you for your hospitality, my
dear, and also no payment for your work. I am a man without a home, a son of
a Brahman and a Samana."
"I did see it," spoke the ferryman, "and I haven't expected any payment
from you and no gift which would be the custom for guests to bear. You will
give me the gift another time."
"Do you think so?" asked Siddhartha amusedly.
"Surely. This too, I have learned from the river: everything is coming
back! You too, Samana, will come back. Now farewell! Let your friendship be
my reward. Commemorate me, when you'll make offerings to the gods."
Smiling, they parted. Smiling, Siddhartha was happy about the friendship
and the kindness of the ferryman. "He is like Govinda," he thought with a
smile, "all I meet on my path are like Govinda. All are thankful, though
they are the ones who would have a right to receive thanks. All are
submissive, all would like to be friends, like to obey, think little. Like
children are all people."
At about noon, he came through a village. In front of the mud cottages,
children were rolling about in the street, were playing with pumpkin-seeds
and sea-shells, screamed and wrestled, but they all timidly fled from the
unknown Samana. In the end of the village, the path led through a stream,
and by the side of the stream, a young woman was kneeling and washing
clothes. When Siddhartha greeted her, she lifted her head and looked up to
him with a smile, so that he saw the white in her eyes glistening. He called
out a blessing to her, as it is the custom among travellers, and asked how
far he still had to go to reach the large city. Then she got up and came to
him, beautifully her wet mouth was shimmering in her young face. She
exchanged humorous banter with him, asked whether he had eaten already, and
whether it was true that the Samanas slept alone in the forest at night and
were not allowed to have any women with them. While talking, she put her
left foot on his right one and made a movement as a woman does who would
want to initiate that kind of sexual pleasure with a man, which the
textbooks call "climbing a tree". Siddhartha felt his blood heating up, and
since in this moment he had to think of his dream again, he bend slightly
down to the woman and kissed with his lips the brown nipple of her breast.
Looking up, he saw her face smiling full of lust and her eyes, with
contracted pupils, begging with desire.
Siddhartha also felt desire and felt the source of his sexuality moving;
but since he had never touched a woman before, he hesitated for a moment,
while his hands were already prepared to reach out for her. And in this
moment he heard, shuddering with awe, the voice if his innermost self, and
this voice said No. Then, all charms disappeared from the young woman's
smiling face, he no longer saw anything else but the damp glance of a female
animal in heat. Politely, he petted her cheek, turned away from her and
disappeared away from the disappointed woman with light steps into the
On this day, he reached the large city before the evening, and was happy,
for he felt the need to be among people. For a long time, he had lived in
the forests, and the straw hut of the ferryman, in which he had slept that
night, had been the first roof for a long time he has had over his head.
Before the city, in a beautifully fenced grove, the traveller came across
a small group of servants, both male and female, carrying baskets. In their
midst, carried by four servants in an ornamental sedan-chair, sat a woman,
the mistress, on red pillows under a colourful canopy. Siddhartha stopped at
the entrance to the pleasure-garden and watched the parade, saw the
servants, the maids, the baskets, saw the sedan-chair and saw the lady in
it. Under black hair, which made to tower high on her head, he saw a very
fair, very delicate, very smart face, a brightly red mouth, like a freshly
cracked fig, eyebrows which were well tended and painted in a high arch,
smart and watchful dark eyes, a clear, tall neck rising from a green and
golden garment, resting fair hands, long and thin, with wide golden
bracelets over the wrists.
Siddhartha saw how beautiful she was, and his heart rejoiced. He bowed
deeply, when the sedan-chair came closer, and straightening up again, he
looked at the fair, charming face, read for a moment in the smart eyes with
the high arcs above, breathed in a slight fragrant, he did not know. With a
smile, the beautiful women nodded for a moment and disappeared into the
grove, and then the servant as well.
Thus I am entering this city, Siddhartha thought, with a charming omen.
He instantly felt drawn into the grove, but he thought about it, and only
now he became aware of how the servants and maids had looked at him at the
entrance, how despicable, how distrustful, how rejecting.
I am still a Samana, he thought, I am still an ascetic and beggar. I must
not remain like this, I will not be able to enter the grove like this. And
The next person who came along this path he asked about the grove and for
the name of the woman, and was told that this was the grove of Kamala, the
famous courtesan, and that, aside from the grove, she owned a house in the
Then, he entered the city. Now he had a goal.
Pursuing his goal, he allowed the city to suck him in, drifted through
the flow of the streets, stood still on the squares, rested on the stairs of
stone by the river. When the evening came, he made friends with barber's
assistant, whom he had seen working in the shade of an arch in a building,
whom he found again praying in a temple of Vishnu, whom he told about
stories of Vishnu and the Lakshmi. Among the boats by the river, he slept
this night, and early in the morning, before the first customers came into
his shop, he had the barber's assistant shave his beard and cut his hair,
comb his hair and anoint it with fine oil. Then he went to take his bath in
When late in the afternoon, beautiful Kamala approached her grove in her
sedan-chair, Siddhartha was standing at the entrance, made a bow and
received the courtesan's greeting. But that servant who walked at the very
end of her train he motioned to him and asked him to inform his mistress
that a young Brahman would wish to talk to her. After a while, the servant
returned, asked him, who had been waiting, to follow him conducted him, who
was following him, without a word into a pavilion, where Kamala was lying on
a couch, and left him alone with her.
"Weren't you already standing out there yesterday, greeting me?" asked
"It's true that I've already seen and greeted you yesterday."
"But didn't you yesterday wear a beard, and long hair, and dust in your
"You have observed well, you have seen everything. You have seen
Siddhartha, the son of a Brahman, who has left his home to become a Samana,
and who has been a Samana for three years. But now, I have left that path
and came into this city, and the first one I met, even before I had entered
the city, was you. To say this, I have come to you, oh Kamala! You are the
first woman whom Siddhartha is not addressing with his eyes turned to the
ground. Never again I want to turn my eyes to the ground, when I'm coming
across a beautiful woman."
Kamala smiled and played with her fan of peacocks' feathers. And asked:
"And only to tell me this, Siddhartha has come to me?"
"To tell you this and to thank you for being so beautiful. And if it
doesn't displease you, Kamala, I would like to ask you to be my friend and
teacher, for I know nothing yet of that art which you have mastered in the
At this, Kamala laughed aloud.
"Never before this has happened to me, my friend, that a Samana from the
forest came to me and wanted to learn from me! Never before this has
happened to me, that a Samana came to me with long hair and an old, torn
loin-cloth! Many young men come to me, and there are also sons of Brahmans
among them, but they come in beautiful clothes, they come in fine shoes,
they have perfume in their hair and money in their pouches. This is, oh
Samana, how the young men are like who come to me."
Quoth Siddhartha: "Already I am starting to learn from you. Even
yesterday, I was already learning. I have already taken off my beard, have
combed the hair, have oil in my hair. There is little which is still missing
in me, oh excellent one: fine clothes, fine shoes, money in my pouch. You
shall know, Siddhartha has set harder goals for himself than such trifles,
and he has reached them. How shouldn't I reach that goal, which I have set
for myself yesterday: to be your friend and to learn the joys of love from
you! You'll see that I'll learn quickly, Kamala, I have already learned
harder things than what you're supposed to teach me. And now let's get to
it: You aren't satisfied with Siddhartha as he is, with oil in his hair, but
without clothes, without shoes, without money?"
Laughing, Kamala exclaimed: "No, my dear, he doesn't satisfy me yet.
Clothes are what he must have, pretty clothes, and shoes, pretty shoes, and
lots of money in his pouch, and gifts for Kamala. Do you know it now, Samana
from the forest? Did you mark my words?"
"Yes, I have marked your words," Siddhartha exclaimed. "How should I not
mark words which are coming from such a mouth! Your mouth is like a freshly
cracked fig, Kamala. My mouth is red and fresh as well, it will be a
suitable match for yours, you'll see.—But tell me, beautiful Kamala, aren't
you at all afraid of the Samana from the forest, who has come to learn how
to make love?"
"Whatever for should I be afraid of a Samana, a stupid Samana from the
forest, who is coming from the jackals and doesn't even know yet what women
"Oh, he's strong, the Samana, and he isn't afraid of anything. He could
force you, beautiful girl. He could kidnap you. He could hurt you."
"No, Samana, I am not afraid of this. Did any Samana or Brahman ever
fear, someone might come and grab him and steal his learning, and his
religious devotion, and his depth of thought? No, for they are his very own,
and he would only give away from those whatever he is willing to give and to
whomever he is willing to give. Like this it is, precisely like this it is
also with Kamala and with the pleasures of love. Beautiful and red is
Kamala's mouth, but just try to kiss it against Kamala's will, and you will
not obtain a single drop of sweetness from it, which knows how to give so
many sweet things! You are learning easily, Siddhartha, thus you should also
learn this: love can be obtained by begging, buying, receiving it as a gift,
finding it in the street, but it cannot be stolen. In this, you have come up
with the wrong path. No, it would be a pity, if a pretty young man like you
would want to tackle it in such a wrong manner."
Siddhartha bowed with a smile. "It would be a pity, Kamala, you are so
right! It would be such a great pity. No, I shall not lose a single drop of
sweetness from your mouth, nor you from mine! So it is settled: Siddhartha
will return, once he'll have have what he still lacks: clothes, shoes,
money. But speak, lovely Kamala, couldn't you still give me one small
"An advice? Why not? Who wouldn't like to give an advice to a poor,
ignorant Samana, who is coming from the jackals of the forest?"
"Dear Kamala, thus advise me where I should go to, that I'll find these
three things most quickly?"
"Friend, many would like to know this. You must do what you've learned
and ask for money, clothes, and shoes in return. There is no other way for a
poor man to obtain money. What might you be able to do?"
"I can think. I can wait. I can fast."
"Nothing. But yes, I can also write poetry. Would you like to give me a
kiss for a poem?"
"I would like to, if I'll like your poem. What would be its title?"
Siddhartha spoke, after he had thought about it for a moment, these
Into her shady grove stepped the pretty Kamala, At the grove's entrance
stood the brown Samana. Deeply, seeing the lotus's blossom, Bowed that man,
and smiling Kamala thanked. More lovely, thought the young man, than
offerings for gods, More lovely is offering to pretty Kamala.
Kamala loudly clapped her hands, so that the golden bracelets clanged.
"Beautiful are your verses, oh brown Samana, and truly, I'm losing
nothing when I'm giving you a kiss for them."
She beckoned him with her eyes, he tilted his head so that his face
touched hers and placed his mouth on that mouth which was like a freshly
cracked fig. For a long time, Kamala kissed him, and with a deep
astonishment Siddhartha felt how she taught him, how wise she was, how she
controlled him, rejected him, lured him, and how after this first one there
was to be a long, a well ordered, well tested sequence of kisses, everyone
different from the others, he was still to receive. Breathing deeply, he
remained standing where he was, and was in this moment astonished like a
child about the cornucopia of knowledge and things worth learning, which
revealed itself before his eyes.
"Very beautiful are your verses," exclaimed Kamala, "if I was rich, I
would give you pieces of gold for them. But it will be difficult for you to
earn thus much money with verses as you need. For you need a lot of money,
if you want to be Kamala's friend."
"The way you're able to kiss, Kamala!" stammered Siddhartha.
"Yes, this I am able to do, therefore I do not lack clothes, shoes,
bracelets, and all beautiful things. But what will become of you? Aren't you
able to do anything else but thinking, fasting, making poetry?"
"I also know the sacrificial songs," said Siddhartha, "but I do not want
to sing them any more. I also know magic spells, but I do not want to speak
them any more. I have read the scriptures—"
"Stop," Kamala interrupted him. "You're able to read? And write?"
"Certainly, I can do this. Many people can do this."
"Most people can't. I also can't do it. It is very good that you're able
to read and write, very good. You will also still find use for the magic
In this moment, a maid came running in and whispered a message into her
"There's a visitor for me," exclaimed Kamala. "Hurry and get yourself
away, Siddhartha, nobody may see you in here, remember this! Tomorrow, I'll
see you again."
But to the maid she gave the order to give the pious Brahman white upper
garments. Without fully understanding what was happening to him, Siddhartha
found himself being dragged away by the maid, brought into a garden-house
avoiding the direct path, being given upper garments as a gift, led into the
bushes, and urgently admonished to get himself out of the grove as soon as
possible without being seen.
Contently, he did as he had been told. Being accustomed to the forest, he
managed to get out of the grove and over the hedge without making a sound.
Contently, he returned to the city, carrying the rolled up garments under
his arm. At the inn, where travellers stay, he positioned himself by the
door, without words he asked for food, without a word he accepted a piece of
rice-cake. Perhaps as soon as tomorrow, he thought, I will ask no one for
food any more.
Suddenly, pride flared up in him. He was no Samana any more, it was no
longer becoming to him to beg. He gave the rice-cake to a dog and remained
"Simple is the life which people lead in this world here," thought
Siddhartha. "It presents no difficulties. Everything was difficult,
toilsome, and ultimately hopeless, when I was still a Samana. Now,
everything is easy, easy like that lessons in kissing, which Kamala is
giving me. I need clothes and money, nothing else; this a small, near goals,
they won't make a person lose any sleep."
He had already discovered Kamala's house in the city long before, there
he turned up the following day.
"Things are working out well," she called out to him. "They are expecting
you at Kamaswami's, he is the richest merchant of the city. If he'll like
you, he'll accept you into his service. Be smart, brown Samana. I had others
tell him about you. Be polite towards him, he is very powerful. But don't be
too modest! I do not want you to become his servant, you shall become his
equal, or else I won't be satisfied with you. Kamaswami is starting to get
old and lazy. If he'll like you, he'll entrust you with a lot."
Siddhartha thanked her and laughed, and when she found out that he had
not eaten anything yesterday and today, she sent for bread and fruits and
treated him to it.
"You've been lucky," she said when they parted, "I'm opening one door
after another for you. How come? Do you have a spell?"
Siddhartha said: "Yesterday, I told you I knew how to think, to wait, and
to fast, but you thought this was of no use. But it is useful for many
things, Kamala, you'll see. You'll see that the stupid Samanas are learning
and able to do many pretty things in the forest, which the likes of you
aren't capable of. The day before yesterday, I was still a shaggy beggar, as
soon as yesterday I have kissed Kamala, and soon I'll be a merchant and have
money and all those things you insist upon."
"Well yes," she admitted. "But where would you be without me? What would
you be, if Kamala wasn't helping you?"
"Dear Kamala," said Siddhartha and straightened up to his full height,
"when I came to you into your grove, I did the first step. It was my
resolution to learn love from this most beautiful woman. From that moment on
when I had made this resolution, I also knew that I would carry it out. I
knew that you would help me, at your first glance at the entrance of the
grove I already knew it."
"But what if I hadn't been willing?"
"You were willing. Look, Kamala: When you throw a rock into the water, it
will speed on the fastest course to the bottom of the water. This is how it
is when Siddhartha has a goal, a resolution. Siddhartha does nothing, he
waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world
like a rock through water, without doing anything, without stirring; he is
drawn, he lets himself fall. His goal attracts him, because he doesn't let
anything enter his soul which might oppose the goal. This is what Siddhartha
has learned among the Samanas. This is what fools call magic and of which
they think it would be effected by means of the daemons. Nothing is effected
by daemons, there are no daemons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can
reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is
able to fast."
Kamala listened to him. She loved his voice, she loved the look from his
"Perhaps it is so," she said quietly, "as you say, friend. But perhaps it
is also like this: that Siddhartha is a handsome man, that his glance
pleases the women, that therefore good fortune is coming towards him."
With one kiss, Siddhartha bid his farewell. "I wish that it should be
this way, my teacher; that my glance shall please you, that always good
fortune shall come to me out of your direction!"
WITH THE CHILDLIKE PEOPLE
Siddhartha went to Kamaswami the merchant, he was directed into a rich
house, servants led him between precious carpets into a chamber, where he
awaited the master of the house.
Kamaswami entered, a swiftly, smoothly moving man with very gray hair,
with very intelligent, cautious eyes, with a greedy mouth. Politely, the
host and the guest greeted one another.
"I have been told," the merchant began, "that you were a Brahman, a
learned man, but that you seek to be in the service of a merchant. Might you
have become destitute, Brahman, so that you seek to serve?"
"No," said Siddhartha, "I have not become destitute and have never been
destitute. You should know that I'm coming from the Samanas, with whom I
have lived for a long time."
"If you're coming from the Samanas, how could you be anything but
destitute? Aren't the Samanas entirely without possessions?"
"I am without possessions," said Siddhartha, "if this is what you mean.
Surely, I am without possessions. But I am so voluntarily, and therefore I
am not destitute."
"But what are you planning to live of, being without possessions?"
"I haven't thought of this yet, sir. For more than three years, I have
been without possessions, and have never thought about of what I should
"So you've lived of the possessions of others."
"Presumable this is how it is. After all, a merchant also lives of what
other people own."
"Well said. But he wouldn't take anything from another person for
nothing; he would give his merchandise in return."
"So it seems to be indeed. Everyone takes, everyone gives, such is life."
"But if you don't mind me asking: being without possessions, what would
you like to give?"
"Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant
gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish."
"Yes indeed. And what is it now what you've got to give? What is it that
you've learned, what you're able to do?"
"I can think. I can wait. I can fast."
"I believe, that's everything!"
"And what's the use of that? For example, the fasting—what is it good
"It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the
smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn't learned to
fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up,
whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do
so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he
knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and
can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for."
"You're right, Samana. Wait for a moment."
Kamaswami left the room and returned with a scroll, which he handed to
his guest while asking: "Can you read this?"
Siddhartha looked at the scroll, on which a sales-contract had been
written down, and began to read out its contents.
"Excellent," said Kamaswami. "And would you write something for me on
this piece of paper?"
He handed him a piece of paper and a pen, and Siddhartha wrote and
returned the paper.
Kamaswami read: "Writing is good, thinking is better. Being smart is
good, being patient is better."
"It is excellent how you're able to write," the merchant praised him.
"Many a thing we will still have to discuss with one another. For today, I'm
asking you to be my guest and to live in this house."
Siddhartha thanked and accepted, and lived in the dealers house from now
on. Clothes were brought to him, and shoes, and every day, a servant
prepared a bath for him. Twice a day, a plentiful meal was served, but
Siddhartha only ate once a day, and ate neither meat nor did he drink wine.
Kamaswami told him about his trade, showed him the merchandise and
storage-rooms, showed him calculations. Siddhartha got to know many new
things, he heard a lot and spoke little. And thinking of Kamala's words, he
was never subservient to the merchant, forced him to treat him as an equal,
yes even more than an equal. Kamaswami conducted his business with care and
often with passion, but Siddhartha looked upon all of this as if it was a
game, the rules of which he tried hard to learn precisely, but the contents
of which did not touch his heart.
He was not in Kamaswami's house for long, when he already took part in
his landlords business. But daily, at the hour appointed by her, he visited
beautiful Kamala, wearing pretty clothes, fine shoes, and soon he brought
her gifts as well. Much he learned from her red, smart mouth. Much he
learned from her tender, supple hand. Him, who was, regarding love, still a
boy and had a tendency to plunge blindly and insatiably into lust like into
a bottomless pit, him she taught, thoroughly starting with the basics, about
that school of thought which teaches that pleasure cannot be be taken
without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch,
every look, every spot of the body, however small it was, had its secret,
which would bring happiness to those who know about it and unleash it. She
taught him, that lovers must not part from one another after celebrating
love, without one admiring the other, without being just as defeated as they
have been victorious, so that with none of them should start feeling fed up
or bored and get that evil feeling of having abused or having been abused.
Wonderful hours he spent with the beautiful and smart artist, became her
student, her lover, her friend. Here with Kamala was the worth and purpose
of his present life, nit with the business of Kamaswami.
The merchant passed to duties of writing important letters and contracts
on to him and got into the habit of discussing all important affairs with
him. He soon saw that Siddhartha knew little about rice and wool, shipping
and trade, but that he acted in a fortunate manner, and that Siddhartha
surpassed him, the merchant, in calmness and equanimity, and in the art of
listening and deeply understanding previously unknown people. "This
Brahman," he said to a friend, "is no proper merchant and will never be one,
there is never any passion in his soul when he conducts our business. But he
has that mysterious quality of those people to whom success comes all by
itself, whether this may be a good star of his birth, magic, or something he
has learned among Samanas. He always seems to be merely playing with out
business-affairs, they never fully become a part of him, they never rule
over him, he is never afraid of failure, he is never upset by a loss."
The friend advised the merchant: "Give him from the business he conducts
for you a third of the profits, but let him also be liable for the same
amount of the losses, when there is a loss. Then, he'll become more
Kamaswami followed the advice. But Siddhartha cared little about this.
When he made a profit, he accepted it with equanimity; when he made losses,
he laughed and said: "Well, look at this, so this one turned out badly!"
It seemed indeed, as if he did not care about the business. At one time,
he travelled to a village to buy a large harvest of rice there. But when he
got there, the rice had already been sold to another merchant. Nevertheless,
Siddhartha stayed for several days in that village, treated the farmers for
a drink, gave copper-coins to their children, joined in the celebration of a
wedding, and returned extremely satisfied from his trip. Kamaswami held
against him that he had not turned back right away, that he had wasted time
and money. Siddhartha answered: "Stop scolding, dear friend! Nothing was
ever achieved by scolding. If a loss has occurred, let me bear that loss. I
am very satisfied with this trip. I have gotten to know many kinds of
people, a Brahman has become my friend, children have sat on my knees,
farmers have shown me their fields, nobody knew that I was a merchant."
"That's all very nice," exclaimed Kamaswami indignantly, "but in fact,
you are a merchant after all, one ought to think! Or might you have only
travelled for your amusement?"
"Surely," Siddhartha laughed, "surely I have travelled for my amusement.
For what else? I have gotten to know people and places, I have received
kindness and trust, I have found friendship. Look, my dear, if I had been
Kamaswami, I would have travelled back, being annoyed and in a hurry, as
soon as I had seen that my purchase had been rendered impossible, and time
and money would indeed have been lost. But like this, I've had a few good
days, I've learned, had joy, I've neither harmed myself nor others by
annoyance and hastiness. And if I'll ever return there again, perhaps to buy
an upcoming harvest, or for whatever purpose it might be, friendly people
will receive me in a friendly and happy manner, and I will praise myself for
not showing any hurry and displeasure at that time. So, leave it as it is,
my friend, and don't harm yourself by scolding! If the day will come, when
you will see: this Siddhartha is harming me, then speak a word and
Siddhartha will go on his own path. But until then, let's be satisfied with
Futile were also the merchant's attempts, to convince Siddhartha that he
should eat his bread. Siddhartha ate his own bread, or rather they both ate
other people's bread, all people's bread. Siddhartha never listened to
Kamaswami's worries and Kamaswami had many worries. Whether there was a
business-deal going on which was in danger of failing, or whether a shipment
of merchandise seemed to have been lost, or a debtor seemed to be unable to
pay, Kamaswami could never convince his partner that it would be useful to
utter a few words of worry or anger, to have wrinkles on the forehead, to
sleep badly. When, one day, Kamaswami held against him that he had learned
everything he knew from him, he replied: "Would you please not kid me with
such jokes! What I've learned from you is how much a basket of fish costs
and how much interests may be charged on loaned money. These are your areas
of expertise. I haven't learned to think from you, my dear Kamaswami, you
ought to be the one seeking to learn from me."
Indeed his soul was not with the trade. The business was good enough to
provide him with the money for Kamala, and it earned him much more than he
needed. Besides from this, Siddhartha's interest and curiosity was only
concerned with the people, whose businesses, crafts, worries, pleasures, and
acts of foolishness used to be as alien and distant to him as the moon.
However easily he succeeded in talking to all of them, in living with all of
them, in learning from all of them, he was still aware that there was
something which separated him from them and this separating factor was him
being a Samana. He saw mankind going trough life in a childlike or
animallike manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time. He saw
them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things
which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for
little pleasures, for being slightly honoured, he saw them scolding and
insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana
would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would
He was open to everything, these people brought his way. Welcome was the
merchant who offered him linen for sale, welcome was the debtor who sought
another loan, welcome was the beggar who told him for one hour the story of
his poverty and who was not half as poor as any given Samana. He did not
treat the rich foreign merchant any different than the servant who shaved
him and the street-vendor whom he let cheat him out of some small change
when buying bananas. When Kamaswami came to him, to complain about his
worries or to reproach him concerning his business, he listened curiously
and happily, was puzzled by him, tried to understand him, consented that he
was a little bit right, only as much as he considered indispensable, and
turned away from him, towards the next person who would ask for him. And
there were many who came to him, many to do business with him, many to cheat
him, many to draw some secret out of him, many to appeal to his sympathy,
many to get his advice. He gave advice, he pitied, he made gifts, he let
them cheat him a bit, and this entire game and the passion with which all
people played this game occupied his thoughts just as much as the gods and
Brahmans used to occupy them.
At times he felt, deep in his chest, a dying, quiet voice, which
admonished him quietly, lamented quietly; he hardly perceived it. And then,
for an hour, he became aware of the strange life he was leading, of him
doing lots of things which were only a game, of, though being happy and
feeling joy at times, real life still passing him by and not touching him.
As a ball-player plays with his balls, he played with his business-deals,
with the people around him, watched them, found amusement in them; with his
heart, with the source of his being, he was not with them. The source ran
somewhere, far away from him, ran and ran invisibly, had nothing to do with
his life any more. And at several times he suddenly became scared on account
of such thoughts and wished that he would also be gifted with the ability to
participate in all of this childlike-naive occupations of the daytime with
passion and with his heart, really to live, really to act, really to enjoy
and to live instead of just standing by as a spectator. But again and again,
he came back to beautiful Kamala, learned the art of love, practised the
cult of lust, in which more than in anything else giving and taking becomes
one, chatted with her, learned from her, gave her advice, received advice.
She understood him better than Govinda used to understand him, she was more
similar to him.
Once, he said to her: "You are like me, you are different from most
people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and inside of you, there is a peace
and refuge, to which you can go at every hour of the day and be at home at
yourself, as I can also do. Few people have this, and yet all could have
"Not all people are smart," said Kamala.
"No," said Siddhartha, "that's not the reason why. Kamaswami is just as
smart as I, and still has no refuge in himself. Others have it, who are
small children with respect to their mind. Most people, Kamala, are like a
falling leaf, which is blown and is turning around through the air, and
wavers, and tumbles to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars, they
go on a fixed course, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their
law and their course. Among all the learned men and Samanas, of which I knew
many, there was one of this kind, a perfected one, I'll never be able to
forget him. It is that Gotama, the exalted one, who is spreading that
teachings. Thousands of followers are listening to his teachings every day,
follow his instructions every hour, but they are all falling leaves, not in
themselves they have teachings and a law."
Kamala looked at him with a smile. "Again, you're talking about him," she
said, "again, you're having a Samana's thoughts."
Siddhartha said nothing, and they played the game of love, one of the
thirty or forty different games Kamala knew. Her body was flexible like that
of a jaguar and like the bow of a hunter; he who had learned from her how to
make love, was knowledgeable of many forms of lust, many secrets. For a long
time, she played with Siddhartha, enticed him, rejected him, forced him,
embraced him: enjoyed his masterful skills, until he was defeated and rested
exhausted by her side.
The courtesan bent over him, took a long look at his face, at his eyes,
which had grown tired.
"You are the best lover," she said thoughtfully, "I ever saw. You're
stronger than others, more supple, more willing. You've learned my art well,
Siddhartha. At some time, when I'll be older, I'd want to bear your child.
And yet, my dear, you've remained a Samana, and yet you do not love me, you
love nobody. Isn't it so?"
"It might very well be so," Siddhartha said tiredly. "I am like you. You
also do not love—how else could you practise love as a craft? Perhaps,
people of our kind can't love. The childlike people can; that's their
For a long time, Siddhartha had lived the life of the world and of lust,
though without being a part of it. His senses, which he had killed off in
hot years as a Samana, had awoken again, he had tasted riches, had tasted
lust, had tasted power; nevertheless he had still remained in his heart for
a long time a Samana; Kamala, being smart, had realized this quite right. It
was still the art of thinking, of waiting, of fasting, which guided his
life; still the people of the world, the childlike people, had remained
alien to him as he was alien to them.
Years passed by; surrounded by the good life, Siddhartha hardly felt them
fading away. He had become rich, for quite a while he possessed a house of
his own and his own servants, and a garden before the city by the river. The
people liked him, they came to him, whenever they needed money or advice,
but there was nobody close to him, except Kamala.
That high, bright state of being awake, which he had experienced that one
time at the height of his youth, in those days after Gotama's sermon, after
the separation from Govinda, that tense expectation, that proud state of
standing alone without teachings and without teachers, that supple
willingness to listen to the divine voice in his own heart, had slowly
become a memory, had been fleeting; distant and quiet, the holy source
murmured, which used to be near, which used to murmur within himself.
Nevertheless, many things he had learned from the Samanas, he had learned
from Gotama, he had learned from his father the Brahman, had remained within
him for a long time afterwards: moderate living, joy of thinking, hours of
meditation, secret knowledge of the self, of his eternal entity, which is
neither body nor consciousness. Many a part of this he still had, but one
part after another had been submerged and had gathered dust. Just as a
potter's wheel, once it has been set in motion, will keep on turning for a
long time and only slowly lose its vigour and come to a stop, thus
Siddhartha's soul had kept on turning the wheel of asceticism, the wheel of
thinking, the wheel of differentiation for a long time, still turning, but
it turned slowly and hesitantly and was close to coming to a standstill.
Slowly, like humidity entering the dying stem of a tree, filling it slowly
and making it rot, the world and sloth had entered Siddhartha's soul, slowly
it filled his soul, made it heavy, made it tired, put it to sleep. On the
other hand, his senses had become alive, there was much they had learned,
much they had experienced.
Siddhartha had learned to trade, to use his power over people, to enjoy
himself with a woman, he had learned to wear beautiful clothes, to give
orders to servants, to bathe in perfumed waters. He had learned to eat
tenderly and carefully prepared food, even fish, even meat and poultry,
spices and sweets, and to drink wine, which causes sloth and forgetfulness.
He had learned to play with dice and on a chess-board, to watch dancing
girls, to have himself carried about in a sedan-chair, to sleep on a soft
bed. But still he had felt different from and superior to the others; always
he had watched them with some mockery, some mocking disdain, with the same
disdain which a Samana constantly feels for the people of the world. When
Kamaswami was ailing, when he was annoyed, when he felt insulted, when he
was vexed by his worries as a merchant, Siddhartha had always watched it
with mockery. Just slowly and imperceptibly, as the harvest seasons and
rainy seasons passed by, his mockery had become more tired, his superiority
had become more quiet. Just slowly, among his growing riches, Siddhartha had
assumed something of the childlike people's ways for himself, something of
their childlikeness and of their fearfulness. And yet, he envied them,
envied them just the more, the more similar he became to them. He envied
them for the one thing that was missing from him and that they had, the
importance they were able to attach to their lives, the amount of passion in
their joys and fears, the fearful but sweet happiness of being constantly in
love. These people were all of the time in love with themselves, with women,
with their children, with honours or money, with plans or hopes. But he did
not learn this from them, this out of all things, this joy of a child and
this foolishness of a child; he learned from them out of all things the
unpleasant ones, which he himself despised. It happened more and more often
that, in the morning after having had company the night before, he stayed in
bed for a long time, felt unable to think and tired. It happened that he
became angry and impatient, when Kamaswami bored him with his worries. It
happened that he laughed just too loud, when he lost a game of dice. His
face was still smarter and more spiritual than others, but it rarely
laughed, and assumed, one after another, those features which are so often
found in the faces of rich people, those features of discontent, of
sickliness, of ill-humour, of sloth, of a lack of love. Slowly the disease
of the soul, which rich people have, grabbed hold of him.
Like a veil, like a thin mist, tiredness came over Siddhartha, slowly,
getting a bit denser every day, a bit murkier every month, a bit heavier
every year. As a new dress becomes old in time, loses its beautiful colour
in time, gets stains, gets wrinkles, gets worn off at the seams, and starts
to show threadbare spots here and there, thus Siddhartha's new life, which
he had started after his separation from Govinda, had grown old, lost colour
and splendour as the years passed by, was gathering wrinkles and stains, and
hidden at bottom, already showing its ugliness here and there,
disappointment and disgust were waiting. Siddhartha did not notice it. He
only noticed that this bright and reliable voice inside of him, which had
awoken in him at that time and had ever guided him in his best times, had
He had been captured by the world, by lust, covetousness, sloth, and
finally also by that vice which he had used to despise and mock the most as
the most foolish one of all vices: greed. Property, possessions, and riches
also had finally captured him; they were no longer a game and trifles to
him, had become a shackle and a burden. On a strange and devious way,
Siddhartha had gotten into this final and most base of all dependencies, by
means of the game of dice. It was since that time, when he had stopped being
a Samana in his heart, that Siddhartha began to play the game for money and
precious things, which he at other times only joined with a smile and
casually as a custom of the childlike people, with an increasing rage and
passion. He was a feared gambler, few dared to take him on, so high and
audacious were his stakes. He played the game due to a pain of his heart,
losing and wasting his wretched money in the game brought him an angry joy,
in no other way he could demonstrate his disdain for wealth, the merchants'
false god, more clearly and more mockingly. Thus he gambled with high stakes
and mercilessly, hating himself, mocking himself, won thousands, threw away
thousands, lost money, lost jewelry, lost a house in the country, won again,
lost again. That fear, that terrible and petrifying fear, which he felt
while he was rolling the dice, while he was worried about losing high
stakes, that fear he loved and sought to always renew it, always increase
it, always get it to a slightly higher level, for in this feeling alone he
still felt something like happiness, something like an intoxication,
something like an elevated form of life in the midst of his saturated,
lukewarm, dull life.
And after each big loss, his mind was set on new riches, pursued the
trade more zealously, forced his debtors more strictly to pay, because he
wanted to continue gambling, he wanted to continue squandering, continue
demonstrating his disdain of wealth. Siddhartha lost his calmness when
losses occurred, lost his patience when he was not payed on time, lost his
kindness towards beggars, lost his disposition for giving away and loaning
money to those who petitioned him. He, who gambled away tens of thousands at
one roll of the dice and laughed at it, became more strict and more petty in
his business, occasionally dreaming at night about money! And whenever he
woke up from this ugly spell, whenever he found his face in the mirror at
the bedroom's wall to have aged and become more ugly, whenever embarrassment
and disgust came over him, he continued fleeing, fleeing into a new game,
fleeing into a numbing of his mind brought on by sex, by wine, and from
there he fled back into the urge to pile up and obtain possessions. In this
pointless cycle he ran, growing tired, growing old, growing ill.
Then the time came when a dream warned him. He had spend the hours of the
evening with Kamala, in her beautiful pleasure-garden. They had been sitting
under the trees, talking, and Kamala had said thoughtful words, words behind
which a sadness and tiredness lay hidden. She had asked him to tell her
about Gotama, and could not hear enough of him, how clear his eyes, how
still and beautiful his mouth, how kind his smile, how peaceful his walk had
been. For a long time, he had to tell her about the exalted Buddha, and
Kamala had sighed and had said: "One day, perhaps soon, I'll also follow
that Buddha. I'll give him my pleasure-garden for a gift and take my refuge
in his teachings." But after this, she had aroused him, and had tied him to
her in the act of making love with painful fervour, biting and in tears, as
if, once more, she wanted to squeeze the last sweet drop out of this vain,
fleeting pleasure. Never before, it had become so strangely clear to
Siddhartha, how closely lust was akin to death. Then he had lain by her
side, and Kamala's face had been close to him, and under her eyes and next
to the corners of her mouth he had, as clearly as never before, read a
fearful inscription, an inscription of small lines, of slight grooves, an
inscription reminiscent of autumn and old age, just as Siddhartha himself,
who was only in his forties, had already noticed, here and there, gray hairs
among his black ones. Tiredness was written on Kamala's beautiful face,
tiredness from walking a long path, which has no happy destination,
tiredness and the beginning of withering, and concealed, still unsaid,
perhaps not even conscious anxiety: fear of old age, fear of the autumn,
fear of having to die. With a sigh, he had bid his farewell to her, the soul
full of reluctance, and full of concealed anxiety.
Then, Siddhartha had spent the night in his house with dancing girls and
wine, had acted as if he was superior to them towards the fellow-members of
his caste, though this was no longer true, had drunk much wine and gone to
bed a long time after midnight, being tired and yet excited, close to
weeping and despair, and had for a long time sought to sleep in vain, his
heart full of misery which he thought he could not bear any longer, full of
a disgust which he felt penetrating his entire body like the lukewarm,
repulsive taste of the wine, the just too sweet, dull music, the just too
soft smile of the dancing girls, the just too sweet scent of their hair and
breasts. But more than by anything else, he was disgusted by himself, by his
perfumed hair, by the smell of wine from his mouth, by the flabby tiredness
and listlessness of his skin. Like when someone, who has eaten and drunk far
too much, vomits it back up again with agonising pain and is nevertheless
glad about the relief, thus this sleepless man wished to free himself of
these pleasures, these habits and all of this pointless life and himself, in
an immense burst of disgust. Not until the light of the morning and the
beginning of the first activities in the street before his city-house, he
had slightly fallen asleep, had found for a few moments a half
unconsciousness, a hint of sleep. In those moments, he had a dream:
Kamala owned a small, rare singing bird in a golden cage. Of this bird,
he dreamt. He dreamt: this bird had become mute, who at other times always
used to sing in the morning, and since this arose his attention, he stepped
in front of the cage and looked inside; there the small bird was dead and
lay stiff on the ground. He took it out, weighed it for a moment in his
hand, and then threw it away, out in the street, and in the same moment, he
felt terribly shocked, and his heart hurt, as if he had thrown away from
himself all value and everything good by throwing out this dead bird.
Starting up from this dream, he felt encompassed by a deep sadness.
Worthless, so it seemed to him, worthless and pointless was the way he had
been going through life; nothing which was alive, nothing which was in some
way delicious or worth keeping he had left in his hands. Alone he stood
there and empty like a castaway on the shore.
With a gloomy mind, Siddhartha went to the pleasure-garden he owned,
locked the gate, sat down under a mango-tree, felt death in his heart and
horror in his chest, sat and sensed how everything died in him, withered in
him, came to an end in him. By and by, he gathered his thoughts, and in his
mind, he once again went the entire path of his life, starting with the
first days he could remember. When was there ever a time when he had
experienced happiness, felt a true bliss? Oh yes, several times he had
experienced such a thing. In his years as a boy, he has had a taste of it,
when he had obtained praise from the Brahmans, he had felt it in his heart:
"There is a path in front of the one who has distinguished himself in the
recitation of the holy verses, in the dispute with the learned ones, as an
assistant in the offerings." Then, he had felt it in his heart: "There is a
path in front of you, you are destined for, the gods are awaiting you." And
again, as a young man, when the ever rising, upward fleeing, goal of all
thinking had ripped him out of and up from the multitude of those seeking
the same goal, when he wrestled in pain for the purpose of Brahman, when
every obtained knowledge only kindled new thirst in him, then again he had,
in the midst of the thirst, in the midst of the pain felt this very same
thing: "Go on! Go on! You are called upon!" He had heard this voice when he
had left his home and had chosen the life of a Samana, and again when he had
gone away from the Samanas to that perfected one, and also when he had gone
away from him to the uncertain. For how long had he not heard this voice any
more, for how long had he reached no height any more, how even and dull was
the manner in which his path had passed through life, for many long years,
without a high goal, without thirst, without elevation, content with small
lustful pleasures and yet never satisfied! For all of these many years,
without knowing it himself, he had tried hard and longed to become a man
like those many, like those children, and in all this, his life had been
much more miserable and poorer than theirs, and their goals were not his,
nor their worries; after all, that entire world of the Kamaswami-people had
only been a game to him, a dance he would watch, a comedy. Only Kamala had
been dear, had been valuable to him—but was she still thus? Did he still
need her, or she him? Did they not play a game without an ending? Was it
necessary to live for this? No, it was not necessary! The name of this game
was Sansara, a game for children, a game which was perhaps enjoyable to play
once, twice, ten times—but for ever and ever over again?
Then, Siddhartha knew that the game was over, that he could not play it
any more. Shivers ran over his body, inside of him, so he felt, something
That entire day, he sat under the mango-tree, thinking of his father,
thinking of Govinda, thinking of Gotama. Did he have to leave them to become
a Kamaswami? He still sat there, when the night had fallen. When, looking
up, he caught sight of the stars, he thought: "Here I'm sitting under my
mango-tree, in my pleasure-garden." He smiled a little —was it really
necessary, was it right, was it not as foolish game, that he owned a
mango-tree, that he owned a garden?
He also put an end to this, this also died in him. He rose, bid his
farewell to the mango-tree, his farewell to the pleasure-garden. Since he
had been without food this day, he felt strong hunger, and thought of his
house in the city, of his chamber and bed, of the table with the meals on
it. He smiled tiredly, shook himself, and bid his farewell to these things.
In the same hour of the night, Siddhartha left his garden, left the city,
and never came back. For a long time, Kamaswami had people look for him,
thinking that he had fallen into the hands of robbers. Kamala had no one
look for him. When she was told that Siddhartha had disappeared, she was not
astonished. Did she not always expect it? Was he not a Samana, a man who was
at home nowhere, a pilgrim? And most of all, she had felt this the last time
they had been together, and she was happy, in spite of all the pain of the
loss, that she had pulled him so affectionately to her heart for this last
time, that she had felt one more time to be so completely possessed and
penetrated by him.
When she received the first news of Siddhartha's disappearance, she went
to the window, where she held a rare singing bird captive in a golden cage.
She opened the door of the cage, took the bird out and let it fly. For a
long time, she gazed after it, the flying bird. From this day on, she
received no more visitors and kept her house locked. But after some time,
she became aware that she was pregnant from the last time she was together
BY THE RIVER
Siddhartha walked through the forest, was already far from the city, and
knew nothing but that one thing, that there was no going back for him, that
this life, as he had lived it for many years until now, was over and done
away with, and that he had tasted all of it, sucked everything out of it
until he was disgusted with it. Dead was the singing bird, he had dreamt of.
Dead was the bird in his heart. Deeply, he had been entangled in Sansara, he
had sucked up disgust and death from all sides into his body, like a sponge
sucks up water until it is full. And full he was, full of the feeling of
been sick of it, full of misery, full of death, there was nothing left in
this world which could have attracted him, given him joy, given him comfort.
Passionately he wished to know nothing about himself anymore, to have
rest, to be dead. If there only was a lightning-bolt to strike him dead! If
there only was a tiger a devour him! If there only was a wine, a poison
which would numb his senses, bring him forgetfulness and sleep, and no
awakening from that! Was there still any kind of filth, he had not soiled
himself with, a sin or foolish act he had not committed, a dreariness of the
soul he had not brought upon himself? Was it still at all possible to be
alive? Was it possible, to breathe in again and again, to breathe out, to
feel hunger, to eat again, to sleep again, to sleep with a woman again? Was
this cycle not exhausted and brought to a conclusion for him?
Siddhartha reached the large river in the forest, the same river over
which a long time ago, when he had still been a young man and came from the
town of Gotama, a ferryman had conducted him. By this river he stopped,
hesitantly he stood at the bank. Tiredness and hunger had weakened him, and
whatever for should he walk on, wherever to, to which goal? No, there were
no more goals, there was nothing left but the deep, painful yearning to
shake off this whole desolate dream, to spit out this stale wine, to put an
end to this miserable and shameful life.
A hang bent over the bank of the river, a coconut-tree; Siddhartha leaned
against its trunk with his shoulder, embraced the trunk with one arm, and
looked down into the green water, which ran and ran under him, looked down
and found himself to be entirely filled with the wish to let go and to drown
in these waters. A frightening emptiness was reflected back at him by the
water, answering to the terrible emptiness in his soul. Yes, he had reached
the end. There was nothing left for him, except to annihilate himself,
except to smash the failure into which he had shaped his life, to throw it
away, before the feet of mockingly laughing gods. This was the great
vomiting he had longed for: death, the smashing to bits of the form he
hated! Let him be food for fishes, this dog Siddhartha, this lunatic, this
depraved and rotten body, this weakened and abused soul! Let him be food for
fishes and crocodiles, let him be chopped to bits by the daemons!
With a distorted face, he stared into the water, saw the reflection of
his face and spit at it. In deep tiredness, he took his arm away from the
trunk of the tree and turned a bit, in order to let himself fall straight
down, in order to finally drown. With his eyes closed, he slipped towards
Then, out of remote areas of his soul, out of past times of his now weary
life, a sound stirred up. It was a word, a syllable, which he, without
thinking, with a slurred voice, spoke to himself, the old word which is the
beginning and the end of all prayers of the Brahmans, the holy "Om", which
roughly means "that what is perfect" or "the completion". And in the moment
when the sound of "Om" touched Siddhartha's ear, his dormant spirit suddenly
woke up and realized the foolishness of his actions.
Siddhartha was deeply shocked. So this was how things were with him, so
doomed was he, so much he had lost his way and was forsaken by all
knowledge, that he had been able to seek death, that this wish, this wish of
a child, had been able to grow in him: to find rest by annihilating his
body! What all agony of these recent times, all sobering realizations, all
desperation had not brought about, this was brought on by this moment, when
the Om entered his consciousness: he became aware of himself in his misery
and in his error.
Om! he spoke to himself: Om! and again he knew about Brahman, knew about
the indestructibility of life, knew about all that is divine, which he had
But this was only a moment, flash. By the foot of the coconut-tree,
Siddhartha collapsed, struck down by tiredness, mumbling Om, placed his head
on the root of the tree and fell into a deep sleep.
Deep was his sleep and without dreams, for a long time he had not known
such a sleep any more. When he woke up after many hours, he felt as if ten
years had passed, he heard the water quietly flowing, did not know where he
was and who had brought him here, opened his eyes, saw with astonishment
that there were trees and the sky above him, and he remembered where he was
and how he got here. But it took him a long while for this, and the past
seemed to him as if it had been covered by a veil, infinitely distant,
infinitely far away, infinitely meaningless. He only knew that his previous
life (in the first moment when he thought about it, this past life seemed to
him like a very old, previous incarnation, like an early pre-birth of his
present self)—that his previous life had been abandoned by him, that, full
of disgust and wretchedness, he had even intended to throw his life away,
but that by a river, under a coconut-tree, he has come to his senses, the
holy word Om on his lips, that then he had fallen asleep and had now woken
up and was looking at the world as a new man. Quietly, he spoke the word Om
to himself, speaking which he had fallen asleep, and it seemed to him as if
his entire long sleep had been nothing but a long meditative recitation of
Om, a thinking of Om, a submergence and complete entering into Om, into the
nameless, the perfected.
What a wonderful sleep had this been! Never before by sleep, he had been
thus refreshed, thus renewed, thus rejuvenated! Perhaps, he had really died,
had drowned and was reborn in a new body? But no, he knew himself, he knew
his hand and his feet, knew the place where he lay, knew this self in his
chest, this Siddhartha, the eccentric, the weird one, but this Siddhartha
was nevertheless transformed, was renewed, was strangely well rested,
strangely awake, joyful and curious.
Siddhartha straightened up, then he saw a person sitting opposite to him,
an unknown man, a monk in a yellow robe with a shaven head, sitting in the
position of pondering. He observed the man, who had neither hair on his head
nor a beard, and he had not observed him for long when he recognised this
monk as Govinda, the friend of his youth, Govinda who had taken his refuge
with the exalted Buddha. Govinda had aged, he too, but still his face bore
the same features, expressed zeal, faithfulness, searching, timidness. But
when Govinda now, sensing his gaze, opened his eyes and looked at him,
Siddhartha saw that Govinda did not recognise him. Govinda was happy to find
him awake; apparently, he had been sitting here for a long time and been
waiting for him to wake up, though he did not know him.
"I have been sleeping," said Siddhartha. "However did you get here?"
"You have been sleeping," answered Govinda. "It is not good to be
sleeping in such places, where snakes often are and the animals of the
forest have their paths. I, oh sir, am a follower of the exalted Gotama, the
Buddha, the Sakyamuni, and have been on a pilgrimage together with several
of us on this path, when I saw you lying and sleeping in a place where it is
dangerous to sleep. Therefore, I sought to wake you up, oh sir, and since I
saw that your sleep was very deep, I stayed behind from my group and sat
with you. And then, so it seems, I have fallen asleep myself, I who wanted
to guard your sleep. Badly, I have served you, tiredness has overwhelmed me.
But now that you're awake, let me go to catch up with my brothers."
"I thank you, Samana, for watching out over my sleep," spoke Siddhartha.
"You're friendly, you followers of the exalted one. Now you may go then."
"I'm going, sir. May you, sir, always be in good health."
"I thank you, Samana."
Govinda made the gesture of a salutation and said: "Farewell."
"Farewell, Govinda," said Siddhartha.
The monk stopped.
"Permit me to ask, sir, from where do you know my name?"
Now, Siddhartha smiled.
"I know you, oh Govinda, from your father's hut, and from the school of
the Brahmans, and from the offerings, and from our walk to the Samanas, and
from that hour when you took your refuge with the exalted one in the grove
"You're Siddhartha," Govinda exclaimed loudly. "Now, I'm recognising you,
and don't comprehend any more how I couldn't recognise you right away. Be
welcome, Siddhartha, my joy is great, to see you again."
"It also gives me joy, to see you again. You've been the guard of my
sleep, again I thank you for this, though I wouldn't have required any
guard. Where are you going to, oh friend?"
"I'm going nowhere. We monks are always travelling, whenever it is not
the rainy season, we always move from one place to another, live according
to the rules if the teachings passed on to us, accept alms, move on. It is
always like this. But you, Siddhartha, where are you going to?"
Quoth Siddhartha: "With me too, friend, it is as it is with you. I'm
going nowhere. I'm just travelling. I'm on a pilgrimage."
Govinda spoke: "You're saying: you're on a pilgrimage, and I believe in
you. But, forgive me, oh Siddhartha, you do not look like a pilgrim. You're
wearing a rich man's garments, you're wearing the shoes of a distinguished
gentleman, and your hair, with the fragrance of perfume, is not a pilgrim's
hair, not the hair of a Samana."
"Right so, my dear, you have observed well, your keen eyes see
everything. But I haven't said to you that I was a Samana. I said: I'm on a
pilgrimage. And so it is: I'm on a pilgrimage."
"You're on a pilgrimage," said Govinda. "But few would go on a pilgrimage
in such clothes, few in such shoes, few with such hair. Never I have met
such a pilgrim, being a pilgrim myself for many years."
"I believe you, my dear Govinda. But now, today, you've met a pilgrim
just like this, wearing such shoes, such a garment. Remember, my dear: Not
eternal is the world of appearances, not eternal, anything but eternal are
our garments and the style of our hair, and our hair and bodies themselves.
I'm wearing a rich man's clothes, you've seen this quite right. I'm wearing
them, because I have been a rich man, and I'm wearing my hair like the
worldly and lustful people, for I have been one of them."
"And now, Siddhartha, what are you now?"
"I don't know it, I don't know it just like you. I'm travelling. I was a
rich man and am no rich man any more, and what I'll be tomorrow, I don't
"You've lost your riches?"
"I've lost them or they me. They somehow happened to slip away from me.
The wheel of physical manifestations is turning quickly, Govinda. Where is
Siddhartha the Brahman? Where is Siddhartha the Samana? Where is Siddhartha
the rich man? Non-eternal things change quickly, Govinda, you know it."
Govinda looked at the friend of his youth for a long time, with doubt in
his eyes. After that, he gave him the salutation which one would use on a
gentleman and went on his way.
With a smiling face, Siddhartha watched him leave, he loved him still,
this faithful man, this fearful man. And how could he not have loved
everybody and everything in this moment, in the glorious hour after his
wonderful sleep, filled with Om! The enchantment, which had happened inside
of him in his sleep and by means of the Om, was this very thing that he
loved everything, that he was full of joyful love for everything he saw. And
it was this very thing, so it seemed to him now, which had been his sickness
before, that he was not able to love anybody or anything.
With a smiling face, Siddhartha watched the leaving monk. The sleep had
strengthened him much, but hunger gave him much pain, for by now he had not
eaten for two days, and the times were long past when he had been tough
against hunger. With sadness, and yet also with a smile, he thought of that
time. In those days, so he remembered, he had boasted of three three things
to Kamala, had been able to do three noble and undefeatable feats:
fasting—waiting—thinking. These had been his possession, his power and
strength, his solid staff; in the busy, laborious years of his youth, he had
learned these three feats, nothing else. And now, they had abandoned him,
none of them was his any more, neither fasting, nor waiting, nor thinking.
For the most wretched things, he had given them up, for what fades most
quickly, for sensual lust, for the good life, for riches! His life had
indeed been strange. And now, so it seemed, now he had really become a
Siddhartha thought about his situation. Thinking was hard on him, he did
not really feel like it, but he forced himself.
Now, he thought, since all these most easily perishing things have
slipped from me again, now I'm standing here under the sun again just as I
have been standing here a little child, nothing is mine, I have no
abilities, there is nothing I could bring about, I have learned nothing. How
wondrous is this! Now, that I'm no longer young, that my hair is already
half gray, that my strength is fading, now I'm starting again at the
beginning and as a child! Again, he had to smile. Yes, his fate had been
strange! Things were going downhill with him, and now he was again facing
the world void and naked and stupid. But he could not feed sad about this,
no, he even felt a great urge to laugh, to laugh about himself, to laugh
about this strange, foolish world.
"Things are going downhill with you!" he said to himself, and laughed
about it, and as he was saying it, he happened to glance at the river, and
he also saw the river going downhill, always moving on downhill, and singing
and being happy through it all. He liked this well, kindly he smiled at the
river. Was this not the river in which he had intended to drown himself, in
past times, a hundred years ago, or had he dreamed this?
Wondrous indeed was my life, so he thought, wondrous detours it has
taken. As I boy, I had only to do with gods and offerings. As a youth, I had
only to do with asceticism, with thinking and meditation, was searching for
Brahman, worshipped the eternal in the Atman. But as a young man, I followed
the penitents, lived in the forest, suffered of heat and frost, learned to
hunger, taught my body to become dead. Wonderfully, soon afterwards, insight
came towards me in the form of the great Buddha's teachings, I felt the
knowledge of the oneness of the world circling in me like my own blood. But
I also had to leave Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learned the
art of love with Kamala, learned trading with Kamaswami, piled up money,
wasted money, learned to love my stomach, learned to please my senses. I had
to spend many years losing my spirit, to unlearn thinking again, to forget
the oneness. Isn't it just as if I had turned slowly and on a long detour
from a man into a child, from a thinker into a childlike person? And yet,
this path has been very good; and yet, the bird in my chest has not died.
But what a path has this been! I had to pass through so much stupidity,
through so much vices, through so many errors, through so much disgust and
disappointments and woe, just to become a child again and to be able to
start over. But it was right so, my heart says "Yes" to it, my eyes smile to
it. I've had to experience despair, I've had to sink down to the most
foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able
to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly
and awake properly again. I had to become a fool, to find Atman in me again.
I had to sin, to be able to live again. Where else might my path lead me to?
It is foolish, this path, it moves in loops, perhaps it is going around in a
circle. Let it go as it likes, I want to to take it.
Wonderfully, he felt joy rolling like waves in his chest.
Wherever from, he asked his heart, where from did you get this happiness?
Might it come from that long, good sleep, which has done me so good? Or from
the word Om, which I said? Or from the fact that I have escaped, that I have
completely fled, that I am finally free again and am standing like a child
under the sky? Oh how good is it to have fled, to have become free! How
clean and beautiful is the air here, how good to breathe! There, where I ran
away from, there everything smelled of ointments, of spices, of wine, of
excess, of sloth. How did I hate this world of the rich, of those who revel
in fine food, of the gamblers! How did I hate myself for staying in this
terrible world for so long! How did I hate myself, have deprive, poisoned,
tortured myself, have made myself old and evil! No, never again I will, as I
used to like doing so much, delude myself into thinking that Siddhartha was
wise! But this one thing I have done well, this I like, this I must praise,
that there is now an end to that hatred against myself, to that foolish and
dreary life! I praise you, Siddhartha, after so many years of foolishness,
you have once again had an idea, have done something, have heard the bird in
your chest singing and have followed it!
Thus he praised himself, found joy in himself, listened curiously to his
stomach, which was rumbling with hunger. He had now, so he felt, in these
recent times and days, completely tasted and spit out, devoured up to the
point of desperation and death, a piece of suffering, a piece of misery.
Like this, it was good. For much longer, he could have stayed with
Kamaswami, made money, wasted money, filled his stomach, and let his soul
die of thirst; for much longer he could have lived in this soft, well
upholstered hell, if this had not happened: the moment of complete
hopelessness and despair, that most extreme moment, when he hang over the
rushing waters and was ready to destroy himself. That he had felt this
despair, this deep disgust, and that he had not succumbed to it, that the
bird, the joyful source and voice in him was still alive after all, this was
why he felt joy, this was why he laughed, this was why his face was smiling
brightly under his hair which had turned gray.
"It is good," he thought, "to get a taste of everything for oneself,
which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to
the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a
long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don't just
know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for
me, to know this!"
For a long time, he pondered his transformation, listened to the bird, as
it sang for joy. Had not this bird died in him, had he not felt its death?
No, something else from within him had died, something which already for a
long time had yearned to die. Was it not this what he used to intend to kill
in his ardent years as a penitent? Was this not his self, his small,
frightened, and proud self, he had wrestled with for so many years, which
had defeated him again and again, which was back again after every killing,
prohibited joy, felt fear? Was it not this, which today had finally come to
its death, here in the forest, by this lovely river? Was it not due to this
death, that he was now like a child, so full of trust, so without fear, so
full of joy?
Now Siddhartha also got some idea of why he had fought this self in vain
as a Brahman, as a penitent. Too much knowledge had held him back, too many
holy verses, too many sacrificial rules, to much self-castigation, so much
doing and striving for that goal! Full of arrogance, he had been, always the
smartest, always working the most, always one step ahead of all others,
always the knowing and spiritual one, always the priest or wise one. Into
being a priest, into this arrogance, into this spirituality, his self had
retreated, there it sat firmly and grew, while he thought he would kill it
by fasting and penance. Now he saw it and saw that the secret voice had been
right, that no teacher would ever have been able to bring about his
salvation. Therefore, he had to go out into the world, lose himself to lust
and power, to woman and money, had to become a merchant, a dice-gambler, a
drinker, and a greedy person, until the priest and Samana in him was dead.
Therefore, he had to continue bearing these ugly years, bearing the disgust,
the teachings, the pointlessness of a dreary and wasted life up to the end,
up to bitter despair, until Siddhartha the lustful, Siddhartha the greedy
could also die. He had died, a new Siddhartha had woken up from the sleep.
He would also grow old, he would also eventually have to die, mortal was
Siddhartha, mortal was every physical form. But today he was young, was a
child, the new Siddhartha, and was full of joy.
He thought these thoughts, listened with a smile to his stomach, listened
gratefully to a buzzing bee. Cheerfully, he looked into the rushing river,
never before he had like a water so well as this one, never before he had
perceived the voice and the parable of the moving water thus strongly and
beautifully. It seemed to him, as if the river had something special to tell
him, something he did not know yet, which was still awaiting him. In this
river, Siddhartha had intended to drown himself, in it the old, tired,
desperate Siddhartha had drowned today. But the new Siddhartha felt a deep
love for this rushing water, and decided for himself, not to leave it very
By this river I want to stay, thought Siddhartha, it is the same which I
have crossed a long time ago on my way to the childlike people, a friendly
ferryman had guided me then, he is the one I want to go to, starting out
from his hut, my path had led me at that time into a new life, which had now
grown old and is dead—my present path, my present new life, shall also take
its start there!
Tenderly, he looked into the rushing water, into the transparent green,
into the crystal lines of its drawing, so rich in secrets. Bright pearls he
saw rising from the deep, quiet bubbles of air floating on the reflecting
surface, the blue of the sky being depicted in it. With a thousand eyes, the
river looked at him, with green ones, with white ones, with crystal ones,
with sky-blue ones. How did he love this water, how did it delight him, how
grateful was he to it! In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was
newly awaking, and it told him: Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from
it! Oh yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. He who
would understand this water and its secrets, so it seemed to him, would also
understand many other things, many secrets, all secrets.
But out of all secrets of the river, he today only saw one, this one
touched his soul. He saw: this water ran and ran, incessantly it ran, and
was nevertheless always there, was always at all times the same and yet new
in every moment! Great be he who would grasp this, understand this! He
understood and grasped it not, only felt some idea of it stirring, a distant
memory, divine voices.
Siddhartha rose, the workings of hunger in his body became unbearable. In
a daze he walked on, up the path by the bank, upriver, listened to the
current, listened to the rumbling hunger in his body.
When he reached the ferry, the boat was just ready, and the same ferryman
who had once transported the young Samana across the river, stood in the
boat, Siddhartha recognised him, he had also aged very much.
"Would you like to ferry me over?" he asked.
The ferryman, being astonished to see such an elegant man walking along
and on foot, took him into his boat and pushed it off the bank.
"It's a beautiful life you have chosen for yourself," the passenger
spoke. "It must be beautiful to live by this water every day and to cruise
With a smile, the man at the oar moved from side to side: "It is
beautiful, sir, it is as you say. But isn't every life, isn't every work
"This may be true. But I envy you for yours."
"Ah, you would soon stop enjoying it. This is nothing for people wearing
Siddhartha laughed. "Once before, I have been looked upon today because
of my clothes, I have been looked upon with distrust. Wouldn't you,
ferryman, like to accept these clothes, which are a nuisance to me, from me?
For you must know, I have no money to pay your fare."
"You're joking, sir," the ferryman laughed.
"I'm not joking, friend. Behold, once before you have ferried me across
this water in your boat for the immaterial reward of a good deed. Thus, do
it today as well, and accept my clothes for it."
"And do you, sir, intent to continue travelling without clothes?"
"Ah, most of all I wouldn't want to continue travelling at all. Most of
all I would like you, ferryman, to give me an old loincloth and kept me with
you as your assistant, or rather as your trainee, for I'll have to learn
first how to handle the boat."
For a long time, the ferryman looked at the stranger, searching.
"Now I recognise you," he finally said. "At one time, you've slept in my
hut, this was a long time ago, possibly more than twenty years ago, and
you've been ferried across the river by me, and we parted like good friends.
Haven't you've been a Samana? I can't think of your name any more."
"My name is Siddhartha, and I was a Samana, when you've last seen me."
"So be welcome, Siddhartha. My name is Vasudeva. You will, so I hope, be
my guest today as well and sleep in my hut, and tell me, where you're coming
from and why these beautiful clothes are such a nuisance to you."
They had reached the middle of the river, and Vasudeva pushed the oar
with more strength, in order to overcome the current. He worked calmly, his
eyes fixed in on the front of the boat, with brawny arms. Siddhartha sat and
watched him, and remembered, how once before, on that last day of his time
as a Samana, love for this man had stirred in his heart. Gratefully, he
accepted Vasudeva's invitation. When they had reached the bank, he helped
him to tie the boat to the stakes; after this, the ferryman asked him to
enter the hut, offered him bread and water, and Siddhartha ate with eager
pleasure, and also ate with eager pleasure of the mango fruits, Vasudeva
Afterwards, it was almost the time of the sunset, they sat on a log by
the bank, and Siddhartha told the ferryman about where he originally came
from and about his life, as he had seen it before his eyes today, in that
hour of despair. Until late at night, lasted his tale.
Vasudeva listened with great attention. Listening carefully, he let
everything enter his mind, birthplace and childhood, all that learning, all
that searching, all joy, all distress. This was among the ferryman's virtues
one of the greatest: like only a few, he knew how to listen. Without him
having spoken a word, the speaker sensed how Vasudeva let his words enter
his mind, quiet, open, waiting, how he did not lose a single one, awaited
not a single one with impatience, did not add his praise or rebuke, was just
listening. Siddhartha felt, what a happy fortune it is, to confess to such a
listener, to burry in his heart his own life, his own search, his own
But in the end of Siddhartha's tale, when he spoke of the tree by the
river, and of his deep fall, of the holy Om, and how he had felt such a love
for the river after his slumber, the ferryman listened with twice the
attention, entirely and completely absorbed by it, with his eyes closed.
But when Siddhartha fell silent, and a long silence had occurred, then
Vasudeva said: "It is as I thought. The river has spoken to you. It is your
friend as well, it speaks to you as well. That is good, that is very good.
Stay with me, Siddhartha, my friend. I used to have a wife, her bed was next
to mine, but she has died a long time ago, for a long time, I have lived
alone. Now, you shall live with me, there is space and food for both."
"I thank you," said Siddhartha, "I thank you and accept. And I also thank
you for this, Vasudeva, for listening to me so well! These people are rare
who know how to listen. And I did not meet a single one who knew it as well
as you did. I will also learn in this respect from you."
"You will learn it," spoke Vasudeva, "but not from me. The river has
taught me to listen, from it you will learn it as well. It knows everything,
the river, everything can be learned from it. See, you've already learned
this from the water too, that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to
seek depth. The rich and elegant Siddhartha is becoming an oarsman's
servant, the learned Brahman Siddhartha becomes a ferryman: this has also
been told to you by the river. You'll learn that other thing from it as
Quoth Siddhartha after a long pause: "What other thing, Vasudeva?"
Vasudeva rose. "It is late," he said, "let's go to sleep. I can't tell
you that other thing, oh friend. You'll learn it, or perhaps you know it
already. See, I'm no learned man, I have no special skill in speaking, I
also have no special skill in thinking. All I'm able to do is to listen and
to be godly, I have learned nothing else. If I was able to say and teach it,
I might be a wise man, but like this I am only a ferryman, and it is my task
to ferry people across the river. I have transported many, thousands; and to
all of them, my river has been nothing but an obstacle on their travels.
They travelled to seek money and business, and for weddings, and on
pilgrimages, and the river was obstructing their path, and the ferryman's
job was to get them quickly across that obstacle. But for some among
thousands, a few, four or five, the river has stopped being an obstacle,
they have heard its voice, they have listened to it, and the river has
become sacred to them, as it has become sacred to me. Let's rest now,
Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman and learned to operate the boat, and
when there was nothing to do at the ferry, he worked with Vasudeva in the
rice-field, gathered wood, plucked the fruit off the banana-trees. He
learned to build an oar, and learned to mend the boat, and to weave baskets,
and was joyful because of everything he learned, and the days and months
passed quickly. But more than Vasudeva could teach him, he was taught by the
river. Incessantly, he learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to
listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened
soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgement, without an
In a friendly manner, he lived side by side with Vasudeva, and
occasionally they exchanged some words, few and at length thought about
words. Vasudeva was no friend of words; rarely, Siddhartha succeeded in
persuading him to speak.
"Did you," so he asked him at one time, "did you too learn that secret
from the river: that there is no time?"
Vasudeva's face was filled with a bright smile.
"Yes, Siddhartha," he spoke. "It is this what you mean, isn't it: that
the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the
waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains,
everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the
shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future?"
"This it is," said Siddhartha. "And when I had learned it, I looked at my
life, and it was also a river, and the boy Siddhartha was only separated
from the man Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha by a shadow, not by
something real. Also, Siddhartha's previous births were no past, and his
death and his return to Brahma was no future. Nothing was, nothing will be;
everything is, everything has existence and is present."
Siddhartha spoke with ecstasy; deeply, this enlightenment had delighted
him. Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting
oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile
in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as
time would have been put out of existence by one's thoughts? In ecstatic
delight, he had spoken, but Vasudeva smiled at him brightly and nodded in
confirmation; silently he nodded, brushed his hand over Siddhartha's
shoulder, turned back to his work.
And once again, when the river had just increased its flow in the rainy
season and made a powerful noise, then said Siddhartha: "Isn't it so, oh
friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn't it the voice of
a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of
a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices
"So it is," Vasudeva nodded, "all voices of the creatures are in its
"And do you know," Siddhartha continued, "what word it speaks, when you
succeed in hearing all of its ten thousand voices at once?"
Happily, Vasudeva's face was smiling, he bent over to Siddhartha and
spoke the holy Om into his ear. And this had been the very thing which
Siddhartha had also been hearing.
And time after time, his smile became more similar to the ferryman's,
became almost just as bright, almost just as throughly glowing with bliss,
just as shining out of thousand small wrinkles, just as alike to a child's,
just as alike to an old man's. Many travellers, seeing the two ferrymen,
thought they were brothers. Often, they sat in the evening together by the
bank on the log, said nothing and both listened to the water, which was no
water to them, but the voice of life, the voice of what exists, of what is
eternally taking shape. And it happened from time to time that both, when
listening to the river, thought of the same things, of a conversation from
the day before yesterday, of one of their travellers, the face and fate of
whom had occupied their thoughts, of death, of their childhood, and that
they both in the same moment, when the river had been saying something good
to them, looked at each other, both thinking precisely the same thing, both
delighted about the same answer to the same question.
There was something about this ferry and the two ferrymen which was
transmitted to others, which many of the travellers felt. It happened
occasionally that a traveller, after having looked at the face of one of the
ferrymen, started to tell the story of his life, told about pains, confessed
evil things, asked for comfort and advice. It happened occasionally that
someone asked for permission to stay for a night with them to listen to the
river. It also happened that curious people came, who had been told that
there were two wise men, or sorcerers, or holy men living by that ferry. The
curious people asked many questions, but they got no answers, and they found
neither sorcerers nor wise men, they only found two friendly little old men,
who seemed to be mute and to have become a bit strange and gaga. And the
curious people laughed and were discussing how foolishly and gullibly the
common people were spreading such empty rumours.
The years passed by, and nobody counted them. Then, at one time, monks
came by on a pilgrimage, followers of Gotama, the Buddha, who were asking to
be ferried across the river, and by them the ferrymen were told that they
were most hurriedly walking back to their great teacher, for the news had
spread the exalted one was deadly sick and would soon die his last human
death, in order to become one with the salvation. It was not long, until a
new flock of monks came along on their pilgrimage, and another one, and the
monks as well as most of the other travellers and people walking through the
land spoke of nothing else than of Gotama and his impending death. And as
people are flocking from everywhere and from all sides, when they are going
to war or to the coronation of a king, and are gathering like ants in
droves, thus they flocked, like being drawn on by a magic spell, to where
the great Buddha was awaiting his death, where the huge event was to take
place and the great perfected one of an era was to become one with the
Often, Siddhartha thought in those days of the dying wise man, the great
teacher, whose voice had admonished nations and had awoken hundreds of
thousands, whose voice he had also once heard, whose holy face he had also
once seen with respect. Kindly, he thought of him, saw his path to
perfection before his eyes, and remembered with a smile those words which he
had once, as a young man, said to him, the exalted one. They had been, so it
seemed to him, proud and precocious words; with a smile, he remembered them.
For a long time he knew that there was nothing standing between Gotama and
him any more, though he was still unable to accept his teachings. No, there
was no teaching a truly searching person, someone who truly wanted to find,
could accept. But he who had found, he could approve of any teachings, every
path, every goal, there was nothing standing between him and all the other
thousand any more who lived in that what is eternal, who breathed what is
On one of these days, when so many went on a pilgrimage to the dying
Buddha, Kamala also went to him, who used to be the most beautiful of the
courtesans. A long time ago, she had retired from her previous life, had
given her garden to the monks of Gotama as a gift, had taken her refuge in
the teachings, was among the friends and benefactors of the pilgrims.
Together with Siddhartha the boy, her son, she had gone on her way due to
the news of the near death of Gotama, in simple clothes, on foot. With her
little son, she was travelling by the river; but the boy had soon grown
tired, desired to go back home, desired to rest, desired to eat, became
disobedient and started whining.
Kamala often had to take a rest with him, he was accustomed to having his
way against her, she had to feed him, had to comfort him, had to scold him.
He did not comprehend why he had to to go on this exhausting and sad
pilgrimage with his mother, to an unknown place, to a stranger, who was holy
and about to die. So what if he died, how did this concern the boy?
The pilgrims were getting close to Vasudeva's ferry, when little
Siddhartha once again forced his mother to rest. She, Kamala herself, had
also become tired, and while the boy was chewing a banana, she crouched down
on the ground, closed her eyes a bit, and rested. But suddenly, she uttered
a wailing scream, the boy looked at her in fear and saw her face having
grown pale from horror; and from under her dress, a small, black snake fled,
by which Kamala had been bitten.
Hurriedly, they now both ran along the path, in order to reach people,
and got near to the ferry, there Kamala collapsed, and was not able to go
any further. But the boy started crying miserably, only interrupting it to
kiss and hug his mother, and she also joined his loud screams for help,
until the sound reached Vasudeva's ears, who stood at the ferry. Quickly, he
came walking, took the woman on his arms, carried her into the boat, the boy
ran along, and soon they all reached the hut, were Siddhartha stood by the
stove and was just lighting the fire. He looked up and first saw the boy's
face, which wondrously reminded him of something, like a warning to remember
something he had forgotten. Then he saw Kamala, whom he instantly
recognised, though she lay unconscious in the ferryman's arms, and now he
knew that it was his own son, whose face had been such a warning reminder to
him, and the heart stirred in his chest.
Kamala's wound was washed, but had already turned black and her body was
swollen, she was made to drink a healing potion. Her consciousness returned,
she lay on Siddhartha's bed in the hut and bent over her stood Siddhartha,
who used to love her so much. It seemed like a dream to her; with a smile,
she looked at her friend's face; just slowly she, realized her situation,
remembered the bite, called timidly for the boy.
"He's with you, don't worry," said Siddhartha.
Kamala looked into his eyes. She spoke with a heavy tongue, paralysed by
the poison. "You've become old, my dear," she said, "you've become gray. But
you are like the young Samana, who at one time came without clothes, with
dusty feet, to me into the garden. You are much more like him, than you were
like him at that time when you had left me and Kamaswami. In the eyes,
you're like him, Siddhartha. Alas, I have also grown old, old—could you
still recognise me?"
Siddhartha smiled: "Instantly, I recognised you, Kamala, my dear."
Kamala pointed to her boy and said: "Did you recognise him as well? He is
Her eyes became confused and fell shut. The boy wept, Siddhartha took him
on his knees, let him weep, petted his hair, and at the sight of the child's
face, a Brahman prayer came to his mind, which he had learned a long time
ago, when he had been a little boy himself. Slowly, with a singing voice, he
started to speak; from his past and childhood, the words came flowing to
him. And with that singsong, the boy became calm, was only now and then
uttering a sob and fell asleep. Siddhartha placed him on Vasudeva's bed.
Vasudeva stood by the stove and cooked rice. Siddhartha gave him a look,
which he returned with a smile.
"She'll die," Siddhartha said quietly.
Vasudeva nodded; over his friendly face ran the light of the stove's
Once again, Kamala returned to consciousness. Pain distorted her face,
Siddhartha's eyes read the suffering on her mouth, on her pale cheeks.
Quietly, he read it, attentively, waiting, his mind becoming one with her
suffering. Kamala felt it, her gaze sought his eyes.
Looking at him, she said: "Now I see that your eyes have changed as well.
They've become completely different. By what do I still recognise that
you're Siddhartha? It's you, and it's not you."
Siddhartha said nothing, quietly his eyes looked at hers.
"You have achieved it?" she asked. "You have found peace?"
He smiled and placed his hand on hers.
"I'm seeing it," she said, "I'm seeing it. I too will find peace."
"You have found it," Siddhartha spoke in a whisper.
Kamala never stopped looking into his eyes. She thought about her
pilgrimage to Gotama, which wanted to take, in order to see the face of the
perfected one, to breathe his peace, and she thought that she had now found
him in his place, and that it was good, just as good, as if she had seen the
other one. She wanted to tell this to him, but the tongue no longer obeyed
her will. Without speaking, she looked at him, and he saw the life fading
from her eyes. When the final pain filled her eyes and made them grow dim,
when the final shiver ran through her limbs, his finger closed her eyelids.
For a long time, he sat and looked at her peacefully dead face. For a
long time, he observed her mouth, her old, tired mouth, with those lips,
which had become thin, and he remembered, that he used to, in the spring of
his years, compare this mouth with a freshly cracked fig. For a long time,
he sat, read in the pale face, in the tired wrinkles, filled himself with
this sight, saw his own face lying in the same manner, just as white, just
as quenched out, and saw at the same time his face and hers being young,
with red lips, with fiery eyes, and the feeling of this both being present
and at the same time real, the feeling of eternity, completely filled every
aspect of his being. Deeply he felt, more deeply than ever before, in this
hour, the indestructibility of every life, the eternity of every moment.
When he rose, Vasudeva had prepared rice for him. But Siddhartha did not
eat. In the stable, where their goat stood, the two old men prepared beds of
straw for themselves, and Vasudeva lay himself down to sleep. But Siddhartha
went outside and sat this night before the hut, listening to the river,
surrounded by the past, touched and encircled by all times of his life at
the same time. But occasionally, he rose, stepped to the door of the hut and
listened, whether the boy was sleeping.
Early in the morning, even before the sun could be seen, Vasudeva came
out of the stable and walked over to his friend.
"You haven't slept," he said.
"No, Vasudeva. I sat here, I was listening to the river. A lot it has
told me, deeply it has filled me with the healing thought, with the thought
"You've experienced suffering, Siddhartha, but I see: no sadness has
entered your heart."
"No, my dear, how should I be sad? I, who have been rich and happy, have
become even richer and happier now. My son has been given to me."
"Your son shall be welcome to me as well. But now, Siddhartha, let's get
to work, there is much to be done. Kamala has died on the same bed, on which
my wife had died a long time ago. Let us also build Kamala's funeral pile on
the same hill on which I had then built my wife's funeral pile."
While the boy was still asleep, they built the funeral pile.
Timid and weeping, the boy had attended his mother's funeral; gloomy and
shy, he had listened to Siddhartha, who greeted him as his son and welcomed
him at his place in Vasudeva's hut. Pale, he sat for many days by the hill
of the dead, did not want to eat, gave no open look, did not open his heart,
met his fate with resistance and denial.
Siddhartha spared him and let him do as he pleased, he honoured his
mourning. Siddhartha understood that his son did not know him, that he could
not love him like a father. Slowly, he also saw and understood that the
eleven-year-old was a pampered boy, a mother's boy, and that he had grown up
in the habits of rich people, accustomed to finer food, to a soft bed,
accustomed to giving orders to servants. Siddhartha understood that the
mourning, pampered child could not suddenly and willingly be content with a
life among strangers and in poverty. He did not force him, he did many a
chore for him, always picked the best piece of the meal for him. Slowly, he
hoped to win him over, by friendly patience.
Rich and happy, he had called himself, when the boy had come to him.
Since time had passed on in the meantime, and the boy remained a stranger
and in a gloomy disposition, since he displayed a proud and stubbornly
disobedient heart, did not want to do any work, did not pay his respect to
the old men, stole from Vasudeva's fruit-trees, then Siddhartha began to
understand that his son had not brought him happiness and peace, but
suffering and worry. But he loved him, and he preferred the suffering and
worries of love over happiness and joy without the boy. Since young
Siddhartha was in the hut, the old men had split the work. Vasudeva had
again taken on the job of the ferryman all by himself, and Siddhartha, in
order to be with his son, did the work in the hut and the field.
For a long time, for long months, Siddhartha waited for his son to
understand him, to accept his love, to perhaps reciprocate it. For long
months, Vasudeva waited, watching, waited and said nothing. One day, when
Siddhartha the younger had once again tormented his father very much with
spite and an unsteadiness in his wishes and had broken both of his
rice-bowls, Vasudeva took in the evening his friend aside and talked to him.
"Pardon me." he said, "from a friendly heart, I'm talking to you. I'm
seeing that you are tormenting yourself, I'm seeing that you're in grief.
Your son, my dear, is worrying you, and he is also worrying me. That young
bird is accustomed to a different life, to a different nest. He has not,
like you, ran away from riches and the city, being disgusted and fed up with
it; against his will, he had to leave all this behind. I asked the river, oh
friend, many times I have asked it. But the river laughs, it laughs at me,
it laughs at you and me, and is shaking with laughter at out foolishness.
Water wants to join water, youth wants to join youth, your son is not in the
place where he can prosper. You too should ask the river; you too should
listen to it!"
Troubled, Siddhartha looked into his friendly face, in the many wrinkles
of which there was incessant cheerfulness.
"How could I part with him?" he said quietly, ashamed. "Give me some more
time, my dear! See, I'm fighting for him, I'm seeking to win his heart, with
love and with friendly patience I intent to capture it. One day, the river
shall also talk to him, he also is called upon."
Vasudeva's smile flourished more warmly. "Oh yes, he too is called upon,
he too is of the eternal life. But do we, you and me, know what he is called
upon to do, what path to take, what actions to perform, what pain to endure?
Not a small one, his pain will be; after all, his heart is proud and hard,
people like this have to suffer a lot, err a lot, do much injustice, burden
themselves with much sin. Tell me, my dear: you're not taking control of
your son's upbringing? You don't force him? You don't beat him? You don't
"No, Vasudeva, I don't do anything of this."
"I knew it. You don't force him, don't beat him, don't give him orders,
because you know that 'soft' is stronger than 'hard', Water stronger than
rocks, love stronger than force. Very good, I praise you. But aren't you
mistaken in thinking that you wouldn't force him, wouldn't punish him? Don't
you shackle him with your love? Don't you make him feel inferior every day,
and don't you make it even harder on him with your kindness and patience?
Don't you force him, the arrogant and pampered boy, to live in a hut with
two old banana-eaters, to whom even rice is a delicacy, whose thoughts can't
be his, whose hearts are old and quiet and beats in a different pace than
his? Isn't forced, isn't he punished by all this?"
Troubled, Siddhartha looked to the ground. Quietly, he asked: "What do
you think should I do?"
Quoth Vasudeva: "Bring him into the city, bring him into his mother's
house, there'll still be servants around, give him to them. And when there
aren't any around any more, bring him to a teacher, not for the teachings'
sake, but so that he shall be among other boys, and among girls, and in the
world which is his own. Have you never thought of this?"
"You're seeing into my heart," Siddhartha spoke sadly. "Often, I have
thought of this. But look, how shall I put him, who had no tender heart
anyhow, into this world? Won't he become exuberant, won't he lose himself to
pleasure and power, won't he repeat all of his father's mistakes, won't he
perhaps get entirely lost in Sansara?"
Brightly, the ferryman's smile lit up; softly, he touched Siddhartha's
arm and said: "Ask the river about it, my friend! Hear it laugh about it!
Would you actually believe that you had committed your foolish acts in order
to spare your son from committing them too? And could you in any way protect
your son from Sansara? How could you? By means of teachings, prayer,
admonition? My dear, have you entirely forgotten that story, that story
containing so many lessons, that story about Siddhartha, a Brahman's son,
which you once told me here on this very spot? Who has kept the Samana
Siddhartha safe from Sansara, from sin, from greed, from foolishness? Were
his father's religious devotion, his teachers warnings, his own knowledge,
his own search able to keep him safe? Which father, which teacher had been
able to protect him from living his life for himself, from soiling himself
with life, from burdening himself with guilt, from drinking the bitter drink
for himself, from finding his path for himself? Would you think, my dear,
anybody might perhaps be spared from taking this path? That perhaps your
little son would be spared, because you love him, because you would like to
keep him from suffering and pain and disappointment? But even if you would
die ten times for him, you would not be able to take the slightest part of
his destiny upon yourself."
Never before, Vasudeva had spoken so many words. Kindly, Siddhartha
thanked him, went troubled into the hut, could not sleep for a long time.
Vasudeva had told him nothing, he had not already thought and known for
himself. But this was a knowledge he could not act upon, stronger than the
knowledge was his love for the boy, stronger was his tenderness, his fear to
lose him. Had he ever lost his heart so much to something, had he ever loved
any person thus, thus blindly, thus sufferingly, thus unsuccessfully, and
yet thus happily?
Siddhartha could not heed his friend's advice, he could not give up the
boy. He let the boy give him orders, he let him disregard him. He said
nothing and waited; daily, he began the mute struggle of friendliness, the
silent war of patience. Vasudeva also said nothing and waited, friendly,
knowing, patient. They were both masters of patience.
At one time, when the boy's face reminded him very much of Kamala,
Siddhartha suddenly had to think of a line which Kamala a long time ago, in
the days of their youth, had once said to him. "You cannot love," she had
said to him, and he had agreed with her and had compared himself with a
star, while comparing the childlike people with falling leaves, and
nevertheless he had also sensed an accusation in that line. Indeed, he had
never been able to lose or devote himself completely to another person, to
forget himself, to commit foolish acts for the love of another person; never
he had been able to do this, and this was, as it had seemed to him at that
time, the great distinction which set him apart from the childlike people.
But now, since his son was here, now he, Siddhartha, had also become
completely a childlike person, suffering for the sake of another person,
loving another person, lost to a love, having become a fool on account of
love. Now he too felt, late, once in his lifetime, this strongest and
strangest of all passions, suffered from it, suffered miserably, and was
nevertheless in bliss, was nevertheless renewed in one respect, enriched by
He did sense very well that this love, this blind love for his son, was a
passion, something very human, that it was Sansara, a murky source, dark
waters. Nevertheless, he felt at the same time, it was not worthless, it was
necessary, came from the essence of his own being. This pleasure also had to
be atoned for, this pain also had to be endured, these foolish acts also had
to be committed.
Through all this, the son let him commit his foolish acts, let him court
for his affection, let him humiliate himself every day by giving in to his
moods. This father had nothing which would have delighted him and nothing
which he would have feared. He was a good man, this father, a good, kind,
soft man, perhaps a very devout man, perhaps a saint, all these there no
attributes which could win the boy over. He was bored by this father, who
kept him prisoner here in this miserable hut of his, he was bored by him,
and for him to answer every naughtiness with a smile, every insult with
friendliness, every viciousness with kindness, this very thing was the hated
trick of this old sneak. Much more the boy would have liked it if he had
been threatened by him, if he had been abused by him.
A day came, when what young Siddhartha had on his mind came bursting
forth, and he openly turned against his father. The latter had given him a
task, he had told him to gather brushwood. But the boy did not leave the
hut, in stubborn disobedience and rage he stayed where he was, thumped on
the ground with his feet, clenched his fists, and screamed in a powerful
outburst his hatred and contempt into his father's face.
"Get the brushwood for yourself!" he shouted foaming at the mouth, "I'm
not your servant. I do know, that you won't hit me, you don't dare; I do
know, that you constantly want to punish me and put me down with your
religious devotion and your indulgence. You want me to become like you, just
as devout, just as soft, just as wise! But I, listen up, just to make you
suffer, I rather want to become a highway-robber and murderer, and go to
hell, than to become like you! I hate you, you're not my father, and if
you've ten times been my mother's fornicator!"
Rage and grief boiled over in him, foamed at the father in a hundred
savage and evil words. Then the boy ran away and only returned late at
But the next morning, he had disappeared. What had also disappeared was a
small basket, woven out of bast of two colours, in which the ferrymen kept
those copper and silver coins which they received as a fare. The boat had
also disappeared, Siddhartha saw it lying by the opposite bank. The boy had
"I must follow him," said Siddhartha, who had been shivering with grief
since those ranting speeches, the boy had made yesterday. "A child can't go
through the forest all alone. He'll perish. We must build a raft, Vasudeva,
to get over the water."
"We will build a raft," said Vasudeva, "to get our boat back, which the
boy has taken away. But him, you shall let run along, my friend, he is no
child any more, he knows how to get around. He's looking for the path to the
city, and he is right, don't forget that. He's doing what you've failed to
do yourself. He's taking care of himself, he's taking his course. Alas,
Siddhartha, I see you suffering, but you're suffering a pain at which one
would like to laugh, at which you'll soon laugh for yourself."
Siddhartha did not answer. He already held the axe in his hands and began
to make a raft of bamboo, and Vasudeva helped him to tied the canes together
with ropes of grass. Then they crossed over, drifted far off their course,
pulled the raft upriver on the opposite bank.
"Why did you take the axe along?" asked Siddhartha.
Vasudeva said: "It might have been possible that the oar of our boat got
But Siddhartha knew what his friend was thinking. He thought, the boy
would have thrown away or broken the oar in order to get even and in order
to keep them from following him. And in fact, there was no oar left in the
boat. Vasudeva pointed to the bottom of the boat and looked at his friend
with a smile, as if he wanted to say: "Don't you see what your son is trying
to tell you? Don't you see that he doesn't want to be followed?" But he did
not say this in words. He started making a new oar. But Siddhartha bid his
farewell, to look for the run-away. Vasudeva did not stop him.
When Siddhartha had already been walking through the forest for a long
time, the thought occurred to him that his search was useless. Either, so he
thought, the boy was far ahead and had already reached the city, or, if he
should still be on his way, he would conceal himself from him, the pursuer.
As he continued thinking, he also found that he, on his part, was not
worried for his son, that he knew deep inside that he had neither perished
nor was in any danger in the forest. Nevertheless, he ran without stopping,
no longer to save him, just to satisfy his desire, just to perhaps see him
one more time. And he ran up to just outside of the city.
When, near the city, he reached a wide road, he stopped, by the entrance
of the beautiful pleasure-garden, which used to belong to Kamala, where he
had seen her for the first time in her sedan-chair. The past rose up in his
soul, again he saw himself standing there, young, a bearded, naked Samana,
the hair full of dust. For a long time, Siddhartha stood there and looked
through the open gate into the garden, seeing monks in yellow robes walking
among the beautiful trees.
For a long time, he stood there, pondering, seeing images, listening to
the story of his life. For a long time, he stood there, looked at the monks,
saw young Siddhartha in their place, saw young Kamala walking among the high
trees. Clearly, he saw himself being served food and drink by Kamala,
receiving his first kiss from her, looking proudly and disdainfully back on
his Brahmanism, beginning proudly and full of desire his worldly life. He
saw Kamaswami, saw the servants, the orgies, the gamblers with the dice, the
musicians, saw Kamala's song-bird in the cage, lived through all this once
again, breathed Sansara, was once again old and tired, felt once again
disgust, felt once again the wish to annihilate himself, was once again
healed by the holy Om.
After having been standing by the gate of the garden for a long time,
Siddhartha realised that his desire was foolish, which had made him go up to
this place, that he could not help his son, that he was not allowed to cling
him. Deeply, he felt the love for the run-away in his heart, like a wound,
and he felt at the same time that this wound had not been given to him in
order to turn the knife in it, that it had to become a blossom and had to
That this wound did not blossom yet, did not shine yet, at this hour,
made him sad. Instead of the desired goal, which had drawn him here
following the runaway son, there was now emptiness. Sadly, he sat down, felt
something dying in his heart, experienced emptiness, saw no joy any more, no
goal. He sat lost in thought and waited. This he had learned by the river,
this one thing: waiting, having patience, listening attentively. And he sat
and listened, in the dust of the road, listened to his heart, beating
tiredly and sadly, waited for a voice. Many an hour he crouched, listening,
saw no images any more, fell into emptiness, let himself fall, without
seeing a path. And when he felt the wound burning, he silently spoke the Om,
filled himself with Om. The monks in the garden saw him, and since he
crouched for many hours, and dust was gathering on his gray hair, one of
them came to him and placed two bananas in front of him. The old man did not
From this petrified state, he was awoken by a hand touching his shoulder.
Instantly, he recognised this touch, this tender, bashful touch, and
regained his senses. He rose and greeted Vasudeva, who had followed him. And
when he looked into Vasudeva's friendly face, into the small wrinkles, which
were as if they were filled with nothing but his smile, into the happy eyes,
then he smiled too. Now he saw the bananas lying in front of him, picked
them up, gave one to the ferryman, ate the other one himself. After this, he
silently went back into the forest with Vasudeva, returned home to the
ferry. Neither one talked about what had happened today, neither one
mentioned the boy's name, neither one spoke about him running away, neither
one spoke about the wound. In the hut, Siddhartha lay down on his bed, and
when after a while Vasudeva came to him, to offer him a bowl of
coconut-milk, he already found him asleep.
For a long time, the wound continued to burn. Many a traveller Siddhartha
had to ferry across the river who was accompanied by a son or a daughter,
and he saw none of them without envying him, without thinking: "So many, so
many thousands possess this sweetest of good fortunes—why don't I? Even bad
people, even thieves and robbers have children and love them, and are being
loved by them, all except for me." Thus simply, thus without reason he now
thought, thus similar to the childlike people he had become.
Differently than before, he now looked upon people, less smart, less
proud, but instead warmer, more curious, more involved. When he ferried
travellers of the ordinary kind, childlike people, businessmen, warriors,
women, these people did not seem alien to him as they used to: he understood
them, he understood and shared their life, which was not guided by thoughts
and insight, but solely by urges and wishes, he felt like them. Though he
was near perfection and was bearing his final wound, it still seemed to him
as if those childlike people were his brothers, their vanities, desires for
possession, and ridiculous aspects were no longer ridiculous to him, became
understandable, became lovable, even became worthy of veneration to him. The
blind love of a mother for her child, the stupid, blind pride of a conceited
father for his only son, the blind, wild desire of a young, vain woman for
jewelry and admiring glances from men, all of these urges, all of this
childish stuff, all of these simple, foolish, but immensely strong, strongly
living, strongly prevailing urges and desires were now no childish notions
for Siddhartha any more, he saw people living for their sake, saw them
achieving infinitely much for their sake, travelling, conducting wars,
suffering infinitely much, bearing infinitely much, and he could love them
for it, he saw life, that what is alive, the indestructible, the Brahman in
each of their passions, each of their acts. Worthy of love and admiration
were these people in their blind loyalty, their blind strength and tenacity.
They lacked nothing, there was nothing the knowledgeable one, the thinker,
had to put him above them except for one little thing, a single, tiny, small
thing: the consciousness, the conscious thought of the oneness of all life.
And Siddhartha even doubted in many an hour, whether this knowledge, this
thought was to be valued thus highly, whether it might not also perhaps be a
childish idea of the thinking people, of the thinking and childlike people.
In all other respects, the worldly people were of equal rank to the wise
men, were often far superior to them, just as animals too can, after all, in
some moments, seem to be superior to humans in their tough, unrelenting
performance of what is necessary.
Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realisation, the
knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was.
It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to
think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be
able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, was
shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge
of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness.
But the wound still burned, longingly and bitterly Siddhartha thought of
his son, nurtured his love and tenderness in his heart, allowed the pain to
gnaw at him, committed all foolish acts of love. Not by itself, this flame
would go out.
And one day, when the wound burned violently, Siddhartha ferried across
the river, driven by a yearning, got off the boat and was willing to go to
the city and to look for his son. The river flowed softly and quietly, it
was the dry season, but its voice sounded strange: it laughed! It laughed
clearly. The river laughed, it laughed brightly and clearly at the old
ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, he bent over the water, in order to hear even
better, and he saw his face reflected in the quietly moving waters, and in
this reflected face there was something, which reminded him, something he
had forgotten, and as he thought about it, he found it: this face resembled
another face, which he used to know and love and also fear. It resembled his
father's face, the Brahman. And he remembered how he, a long time ago, as a
young man, had forced his father to let him go to the penitents, how he had
bed his farewell to him, how he had gone and had never come back. Had his
father not also suffered the same pain for him, which he now suffered for
his son? Had his father not long since died, alone, without having seen his
son again? Did he not have to expect the same fate for himself? Was it not a
comedy, a strange and stupid matter, this repetition, this running around in
a fateful circle?
The river laughed. Yes, so it was, everything came back, which had not
been suffered and solved up to its end, the same pain was suffered over and
over again. But Siddhartha want back into the boat and ferried back to the
hut, thinking of his father, thinking of his son, laughed at by the river,
at odds with himself, tending towards despair, and not less tending towards
laughing along at (?? über) himself and the entire world.
Alas, the wound was not blossoming yet, his heart was still fighting his
fate, cheerfulness and victory were not yet shining from his suffering.
Nevertheless, he felt hope, and once he had returned to the hut, he felt an
undefeatable desire to open up to Vasudeva, to show him everything, the
master of listening, to say everything.
Vasudeva was sitting in the hut and weaving a basket. He no longer used
the ferry-boat, his eyes were starting to get weak, and not just his eyes;
his arms and hands as well. Unchanged and flourishing was only the joy and
the cheerful benevolence of his face.
Siddhartha sat down next to the old man, slowly he started talking. What
they had never talked about, he now told him of, of his walk to the city, at
that time, of the burning wound, of his envy at the sight of happy fathers,
of his knowledge of the foolishness of such wishes, of his futile fight
against them. He reported everything, he was able to say everything, even
the most embarrassing parts, everything could be said, everything shown,
everything he could tell. He presented his wound, also told how he fled
today, how he ferried across the water, a childish run-away, willing to walk
to the city, how the river had laughed.
While he spoke, spoke for a long time, while Vasudeva was listening with
a quiet face, Vasudeva's listening gave Siddhartha a stronger sensation than
ever before, he sensed how his pain, his fears flowed over to him, how his
secret hope flowed over, came back at him from his counterpart. To show his
wound to this listener was the same as bathing it in the river, until it had
cooled and become one with the river. While he was still speaking, still
admitting and confessing, Siddhartha felt more and more that this was no
longer Vasudeva, no longer a human being, who was listening to him, that
this motionless listener was absorbing his confession into himself like a
tree the rain, that this motionless man was the river itself, that he was
God himself, that he was the eternal itself. And while Siddhartha stopped
thinking of himself and his wound, this realisation of Vasudeva's changed
character took possession of him, and the more he felt it and entered into
it, the less wondrous it became, the more he realised that everything was in
order and natural, that Vasudeva had already been like this for a long time,
almost forever, that only he had not quite recognised it, yes, that he
himself had almost reached the same state. He felt, that he was now seeing
old Vasudeva as the people see the gods, and that this could not last; in
his heart, he started bidding his farewell to Vasudeva. Thorough all this,
he talked incessantly.
When he had finished talking, Vasudeva turned his friendly eyes, which
had grown slightly weak, at him, said nothing, let his silent love and
cheerfulness, understanding and knowledge, shine at him. He took
Siddhartha's hand, led him to the seat by the bank, sat down with him,
smiled at the river.
"You've heard it laugh," he said. "But you haven't heard everything.
Let's listen, you'll hear more."
They listened. Softly sounded the river, singing in many voices.
Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him in the moving
water: his father appeared, lonely, mourning for his son; he himself
appeared, lonely, he also being tied with the bondage of yearning to his
distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy, greedily rushing
along the burning course of his young wishes, each one heading for his goal,
each one obsessed by the goal, each one suffering. The river sang with a
voice of suffering, longingly it sang, longingly, it flowed towards its
goal, lamentingly its voice sang.
"Do you hear?" Vasudeva's mute gaze asked. Siddhartha nodded.
"Listen better!" Vasudeva whispered.
Siddhartha made an effort to listen better. The image of his father, his
own image, the image of his son merged, Kamala's image also appeared and was
dispersed, and the image of Govinda, and other images, and they merged with
each other, turned all into the river, headed all, being the river, for the
goal, longing, desiring, suffering, and the river's voice sounded full of
yearning, full of burning woe, full of unsatisfiable desire. For the goal,
the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which
consisted of him and his loved ones and of all people, he had ever seen, all
of these waves and waters were hurrying, suffering, towards goals, many
goals, the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, the sea, and all goals were
reached, and every goal was followed by a new one, and the water turned into
vapour and rose to the sky, turned into rain and poured down from the sky,
turned into a source, a stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed
on once again. But the longing voice had changed. It still resounded, full
of suffering, searching, but other voices joined it, voices of joy and of
suffering, good and bad voices, laughing and sad ones, a hundred voices, a
Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely
concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now
finished learning to listen. Often before, he had heard all this, these many
voices in the river, today it sounded new. Already, he could no longer tell
the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the
ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the
lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the
scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one,
everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And
everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all
pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world.
All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life. And when
Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand
voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he
did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it,
but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great
song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the
"Do you hear," Vasudeva's gaze asked again.
Brightly, Vasudeva's smile was shining, floating radiantly over all the
wrinkles of his old face, as the Om was floating in the air over all the
voices of the river. Brightly his smile was shining, when he looked at his
friend, and brightly the same smile was now starting to shine on
Siddhartha's face as well. His wound blossomed, his suffering was shining,
his self had flown into the oneness.
In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering. On
his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge, which is no longer
opposed by any will, which knows perfection, which is in agreement with the
flow of events, with the current of life, full of sympathy for the pain of
others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of others, devoted to the flow,
belonging to the oneness.
When Vasudeva rose from the seat by the bank, when he looked into
Siddhartha's eyes and saw the cheerfulness of the knowledge shining in them,
he softly touched his shoulder with his hand, in this careful and tender
manner, and said: "I've been waiting for this hour, my dear. Now that it has
come, let me leave. For a long time, I've been waiting for this hour; for a
long time, I've been Vasudeva the ferryman. Now it's enough. Farewell, hut,
farewell, river, farewell, Siddhartha!"
Siddhartha made a deep bow before him who bid his farewell.
"I've known it," he said quietly. "You'll go into the forests?"
"I'm going into the forests, I'm going into the oneness," spoke Vasudeva
with a bright smile.
With a bright smile, he left; Siddhartha watched him leaving. With deep
joy, with deep solemnity he watched him leave, saw his steps full of peace,
saw his head full of lustre, saw his body full of light.
Together with other monks, Govinda used to spend the time of rest between
pilgrimages in the pleasure-grove, which the courtesan Kamala had given to
the followers of Gotama for a gift. He heard talk of an old ferryman, who
lived one day's journey away by the river, and who was regarded as a wise
man by many. When Govinda went back on his way, he chose the path to the
ferry, eager to see the ferryman. Because, though he had lived his entire
life by the rules, though he was also looked upon with veneration by the
younger monks on account of his age and his modesty, the restlessness and
the searching still had not perished from his heart.
He came to the river and asked the old man to ferry him over, and when
they got off the boat on the other side, he said to the old man: "You're
very good to us monks and pilgrims, you have already ferried many of us
across the river. Aren't you too, ferryman, a searcher for the right path?"
Quoth Siddhartha, smiling from his old eyes: "Do you call yourself a
searcher, oh venerable one, though you are already of an old in years and
are wearing the robe of Gotama's monks?"
"It's true, I'm old," spoke Govinda, "but I haven't stopped searching.
Never I'll stop searching, this seems to be my destiny. You too, so it seems
to me, have been searching. Would you like to tell me something, oh
Quoth Siddhartha: "What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable
one? Perhaps that you're searching far too much? That in all that searching,
you don't find the time for finding?"
"How come?" asked Govinda.
"When someone is searching," said Siddhartha, "then it might easily
happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for,
that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because
he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a
goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal.
But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable
one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there
are many things you don't see, which are directly in front of your eyes."
"I don't quite understand yet," asked Govinda, "what do you mean by
Quoth Siddhartha: "A long time ago, oh venerable one, many years ago,
you've once before been at this river and have found a sleeping man by the
river, and have sat down with him to guard his sleep. But, oh Govinda, you
did not recognise the sleeping man."
Astonished, as if he had been the object of a magic spell, the monk
looked into the ferryman's eyes.
"Are you Siddhartha?" he asked with a timid voice. "I wouldn't have
recognised you this time as well! From my heart, I'm greeting you,
Siddhartha; from my heart, I'm happy to see you once again! You've changed a
lot, my friend.—And so you've now become a ferryman?"
In a friendly manner, Siddhartha laughed. "A ferryman, yes. Many people,
Govinda, have to change a lot, have to wear many a robe, I am one of those,
my dear. Be welcome, Govinda, and spend the night in my hut."
Govinda stayed the night in the hut and slept on the bed which used to be
Vasudeva's bed. Many questions he posed to the friend of his youth, many
things Siddhartha had to tell him from his life.
When in the next morning the time had come to start the day's journey,
Govinda said, not without hesitation, these words: "Before I'll continue on
my path, Siddhartha, permit me to ask one more question. Do you have a
teaching? Do you have a faith, or a knowledge, you follow, which helps you
to live and to do right?"
Quoth Siddhartha: "You know, my dear, that I already as a young man, in
those days when we lived with the penitents in the forest, started to
distrust teachers and teachings and to turn my back to them. I have stuck
with this. Nevertheless, I have had many teachers since then. A beautiful
courtesan has been my teacher for a long time, and a rich merchant was my
teacher, and some gamblers with dice. Once, even a follower of Buddha,
travelling on foot, has been my teacher; he sat with me when I had fallen
asleep in the forest, on the pilgrimage. I've also learned from him, I'm
also grateful to him, very grateful. But most of all, I have learned here
from this river and from my predecessor, the ferryman Vasudeva. He was a
very simple person, Vasudeva, he was no thinker, but he knew what is
necessary just as well as Gotama, he was a perfect man, a saint."
Govinda said: "Still, oh Siddhartha, you love a bit to mock people, as it
seems to me. I believe in you and know that you haven't followed a teacher.
But haven't you found something by yourself, though you've found no
teachings, you still found certain thoughts, certain insights, which are
your own and which help you to live? If you would like to tell me some of
these, you would delight my heart."
Quoth Siddhartha: "I've had thoughts, yes, and insight, again and again.
Sometimes, for an hour or for an entire day, I have felt knowledge in me, as
one would feel life in one's heart. There have been many thoughts, but it
would be hard for me to convey them to you. Look, my dear Govinda, this is
one of my thoughts, which I have found: wisdom cannot be passed on. Wisdom
which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like
"Are you kidding?" asked Govinda.
"I'm not kidding. I'm telling you what I've found. Knowledge can be
conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible
to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be
expressed in words and taught. This was what I, even as a young man,
sometimes suspected, what has driven me away from the teachers. I have found
a thought, Govinda, which you'll again regard as a joke or foolishness, but
which is my best thought. It says: The opposite of every truth is just as
true! That's like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words
when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought with
thoughts and said with words, it's all one-sided, all just one half, all
lacks completeness, roundness, oneness. When the exalted Gotama spoke in his
teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into
deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. It cannot be done
differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world
itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. A person
or an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never
entirely holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this, because we
are subject to deception, as if time was something real. Time is not real,
Govinda, I have experienced this often and often again. And if time is not
real, then the gap which seems to be between the world and the eternity,
between suffering and blissfulness, between evil and good, is also a
"How come?" asked Govinda timidly.
"Listen well, my dear, listen well! The sinner, which I am and which you
are, is a sinner, but in times to come he will be Brahma again, he will
reach the Nirvana, will be Buddha—and now see: these 'times to come' are a
deception, are only a parable! The sinner is not on his way to become a
Buddha, he is not in the process of developing, though our capacity for
thinking does not know how else to picture these things. No, within the
sinner is now and today already the future Buddha, his future is already all
there, you have to worship in him, in you, in everyone the Buddha which is
coming into being, the possible, the hidden Buddha. The world, my friend
Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is
perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in
itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all
infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not
possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on
his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the
Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility
to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as
if it was simultaneous, and there everything is good, everything is perfect,
everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see whatever exists as good, death is to
me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to
be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my
loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit,
to be unable to ever harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul
that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions,
vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give
up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop
comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I
had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a
part of it.—These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into
Siddhartha bent down, picked up a stone from the ground, and weighed it
in his hand.
"This here," he said playing with it, "is a stone, and will, after a
certain time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a plant
or animal or human being. In the past, I would have said: This stone is just
a stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of the Maja; but because
it might be able to become also a human being and a spirit in the cycle of
transformations, therefore I also grant it importance. Thus, I would perhaps
have thought in the past. But today I think: this stone is a stone, it is
also animal, it is also god, it is also Buddha, I do not venerate and love
it because it could turn into this or that, but rather because it is already
and always everything— and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it
appears to me now and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth
and purpose in each of its veins and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray,
in the hardness, in the sound it makes when I knock at it, in the dryness or
wetness of its surface. There are stones which feel like oil or soap, and
others like leaves, others like sand, and every one is special and prays the
Om in its own way, each one is Brahman, but simultaneously and just as much
it is a stone, is oily or juicy, and this is this very fact which I like and
regard as wonderful and worthy of worship.—But let me speak no more of this.
The words are not good for the secret meaning, everything always becomes a
bit different, as soon as it is put into words, gets distorted a bit, a bit
silly—yes, and this is also very good, and I like it a lot, I also very much
agree with this, that this what is one man's treasure and wisdom always
sounds like foolishness to another person."
Govinda listened silently.
"Why have you told me this about the stone?" he asked hesitantly after a
"I did it without any specific intention. Or perhaps what I meant was,
that love this very stone, and the river, and all these things we are
looking at and from which we can learn. I can love a stone, Govinda, and
also a tree or a piece of bark. This are things, and things can be loved.
But I cannot love words. Therefore, teachings are no good for me, they have
no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no smell, no taste, they
have nothing but words. Perhaps it are these which keep you from finding
peace, perhaps it are the many words. Because salvation and virtue as well,
Sansara and Nirvana as well, are mere words, Govinda. There is no thing
which would be Nirvana; there is just the word Nirvana."
Quoth Govinda: "Not just a word, my friend, is Nirvana. It is a thought."
Siddhartha continued: "A thought, it might be so. I must confess to you,
my dear: I don't differentiate much between thoughts and words. To be
honest, I also have no high opinion of thoughts. I have a better opinion of
things. Here on this ferry-boat, for instance, a man has been my predecessor
and teacher, a holy man, who has for many years simply believed in the
river, nothing else. He had noticed that the river's spoke to him, he
learned from it, it educated and taught him, the river seemed to be a god to
him, for many years he did not know that every wind, every cloud, every
bird, every beetle was just as divine and knows just as much and can teach
just as much as the worshipped river. But when this holy man went into the
forests, he knew everything, knew more than you and me, without teachers,
without books, only because he had believed in the river."
Govinda said: "But is that what you call `things', actually something
real, something which has existence? Isn't it just a deception of the Maja,
just an image and illusion? Your stone, your tree, your river— are they
actually a reality?"
"This too," spoke Siddhartha, "I do not care very much about. Let the
things be illusions or not, after all I would then also be an illusion, and
thus they are always like me. This is what makes them so dear and worthy of
veneration for me: they are like me. Therefore, I can love them. And this is
now a teaching you will laugh about: love, oh Govinda, seems to me to be the
most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the world, to explain
it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I'm only
interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate
it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and
admiration and great respect."
"This I understand," spoke Govinda. "But this very thing was discovered
by the exalted one to be a deception. He commands benevolence, clemency,
sympathy, tolerance, but not love; he forbade us to tie our heart in love to
"I know it," said Siddhartha; his smile shone golden. "I know it,
Govinda. And behold, with this we are right in the middle of the thicket of
opinions, in the dispute about words. For I cannot deny, my words of love
are in a contradiction, a seeming contradiction with Gotama's words. For
this very reason, I distrust in words so much, for I know, this
contradiction is a deception. I know that I am in agreement with Gotama. How
should he not know love, he, who has discovered all elements of human
existence in their transitoriness, in their meaninglessness, and yet loved
people thus much, to use a long, laborious life only to help them, to teach
them! Even with him, even with your great teacher, I prefer the thing over
the words, place more importance on his acts and life than on his speeches,
more on the gestures of his hand than his opinions. Not in his speech, not
in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life."
For a long time, the two old men said nothing. Then spoke Govinda, while
bowing for a farewell: "I thank you, Siddhartha, for telling me some of your
thoughts. They are partially strange thoughts, not all have been instantly
understandable to me. This being as it may, I thank you, and I wish you to
have calm days."
(But secretly he thought to himself: This Siddhartha is a bizarre person,
he expresses bizarre thoughts, his teachings sound foolish. So differently
sound the exalted one's pure teachings, clearer, purer, more comprehensible,
nothing strange, foolish, or silly is contained in them. But different from
his thoughts seemed to me Siddhartha's hands and feet, his eyes, his
forehead, his breath, his smile, his greeting, his walk. Never again, after
our exalted Gotama has become one with the Nirvana, never since then have I
met a person of whom I felt: this is a holy man! Only him, this Siddhartha,
I have found to be like this. May his teachings be strange, may his words
sound foolish; out of his gaze and his hand, his skin and his hair, out of
every part of him shines a purity, shines a calmness, shines a cheerfulness
and mildness and holiness, which I have seen in no other person since the
final death of our exalted teacher.)
As Govinda thought like this, and there was a conflict in his heart, he
once again bowed to Siddhartha, drawn by love. Deeply he bowed to him who
was calmly sitting.
"Siddhartha," he spoke, "we have become old men. It is unlikely for one
of us to see the other again in this incarnation. I see, beloved, that you
have found peace. I confess that I haven't found it. Tell me, oh honourable
one, one more word, give me something on my way which I can grasp, which I
can understand! Give me something to be with me on my path. It it often
hard, my path, often dark, Siddhartha."
Siddhartha said nothing and looked at him with the ever unchanged, quiet
smile. Govinda stared at his face, with fear, with yearning, suffering, and
the eternal search was visible in his look, eternal not-finding.
Siddhartha saw it and smiled.
"Bent down to me!" he whispered quietly in Govinda's ear. "Bend down to
me! Like this, even closer! Very close! Kiss my forehead, Govinda!"
But while Govinda with astonishment, and yet drawn by great love and
expectation, obeyed his words, bent down closely to him and touched his
forehead with his lips, something miraculous happened to him. While his
thoughts were still dwelling on Siddhartha's wondrous words, while he was
still struggling in vain and with reluctance to think away time, to imagine
Nirvana and Sansara as one, while even a certain contempt for the words of
his friend was fighting in him against an immense love and veneration, this
happened to him:
He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other
faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of
thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there
simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and
which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an
infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading
eyes—he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles,
distorted from crying—he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a
knife into the body of another person—he saw, in the same second, this
criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the
executioner with one blow of his sword—he saw the bodies of men and women,
naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love—he saw corpses stretched out,
motionless, cold, void— he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of
crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds—he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw
Agni—he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with
one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying
it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately
painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of them died, each one
only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without
any time having passed between the one and the other face—and all of these
figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and
merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something
thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass
or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this
mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling face, which he,
Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips. And, Govinda saw it
like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of oneness above the flowing
forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths,
this smile of Siddhartha was precisely the same, was precisely of the same
kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps
mocking, wise, thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it
himself with great respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the
perfected ones are smiling.
Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted
a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed a
Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you, feeling in his innermost self as if he
had been wounded by a divine arrow, the injury of which tasted sweet, being
enchanted and dissolved in his innermost self, Govinda still stood for a
little while bent over Siddhartha's quiet face, which he had just kissed,
which had just been the scene of all manifestations, all transformations,
all existence. The face was unchanged, after under its surface the depth of
the thousandfoldness had closed up again, he smiled silently, smiled quietly
and softly, perhaps very benevolently, perhaps very mockingly, precisely as
he used to smile, the exalted one.
Deeply, Govinda bowed; tears he knew nothing of, ran down his old face;
like a fire burnt the feeling of the most intimate love, the humblest
veneration in his heart. Deeply, he bowed, touching the ground, before him
who was sitting motionlessly, whose smile reminded him of everything he had
ever loved in his life, what had ever been valuable and holy to him in his