Title: Siddharta – A Poem of India

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Title: Siddharta - A Poem of India

Author: Hermann Hesse

Release Date: November 24, 2018  [eBook #58344]

Language: English

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Copyright (C) 2018 by David Wyllie.

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			   A poem of India

by Hermann Hesse

Translated into English by David Wyllie


Dedicated to my revered friend, Romain Rolland


In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank where the
boats were, in the shade of the forest of shala trees, in the shade of the
fig tree, this is where Siddhartha grew up, the brahmin’s most handsome
son, the young falcon, alongside his friend Govinda, the brahmin’s son.
His pale shoulders were bronzed by the sunshine on the river bank, when he
was bathing, when performing ceremonious ablutions, when making holy
sacrifices. Shadow flowed into his dark eyes in the mango groves, when
playing boyish games, when his mother sang, when he talked with the wise
ones. Siddhartha spent many hours in conversation with the wise ones, he
practised his skills of rhetoric with Govinda, practised the art of
thought with Govinda, in order to achieve mystic contemplation. He was
already able to utter the holy word, Om, in silence, the word of words, in
silence to utter it and draw it in with his breath, in silence to utter it
and send it out with his breath, his mind collected, his brow surrounded
with the light of the clear-thinking soul. He was already able to
understand, in his innermost being, the nature of Atman, indestructible,
at one with the universe.

Joy sprang up in his father’s heart when he saw his son, the learned
one, the one with a thirst for knowledge, joy sprang up when he foretold
that he would grow into a wise man and a priest, a prince among the

Bliss sprang up in his mother’s breast when she saw her son, when she
saw him walk, when she saw him sit down and stand up, Siddhartha, the
strong one, the handsome one, walking on his slender legs, when, with
perfect decorum, he her offered her his greetings.

Love was stirred in the hearts of the brahmins’ daughters when they saw
Siddhartha walk through the streets of the town, his luminous brow, the
eyes of a king, his narrow hips.

But the one who loved him more than all the others was Govinda, his
friend, the brahmin’s son. He loved Siddhartha’s eyes and his noble
voice, he loved his walk and the perfect grace of his movements, he loved
everything that Siddhartha did or said, and most of all he loved his soul,
his lofty and fiery thoughts, the bright glow of his will, his lofty
vocation. Govinda knew that Siddhartha would never become a mediocre
brahmin, no lazy officiator of sacrifices, no greedy peddler of magic
spells, no rhetorician of vain and empty speech, no sly or malevolent
priest, and also never become a good but stupid sheep in the flock of
many. No, and he too, Govinda, had no wish to become one such, not one of
those brahmans that are numbered in their thousands. He wanted to be a
follower of Siddhartha, the beloved, the noble. And if Siddhartha ever
became a god, if he ever went to join the luminous ones, then Govinda
would follow him, as his friend, as his companion, as his servant, as his
spear carrier, his shadow.

Everyone loved Siddhartha in the same way. To everyone he brought joy.

To himself, though, Siddhartha did not bring joy. Wandering between the
roses in the fig garden, sitting in the bluish shade in the grove of
contemplation, washing his limbs in his daily act of atonement, performing
sacrifice in the dark shade of the mango wood, all his movements as they
should be, loved by all, joy to all, he nonetheless carried no joy in his
own heart. Tears came to him, restless thoughts came to him from the water
of the river as it flowed, from the stars of the night as they sparkled,
from the rays of the Sun as they blazed, dreams came to him and a
restlessness of the soul, from the smoke of his sacrifices, from the
verses of the Rig Veda as he breathed them, from the teachings of the
ancient brahmins as they seeped into him.

Siddhartha had begun to nurture discontent in himself. He had begun to
feel that his father’s love, and his mother’s love, and the love of
his friend, Govinda, would not always and for all time bring him
happiness, calm him, satisfy him, be enough for him. He had begun to see
that his venerable father and his other teachers, the wise brahmins, had
already given him almost all of their wisdom, all the best of their
wisdom, that their fullness had already been poured into his vessel,
receptive and ready to accept it, and that the vessel was not full, the
spirit was not satisfied, the soul was not quieted, the heart was not at
peace. The washings were good, but they were water, they did not wash sins
away, they did not assuage the thirst of the soul, they did not dispel the
pain of the heart. Most important of all were the sacrifices and the call
of the gods - but was that all? Did the sacrifices bring happiness? And
how did the gods feel about that? Was it really Prajapati who had created
the world? Was it not Atman, him, the only one, the all-in-one? Were the
gods not forms that had been created like you and me, subject to time,
mortal? So was it good to make sacrifice to the gods, was it proper, was
it a meaningful and elevated act? Whom else would you make sacrifice to,
whom else should you offer your veneration to other than Him, the one and
only, Atman? And where was Atman to be found, where did He live, where did
His eternal heart beat, where else but in the Self, in the Deepest, in the
Indestructible that every man carried in himself? But where, where was
this Self, this Deepest, this Ultimate? It was not made of flesh and bone,
it was not thought or consciousness, that is was the wisest men taught.
Where, where was it then? To pierce through to the Self, to me, to Atman -
was there any other way worth seeking out? But no-one showed him this way,
no-one knew it, not his father, not his teachers or the wise men, not the
sacred songs of sacrifice! They knew everything, the brahmins and their
holy books, knew everything, they had made great efforts into everything
and into more than everything, the creation of the world, the origins of
speech, food, breathing in and breathing out, the hierarchy of sins, the
acts of the gods - their knowledge was boundless - but was it worth
knowing all of this when there was one single thing they did not know, the
thing of highest importance, the only thing of importance?

It was true that many verses in the holy scriptures, magnificent verses
such as the Upanishads of the Samaveda, spoke of this deepest and ultimate
thing. “Your soul is the entire world,” was written there, and it was
written that man in his sleep, deep sleep, enters into his deepest part
and lives in Atman. Great wisdom was written in these verses, all the
knowledge of the wisest was collected here and presented in words of
magic, as pure as the honey collected from the bees. No, the enormous
amount of knowledge here, assembled and preserved through countless
generations of wise brahmins, was not to be under-valued. - but where were
the brahmins, where were the priests, where were the wise men and the
penitents who had succeeded not only in learning this deepest wisdom but
in living it? Where was the gifted one who, by his magic, would draw the
essence of Atman out of its sleep and make it alert, something that was
alive in its coming and going, in word and deed? Siddhartha knew many
venerable brahmins, most of all he knew his father, the pure one, the
learned one, the most venerable of all. His father was an admirable man,
quiet and noble in his manner, pure his life, wise his words, in his brow
lived fine and noble thoughts - but even he, who had so much knowledge;
Did he live in holiness, was he at peace, was he, too, not just another
seeker, just another thirsty one? Did he not, over and again, need to go
to the well to assuage his thirst, did he not need to make sacrifice, read
books and debate his beliefs with the brahmins? Why did he, the immaculate
one, need to wash his sins away every day, strive to become pure every
day, every day again and again? Was Atman not a part of him, did the
source not flow into his heart? The source of all things had to be found,
the source within us all, it had to be taken into ourselves! All else was
mere seeking, mere straying from the path, mere delusion.

These were the thoughts of Siddhartha, this was his thirst, this was his

He would often recite the words from one of the Chandogya Upanishads:
“Forsooth, the name of Brahman is Satyam - forsooth, he who knows such
things goeth daily into the world of Heaven.” The world of Heaven often
seemed near to him, but he had never quite been able to reach it, never
been able to quench the ultimate thirst. And from all the wise men he
knew, even from the wisest of all, whose teachings he enjoyed, there was
not one who ever had quite reached it, the world of Heaven, which would
have quenched the ultimate thirst for him.

“Govinda,” said Siddhartha to his friend, “Govinda, dear friend,
come with me under the banyan tree, we have to nurture our skill of

They went to the Banyan tree, they sat down beneath it, Siddhartha here
and, twenty paces away, sat Govinda. As he sat down in preparedness to
utter the word ‘Om,’ Siddhartha repeatedly muttered the verse:

  Om is the bow, the arrow is the soul,
  Brahman is the arrow’s goal,
  The goal to reach directly.

After they had practised contemplation for their usual length of time
Govinda stood. The evening had come, it was time to wash in preparation
for the evening. He called out Siddhartha’s name. Siddhartha gave no
answer. Siddhartha sat deep in contemplation, his eyes were fixed on a
greatly distant object, the tip of his tongue protruded slightly from
between his teeth, he seemed not to be breathing. So he sat, engrossed in
contemplation, his mind fixed on Om, his soul as the arrow sent out to

One day samanas came through the town where Siddhartha lived, travelling
ascetics, three men wizened and close to death, neither old nor young,
their shoulders were bloody and dusty, they were nearly naked and they
were scorched by the sun, an air of loneliness about them, alien to this
world and the enemy of the world, strangers, emaciated jackals in the
empire of man. The odour of quiet suffering blew in from behind them, of
service that destroyed, of pitiless loss of self.

That evening, after their hour of contemplation, Siddhartha said to
Govinda, “Tomorrow morning, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the
samanas. He will become a samana.”

When Govinda heard these words and saw the unshakable resolution in his
friend’s face he turned pale. Siddhartha could no more be dissuaded from
his course than the arrow speeding from the bow. Just as soon as he saw
this, Govinda knew that this was where it started, Siddhartha would now go
on his way, now his destiny would begin to grow, and with Siddhartha’s
destiny so would Govinda’s. And he became as pale as a dried banana

Oh, Siddhartha,” he exclaimed, “will your father allow that?”

Siddhartha looked back at him as one who was awakening. With the speed of
an arrow he saw the fear, saw the resignation in Govinda’s soul.

“Oh, Govinda,” he said gently, “let us not waste words. Tomorrow, at
the break of day, I will embark on the life of a samana. Let us talk no
more about it.”

Siddhartha went into the room where his father sat on a raffia mat and
stood behind him until his father could feel that he was there. The
brahmin said, “Is that you, Siddhartha? Say what it is you have come to
tell me.”

Siddhartha answered, “If you will allow it, father, I have come to tell
you that I have been called on to leave your house in the morning and to
go among the ascetics. It is my vocation to become a samana. I hope my
father will not be opposed to this.”

The brahmin was silent, and remained silent so long that, before the
silence in the room came to an end, the stars outside the little window
had moved across the sky and formed new shapes. His son remained there,
speechless and immobile, his arms crossed, the father sat there on the
mat, speechless and immobile, while the stars made their way across the
sky. Finally, Siddhartha’s father spoke. “It is not seemly for a
brahmin to speak loud and angry words, but my heart is moved to oppose
this. I do not want to hear this request from your mouth a second time.”

Slowly, the brahmin got to his feet, Siddhartha stood in silence, his arms

“What are you waiting for?” his father asked.

Siddhartha said, “You know what I am waiting for.”

Displeased, his father left the room, displeased he went to his bed and
lay himself down.

An hour passed, as no sleep came to his eyes, the brahmin stood up, paced
to and fro, left the house. He looked in through the little window of the
room, there he saw Siddhartha standing, his arms crossed, unchanged. His
upper clothing shone palely. Unease in his heart, Siddhartha’s father
went back to his bed.

Another hour passed, as no sleep came to his eyes, the brahmin stood up
again, paced to and fro, went to the front of the house, saw that the moon
had risen. He looked in through the little window of the room, there he
saw Siddhartha standing, resolute, his arms crossed, moonlight reflecting
from his bare legs. With worry in his heart, Siddhartha’s father went
back to his bed.

He came again after an hour, and came again after two hours, looked in at
the little window, saw Siddhartha standing there, in the moonlight, in the
starlight, in the darkness. He came again hour after hour, in silence,
looked into the room, saw the resolute one standing there, it filled his
heart with anger, filled his heart with anxiety, filled his heart with
doubts, filled it with sorrow.

And in the last hour of the night, before the day began, he went back
again, entered the room, saw the young man standing there. He seemed great
to him, and like a stranger.

“Siddhartha,” he said, “what is it you are waiting for?”

“You know what I am waiting for.”

“Will you persist in standing like this and waiting until day comes,
midday comes, evening comes?”

“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 do as your father tells you?”

“Siddhartha has always done as his father has told him.”

“So will you give up this idea?”

“Siddhartha will do as his father says.”

The first rays of daylight fell into the room. The brahmin saw that
Siddhartha’s knees were trembling slightly. He saw no tremble in
Siddhartha’s face, his eyes fixed on the far distance. Then his father
realised that Siddhartha was no longer with him in his native country,
that he had already left him.

His father touched Siddhartha’s shoulder.

“You will go into the woods and become a samana,” he said. “If you
find holiness in the woods come and teach me about holiness. If you find
disappointment come back and we can make sacrifices to the gods together
again. Now go and kiss your mother, tell her where you’re going. For me,
it is time now to go down to the river and start the first washing of the

He took his hand off his son’s shoulder and went out. Siddhartha
staggered to one side as he tried to walk. He forced his limbs to do as he
wanted, bowed to his father and went to his mother to do as his father had
told him.

The town, in the light of early morning, was still quiet as Siddhartha
walked out of it, moving slowly on his stiff legs. As he passed the last
hut a shadow rose from where it had been crouching and approached the
pilgrim - Govinda.

“You have come,” said Siddhartha with a smile.

“I have come,” said Govinda.


They reached the samanas that evening, the emaciated samanas, and offered
them their company and their obedience. They were accepted.

Siddhartha had given his coat to a poor brahmin on the way there. All he
wore now were his loin cloth and an earth coloured, untailored cloak. He
ate just once a day and never had cooked food. He fasted for fifteen days.
He fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh disappeared from his limbs and
his cheeks. Feverish dreams flickered from his bulging eyes, the nails
grew long on his desiccated fingers, a dry, unkempt beard. When he
encountered a woman his eyes became icy; his mouth twitched with contempt
when he entered a town and saw the people in their fine clothes. He saw
businessmen doing business, he saw noblemen go hunting, he saw the
bereaved grieving for their dead, whores offering their bodies, doctors
taking care of the sick, priests saying when to sow crops, lovers loving,
mothers feeding their babies - and none of this was worth a glance from
him, all was lies, everything stank, everything stank of lies, everything
made a pretence of good sense and happiness and beauty, all was in decay
and none could see it. The world tasted bitter. Life was a torment.

Siddhartha had but one objective: to empty himself, to empty himself of
thirst, of desire, of dreams, empty himself of joy and sorrow. To die away
from himself, to no longer be himself, to find peace by emptying his own
heart, to stand open to the miracle by alienating his own thoughts, that
was his objective. Once the whole of his self had been overcome and
destroyed, once every need and every drive of his heart was silent, that
was when the ultimate had to wake, the deepest part of his being, that
which is no longer the self, the great secret.

Siddhartha stood silent in the vertical glare of the Sun, aglow with pain,
aglow with thirst, and he stood there till he no longer felt pain nor
thirst. He stood silent in the time of rains with the water flowing from
his hair onto his icy cold shoulders, over his icy cold hips and legs, and
the penitent remained standing there till his shoulders and his legs no
longer felt icy cold, till they became silent, till they were at peace. He
crouched silent in the thorny bushes, blood dropping from his burning
skin, pus dropping from his wounds, and Siddhartha remained rigid,
remained motionless, till the blood no longer flowed, till the thorns no
longer pierced his skin, till nothing more burned him.

Siddhartha sat up straight and learned to control his breath, learned to
need little air, learned to stop his breath. He learned, starting with his
breath, to still the beats of his heart, learned to reduce the beats of
his heart till they became fewer and then till there were almost none.

Siddhartha was taught by the eldest of the samanas, he trained in losing
the self, he trained in contemplation, learned new samana rules. A heron
flew out of the bamboo forest - and Siddhartha took the heron into his
soul, he flew over the woods and mountains, he was a heron, he ate fish,
he hungered as a heron hungers, he spoke the heron language, he died the
death of a heron. A dead jackal lay on the sand by the water, and
Siddhartha’s soul slipped into the corpse, he was entirely a jackal, he
lay on the shore, he bloated with gas, he stank, he decayed, he was torn
apart by hyenas, he lost his skin to the vultures, he became a skeleton,
became dust, blew in the wind that crossed the meadows. And Siddhartha’s
soul came back to him, died, decayed, crumbled, it had tasted the dark
inebriation of the circle of life, again endured thirst like the hunter in
the wasteland where the circle of life might be left behind, where cause
and effect ended, where eternity without pain began. He brought death to
his senses, brought death to his memory, slipped out of his own self and
into a thousand alien forms, he was an animal, was carrion, was stone, was
wood, was water, and each time found himself ever more aware, light of sun
or moon, became again himself, swang in the circle, felt thirst, overcame
the thirst, felt the thirst anew.

Among the samanas Siddhartha learned many things, he learned many ways to
leave his self behind. He learned the way of self-alienation by pain, by
voluntary suffering and how to overcome pain, hunger, thirst, fatigue. He
travelled on the way of self-alienation by meditation, by removing from
his thoughts any sense that he was perceiving what presented itself to
him. This he learned, and he learned many other ways to travel, he left
his self behind a thousand times, he persisted in the not-self for hours,
for days. But although these ways led him away from his self they always,
at the end, led him back to it. Siddhartha fled from his self a thousand
times, spent time in nothingness, in the animal, in a stone, but he was
never able to prevent his return, the hour of his return was not
avoidable, and he would find himself, once again, in the light of the sun
or the moon, in shade or in rain, and Siddhartha and his self were there
once again, once again the suffering of the circle of life was placed upon

At his side lived Govinda, his shadow, travelling the same road,
undergoing the same trials. They seldom spoke to each other, only when it
was needed for their service and their exercises. At times they would go
together to the villages in order to beg for food for themselves and their

“What do you think, Govinda,” Siddhartha once asked him as they were
on their way to beg. “Do you think we have made any progress? Have we
reached any of our targets?”

Govinda answered, “We have learned things, and we continue to learn. You
will be a great samana, Siddhartha. You have learned every exercise very
quickly, and the old samanas have been amazed at you. One day, Siddhartha,
you will be a holy man.”

Siddhartha said, “That is not how I see it, my friend. All that I have
learned so far I could have learned much faster and much easier in any bar
where the whores are, my friend, among all the cheats and the gamblers.”

Govinda said, “That is what you say, my friend, but you know that
Siddhartha is not some cattle driver, and that a samana is not some
drunkard. The drunk can numb his senses, he can find escape and rest for a
short time, but then he comes back from his stupor and finds that all is
as it was before. He makes himself no wiser, he has gathered no knowledge
any sort, he has climbed not one step higher.”

Siddhartha smiled and said, “I don’t know, I’ve never been a
drunkard. But I do know that in all my exercises and contemplations I have
only ever found a brief respite from suffering, and remained just as far
away from wisdom and liberation as a child in its mother’s womb. I do
know that, Govinda, I do know that.”

Another time, when Siddhartha and Govinda came out of the woods together
and down to the village to beg for food for their brothers and teachers,
Siddhartha began to speak and said, “What about now, Govinda, do you
think we are on the right path? Are we getting any closer to knowledge?
Are we getting any closer to liberation? Or are we just going round in
circles - we, who are trying to escape the circle of life?”

Govinda said, “We have learnt many things, Siddhartha, and there is
still a lot more to learn. We are not going round in circles, we are
mounting higher, the circle is a spiral, we have already climbed up many

Siddhartha answered, “How old do you think our eldest samana is, our
venerable teacher?”

Govinda said, “He must be about sixty, our eldest samana.”

And Siddhartha, “He has reached the age of sixty, and he still has not
reached Nirvana. He will be seventy, and then eighty, and you and me, we
will become old in the same way and we will do our exercises, and we will
fast, and we will meditate. But we will never reach Nirvana, he will not,
we will not. Govinda, of all the samanas that there are, I do not think
any one of them is likely to reach Nirvana. We find consolation, we find
respite from pain, we learn the skills with which we deceive ourselves.
But that which is essential, the way of ways, that is what we are not

“Do not utter such shocking words, Siddhartha!” said Govinda. “We
are among so many learned men, so many brahmins, so many strict and
venerable samanas, so many seekers, so many who strive with such effort,
so many holy men; how could it be that none of these finds the way of

But Siddhartha replied in a voice that was sad as much as it was mocking,
a gentle voice, a somewhat sad voice, somewhat mocking, “Soon now,
Govinda, your friend will be leaving the way of the samanas along which he
has travelled so far with you. I suffer from thirst, Govinda, and my
thirst has not become any the less on this long way of the samanas. I have
always been thirsty for knowledge, always been full of questions. I
questioned the brahmins year after year, I sought knowledge in the holy
vedas year after year, and I put questions to the pious samanas year after
year. Perhaps, Govinda, it would have been just as good, just as clever
and just as healing to go and put questions to the rhinoceros birds or the
chimpanzees. I have taken much time to learn this, Govinda, and I am still
not at the end of it, I have learned that learning is impossible! I
believe that in fact there is nothing in anything that we could call
‘learning.’ There is only a kind of knowledge that is everywhere, my
friend, and that is Atman. Atman is in me and in everything else that has
existence. And so now I am beginning to believe that this knowledge has no
worse enemy than the pursuit of knowledge, than learning.”

At this, Govinda stopped walking, raised his hands and said,
“Siddhartha, please do not make your friend anxious with talk like this!
What you are saying really does make me anxious in my heart. Think what
you are saying; where would that leave the holiness of prayer, where would
that leave the dignity of being a brahmin, where would that leave the
holiness of the samanas if it were as you say, if it were not possible
ever to learn?! Siddhartha, where would that leave anything on Earth that
is holy or valuable or venerable?!”

Govinda quietly muttered a verse, a verse from one of the Upanishads:

The purest soul that deeply thinks and sinks itself in Atman, His blessed
heart will have no words to tell it to the world.

Siddhartha, though, remained silent. He thought about the words that
Govinda had just said to him, he thought about the words to their end.

Yes, he thought as he stood there with his head lowered, what would be
left of all the things that seem holy to us? What would remain? What would
be preserved? And he shook his head.

At an earlier time, when the two young men had lived with the samanas, and
performed their exercises together for about three years, there came to
them through many ways and turnings a message, a rumour, saying; One has
appeared that will be called Gotama, the noble one, the buddha. He will
have overcome the pain of the world in himself and brought the wheel of
rebirth to a halt. With his followers he travels through the land,
teaching as he goes, without property, without a home, without a wife,
wearing the yellow garb of an ascetic but with joy on his brow, a holy
man, and brahmans and princes bow their knee to him and become his pupils.

This legend, this rumour, this folk tale sounded out, raised itself like a
scent far and wide, brahmins spoke of it in the cities, samanas spoke of
it in the woods, the name of Gotama, the buddha, was repeated over and
again in the ears of the young, in the good and in the evil, in praise and
in contempt.

As when the plague is raging through a country and a rumour arises that
somewhere there is a man, a wise man, a knowledgeable man whose word and
whose breath alone is enough to heal anyone afflicted with it, when this
rumour spreads through the land and all are talking of it, many believe
it, many doubt it, but many set themselves straight on the road to seek
out this wise man who can help them, so it was with the fragrant rumour of
Gotama, the buddha, the wise man from the line of the sakyas. He
possessed, so the believers said, the highest enlightenment, he remembered
his previous lives, he had attained nirvana and would never more come back
to the cycle of rebirth, never more submerge in the dark waters that
carried the forms of the lower world. Many things majestic and incredible
were reported of him, he had performed miracles, had overcome the Devil,
had spoken with the gods. His enemies, however, and those who did not
believe, said that this Gotama was a vain seducer, he spent his days in
comfort, despised the acts of sacrifice, was without learning and
performed neither exercise nor self-castigation.

Sweet was this legend of the buddha, magical was the aroma of these
rumours. Diseased was the world, hard to bear was life - and look, there
appeared to flow water from a new spring, a call of good news seemed to be
heard, reassuring, mild, and full of noble promises. Everywhere that the
rumour of the buddha was heard, in every part of the lands of India, the
young men listened, felt longing, felt hope, and every pilgrim or stranger
who came to the sons of brahmins in the towns and villages with news of
him, the noble one, the sakyamuni, was welcome.

This legend even penetrated into the woods where the samanas lived, even
to Siddhartha, even to Govinda, slowly, drop by drop, each drop laden with
hope, each drop laden with doubt. They seldom spoke of it, as the eldest
of the samanas was no friend of this legend. He had been taught that
anyone who seemed to be a buddha had first become an ascetic and lived in
the woods, and only then returned to the world of comfort and gaiety, and
he had no faith in this Gotama at all.

“Siddhartha,” said Govinda to his friend one day. “I was in the
village today and a brahman invited me into his house, and in his house
was a brahmin’s son from Magadha who had seen this buddha with his own
eyes and listened to his teachings. At that, the very breath in my lungs
truly caused me pain and I thought: I too would like, both of us,
Siddhartha and I, would like to experience these teachings, to learn from
the mouth of one who had attained perfection! Tell me, my friend, should
we not go and learn from the mouth of this buddha himself?”

Siddhartha answered, “Oh, Govinda, I had always thought Govinda would
stay with the samanas, it was always my belief that it was his objective
to live to the age of sixty or seventy and always practise the arts and
exercises that the samanas display. But look at me now, I did not know
Govinda well enough, I knew little of his heart. But now, dear friend, now
you want to set out on a new path and go there, where the buddha spreads
his teachings.”

Govinda answered, “You like to laugh at me. I hope you always keep
laughing, Siddhartha! But do you not also feel the desire to hear these
teachings rising within you, the wish to hear what is said? And did you
not once say to me that you would not stay for long among the samanas to
follow their way?”

At this Siddhartha laughed, in his way of laughing that took on a shadow
of sorrow and a shadow of mockery, and said, “Quite right, Govinda, what
you say is quite right, you have remembered it rightly. But maybe you
should also remember something else you heard from me, that I had become
tired and mistrustful of teachings and learning, and that my beliefs have
little faith in the words that come to us from teachers. But anyway, my
friend, I am willing to come and hear these teachings - even though, in my
heart, I think we have already tasted the best fruits of them.”

Govinda answered, “Your readiness brings joy to my heart. But tell me,
how can that be possible? How could the teachings of Gotama have given us
their best fruits even before we have tasted them?”

Siddhartha answered, “Let us enjoy these fruits and wait to see what
happens, Govinda! But we can already be thankful to Gotama in that his
fruits are calling us away from the samanas! Perhaps he has other fruit to
offer, and better fruit my friend. Let us keep peace in our hearts and
wait to see if this is so.”

That very day Siddhartha told the eldest of the samanas of his decision to
leave him. He told him with all the humility and modesty as befits a
junior and a pupil. The samana, however fell into a rage at the young
men’s decision to leave, he raised his voice and used foul language.

Govinda was shocked and embarrassed, but Siddhartha put his mouth to
Govinda’s ear and whispered, “Now I will show the elder that I have
learned something from him.”

Siddhartha stood close in front of the samana, gathered his own spirit,
captured the gaze of the old man with his own gaze, and thereby did he
enthrall him, made him dumb, deprived him of his will, subjected him to
his own will, and without a word he ordered him to do as he commanded. The
old man was unable to speak, unable to move his eyes, unable to direct his
own will, his arms hung loose, he became powerless and was subject to the
magic worked by Siddhartha. Siddhartha’s thoughts overpowered those of
the samana, he had to carry out whatever commands they gave him. And so
the old man bowed down several times, performed gestures of blessing and
humbly stammered out wishes for a good journey. And the young men replied
by thanking him for his prostrations, thanked him for his good wishes and
with those greetings made their departure.

On the way Govinda said, “Oh Siddhartha, you learned more from the
samanas than I had realised. It is not easy, not easy at all, to bewitch
an ancient samana. I am sure that if you had stayed with them you would
soon have learned to walk on water.”

“Why would I want to walk on water?” said Siddhartha. “If the
ancient samanas want to do tricks like that they can keep them!”


In the city of Savathi every child knew the name of the noble buddha, and
every house was ready to fill the begging bowls of Gotama’s disciples
when they made their silent requests. Near the city was the grove of
Jetavana. This wood had been given to Gotama and his followers by
Anathapindika, a rich businessman who was devoted to the noble one, and it
was the place that Gotama liked to visit most.

All the stories and all the answers that the two young ascetics had heard
in their search for Gotama had directed them to this place. When they
arrived in Savathi they stood at the door of the first house silently
begging for food, which was given them. Siddhartha asked the woman who had
offered them the food:

“Generous lady, we would like to learn where the most venerable one, the
buddha, spends his time, for we are two samanas from the woods and have
come to see him, the perfect one, and to hear the teachings from his

The woman said, “You have certainly arrived at the right place, samanas
from the woods. You should know that Jetavana, the garden of
Anathapindikas, is where the noble one spends his time. You will be able
to spend the night there, pilgrims, as there is even enough room there for
the countless many who flood to this place to hear the teachings from his

This was pleasing news to Govinda, and full of joy he declared, “That is
good, so we have reached our destination and our journey is at its end!
But tell us, mother of pilgrims, do you know him, the buddha, have you
seen him with your own eyes?”

The woman said, “Many have seen him, the noble one. Many times I have
seen him as he went on his way through the streets and alleys, silent in
his yellow robes, silent as he showed his begging bowl at the doors of
houses and, as he left those places, his begging bowl full.”

Govinda listened with joy and wanted to put many questions and to hear
more. But Siddhartha urged that they should go on their way. They said
thank you and left, and had hardly any need to ask the way for many
pilgrims were on their way to Jetavana, as well as monks from Gotama’s
community. They arrived there in the night time, there was a continuous
flow of visitors arriving, calling to each other, talking about who was
looking for shelter and who had found it. The two samanas, used to life in
the woods, found a place to rest quickly and quietly and remained there
till morning.

When the sun rose they were astonished to see the size of the crowd,
believers or the curious, who had spent the night here. Monks in their
yellow robes wandered along all the paths of the beautiful grove, here and
there under the trees sat people deep in meditation or engaged in
spiritual discussion. The shady garden was like a city, full of people
swarming like bees. Most of the monks were leaving with their begging
bowls in order to collect food for midday, when they would have their only
meal of the day. Even the buddha himself, the enlightened one, made a
habit of going out to beg each morning.

Siddhartha saw him, and as quickly as if he had been pointed out by a god,
he knew who it was. He saw him, a slight man in a yellow cloak, making his
quiet way with his begging bowl in his hand.

“Govinda, look!” whispered Siddhartha. “Just there, that is the

Govinda stared at the monk in the yellow robe, indistinguishable from the
hundreds of other monks there. And soon Govinda could see it too: it was
him. And they followed him and kept him in their sight.

The buddha followed his path with humility and deep in thought, the
peaceful expression on his face was neither gay nor sad, it seemed to show
a gentle inward contentment. With a hidden smile, quiet, peaceful, not
unlike a healthy child, the buddha wandered on, wearing his robes and
placing his feet in the same way as all his monks, in the way that was
prescribed. But his face, his gait, his quiet lowered eyes, his hands
hanging quietly from his arms, and even every finger on his quietly
hanging hands spoke of peace, spoke of perfection, sought nothing, copied
nothing, breathed gently with a peace that could not fade, in a light that
could not fade, a peace that could not be touched.

So, Gotama walked on slowly towards the town where he would gather alms,
and the two samanas knew him simply from the perfection of his peace, the
stillness of his form where no searching, no desire, no imitation, no
striving could be seen, only light and peace.

“Today, we will hear the teachings from his own mouth,” said Govinda.

Siddhartha made no answer. He had less curiosity about the teachings, he
did not believe they would teach him anything new, even though, like
Govinda, he had heard many times about what the teachings of this buddha
contained, albeit from the reports he had heard at second or third hand.
But he looked attentively at Gotama’s head, at his shoulders, at his
feet, at his hand as it hung there without moving, and it seemed to him
that every part of every finger of that hand held a lesson, spoke,
breathed, was fragrant and shone with truth. This man, this buddha, was
truthful down to every movement of every finger. This man was holy.
Siddhartha had never felt such veneration for anyone, he had never loved
anyone as much as this man.

The two of them followed the buddha into the town and then they quietly
turned back, as they too hoped to obtain food for themselves before the
end of day. They saw Gotama as he too came back, saw him surrounded by his
followers as they took their meal - what he ate was not enough to feed a
bird - and they saw him withdraw into the shade of the mango trees.

But when evening came, when the heat of the day had lessened and everyone
in the camp became more active and gathered together, they heard the
buddha speak. They heard his voice, and even that was a thing of
perfection, of perfect stillness, of complete peace. Gotama taught the
lesson of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of the way that leads to
the removal of suffering. His speech flowed on, calm, peaceful and clear,
it was. Life was sorrow, the world was full of suffering, but release from
suffering could be found: release would be found by him who followed the
way of the buddha. The noble one spoke in a voice that was gentle but
firm, he taught of the four principal doctrines, he taught of the
eight-fold path, the circle of reincarnation, his voice, clear and quiet,
remained above his listeners like a light, like a star in the firmament.

Night had fallen before the buddha came to the end of his speech. Many
pilgrims came forward and asked to be accepted into his community, sought
refuge in the teachings. Gotama did accept them, with the words, “You
have ingested the teachings well, they were conveyed to you well. Come,
then, among us and walk in holiness, that you may prepare an end to all

Then Govinda, too, the shy one, was seen to come forward and he said,
“I, too, seek refuge with the noble one and his teachings,” and asked
to be accepted among the buddha’s followers, and he was accepted.

Soon thereafter, as the buddha had withdrawn for his night’s rest,
Govinda went to Siddhartha with great enthusiasm and said, “I am not
entitled to reproach you for anything. We have both heard the noble one,
we have both received his teachings. Govinda heard the teaching, he has
taken refuge in them. But you, revered one, will you not take the path of
liberation? Will you delay, will you continue to wait?”

When he realised what Govinda had said Siddhartha woke as if he had been
sleeping. Then, gently and with no mockery in his voice, he said,
“Govinda, my friend, now you have taken the first step, now you have
chosen your path. You have always been my friend, Govinda, you have always
followed me one step behind. I have often asked myself whether Govinda
would one day take a step of his own, without me, from his own soul. Now
see, you have become a man and chosen your own way. I hope you will follow
it to its end, my friend! I hope you will find liberation!”

Govinda still did not fully understand, and impatiently repeated his
question: “Speak, dear friend, I beg of you, speak! Tell me what cannot
be different, tell me my learned friend that you too will take refuge with
the noble buddha!”

Siddhartha lay his hand on Govinda’s shoulder. “You have failed to
hear my deepest wish for you, Govinda. I will repeat if for you: I hope
you will follow your path to its end, my friend! I hope you will find

At that moment Govinda saw that his friend had left him, and he began to

“Siddhartha!” he implored.

Siddhartha’s reply was friendly. “Govinda, do not forget that you now
are one of the samanas of the buddha. You have forsaken your home and your
parents, forsaken origins and possessions, by your own free will you have
forsaken friendship. This is what is said in the teachings, this is what
is said by the buddha. This is what you have chosen for yourself.
Tomorrow, Govinda, I will leave you.”

The two friends wandered long among the trees, long they lay but found no
sleep. And Govinda asked his friend over and over again why he would not
take refuge in the teachings of Gotama, what fault could he find in these
teachings. But Siddharth always rejected his insistence and said, “Learn
to be in peace, Govinda. The teachings of the noble one are very good. How
should I find any fault in them?”

As morning was breaking one of the buddha’s followers, one of his eldest
monks, went through the garden and summoned all them who had newly chosen
to take refuge in the teachings. They were to put on their yellow robes
and receive their first instruction in the teachings and duties of their
new status. Govinda ran to Siddhartha, embraced his childhood friend on
more time, and went to join the ranks of the novices.

Siddhartha, however, wandered among the trees, deep in thought.

While he was there he came across Gotama, the noble one. Siddhartha
greeted him with veneration. There was so much peace and goodness to be
seen in the buddha’s eyes that the young man took courage and asked the
venerable one’s permission to speak to him. The noble one gave his
assent with a silent nod.

Siddhartha said, “Noble one, I was yesterday privileged to hear your
wonderful teachings. I had come here from afar with a friend to hear them.
My friend now will stay among your followers and take refuge with you. I,
however, will start my pilgrimage anew.”

“You are free to do as you wish,” said the noble one politely.

“In speaking to you I have been more bold than I should have been,”
Siddhartha continued, “but I would not want to depart from the noble one
without having given him my sincere thoughts. Would the noble one be
willing to give me another moment of his time to hear me?”

The buddha gave his assent with a silent nod.

Siddhartha said, “There is something, most venerable one, that I admired
most of all in what you said. Everything in your teachings is perfectly
clear and supported with proof; you depict the world as a perfect chain,
never broken anywhere on its length, an eternal chain made up of causes
and effects. This has never been made so clear, never set out so
irrefutably; the heart of every brahman must surely beat at a higher level
when he has heard your teachings and first sees the world of perfect
coherence, without omissions, as clear as crystal, not dependent on
chance, not dependent on any gods. This could be good or bad, could bring
joy or sorrow to life, but it is not something we need to consider, it
could well be that it is not of basic importance - but the unity of the
world, that all events are inter-related, the flow of existence that
embraces all things great and small, the law of cause and effect,
existence and death, all these things shine brightly out from your noble
teachings, o perfect one. But there is a place in your own teachings where
this cohesion, this sound argument that governs all things is interrupted,
there is a small hole where something strange, something new, something
not previously there flows into this world, it is something that cannot be
shown, cannot be proved: this is your teaching about not being overcome by
the world, your teaching about liberation. With this tiny hole, with this
tiny intrusion the entire coherent and eternal world-order is once again
broken down and cannot be maintained. I hope you will forgive me for
voicing this objection.”

Gotama had listened to him still and unmoving. Now, with his benevolent
voice, with his clear and polite voice, the perfect one spoke: “You have
listened to the teachings, brahmin’s son, and it is good that you have
thought so deeply about them. You have found a gap in them, a mistake. I
hope you will continue to think about the teachings, you have a thirst for
knowledge, but you should be warned of the thickets of beliefs and of
quibbles around words. Beliefs are not important, they can be beautiful or
ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can stay attached to them or throw them
away. But the teachings that you heard from me are not beliefs and I was
not trying to explain the world to them who have a thirst for knowledge. I
was attempting something quite different, I was attempting to show how to
gain liberation from suffering. This is what Gotama teaches, nothing

“I hope you will not be cross with me, noble one,” the young man said.
“I have no wish to argue with you but to argue about words, this is why
I have spoken to you in this way. You are certainly quite right, beliefs
alone are not of great importance. But allow me to say one thing more: I
have never for a moment had any doubts about you. I have never for a
moment doubted that you are a buddha, that you have reached the end of
your path, the highest objective that so many thousands of brahmins and
brahmins’ sons pursue. You have found liberation from death. You have
attained this by your own searching, by travelling your own path, by
thought, by meditation, by knowledge, by enlightenment. You have not
attained it by listening to the teachings of others! And - this is what I
have come to believe, noble one - nobody can ever attain liberation by
listening to the teachings of others! Nobody, venerable one, will come to
understand what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment by
hearing your words and your teachings! The enlightened one, the buddha,
teaches many things about how to live a good and honest life and how to
avoid evil, but the teaching that is so clear, that is so noble, is not
there: the noble one does not give teaching about the secret that he alone
has experienced, he alone out of hundreds of thousands. This is what I
thought, what I perceived, when I heard your teachings. This is the reason
I will continue in my wanderings - not to find other teachings which may
be better, for I know there are none, but to abandon all teachings and all
teachers and either to attain my goal alone or to die. But, noble one, I
will often think back to this day and this hour, for my eyes have seen a
man of great holiness.”

The buddha looked quietly down at the ground, the buddha’s face,
peaceful but inscrutable, shone with perfect serenity.

“I hope your thoughts,” the venerable one said slowly, “are not
mistaken! May you arrive at your objective! But tell me: have you seen how
many samanas I have, how many brothers who have taken refuge in my
teachings? And do you think, samana from a foreign place, do you think all
of these would be better off if they abandoned the teachings and went back
to life in the world with all its enjoyments?”

“Such a thought is far from me,” Siddhartha exclaimed. “I hope they
will all remain with the teachings, I hope they will reach their goal! It
is not up to me to judge how others lead their lives. I can only judge my
own life, I must choose for myself, must reject for myself. We samanas
seek liberation from our selves, noble one. I fear, venerable one, that if
I were one of your followers I might only seem to bring my self to peace,
that my liberation would be illusory and my self would in fact continue to
exist and grow bigger, as then I would have the teachings, would have my
followers, would have my love for you, would have the community of monks
and all this I would have made into my self!”

With a half-smile, with unshakeable clarity and friendliness, Gotama
looked the stranger in the eye and took his leave of him with barely
noticeable gesture.

“You are clever, samana,” the venerable one said. “Your arguments,
my friend, are very clever. Take care that you do not become too

The buddha walked slowly away, and his look and his half smile remained
forever engraved in Siddhartha’s memory.

I have never before seen anyone look and smile, sit and walk, like this
man, he thought to himself. I truly hope that I, too, will be able to look
and to smile, to sit and to walk as he does, so free, so venerable, so
hidden, so open, so child-like and private. It is only the man who has
penetrated to his innermost self who is truly able to look and to walk in
this way. I, too, will do my utmost to penetrate to my innermost self.

I have seen one man, Siddhartha thought, just one, to whom I had to lower
my eyes. I will not lower my eyes to any other man, not anyone. I will not
be drawn into any teachings, as I was not drawn into the teachings of this

I was robbed by this buddha, Siddhartha thought, he robbed me, but he gave
me much more. He robbed me of my friend, of him who had faith in me and
now has faith in him, of him who was my shadow and is now the shadow of
Gotama. But he made the gift to me, to Siddhartha, of myself.


As Siddhartha left the grove where the buddha, the perfect one, remained
behind, where Govinda remained behind, he felt that he was also leaving
behind his life so far, that it was separating itself from him. This
sensation filled him completely, and he thought about it as he slowly
walked on. He pondered deeply as if sinking through deep water, he allowed
himself to drop to the bottom of this feeling to the place where its
causes lay, as it seemed to him that identifying causes was to think, and
that is the only way to make sensations into knowledge and avoid losing
them altogether, the only way to make them substantial, the only way to
make them shine and show what they contain.

He pondered as he walked slowly on. He concluded that he was no longer a
youth but had become a man. He concluded that something had left him like
a snake that sloughs its skin, that something within him was no longer
there for him, something that had been with him all through his youth and
had belonged to him: the wish to have a teacher and to hear teachings. He
had even departed from last teacher who had come to him on his way, the
highest and wisest of teachers, the holiest of them all, the buddha, he
had had to separate himself from him, he had been unable to accept his

Siddhartha continued to ponder as he walked, and his movement became
slower as he asked himself: But what was it that you wanted to learn from
the teachers? What was it that those teachers who spent so much time
giving you their lessons were nonetheless unable to teach you? And
Siddhartha found an answer: What I wanted to learn was my self, I wanted
to learn the meaning and the essence of my self. I wanted to be rid of my
self, wanted to overcome my self. But I was not able to overcome it, was
able only to cheat it, was able only to flee from it, to hide from it.
There is truly nothing in the world that has occupied my thoughts as much
as this self of mine, this puzzle that I am alive, that I am separate from
one and all, severed from them, that I am Siddhartha! And there is nothing
in the world that I know less about than myself, about Siddhartha!

Siddhartha walked more slowly as he pondered and then, gripped by these
thoughts, came to a stop. And at that moment a new thought sprang out from
them: There is a reason why I know nothing about myself, a cause for
Siddhartha remaining so strange and unfamiliar to me, just one cause; I
was in fear of myself, I was in flight from myself! I sought Atman, I
sought Brahman, I had resolved to break my self apart, to flay it apart so
that in its innermost, least known part I could find the kernel within all
shells, Atman, life, the divine, the ultimate. But in the process I lost

Siddhartha suddenly opened his eyes and looked around him, a smile covered
his face, and a profound sense of waking from a long period of dreams
flowed through him all the way down to his toes. And as soon as he began
to walk on he walked quickly, like a man who knows what he has to do.

He took in a deep breath and thought to himself: “I will not let
Siddhartha get away from me now! I will no longer let my thoughts and my
life begin with Atman and the suffering of the world. I will no longer
kill myself and dismember myself in order to see behind the ruins and find
a secret there. I will no longer take teachings from yoga-veda, nor from
atharva-veda, nor the ascetics nor any other kind of teaching. I will
learn by myself alone, be a student of myself, learn to know myself, the
secret of Siddhartha.”

He looked around him as if seeing the world for the first time. The world
was beautiful, filled with many colours, strange and puzzling was the
world! Blue here, yellow here, green here, sky and river flowed, trees and
hills reached upwards, everything beautiful, everything puzzling and
magic, and in the middle of it all was he, Siddhartha, the awakening one,
on the way to himself. All this, all this yellow and blue, river and wood,
entered into Siddhartha through his eyes for the first time, it was no
longer the sorcery of Mara, no longer the veil of maya, no longer the
meaningless and random diversity of the world of delusion that the deep
thinking brahmin despises, that the deep thinking brahmin scorns in his
search for unity. Blue was blue, river was river, this was where the
divine lived hidden, the blueness and the river lay within Siddhartha but
this was how the divine showed itself and it was nonetheless one; yellow
here, blue here, the sky there, the woods there, and here to be
Siddhartha. Meaning and essence were not somewhere behind things, they
were within them, in everything.

“I have been so deaf, so dull-witted!” he thought as he hurried
forward. “When a man reads scripture in pursuit of its meaning he does
not despise the ciphers and letters, calling them deceitful, random or
meaningless shells, he reads it, he studies it and loves it, letter by
letter. But I, who wanted to read the book of the world and the book of my
own essence, I did despise the ciphers and letters for the sake of a
meaning I thought I knew beforehand, when I saw the world, when I touched
the world, I called it delusion, I called my eye and my tongue random and
worthless appearances. No, this is in the past now, I have awoken, I have
truly awoken and today I am born for the first time.”

As Siddhartha had this thought he suddenly stopped walking again, as if
there lay a snake in front of him on the path, he also awoke to this
insight: I am not now that which I once was, I am no longer an ascetic, I
am no longer a priest, I am no longer a brahmin. So what should I do at
home in the house of my father? Study? Perform sacrifices? Cultivate
meditation? All this lies now in the past, all this is no longer on my

For suddenly there was something else that had become clear to him: He,
who had in fact become like one awoken or newly born, he would have to
start his life anew and from its very beginning. That very morning, as he
left the grove of Jetavana, the grove of the noble one, already awaking,
already on the way to himself, it was his intention, an intention that
seemed to be natural and a matter of course, that he would bring his years
of living as an ascetic to an end and return home to his father. But now,
only now at this moment when he stopped walking as if a snake lay on the
path in front of him, he awoke also to this insight: I am no longer the
person I once was, I am no longer an ascetic, I am no longer a priest, I
am no longer a brahmin. So what should I do if I go back home to my
father? Study? Perform sacrifices? Cultivate meditation? These things are
all in the past, these things no longer lie before me on my way.

Siddhartha stood there motionless, and for one moment, for one intake of
breath, his heart remained frozen, he felt it freezing in his breast
inside him like a small animal, a bird or a hare, as he saw how alone he
was. For many years he had been without a home and had not felt it. Now he
did feel it. Until now, even when immersed in the deepest meditation, he
had been his father’s son, a brahmin, a man of high status, a spiritual
man. Now he was merely Siddhartha, the awoken one, nothing more. He drew
in a deep breath, and for a moment he froze and shuddered. No-one was as
alone as he was. No nobleman who did not belong among noblemen, no
handworker who did not belong among handworkers but found refuge among
them, sharing his life with theirs and speaking their language. No brahmin
who did not count as a brahmin and lived among them, no ascetic who found
no refuge in his status as a samana, and not even the hermit lost deepest
in the woods was single or alone, even he was surrounded by the things he
belonged to, even he belonged to a certain condition that made that place
his home. Govinda had become a monk and had a thousand monks as his
brothers, he wore his robes, believed his beliefs and spoke his language.
But he, Siddhartha, where did he belong? Whose life would he share? Whose
language would he speak?

From this moment on, when the world around him was melting away, when he
stood alone like a star in the sky, from this moment of coldness and
despair, Siddhartha always rose up more his self than he had been, more
concentrated than he had been. He felt: This was the final spasm of
awakening, the last cramp of his birth. And he immediately stepped out
again, began to walk quickly and impatiently, no longer going home, no
longer going to his father, no longer going back.


Dedicated to Wilhem Gundert, my cousin in Japan.


As Siddhartha went on his way the world was transformed and his heart was
enchanted, and with every step he learnt something new. He saw the sun
rise above the trees on the mountains and saw it set behind distant palmy
beaches. At night he saw the stars ranged across the sky and the crescent
moon like a boat swimming in a sea of blue. He saw trees, stars, animals,
clouds, rainbows, crags, herbs, flowers, streams and rivers as they
flowed, morning dew that glistened in the bushes, lofty mountains blue and
pale in the distance, birds and bees both gave their song, the wind blew,
soughing in the silver fields of rice. All of this, bright with colour
everywhere, had always been there, the sun and moon had always shone,
rivers rushed and bees did buzz, but for Siddhartha until then all of this
had been nothing but a fleeting and delusory veil before his eyes,
something to be mistrusted, something to be pierced and destroyed by the
intellect, for it was something that did not exist, for existence lay
beyond that which could be seen. But now his eye was free, it lingered on
this side of what could be seen, it looked and it acknowledged what could
be seen, it sought its home in this world, no longer sought the essence,
did not strive for the beyond. Seen in this way, without searching, so
simple, so child-like, the world was beautiful. The moon and stars were
beautiful, rivers and shores were beautiful, woods and crags, goats and
beetles, flowers and butterflies. Beautiful and lovely it was, so to go
through the world, so child-like, so awake, so open to the things around
him, so without mistrust. The sun burnt on his head differently, the shade
of the woods cooled him differently, the streams and ponds tasted
differently, marrow and banana tasted differently. The days were short,
the nights were short, every hour flew swift away like a sailboat on the
water, the sailboat full of treasure, full of joy. Siddhartha saw a troop
of monkeys travelling in the branches of the forest canopy, he heard their
wild and greedy song. Siddhartha saw a ram pursue the ewe and mating with
her. In a lake of reeds he saw the pike pursue his prey to still his
evening hunger, the school of young fish who, in fear, rushed anxiously,
flapping and flashing above the water, strength and passion forced their
scent from the rapid-swirling water, from the fierce tumult worked up by
their pursuer.

All these things had always been, and he had not seen them; he had not
been with them. Now he was with them, he belonged to them. Light and shade
ran through his eyes, through his heart ran star and moon.

On his way Siddhartha also thought about all the things he had experienced
in the garden of Jetavana, the teachings he had heard there, the divine
buddha, the farewell from Govinda, his conversation with the noble one. He
thought again about the words that he had himself said to the noble one,
remembered every word, and was astonished to suddenly realise that he had
said things he had not known till then. What he had said to Gotama: his
own, the buddha’s, treasures and secrets, these were not the teachings,
the ineffable was the teaching, something that could not be taught, what
he experienced at the moment of his enlightenment - yes, this was the
thing that he was now striving for, what he was only now beginning to
experience. The thing that he had to experience now for himself. He had
probably long known that he was his own Atman, the same eternal essence as
Brahman. But it was something he had never really found for himself
because he had tried to capture it with the web of thought. The body too,
could certainly not be the thing he sought, nor playing games with
thinking, not thought, not understanding, not the wisdom that has been
learned, not the art that has been learned that allows you to draw
conclusions and spin new thoughts from the ones already spun. No, even
this world of thoughts was still on this side and it led nowhere to kill
the random self of the senses, only to cram the random self full of
thoughts and doctrines. Both of them, thoughts and senses, were very
beautiful but both of them hid the ultimate sense, both of them were worth
listening to, worth playing with, neither should be either despised or
over-valued, both of them offered to let you hear the secret voice of the
innermost. There was nothing he strove for other than what the voice told
him to strive for, nothing he would dwell on other than where the voice
told him to dwell. Why had Gotama sat under the bo tree at that moment of
moments where enlightenment came upon him? He had heard a voice, a voice
in his own heart which told him to seek rest under this tree, he had not
chosen rather to mortify his flesh, to perform sacrifice, ablution nor
prayer, he had not sought food nor drink nor sleep nor dreams, he had done
as the voice told him. This obedience was the one thing needed, not any
command from outside himself, just the voice, to be ready, that was good,
that was needed, nothing else was needed.

In the night, while he slept by the river in the ferry man’s straw hut,
Siddhartha had a dream: Govinda stood before him in the yellow robes of
the ascetic. Govinda looked sad, and sadly he asked, “Why have you
abandoned me?” At this Siddhartha embraced Govinda, threw his arms
around him, and as he drew him to his breast and kissed him it was Govinda
no longer, it was a woman, and from the woman’s robe welled out her full
breast at which Siddhartha put his mouth and drank, sweet and strong was
the taste of the milk from this breast. It tasted of woman and man, of
sunshine and forest, of beast and flower, of every fruit, of every joy. It
made him drunk and unaware of himself. When Siddhartha woke, the pale
river shimmered with light that came in through the door of the hut, and
from the forest came the deep, dark, distinct call of an owl.

At the start of day Siddhartha asked his host, the ferry man, to take him
across the river. The ferry man put him on his bamboo raft and took him
across the river as the red light of morning shimmered on the expanse of

“This is a beautiful river,” he said to his companion.

“Yes,” said the ferry man, “it is a very beautiful river, I love it
above all else. I have many times listened to what it has to say, many
times looked into its eyes, and it has always had something to teach me.
There is a great deal that you can learn from a river.”

“Thank you for your help,” said Siddhartha as he stepped onto the
other shore. “I have nothing I could give you for your hospitality, my
friend, nothing I could pay you. I have no home to live in, I am the son
of a brahmin and a samana.”

“That was easy to see,” said the ferry man, “and I never did expect
any payment from you, no gift for my hospitality. You can give me
something another time.”

“You think so?” said Siddhartha with a laugh.

“Certainly. That too is something I have learnt from the river:
everything comes back again! Even you, samana, you will be back again. So,
farewell! My fee can be your friendship. Think of me always when you make
sacrifice to the gods.”

Smiling, they took their leave of each other. Smiling, Siddhartha was glad
of the friendship and the friendliness of the ferry man. “He is so like
Govinda,” he smiling thought, “everyone I come across on my ways is
like Govinda. Everyone gives me thanks, although it is they who have the
right to receive thanks from me. Everyone is humble, everyone wishes to be
my friend, everyone wishes to obey me and to think little. People are like

Around midday he was walking through a village. In the street and in front
of its mud huts there were children running about, playing with marrow
seeds and mussels, they shouted and played rough games with each other,
but when this strange samana appeared they became timid and ran away. As
it left the village the path led across a stream and there was a young
woman kneeling at the bank of the stream washing clothes. As Siddhartha
greeted her she raised her head and looked up at him with a smile so that
he could see the sparkling whiteness of her eyes. He declared a blessing
on her, as is usual among travellers, and asked her how far it still was
till he would reach the big city. At that, she stood up and went up to
him, her face looked young and the light sparkled appealingly on her moist
lips. She exchanged a few jokey words with him, asked if he was hungry,
and whether it was true that samanas sleep alone in the woods and are not
allowed to have any women with them. As she said this she placed her left
foot on his right foot and made the kind of movement a woman makes when
she is leading a man into that sort of amorous pleasure which the books
call “climbing a tree.” Siddhartha felt his blood become warm, and as
his dream came back into his mind at that moment he leant down slightly
towards the woman and, with his lips, he kissed the brown tip of her
breast. When he looked up he saw the smile on her face, full of desire,
and that her narrowed eyes yearned for him.

Siddhartha also felt desire and felt the source of his gender as it began
to move; but he had never touched a woman until then and he hesitated a
moment before his hands were ready to reach out for her. And in that
moment he shivered as he heard a voice from deep within him, and the voice
said no. Then all the charm faded from the young woman’s smiling face,
all he saw was the damp gaze of a woman impelled by lust like an animal.
He remained friendly, stroked her cheek, turned away from her and
disappeared nimbly into the bamboo forest, leaving her disappointed.

Before the day had passed into evening, Siddhartha reached a big city, and
he looked forward to having human company. He had lived long in the
forests, the straw hut of the ferry man where he had slept the previous
night was the first time he had slept under any roof for a long time.

Before he entered the town, near a pleasant wood enclosed within a fence,
the wanderer met with a group of servants laden with baskets. In the
middle of them was their mistress on a decorated palanquin borne by four
men, she was seated on red cushions and protected from the sun under a
brightly coloured roof. Siddhartha remained at the entrance to the wooded
pleasure garden and watched the procession as it passed, saw the servants,
the maids, the baskets, the palanquin, and on the palanquin saw the lady.
Under a high tower of black hair he saw a face that was very fair, very
tender and very wise, he saw a mouth that was pink like a freshly opened
fig, eyebrows that were carefully tended and painted into tall arches,
eyes that were intelligent and dark, a tall, a fair neck that rose up from
the green and golden clothing around it, fair hands that lay at rest, long
and slender with wide gold rings over the joints.

Siddhartha saw how beautiful she was, and his heart laughed. He bowed
deeply as the palanquin came near, and as he righted himself he looked
into that fair and noble face, into the intelligent eyes with their arched
brows, he breathed in a fragrance he did not know. The beautiful woman
smiled and briefly nodded to him before she disappeared into the wood,
followed by her servers.

That is a good portent for the city I am now entering, thought Siddhartha.
He felt the urge to go into the wood but then thought better of it, and
only then did he become aware of how the servers and maids at the entrance
had looked at him, with what contempt, with what mistrust, with what

I am still a samana, he thought, still an ascetic and a beggar. I will
not, as such, be allowed to stay, not be allowed into the wood. And he

As soon as he met someone on the road he asked about the wood and what the
name of that woman was. He learned that it was the grove of Kamala, the
famous courtesan, and that she owned a house in the city as well as the

Siddhartha then made his way into the city. Now he knew where he should

In order to arrive there he allowed the city to drink him in, followed the
crowds in the streets, stood still in the city squares, rested on the
stone steps beside the river. As evening fell he made friends with a
barber’s assistant whom he had seen at work in the shade of a dome. He
came across him later that day as he prayed in a temple of Vishnu, and
told him the stories about Vishnu and Lakshmi. He slept that night among
the boats on the river and then, early in the morning, before the first
customers arrived in his shop, he had the barber’s assistant shave him,
cut his hair, comb his hair and dress it with fine oil. Then he went down
to bathe in the river.

Late that afternoon when the beautiful Kamala was approaching her grove on
her palanquin she found Siddhartha waiting at the entrance. He bowed to
her and accepted her greeting to him. When the train of servants had
nearly passed him he caught the attention of the last of them and asked
him to inform his mistress that there was a young brahmin who wished to
speak with her. Siddhartha waited, after a while the servant came back,
invited him to follow him, led him in silence into a pavilion where Kamala
lay on a couch and left him alone with her.

“Was it not you who stood outside there yesterday and offered me
greeting? Kamala asked.

“Indeed, I did see you yesterday and offer you greeting.”

“But did you not have a beard yesterday, and long hair and dust in your

“You observed well, you saw everything. You saw Siddhartha, the
brahmin’s son who left his home to become a samana and spent three years
as a samana. Now, though, I have left that path and come to this city, and
you were the first to greet me her, even before I had set foot in it. I
can say that it is to you that I have come, o Kamala! You are the first
woman with whom Siddhartha has spoken without his eyes lowered. I will
never again lower my eyes when I meet with a beautiful woman.”

Kamala smiled and played with her fan of peacock feathers. And she asked,
“And has Siddhartha come to me just to say this?”

“To say this and to give you my thanks for your beauty. And if it will
not displease you, Kamala, I should like to ask you to be my friend and my
teacher, for I still know nothing of the arts in which you are so

At this Kamala laughed out loud.

“This has never happened to me before, my friend, a samana comes to me
out of the woods and wants to learn from me! It has never happened to me
that a long-haired samana in a ragged loin cloth has come to me! There are
many young men who do come to me, some of them are even the sons of
brahmins, but they come wearing beautiful clothes and expensive shoes,
they have perfumed hair and a purse full of money. That is what the young
men look like who come to me, samana.”

Siddhartha said, “I am only beginning to learn from you. But I already
learned from you yesterday. I have had my beard nicely removed, I have
combed my hair and have oil in it. The things I lack are the things least
important, most excellent lady: fine clothes, fine shoes, money in a
purse. Do be aware that Siddhartha has undertaken much harder tasks than
trifles like that, and has achieved them. Why should I not now achieve the
task I undertook yesterday? To be your friend and to learn the pleasures
of love from you! You will see what a good student I am, Kamala, I have
learned many thing that are harder than what you have to teach me. Do you
say, then, that Siddhartha is not good enough for you as he is, with oil
in his hair but without clothes, without shoes, without money?”

Kamala laughed out loud and said, “No, worthy young man, he is not good
enough! Not yet! He must have clothes, beautiful clothes, shoes must he
have, fine shoes, he must have plentiful money in his purse, and he must
bring presents for Kamala. Do you understand now, samana from the woods?
Do you see?”

“I see it well,” Siddhartha exclaimed. “How could I have failed to
see what has just come from a mouth such as this? Your mouth is like a fig
freshly broken open, Kamala. My mouth, too, is red and fresh, it will suit
your mouth well, you will see. But, beautiful Kamala, are you not at all
afraid of this samana from the woods who has come to you to learn the arts
of love?”

“Why should I be afraid of a samana, a stupid samana, come from the
woods where the jackals live and who still has no idea of what women

“The samana is strong, though. He fears nothing. He would be able to
force you, handsome girl. He could rob you. He could hurt you.”

“No, samana, I’m not afraid of that. Has a samana or a brahmin ever
been afraid that someone might come and attack him and rob him of his
learning, his piety or his deep understanding? No, for those things belong
to him alone, and he gives them to others only when he wants to give and
to whom he wants to give. It is just the same for Kamala and the joys of
love. Kamala’s mouth is red and lovely, but if you try to kiss it
against Kamala’s will you will have not a drop of sweetness from it,
even though it knows how to give so much sweetness. Siddhartha, you want
to learn, so here is something for you to learn: You can beg for love, buy
love, receive love as a gift, you can find it on the street, but you
cannot steal love. This way that you have invented for yourself is wrong.
No, and it would be such a pity if a charming young man such as yourself
grabbed for it in a way that is so mistaken.”

Siddhartha smiled and bowed to her. “Yes, Kamala, you are quite right!
It would be a pity. It would be an awful pity. No, I do not want any drop
of sweetness from your mouth to be wasted on me, nor any drop of mine
wasted on you! Only one option remains for us. Siddhartha must come back
when he has the things that, at present, are lacking: clothes, shoes,
money. But, noble Kamala, tell me, can you not give me just one more piece
of advice?”

“A piece of advice Why not? Who would not be happy to give a piece of
advice to a poor and innocent samana, just come down from the woods where
the jackals live?”

“So tell me, dear Kamala, tell me where I should go so that I can obtain
these three things as quickly as possible?”

“There are many who would like to know that, my friend. You will have to
do what you have learnt to do, and take money for it, and clothes, and
shoes. There is no other way for a poor man to obtain money. What can you
do then?”

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all. Wait, I can write poetry too. Will you give me a kiss in
exchange for a poem?”

“Yes, I will give you a kiss, if I like the poem. What is the title of
this poem then?”

Siddhartha thought about it for a moment, and then he spoke these verses:

  The shadowy grove where went the lovely Kamala,
  The entrance there, where stood the brown-skin’d samana,
  There bowed he deep, he saw the lotus flower,
  And Kamala thanked him with smiles and graciousness.
  ‘Tis lovely, thought he, to offer praise to gods,
  ‘Tis lovelier still to sacrifice all for her.
  The lovely Kamala clapped her bangled hands.

“Your verses are lovely, brown samana, and indeed I have nothing to lose
if I let you have a kiss for them.”

With a gesture of her eyes she drew him to herself, he leant his face to
hers and put his mouth on her mouth, which was like a fig newly broken
open. Kamala’s kiss was long, and Siddhartha felt deep astonishment at
how she taught him, at how wise she was, at how she mastered him, pushed
him away and drew him back, and at how this first kiss would be followed
by many more, a long, well ordered, well-tested series of kisses, each of
them different from the last, that awaited him. He remained standing,
breathing deeply, and at that moment he was amazed at the fullness of
knowledge, the fullness of things worth knowing, that promised themselves
to him in front of his eyes.

“Your verses are lovely,” Kamala declared, “if I were rich I would
give you a piece of gold for them. Though you will find it very hard to
gather as much money as you need by making up verses. You will, after all,
need such a lot of money if you want to be the friend of Kamala.”

“Th..the way you kiss, Kamala!” Siddhartha stammered.

“Yes, I am good at that, aren’t I. That is why I am never short of
clothes and shoes and jewelry and all those nice things. But what will
become of you? Can you think of nothing else but thinking and fasting and
making up verses?”

“I know the songs for performing sacrifice, too,” said Siddhartha,
“though I no longer wish to sing them. I know magic spells, too, though
I no longer wish to cast them. I have read the scriptures ...”

“Stop,” Kamala interrupted him. “You can read? And write?”

“Of course I can. There are many who can.”

“Most people cannot. Even I cannot. It is very good that you can read
and write, very good. You will even be able to put the magic spells to
good use.”

At that moment a servant girl came running and whispered something into
her mistress’s ear.

“I have a visitor,” Kamala declared. You must go Siddhartha, quickly,
you need to be aware that no-one should ever see you here! I will see you
again tomorrow.”

But she ordered the maid to give the pious brahmin a white shirt. Before
he knew what was happening to him the maid had led Siddhartha away through
indirect paths to a summerhouse, given him the shirt, drawn him into the
undergrowth and emphasised to him that he should leave the grove as
quickly as possible and without being seen by anyone.

He was content to do as he had been told. He was used to the woods and
made his way out of the grove and over the hedge without a sound. He was
content to make his way back into the town, the shirt, rolled into a
bundle, under his arm. He went to the door of a travellers’ hostel and
asked silently for food, and silently accepted a piece of rice cake. This
is probably the last day, he thought, when I will ever beg for food.

Pride suddenly flamed up in him. He was no longer a samana, it was no
longer appropriate for him to beg. He gave the rice cake to a dog and,
himself, went without food.

“Life here in the world is simple,” Siddhartha thought. “There are
no difficulties. When I was still a samana everything was difficult, it
took much effort and, in the end, it was without hope. Everything is easy
now, the lesson in kissing that Kamala gave me was easy. I need clothes
and money, that is all, and aims like that are petty and close at hand,
no-one would lose any sleep about them.”

He had long since discovered where Kamala’s house in the city was, and
the following day he arrived at its door.

“It is going well,” she called out to him. “You are expected by
Kamaswami, and he is the richest businessman in the city. If he likes you
he will take you into his service, so do be clever, won’t you, brown
samana. I have had others tell him all about you. Be friendly to him, he
is very powerful. But do not be too modest about yourself! I do not want
you to be just one of his servants, you will have to be his equal, or else
I will not be happy with you. Kamaswami is getting old, he is becoming
complacent. If he likes you he will place a lot of trust in you.”

Siddhartha thanked her and laughed, and when he told her he had eaten
nothing that day or the previous day she had bread and fruit brought for
him to eat.

“You have been lucky,” she told him as he left, “one door after
another is opening up for you. How could that be possible? Are you
performing magic?”

Siddhartha said, “Yesterday I told you I know how to think, to wait, and
to fast, but you thought that would be of no use. But it is very useful,
Kamala, you will see. You will see that the stupid samanas in the wood
learn to know and to do many nice things that you do not know how to do.
Two days ago I was just a ragged beggar, one day ago I had already kissed
Kamala, and soon I will be a businessman with money and with all the
things that you think are important.”

“I expect you will,” she conceded. “But where would you be without
me? What would become of you if Kamala did not help you?”

“Dear Kamala,” said Siddhartha, standing up straight, “when I came
to you in your grove it was I who made the first step. I was resolved to
learn the art of love from this most beautiful of women. From the very
moment when I formed this resolution I also knew that I would succeed in
it. I knew that you would help me, I knew it from the moment I first
glimpsed you at the entrance to the grove.”

“What if I had not wanted to?”

“You did want to. Kamala, listen: if you throw a stone into water it
drops quickly to the bottom by the fastest route it can. Siddhartha does
nothing, he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the things of
the world like a stone through water without doing anything, without
making any effort; he is drawn, he lets himself fall. His objective pulls
him to itself, for he allows nothing into his soul that might work against
his objective. That, Kamala, is what Siddhartha learnt among the samanas.
That, Kamala, is what fools call magic in the supposition that it is
performed by demons. Nothing is ever performed by demons, there are no
demons. Anyone can perform magic, anyone can attain his objectives if he
is capable of thought, if he is capable of waiting, if he is capable of

Kamala listened to him. She loved his voice, she loved the look in his

“Maybe, my friend,” she said quietly, “you are right in what you
say. Maybe it is also true that Siddhartha is an attractive man, that the
look of him will appeal to women, maybe that is what brings him all his

With a kiss, Siddhartha took his leave. “I hope you are right, my
teacher. I hope the look of me will always please you, I hope you will
always bring me luck!”


Siddhartha went to see Kamaswami the businessman, he was shown into a
house of opulence, servants led him past costly carpets into a chamber
where he waited for the master of the house.

Kamaswami entered, a fast-moving, nimble man with very grey hair, with
very clever and cautious eyes and an acquisitive-looking mouth. Master and
guest offered friendly greetings to each other.

“I am told,” the businessman began, “that you are a brahmin, a man
of learning, but you seek a position in the service of a businessman. Have
you fallen into need then, brahman, is that why you seek a position of

“No,” said Siddhartha, “I have not fallen into need and I never have
had difficulties. You should be aware that I come from the samanas, among
whom I lived for a long time.”

“How can you not be in need if you have come from the samanas? Do
samanas not live completely without possessions?”

“I am without possessions,” said Siddhartha, “if that is what you
mean. Certainly, I am without possessions. But I am without possessions by
my own free will, so I am not in need.”

“What do you think you will live on if you have no possessions?”

“I have never thought about that, sir. I have been without possessions
for more than three years, and have never given a thought to what I should
live on.”

“You have lived on the possessions of others then, have you?”

“That is what some would say. But a businessman, too, lives on the
possessions of others.”

“Well said. But he does not take the possessions of others for nothing;
he gives them his goods for them.”

“That does indeed seem to be their relationship. Each takes, each gives,
that is life.”

“But, if I may ask: if you have no possessions what do you have to

“Each gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the businessman
gives goods, the teacher gives teaching, the farmer gives rice, the
fisherman gives fish.

“Very well. And what is it, then, that you have to give? What is it that
you have learnt to do?”

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“Is that all?”

“I think that is all!”

“And what is the good of that? Fasting, for instance, what is the good
of that?”

“It is a lot of good, sir. If a man has nothing to eat then fasting is
the cleverest thing of all that he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha
had never learnt to fast he would now have to perform some kind of
service, be it for you or anyone else, for hunger would force him into it.
But now Siddhartha can wait in peace, he knows no impatience, he knows no
urgency, he can long withstand the siege of hunger and can laugh in its
face. That, sir, is the good of fasting.”

“You are right, samana. Wait a moment.”

Kamaswami went out and came back with a roll of paper which he handed to
his guest, asking, “Can you read this?”

Siddhartha looked at the roll on which a business contract was written and
began to read out what it said.

“Excellent,” said Kamaswami. “And now will you write something on
this sheet for me?”

He gave him pen and paper, and Siddhartha wrote and gave the sheet of
paper back.

Kamaswami read, “Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is
good, patience is better.”

“You can write very well,” the businessman praised him. We will have a
lot to talk about together. For today, though, I ask you to be my guest
and to take up residence in this house.”

Siddhartha thanked him and accepted his offer, and now he lived in the
merchant’s house. Clothes were brought to him, and shoes, and a servant
prepared his bath for him every day. Twice a day a copious meal was
brought in, but Siddhartha ate only once a day and he neither ate flesh
nor drank wine. Kamaswami told him about his business, showed him his
goods and his warehouses, let him see his accounts. Siddhartha learned
many new things, he listened much and spoke little. He remembered the
words of Kamala and was never the merchant’s subordinate, he forced him
to see him as his equal, even to treat him as more than his equal.
Kamaswami took great care over his business, often even showing passion
for it, but Siddhartha saw it all as a game. He made the effort to learn
the rules of the game, but the content of the game did not touch his

Siddhartha had not been long in Kamaswami’s house before he took part in
its owner’s business affairs. Every day, but at the time she stipulated,
he would visit the beautiful Kamala, wearing fine clothes, fine shoes, and
he soon began also to bring her presents. He learned a lot from her red
and skillful mouth. He learned a lot from her gentle and supple hand. In
matters of love Siddhartha was still a child, he was inclined to throw
himself blindly and insatiably into his pleasures as if into a bottomless
pit, but Kamala taught him from the very basics, she taught him that you
cannot receive pleasure without giving pleasure, that every gesture, every
stroke, every touch, every look, every tiny part of the body has its
secret, and waking those secrets will bring happiness to whoever knows
about them. She taught him that lovers should never separate immediately
after the celebration of their love, not without each admiring the other,
not without having conquered and having been conquered, so that neither
will feel over-sated or abandoned or cross, or feel that one has misused
the other or feel to have been misused. The hours he spent with this
clever and beautiful artist were a time of wonder, he became her student,
her lover, her friend. The value and meaning of his life now lay here with
Kamala, not with the business affairs of Kamaswami.

The businessman delegated the writing of important letters and contracts
to him, and formed the habit of seeking his advice on all important
decisions. He saw quickly that Siddhartha knew little about rice and wool,
about shipping and commerce, but he saw that what he did brought good
luck, he saw that Siddhartha knew far more than he about peace and
equanimity, about the art of listening, and saw his acumen in
understanding strangers. “This brahmin,” he said to a friend, “is
not a proper businessman and he never will be, his soul never goes into
affairs with any passion. But he has the secret of people to whom success
comes of itself. Maybe it is because he was born under a good star, maybe
it is magic, and maybe it is something he learned when he lived with the
samanas. He only ever seems to be playing at business, business never
seems to penetrate him, never to be his master, he never fears failure and
he is never bothered by making a loss.”

The friend advised the businessman, “Give him a third of the profit of
all the business he does for you, and let him bear the same proportion of
the losses when they happen. That will make him more enthusiastic.”

Kamaswami followed this advice. But Siddhartha seemed little bothered by
it. If he made a profit he accepted it with indifference; if he made a
loss he would laugh and say, “Oh look, that did not go well!”

It did indeed seem that he was indifferent to affairs of business. One day
he went out to a village to buy up a large harvest of rice, but when he
arrived the rice had already been sold to another handler. Siddhartha
nonetheless remained for several days in the village, making the farmers
his guests, giving copper coins to their children, attended a wedding
ceremony, and came back from his journey entirely happy and content.
Kamaswami accused him of squandering time and money by not having come
straight back. Siddhartha answered, “Do not tell me off, my friend!
Nothing has ever been achieved by telling anyone off. If I have caused you
to make a loss just let me bear it. I am very satisfied with this journey.
I met many new people, a brahmin is now my friend, children played on my
knees, farmers showed me their fields, no-one treated me there like a

“That sounds all very nice,” exclaimed Kamaswami grudgingly, “but I
should have thought that a businessman is what you actually are! Or did
you go out there just for your own pleasure?”

“Certainly,” laughed Siddhartha, “certainly it was for my own
pleasure that I went there. Why else would I have gone there? I have met
new people, seen new places, enjoyed trust and friendliness, found
friendship. Listen my friend, if I were Kamaswami I would have hurried
back as soon as I saw that my attempt to purchase was in vain, I would
have been full of annoyance, and in that case then time and money really
would have gone to waste. As it is I have spent several days well, I have
learned things, I have enjoyed the company of friends, I have done no harm
to myself or anyone else either by getting cross or by being in too much
of a hurry. And if I ever go there again, to buy a harvest in advance for
instance or for any other reason, I will have a friendly welcome from
cheerful people, and I will congratulate myself for not having been rushed
or bad tempered this time. So leave things well enough alone, my friend,
don’t harm yourself by telling me off! If the day ever comes when you
see that Siddhartha has brought you any harm then just say the word and
Siddhartha will go on his way. But till then let us just be content with
each other as we are.”

The businessman tried to persuade Siddhartha by saying he was eating his,
Kamaswami’s, bread, but this too was in vain. It was his own bread that
he ate, or rather both of them ate the bread of others, the bread of
everyone. Siddhartha never had an ear for Kamaswami’s worries, and
Kamaswami made many worries for himself. If a deal was in process that
might go badly, if goods dispatched seemed to have been lost, if a debtor
seemed unable to pay, Kamaswami was never able to convince his co-worker
that it would be of any use to speak words of anger or concern, to furrow
one’s brow, to lose any sleep. One time when Kamaswami reproached
Siddhartha the claim that everything he knew he had learned from him,
Siddhartha replied, “Don’t be so ridiculous! What I have learnt from
you is the price of a basket of fish and how much interest you can exact
for money you lend. Those things are your kind of knowledge. You have
never taught me to think, my dear Kamaswami, it might be better if you
wanted to learn thinking from me.”

It was true that Siddhartha’s heart was not in business. Business was
good for him to obtain money for Kamala, and he obtained much more than he
needed. Moreover, Siddhartha was only concerned with people. Their
business, craft, worries, pleasures and follies had earlier been as
strange and distant as the moon, but now he took an interest in them. He
had no difficulty in talking with everyone, to live with everyone, to
learn from everyone, but the easier this was the more he became aware that
there was something that separated him from them, and that was because he
had been a samana. He saw how people lived their lives in a way that was
like children or animals, something he both loved and despised. He saw
their strivings, saw their sufferings and saw them turn grey about things
that seemed to him not worth that price, about money, about petty
pleasures, matters of petty honour, he saw them shouting and insulting
each other, he saw them lamenting for pains which a samana would merely
smile at, and for losses which a samana does not feel.

He was open to everything that these people brought him. The businessman
was welcome who brought canvas for him to buy, the debtor was welcome who
came asking for a loan, the beggar was welcome who spent an hour to tell
him the story of his poverty but who was not half as poor as any samana.
He behaved toward the rich foreign businessman in the same way as to the
servant who shaved him or the street seller, and would allow him to cheat
him of a few petty coins when he bought bananas. When Kamaswami came to
him to lament his troubles or to accuse him of having handled a deal badly
he listened to him with cheerful interest, wondered about him, tried to
understand him, acknowledged that he was right on some small points when
he had to, and then he would turn away to the next person who wanted his
attention. And there were many who did want it, many who came to do
business with him, many who came to cheat him, many who came to obtain
information from him, many who wanted his pity, many who wanted his
advice. He gave advice, he showed pity, he gave advice, he allowed himself
to be cheated, slightly, and all this game, and all the passion with which
all these people played it, occupied his thoughts just as much as, at one
time, thoughts about the gods and about Brahman.

From time to time he would feel, deep in his breast, a faint and tender
voice that gently admonished, gently complained, so gentle he was hardly
aware of it. Then he would become aware for an hour of what an odd life he
was leading, that he was doing all these things just as a game, that
although he was cheerful and felt moments of pleasure his real life was
flowing past without touching him. He played with his business affairs and
the people he came into contact with in the same way as a sportsman plays
with his ball, he watched them and found fun in so doing; in his heart, in
the source of his being, he was not present. There was a place where that
source flowed, but how far that place was from him, flowing and flowing
out of sight, no longer had anything to do with his life. And there were
times when he was alarmed at thoughts of this sort, and he wished he too
could be granted a passion for all the childish to activity of the day, to
take part in it with his heart, truly to live, truly to do, truly to enjoy
life instead of just standing at one side of it as an onlooker. But he
always went back to the beautiful Kamala, learned the art of love,
practised the cult of lust by which, more than anywhere else, giving and
taking become the same thing, he talked with her, learned from her, gave
her his advice, accepted her advice. She understood him better than
Govinda once had, she was more like him than Govinda had been.

One day he said to her, “You are like me, you are different from most
people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and deep inside you there is peace
and a refuge where you can go at any time and feel that that is your
place, just as I can. Few people have that, though all people could have

“Not all people are clever,” said Kamala.

“No,” said Siddhartha, “that is not what it is about. Kamaswami is
just as clever as I am, but he has no place of refuge within himself.
Others have one, people whose understanding is like that of a small child.
Most people, Kamala, are like a leaf falling through the air and is blown
from side to side, it twists, it staggers, till it hits the ground. There
are others, though not many, who are like the stars, they follow a fixed
course, no wind blows them, they have their laws and their path set within
themselves. All the learned men and all the samanas - and I have known
many of them - had one of this sort among them, a perfect one, and I can
never forget him. He is Gotama, the noble one who disseminated that
teaching. Thousands of young men listen to his teachings every day, they
follow his precepts every hour of every day, but each one of them is a
falling leaf, they do not have law and teachings within themselves.”

Kamala looked at him with a smile. “You are talking about him again,”
she said, “you have your samana thoughts again.”

Siddhartha was silent, and they played the game of love, one of the thirty
or forty different games that Kamala knew. Her body was as supple as a
jaguar’s, and as the bow of a hunter; whoever learned the art of love
from her came to know many joys, many secrets. She played long with
Siddhartha, she drew him close, pushed him back, manipulated him,
enveloped him: he enjoyed his mastery until he had been defeated and then,
exhausted, he would rest at her side.

The courtesan leant over him, looked long into his face, into his now
tired eyes.

“You are the best lover,” she said thoughtfully, “I have ever known.
You are stronger than the others, more supple, more willing. You have
learnt my art well, Siddhartha. One day, when I am older, I would like to
have a child from you. But, my love, you have never stopped being a
samana, and that means you do not love me, there is no-one whom you love.
Am I right?”

“You might well be right,” said Siddhartha, tired. “I am like you.
You do not love either - if you did, how could you carry on with love
making as a craft? Perhaps people like you and me cannot love. The
childlike people can; that is their secret.”


Siddhartha had spent a long time in the world of pleasure, though without
being a part of it. In his years as a devoted samana he had put his senses
to death but now they woke anew, he had tasted riches, tasted
voluptuousness, tasted power; but in his heart he had remained a samana
throughout this lengthy time, just as Kamala, clever Kamala, had seen. His
life had been directed by the art of thinking, of waiting, of fasting, and
it continued to be so. The people of the world, the childlike people,
continued to be strangers for him, just as he was a stranger for them.

The years went by and Siddhartha, wrapped in affluence, barely noticed how
each of them passed away. He had become rich, he had long been the owner
of his own house with servants and a garden by the river just outside the
city. People liked him, they came to him when they needed money or advice,
but, apart from Kamala, no-one was close to him.

That lofty, bright awareness that he had once experienced at the high
point of his youth in the days after Gotama’s sermon, the time since the
separation from Govinda, that taut expectation, that proud independence
without teachings and without a teacher, that readiness to hear the voice
of the divine from many sources, including his own heart, all this had
slowly turned into mere memories, had become something ephemeral; the
source of holiness that had once been near to had him become something
distant, something whose murmurings had become quiet, though it had once
murmured within him. It was true that much of what he had learned from the
samanas, that he had learned from Gotama, that he had learned from his
father the Brahmin, had remained within in him through this time: a modest
life, the joy of thinking, hours in meditation, secret knowledge of his
self, the eternal self which is neither body nor awareness. Much of it
remained within him, but the rest had little by little sunk down and
become covered in dust. Like the potter’s wheel that, once set turning,
will continue long to turn, and only slowly will tire and lose its motion,
the wheel of asceticism in Siddhartha’s soul, the wheel of thinking, the
wheel of discernment, continued to turn and was still turning, but it
turned slowly and hesitantly and was close to stopping. Slowly, like damp
that soaks into the trunk of a dying tree, slowly filling it and making it
decay, the world and apathy had insidiously soaked into Siddhartha’s
soul, slowly filling it and making it heavy, making it tired. His senses,
though, gained vigour, for they had learned much, experienced much.

Siddhartha had learned how to do business, how to exercise power over
people, to have pleasure with women, he had learned to wear nice clothes,
to give orders to servants, to bathe in perfumed water. He had learned to
eat dainty and carefully prepared foods, even to eat fish and meat and
fowl, spices and sweet things, to drink wine that makes you weary and
forgetful. He had learned to play with dice and on the chess board, to
observe dancers, to be carried on a litter and to sleep on a soft bed. But
he had always felt he was different from others, superior to them, he
always looked on them with a touch of laughter, with a touch of jeering
contempt, with that very contempt that a samana always feels for people of
the world. When Kamaswami was in a bad mood, when he became quarrelsome,
when he felt he had been treated badly, when he felt over-burdened with
the worries of business, Siddhartha had always found it laughable. But
slowly and imperceptibly, as harvest times and rainy seasons came and
went, his contemptuous laughter became more tired, his sense of
superiority became subdued. Only slowly, there among his increasing
wealth, Siddhartha had taken on something of the character of the
childlike people, something of their naivety, something of their anxiety.
And yet he envied them, and the more like them he became the more he
envied them. He envied them for the one thing he did not have and they did
have, he envied them for the importance they attributed to their lives, he
envied the passion they felt in their joys and sorrows, envied the worried
but sweet happiness they had in their never-ending loves. Their love for
themselves, for women, for their children, for money or honours, for hopes
and plans, these people were always in love with something. But it was not
from them that he learned this, especially not their childlike joys and
childlike follies; what he learned from them was the unpleasant things,
the things he himself despised. More and more often, in the morning after
spending the evening with friends he would lie long in bed feeling dull
and tired. When Kamaswami bored him with his worries he would become
irritable and impatient. When he lost a game playing at dice he would
laugh much too loudly. His face was still cleverer and more spiritual than
others’ but it seldom laughed, and one by one it took on the features so
often seen in the face of rich people, features of discontent, of poor
health, of surliness, of apathy, of indifference to others. Slowly, the
sickness of the soul seen in rich people took hold of him.

Weariness sank over Siddhartha like a veil, like a light mist that with
every day became a little heavier, every month a little thicker, every
year a little heavier. As when a new garment becomes old with time, loses
its bright colours with time, gathers stains, gathers creases, becomes
worn at its hems and, here and there, begins to show places that are worn
and threadbare, so Siddhartha’s new life that he had begun when he took
his leave of Govinda had become old, with the quickly passing years it had
lost its colour and its sheen, it had gathered stains and creases. This
ugly sight was hidden at the base of it but here and there it could
already be seen, disappointment and disgust lay in wait for him.
Siddhartha did not notice. He noticed only that the bright and certain
voice of his inside which once had woken within him and had led him
through his years of splendour had now become silent.

The world had taken possession of him, fun, lust, apathy, and lastly that
very vice that he had most despised and for which he had had the most
contempt because of its folly, greed. Even property, the owning of riches,
had finally taken hold of him, it was no longer a frivolous game, it had
become his chains and his burden. It was an odd and insidious path that
had led Siddhartha into this final and most contemptible of dependencies,
playing dice. To be exact, as soon as, in his heart, he had ceased to be a
samana, he had begun to gamble for money and dainty luxuries. He had
previously despised these things, he had previously taken part in them
with laughing indifference as one of the things done by the childlike
people, but now he took part with growing aggressivity and passion. Other
gamblers viewed him with fear, few would dare to play against him because
the stakes he laid down were so high and audacious. Something in his heart
compelled him to gamble, money was something miserable and when he lost,
when he threw it away, it brought him a haughty pleasure, there was no
more ostentatious way, no more contemptuous way that he could display his
disdain for riches, the idol of businessmen. So he gambled high and
without reserve, he hated himself for this, he despised himself for it, he
threw it in by the thousand, threw it away by the thousand, he lost money,
lost jewelry, lost a country house, then he won again, then he lost again.
The anxiety, every terrible and oppressive anxiety he felt while throwing
the dice for worryingly high stakes was something he loved, he always
sought to renew it, always to raise it, always to tickle it a little
higher, for it was in this feeling alone that he could feel something like
happiness, something like inebriation, something like a higher kind of
life in among the sated, lukewarm, insipid life he led.

Every time he lost a large amount he thought of gaining new riches, threw
himself into business with new vigour and pressed his debtors harder to
make them pay, for he wished to gamble again, he wanted to squander again,
wanted, again, to display the contempt he had for riches. Siddhartha no
longer had the indifference he had had when he lost, he no longer had the
patience he had shown for bad debtors, no longer had the goodwill he had
practised toward beggars, no longer had the joy he had felt when he made
gifts or lent money to them who asked, knowing it would not be repaid. He
would stake ten thousand on a throw of the dice and laugh when he lost it,
but in his business affairs he became stricter and pettier, and at night
he sometimes dreamt of money! Whenever he awoke from this vile
enchantment, whenever he looked in the mirror on the bedroom wall and saw
his face changed and uglier, whenever he felt beset by shame and disgust,
then he would flee from it, he would flee into new games of chance, flee
into the numbness of lust, the numbness of wine, and from there flee back
into piling up more possessions. He ran around in this meaningless circle
until he was tired, until he was old, until he was ill.

Until he was admonished in a dream. He had spent the evening hours with
Kamala in her gorgeous pleasure garden. They had sat talking under the
trees, and Kamala offered some well-considered words, words with sorrow
and tiredness hidden behind them. She had asked him to tell her about
Gotama and could not hear enough about him, the clarity of his eyes, the
quiet beauty of his mouth, the benevolence of his smile, the peace of his
walk. He had to tell her about the noble buddha for great lengths of time,
and Kamala would sigh and say, “One day, perhaps one day soon, I will go
and follow this buddha too. I will give my pleasure garden to him and take
refuge in his teachings.” But then she would tease him, she would lead
him into playful lovemaking, she would chain him to her with a passion
that was painful, with biting, with tears, as if she wanted, just once
more, to press the last drops of sweetness out of this life of vain and
short-lived fun. Never had it been so exceptionally clear to Siddhartha
how close lust is to death. Then he would lie at her side and Kamala’s
face would come close to his, and, clearer than ever before, he would read
a message of anxiety under her eyes and at the corners of her mouth, a
script of fine lines, of slight wrinkles, a script reminiscent of Autumn
and of growing old just as Siddhartha was himself growing old, for he was
now in his forties and had noticed grey hairs here and there among the
black ones. Tiredness could be read on Kamala’s beautiful face,
tiredness from traveling a long road that has no happy ending, tiredness
and the start of her decline, and hidden there, not yet spoken of, was an
anxiety that she was not yet aware of: fear of old age, fear of the
Autumn, fear of the certainty of death. He had taken his leave of her with
a sigh, his soul full of lethargy, full of concealed anxiety.

One time, when Siddhartha had spent an evening at home with wine and
dancing girls, when he had played the superior with his peers, though he
no longer was their superior, when he had drunk a great deal of wine and,
tired but excited, he had not gone to seek his rest until long after
midnight, he found himself in a state of despair and was close to tears.
He waited long in the vain pursuit of sleep, his heart full of a sorrow
that he thought he could no longer bear, full of disgust that seemed to
permeate every part of him like the vile taste of lukewarm wine, like the
over-sweet and vapid music, like the over-soft smiles on the dancers’
faces, like the over-sweet scent on their hair and their breasts. But what
disgusted him more than anything else was himself, his perfumed hair, the
smell of wine in his mouth, the tired slackness and the dullness of his
skin. Just as one who has eaten or drunk too much will endure his vomiting
and even feel glad at the relief it brings, so Siddhartha, unable to
sleep, felt a gush of monstrous disgust and wished to be relieved of these
pleasures, these habits, this entire life of meaninglessness. It was only
when the first light of morning came, and the activities in the street in
front of his house began to wake, that he drowsed, for a few moments felt
some slight assuagement of his anguish, found something resembling sleep.
And that was when he began to dream:

Kamala had a small and rare songbird that she kept in a golden cage. It
was of this songbird that he dreamed. He dreamt: the bird had become
silent, though it had formerly always sung in the morning time, and when
he noticed this he went to the cage and looked in. There he saw the little
bird lying dead and stiff on the floor. He took it out, held it for a
while in his hand and then threw it away, out into the street. At that
moment he felt horror at what he had done and felt such pain in his heart
as if he had thrown out everything of any value, everything of any good
about himself when he threw this bird out.

Waking from this dream he felt himself possessed by a deep sorrow.
Worthless, it seemed to him, worthless and meaningless was the life he had
been leading; nothing living, nothing that was in anyway beautiful or
worth keeping had remained with him. He stood there alone and empty, like
a castaway on the shore.

In low spirits, Siddhartha betook himself to one of the pleasure gardens
he owned, he locked the gate, sat down under a mango tree, felt the death
in his heart and bleakness in his heart, he sat and felt how something in
him was dying, wilting, coming to its end. Gradually he gathered his
thoughts together and, in his mind, walked once more along the whole of
his life’s path, beginning at the first day when he was able to think.
When was it that he had ever been happy, felt any real joy? Oh yes, he had
experienced these things many times. He had tasted that joy when, as a
boy, he had been praised by the brahmins and he felt it in his heart,
“There is a path that follows from recitation of holy scripture, from
argument with the learned ones, from excelling when assisting in the
performance of sacrifice,” Then, what he felt in his heart was, “There
is a path for you to follow, the path to which you are called, the gods
are expecting you.” And again when he was a young man because his
thoughts rose ever higher, they tore out and away from the commonplace
many who had the same objectives, because he was in accord with the
sufferings and the meanings of Brahman, because when he attained new
wisdom it would only arouse thirst for more knowledge, because, held in
this thirst, held in the pain of this self, he had always again felt,
“Forward! Forward! You have received the call!” He had accepted this
call when he left home and chose the life of a samana, and again when he
left the samanas and sought the path of perfection, although that was also
a path into the unknown. How long was it, now, that he had not heard that
voice, how long was it since he had attained any new heights, how level
and barren had his path become? It had been many years, years without any
higher objective, no thirsting, no rising, content with petty pleasures
and nonetheless never satisfied! Throughout all these years, without
knowing it himself, he had striven to be a person like these masses, he
had longed for it, to be like these children and in the process had made a
life for himself that was much more poor and miserable than theirs, for
their objectives were not his objectives, nor were their worries his
worries, all this world of people like Kamaswami had been just a game for
him, a dance to be looked at, a comedy. Kamala alone was dear to him, was
something he valued - but was she still? Did he still need him, or he her?
Were they not playing a game without end? Was it necessary to live a life
for that? No, it was not necessary? The name of this game was sansara, a
children’s game, a game that it was good to play one, twice, ten times -
but over and over again?

Then Siddhartha came to see that the game was at its end, that he was no
longer able to play it. A shudder ran down his body, in his innermost
parts, as he felt that something had died.

All that day he sat under the mango tree thinking of his father, thinking
of Govinda, thinking of Gotama. Had he really had to leave these people
and become a Kamaswami? He still sat there as night began to fall. When
looked up and saw the stars he thought, “Here I am, sitting under my own
mango tree, in my own pleasure garden.” A faint smile came to his face -
was it necessary, then, was it proper, was it not a foolish game to be the
owner of a mango tree, to be the owner of a garden?

He put an end to this too, this too died within him. He rose, took his
leave of the mango tree, took his leave of the pleasure garden. He had not
eaten all day and so felt very hungry, he thought of his house in the
city, of his chambers there and his bed, he thought of the table laden
with food. With a weary smile he shook his head and took his leave of
these things.

There and then, at that hour of the night, Siddhartha left his garden,
left the city and never returned to them. Kamaswami had his servants
search long for him, he thought he had fallen into the hands of bandits.
Kamala did not send anyone to search for him. She was not surprised when
she heard of Siddhartha’s disappearance. Was it not something she had
always expected? Was he not a samana, a pilgrim without a home? And she
had felt it most of all when she was last with him, and deep within her
pain at losing him she was glad, glad that she had drawn him so deep into
her heart that last time she saw him, glad that she had once more felt so
entirely possessed and pervaded by him.

When she first received the news of Siddhartha’s disappearance she
crossed to the window, where she kept a rare songbird captive in a golden
cage. She opened the door of the cage, took the bird out and let him fly
away. She looked long after him as he flew. From that day on she received
no more visitors and kept her house closed. But some while later she
became aware that her last meeting with Siddhartha had left her pregnant.


Siddhartha wandered through the woods, already far from the city, and he
knew just one thing, that he could never go back, that this life that he
had lived through many years was ended and gone, he had tasted its joys,
sucked out its pleasures, till it disgusted him. The songbird he had
dreamt of was dead. The songbird in his heart was dead. He had been
entangled deep in sansara, he had drawn death and disgust into himself
from every side, like a sponge sucking in water till it is saturated. He
was full of weariness, full of misery, full of death, there was nothing
more in the world that could appeal to him, could give him pleasure, could
give him reassurance.

He yearned to know nothing more about himself, to have peace, to be dead.
If only a thunderbolt would come and strike him down! If only a tiger
would come and eat him! If only he had wine, poison, that would numb his
senses, oblivion and sleep, never more to wake! Was there any kind of
filth left with which he had not already besmirched himself, was there any
kind of sin or folly that he had not committed, anything he had not done
that for his soul was entirely fruitless? Was it even possible still to
live? Was it possible to draw in breath, let out breath over and over
again, to feel hunger, once more to eat, once more to sleep, once more to
lay with a woman? Was this circle not, for him, exhausted and closed off?

Siddhartha arrived at the great river that flowed through the wood, the
same river that the ferryman had taken him across when he was a young man
and had just departed from Gotama’s community. On the bank of this river
he stopped and he stood there, uncertain what to do. He was weak from
tiredness and hunger, and why should he go on, where to, what for? No, he
had no objectives any more, there was nothing but the deep and sorrowful
yearning to shake all this barren dream from himself, to pour away this
stale wine, to put an end to this pitiful and shameful life.

There was a tree that hung over the river bank, a coconut tree. Siddhartha
leant his shoulder against it, put his arms around the trunk and looked
down into the green water as it continued to flow beneath him. He looked
down into it and found himself possessed with the wish to let go of the
tree and to perish in the water. A grisly emptiness was reflected back at
him from the water, a reflection that showed the awful emptiness of his
soul. Yes, he had come to the end. There was nothing more for him than to
extinguish himself, than to strike down the picture of deformity that was
his life, to throw it down at the feet of the gods who laugh at him in
contempt. This was the great breakthrough that he had longed for: death,
the destruction of the form he hated! The fish could come and eat him,
Siddhartha the dog, the deluded, the decayed and putrid body and the
flaccid and abused soul! The fish and the crocodiles could come and eat
him, the demons could dismember him!

His face distorted into a scowl he stared into the water, saw his
distorted face mirrored back at him, and he spat at it. Deep in tiredness
he loosened his arm from the tree trunk and twisted round slightly so that
he would fall vertically and finally go under. With eyes closed he sank
down to meet his death.

From some distant place his soul began to twitch, from some time past in
his tired life came a sound. It was one word, one syllable which he
uttered to himself without a thought and with voice that mumbled, the
ancient word that formed the beginning and the end of any brahmanist
prayer, the holy word “OM”, meaning “perfection” or
“completion.” And at the moment when the sound of “Om” touched
Siddhartha’s ear his dormant spirit suddenly awoke and saw the folly of
what he was doing.

Siddhartha was deeply shocked. So this was the state he had come to, this
was how lost he was, how confused. He was so forsaken by any kind of
wisdom that he was able to seek death, that this whim, this childish whim,
could have grown within him: to find peace by extinguishing his body! All
that he had recently suffered, all the disillusionment, all the doubts,
none of these things had the effect on him that Om had at that moment as
it entered his consciousness: and he became able to see his misery and his

Om! he said to himself: Om! And he knew of Brahman, knew that life could
not be destroyed, knew once more everything about the divine that he had

All this, however, lasted for just one moment, just a flash. Siddhartha
sank down at the foot of the coconut tree, lay down exhausted, and
muttering Om he laid his head on the root of the tree and sank into a deep

Deep was his sleep and free of dreams, he had not known sleep like this
for a long time. Many hours later when he woke it seemed to him that ten
years had gone by, he heard the gentle flow of the water, did not know
where he was or who had brought him there, abruptly he opened his eyes and
was amazed to see trees and the sky above him, and then he remembered
where he was and how he had arrived there. This process took a long time,
though, and the past seemed to him to have had a veil thrown over it, it
was infinitely far, it lay at infinite distance, infinitely meaningless.
He knew only that his previous life (at first as he came back to his
senses, this previous life seemed like something lying long in the past,
an earlier incarnation, an early birth of his present self), that his
previous life was something he had left behind, that, full of disgust and
misery, he had even wanted to throw his life away, that instead he had
regained consciousness at the side of a river under a coconut tree with
the holy word Om on his lips, that he had then slept and now had woken and
he looked at the world as a new person. Quietly, he spoke the word Om to
himself, as he had done while he was falling asleep, and it seemed that
all the time that he had been asleep had been nothing but a long immersion
into saying Om, into thinking Om, a submersion and envelopment in Om, in
the nameless, in the perfect.

It had been such a wonderful sleep! Sleeping had never before left him so
refreshed, so renewed, so rejuvenated! Could it be that he really had
died, had gone under and now been reborn in a new form? No, he knew
himself, he knew his hand and his feet, knew the play where he lay, knew
this self in his breast, this Siddhartha, the headstrong, the odd, this
Siddhartha however was transformed, renewed, he had slept remarkably well
and now he was remarkably alert, joyful and inquisitive.

Siddhartha sat up straight and saw a man facing him, a strange man, a monk
in yellow robes with shaven head and in a position of meditation. He
looked at the man, who had hair neither on his head nor his face, and he
had not looked at him for long before he saw that this monk was Govinda,
his childhood friend, Govinda who had taken refuge with the noble Buddha.
Govinda had changed, just as he had, but he still bore the old features in
his face that spoke of zeal, of loyalty, of searching, of fastidiousness.
Govinda felt now that Siddhartha was watching him, opened his eyes and
returned his gaze. Siddhartha saw that Govinda did not recognise him.
Govinda was glad to see that he had woken, he had clearly long been
sitting here waiting for him to wake even though he did not know him.

“I have been sleeping,” said Siddhartha. “What has brought you

“You have been sleeping,” Govinda answered. “It is not good to sleep
in places such as this where there are many snakes and where the beasts of
the forest follow their paths. I, sir, am a follower of the noble Gotama,
of the buddha, of the Sakyamuni, and when I and a number of members of our
movement were travelling along this path in pilgrimage I saw you lying
there asleep in a place where to sleep is dangerous. I therefore tried to
wake you, sir, and as I saw that your sleep was very deep I remained
behind my colleagues and sat beside you. And then, it seems, I fell asleep
myself despite my wish to watch over you as you slept. I performed my task
badly, tiredness overcame me. But now, now that you are awake, please
allow me to leave you and catch up with my brothers.”

“Thank you for watching over my sleep, samana,” said Siddhartha.
“You followers of the noble one are helpful. You are free to go.”

“I will go, sir. May you always fare well.”

“Thank you, samana.”

Govinda made the gesture of greeting and said, “Farewell.”

“Farewell, Govinda,” said Siddhartha.

The monk remained where he was.

“Sir, may I ask how you know my name?”

Siddhartha smiled.

“I know you, Govinda, I know you from your father’s hut and from the
brahmins’ school, I know you from the sacrifices we performed and from
our journey to join the samanas, I know you from that time when, in the
grove of Jetavana, you took refuge with the noble one.”

“You are Siddhartha!” exclaimed Govinda out loud. “Now I recognise
you, and I cannot understand why I did not recognise immediately. Welcome,
Siddhartha, it is a great joy for me to see you again.”

“And it is a great joy for me too to see you. It was you who watched
over me as I slept, and I thank you again for it, although I had no need
of anyone to do so. Where are you going, my friend?”

“I am not going anywhere. We monks are always travelling, except in the
rainy season, we always move from place to place, we live according to our
rules, we spread out teachings, accept alms and then we move on. It is
always so. But you, Siddhartha, where are you going?”

Siddhartha said, “It is the same with me as with you, my friend. I am
not going anywhere. I am simply travelling. I am on a pilgrimage.”

Govinda said, “You say you are on a pilgrimage, and I believe you. But,
Siddhartha forgive me, you do not look like a pilgrim. You wear the
clothes of a rich man, you wear the shoes of a man of elegance, your hair
smells of scented water and it is not the hair of a pilgrim, not the hair
of a samana.”

“Yes, my friend, well observed, your sharp eye sees everything. But I
did not tell you I am a samana. I said I am on a pilgrimage, and that is
what I am, on a pilgrimage.”

“You are on a pilgrimage,” said Govinda. “I have been going on
pilgrimage for many years, but I have never come across a pilgrim like
this. There are not many who go on pilgrimage in clothes like this, or in
shoes like this or with hair like this.”

“I believe you, my friend. But now, today, you have just a pilgrim like
this, in shoes like this, with clothes like this. Remember this, my
friend: The world of forms is transitory, our clothes are highly
transitory, just like the way we have our hair and the hair itself and our
bodies themselves. I am wearing the clothes of a rich man, you are quite
right about what you have seen. I am wearing them because I was a rich
man, and my hair is like the hair of a libertine or men of the world,
because I was a libertine and a man of the world.”

“And now, Siddhartha, what are you now?”

“I do not know, I do not know it any more than you do. I am on a
journey. I was a rich man and now I am not; and nor do I know what I will
be tomorrow.”

“Did you lose all your riches?”

“I lost them, or they lost me. I no longer have them. The wheel of forms
spins fast, Govinda. Where is Siddhartha the brahmin? Where is Siddhartha
the samana. Where is the wealth of Siddhartha? Things that are transitory
change fast, Govinda, you know that.”

Govinda stared long at his childhood friend, his eyes full of doubt. Then,
using words that were very polite, he said goodbye and went on his way.

With a smile on his face, Siddhartha watched him as he went, he loved him
still, faithful Govinda, conscientious Govinda. And how, at that moment,
at that magnificent time after such a wonderful sleep permeated with Om,
how could he not have loved someone and something? This was the very magic
that had taken place in him by the power of Om while he was sleeping, he
loved everything, he was filled with joyful love for everything he saw. It
was also the reason, it seemed to him now, why he had earlier been very
ill and unable to love anything or anyone.

With a smile on his face, Siddhartha watched the monk as he went. He felt
much stronger after his sleep, but he was nonetheless painfully hungry as
he had not eaten for two days and the time was long past when he had been
hardened against hunger. With some sorrow, but also with laughter, he
thought about that time. In those days, he remembered, he had boasted of
three things to Kamala, three noble and invincible arts that he had
mastered: fasting, waiting, thinking. These were his possessions, his
power and his skill, his firm and trusty staff, these three arts were what
he had learned in the hard-working and arduous years of his youth, these
and no others. And now he had abandoned them, not one of them was in his
possession any longer, not fasting, not waiting, not thinking. He had
thrown them away for the most miserable of desires, for the most
short-lived, for sensual pleasure, for affluence, for riches! They had
rarely done him any good. And now, it seemed, he really had become one of
the childlike people.

Siddhartha thought about his position. Thinking came hard to him, there
was nothing in him that wanted to do it, but he forced himself.

Now, he thought, as all these transitory things have slipped away from me,
now I stand here under the sun again as I did before when I was a small
child, there is nothing that belongs to me, there is nothing I can do,
nothing I am capable of doing, there is nothing I have learnt. This is
wonderful! Now, when I am no longer young, when my hair is already
half-grey, when my strength is beginning to fade, now is the time for me
to start again from the beginning and be a child again! His fortunes had
indeed been odd! He had been on a downward path and now he stood in the
world once again penniless and naked and stupid. But he was unable to feel
any concern about this, no, he even felt a strong urge to laugh, to laugh
at himself, to laugh at this bizarre, ridiculous world.

“You’re on a downward path!” he said to himself, and laughed about
it, and as he spoke his glance fell on the river, and he saw that the
river was on a downward path too, always migrating downwards and, as it
did so, it sang and was gay. He found that very pleasing, and he gave the
river a friendly smile. Was this not the river in which he had wanted to
drown himself, some time in the past, a hundred years ago, or had he
dreamt it?

My life truly has been wonderful, he thought, wonderful are the varied
courses it has taken. As a boy I had nothing to do with anything but the
gods and making sacrifices to them. As an adolescent I had nothing to do
with anything but asceticism, with thinking and meditation, I sought to
find Brahman, venerated the eternal in Atman. As a young man, though, I
followed the path of penitence, lived in the forest, suffered heat and
frost, learnt to hunger, taught my body to die away. It was wonderful
when, at that time, knowledge came to me through the teachings of the
great buddha, I felt knowledge of the unity of the world, felt it flow
within me like my own blood. But I had to go on my way even from the
buddha and that great knowledge. I went on and learnt the joy of love from
Kamala, learned business skills from Kamaswami, accumulated money, wasted
money, learned to love my stomach, learned to flatter my senses. It took
me many years to lose my spirit, to lose the ability to think, to forget
unity. Is it not so, that I went slowly and by circuitous routes from
being a man to being a child, from a thinking being to a childlike being?
This was a very good way, though, and the bird within my breast did not
die. But what a way it was! There was so much stupidity, so much vice, so
much folly, so much disgust and disappointment and misery that I had to go
through before simply becoming a child again and to be able to start anew.
But it was the right way, my heart tells me yes, my eyes laugh about it. I
had to experience doubt, I had to sink down to that most foolish of
thoughts, the thought of suicide, before I could experience mercy, before
I could hear Om again, before I could sleep properly again and before I
could wake properly again. I had to become a fool before I could find
Atman within myself again. I had to commit sin before I could live again.
Where will my path lead me from here? This is a foolish path, it goes
round in loops, perhaps it goes round in circles. Whichever way it chooses
to go, I will follow it.

In his breast he felt a surge of wonderful joy.

Where from then, he asked his heart, where from do you have this gaiety?
Could it be that it comes from that long and wholesome sleep that did me
so much good? Or from the word Om that I spoke? Or could it be because I
have escaped, that my flight is completed, that I am at last free again
and stand once more under the sky as a child? I have escaped, I have
become free, and it is so good! How pure and lovely the air is here, how
good to breathe it! There, the place whence I escaped, everything smelt of
ointment, of spices, of wine, of excess, of lethargy. How I hated this
world of the rich, of the world of luxury, the world of gamblers! How I
hated myself for staying so long in this dreadful world! How I hated
myself, robbed myself, poisoned and tortured myself, how I made myself old
and bad tempered! No, I will never again delude myself, as I so much used
to like doing, never again think that Siddhartha is a wise man! But this
is something it was right to do, this is something that pleases me, this
is something for which I should praise myself, that I have put an end to
this self-hatred, to this life of folly and barrenness! I praise you,
Siddhartha, after so many years of folly you have once again had an idea,
you have done something, you have heard the bird singing in your breast
and you have followed him!

Thus he praised himself, had pleasure in himself, listened with curiosity
to his stomach, which was rumbling with hunger. In the last few days, he
felt, he had tasted pain, he had tasted sorrow, he had tasted them
completely and thoroughly, he had eaten them totally to the point of doubt
and of death and then he had spat them out. It was good, so. He could have
remained much longer with Kamaswami, making money, wasting money, filling
his belly and letting his soul go thirsty, he could have lived much longer
in this soft, well-cushioned Hell if this had not happened: that moment of
perfect doubt and despair, that moment when he was at such an extreme that
he hung over the flowing water and was ready to destroy himself. He had
felt doubts and the deepest disgust but had not succumbed to them, the
bird within him that was his voice and his source of gaiety was still
living, and this filled him with joy, this brought him to laughter, this
made his face, under his grey hair, beam.

“It is good,” he thought, “to experience everything you need to know
yourself. I learned as a child that wealth and worldly pleasures are not
good. It is something that I have long known but only now experienced. And
now I know it, I know it not only in my thoughts but with my eyes, with my
heart, with my stomach. It is good for me that I know it!”

He thought long about his transformation, he listened to the bird as it
sang for joy. Had this bird within him not died, had he not felt its
death? No, it was something else within him that had died, something that
had long been yearning for death. Was it not this that in his earlier
years of fervent penitence he had wanted to kill off? Was it not his Self,
his petty, anxious and proud Self, that he had struggled against for so
many years that found victory over him again and again, that reappeared
each time he killed it off, each time he forbade himself pleasure, each
time he was afraid? Was it not this that today had finally found its
death, here in the woods by this lovely river? Was it not because of this
death that he was now like a child, so full of trust, so without fear, so
full of joy?

Siddhartha now also began to understand why his efforts against this Self
were in vain when he was a brahmin, when he was a penitent. He had been
hindered by too much knowledge, too much of the holy verses, too many
rules of sacrifice, too much castigation, too much doing and too much
striving! He had been full of pride, he had been always the cleverest,
always the keenest, always one step ahead of the others, always the one
who knew, the one who was spiritual, always the priest or the wise man.
His Self had crept into this priesthood, into this pride, into this
spirituality, it sat firmly there and grew while Siddhartha thought he was
destroying it with fasting and penitence. Now he could see it, and he saw
that the secret voice had been right, that no teacher could ever have
removed this Self. That is why he had had to go out into the world, to
lose himself in fun and power and women and money, had had to be a
businessman, a gambler, a drinker and to be greedy, till the priest and
the samana within him were dead. That is why he had had to continue to
endure these years of loathsomeness, to bear the disgust, the emptiness,
the meaninglessness, of a life that was lost and barren, right till the
end, till the bitter doubt, till Siddhartha the sybarite, Siddhartha the
greedy, was even ready to die. He did die, a new Siddhartha awoke from
that sleep. Even he would grow old, even he would have to die one day,
Siddhartha was impermanent, every form was impermanent. But today he was
young, he was a child, and the new Siddhartha was full of joy.

These were his thoughts, he listened with a smile to his stomach, listened
with gratitude to a buzzing bee. He looked happily into the river as it
flowed, water had never been to pleasing to him as this water, he had
never been so strongly aware of the beauty of water, of its voice, of what
it represents. The river seemed to have something special to say to him,
something he still did not know, something still waiting for him. This was
the river where Siddhartha had wanted to drown himself, this was the river
where the old, tired, doubting Siddhartha today had drowned. But the new
Siddhartha felt profound love for this rushing water and he promised
himself never again to be so rash in leaving it.


I would like to remain by this river, thought Siddhartha, it is the same
river that I once crossed on my way to the childlike people, that time I
was taken across by a friendly ferryman, I would like to go to him. It was
from his hut that my way once led out into a new life, a life which now
has become old and dead - I hope the way I am now on, the new life that I
have begun, take its starting point from there!

He looked tenderly into the flowing water, into that transparent green,
into the crystal lines of its drawing that was so full of secrets. He saw
pearls of light rising from its depths, peaceful bubbles of air floating
on its surface, the blue of the sky reflected there. With its thousand
eyes the river looked back at him, eyes of green, eyes of white, eyes of
crystal, eyes of Heavenly blue. How he loved this water, how it delighted
him, how he was grateful to it! In his heart he heard the newly-woken
voice speak, and it said to him, “Love this water! Stay beside it! Learn
from it!” Oh yes, he did want to learn from it, he did want to listen to
it. Whoever understood this water and its secrets, it seemed to him, would
also have understanding of many other things, many secrets, all secrets.

Of the river’s secrets, however, he saw today just one, and it was
understood by his soul. He saw: this water flowed and flowed, it never
ceased to flow but was nonetheless always there, it was always and for all
time the same, yet each glance at it showed something new! Whoever could
grasp this would understand it! He understood but could not grasp it, he
felt no more than the rising of some vague notion, a distant memory,
voices of gods.

Siddhartha stood up, for the power of hunger in his body was becoming
unbearable. He walked on not caring whither he went, he followed the path
along the river bank as it led him upstream, he listened to its flow,
listened to growling hunger in his body.

When he reached the place where the ferry made its crossings he found the
boat lying ready and standing in it was the same ferryman who had once
taken the young samana across. Siddhartha recognised him, though he too
was greatly altered.

“Would you like to take me across?” he asked.

The ferryman, astonished to see such an elegant man travelling alone and
on foot, accepted him into the boat and pushed off from the bank.

“You have chosen a nice life for yourself,” said the passenger. “It
must be nice to have a life beside this water every day and to travel on

“It is very nice, sir,” said the oarsman, smiling as he rowed, “just
as you say. But is not every life nice, is not every job a good job?”

“You could well be right. But I still envy you your job.”

“Oh, you would soon become tired of it. It is not a job for a gentleman
in fine clothes.”

Siddhartha laughed. “This is not the first time today that I have been
judged by the clothes I wear, judged and mistrusted. Ferryman, would you
not like to take these clothes from me? They have become burdensome to me.
And I think you already know I have no money to pay your fare.”

“The gentleman is joking with me,” the ferryman laughed.

“I am not joking, my friend. Listen, you have once before carried me
across the water in your boat and you did it for the love of God. Do the
same today, and accept my clothes in return.”

“Does the gentleman mean to continue his journey without clothes?”

“Oh, most of all I would like not to continue my journey at all. Most of
all, ferryman, I would like you to give me an old loincloth and take me on
as your assistant, or rather as your apprentice, for I would need first to
learn how to handle the boat.”

The ferryman stared long and quizzically at the stranger.

“Now I recognise you,” he said at last. “You slept in my hut once,
that was long ago, it must be more than twenty years, you were taken over
the river by me and we took leave of each other as good friends. Were you
not a samana? I can’t think what your name is any more.”

“My name is Siddhartha, and I was a samana the last time you saw me.”

“Welcome, Siddhartha. My name is Vasudeva. I hope you will again be my
guest today and sleep in my hut and tell me all about where you have come
from and why your fine clothes are such a burden to you.”

They had reached the middle of the river and Vasudeva pulled harder on the
oars in order to overcome the current. He worked quietly with his powerful
arms and with his eye on the bow. Siddhartha sat and watched him and
remembered how, once before, in the last days of his time as a samana,
love for this man had arisen in his heart. He accepted Vasudeva’s
invitation with gratitude. When they reached the bank Siddhartha helped
him to tether the boat and the ferryman invited him into the hut where he
offered him bread and water, and Siddhartha ate hungrily, and he ate
hungrily of the mangoes that Vasudeva offered him.

The sun had begun to set, and they went to sit on a tree trunk at the side
of the river where Siddhartha told the ferryman about where he was from
and what his life had been, about how he had seen it before his eyes that
day in his moment of doubt. His story continued late into the night.

Vasudeva listened with great attention. He took in all that he heard, his
origin and childhood, all that learning, all that seeking, all that joy,
all that suffering. This was one of the ferryman’s greatest virtues: few
knew how to listen as well as he. Vasudeva would not say a word, but the
speaker would sense how he allowed the words to enter into him, quiet,
open, patient, never losing a word, never waiting impatiently for a word,
never offering praise nor censure, simply listening. Siddhartha was aware
of what good fortune it was to have the company of a listener such as
this, one into whose heart he could sink his own life, his own searchings,
his own sorrows.

As Siddhartha neared the end of his story, though, as he spoke of the tree
at the riverside and of the depth of his fall, of the holy Om and of how
he felt such love for the river when he woke from his sleep, then the
ferryman listened with twice as much attention, totally devoted to it with
his eyes shut.

But when Siddhartha became silent and there was a long period of
stillness, Vasudeva said, “It is just as I thought. The river spoke to
you. He is the friend of you also, he speaks to you also. That is good,
that is very good. Stay with me, Siddhartha my friend. I had a wife once,
her place was next to mine, but it is long since she died, I have lived
long alone. Now you live with me, there is room here and there is food
here for both of us.”

“I thank you,” said Siddhartha, “I thank you and I accept. And I
also thank you, Vasudeva, for being such a good listener! There are few
people who know how to listen. And I have never come across anyone who
could do it as well as you. This is something else that I shall be
learning from you.”

“You will learn,” said Vasudeva, “but not from me. It is the river
that taught me how to listen, and he will teach you too. He knows
everything, the river, there is nothing you cannot learn from him. Look,
this is something else that you have already learned from the river, that
it is good to strive to go down, to sink, to seek out the depths. The rich
and courtly Siddhartha will become an apprentice oarsman, the learned
brahmin Siddhartha will become a ferryman: this is something else that the
river has told you. And there is more that you will learn from him.”

There was a long pause, and Siddhartha said, “What more, Vasudeva?”

Vasudeva stood up. “It is getting late,” he said, “let us go to bed.
I cannot tell you what more, my friend. You will learn, perhaps you even
know it already. I am not a learned man, you see, I do not know how to
give speeches, I do not know how to think. All I know how to do is
listening and saying my prayers, there is nothing else I have learned how
to do. If I could explain it to you and give lessons then that might mean
I am a wise man, but as it is I am just a ferryman and it is my job to
take people across this river. It could have been thousands that I have
taken across and all that my river has ever been to them is something that
has gotten in the way on their journey. They have been travelling for the
sake of money or business, going to weddings, going on a pilgrimage, and
the river was in their way and the ferryman was there so that they could
get past that thing in their way as soon as possible. Some of those
thousands though, some of them, though not many, four or five of them, for
some of them the river stopped being just something in their way, they
heard his voice, they listened to him, and the river became something holy
for them, just like he has for me. Now let us go and take our rest,

Siddhartha remained with the ferryman and learned how to operate the boat,
and when there was no ferry work to do he would work with Vasudeva in the
rice field, gathering wood, picking the fruits of the plantain trees. He
learned how to make an oar and how to repair the boat, he learned how to
weave a basket and he was happy at all that he had learned and the days
and the months passed quickly. The river, though, taught him more than
Vasudeva was able to. He learned from it without cease. Most of all he
learned from the river how to listen, to pay attention with a quiet heart,
with a patient and open soul, without passion, without desire, without
judgement, without opinion.

He lived in friendly proximity with Vasudeva, and they would now and then
exchange a few words, a few words which had long been considered. Vasudeva
was not a friend of words, it was rare for Siddhartha to move him to

“Have you,” he once asked him, “have you also learned from the river
the secret that there is no time?”|

A bright smile spread over Vasudeva’s face.

“Yes, Siddhartha,” he said. “Is this what you are saying: that the
river is the same along his whole length, at his source and at his
estuary, at the waterfall, at the ferry crossing, at the rapids, at the
sea, in the mountains, everywhere the same, and that for him there is only
the present, no shadow of the future?”

“Yes, that is right,” said Siddhartha. “And when I had learned this
I looked at my life and saw that it too was a river, and separating the
boy Siddhartha from the man Siddhartha, and the man Siddhartha from the
old man Siddhartha, there was merely a shadow, nothing real. And
Siddhartha’s previous births too were not in the past, and his death and
his return to Brahma were not in the future. Nothing has been and nothing
will be; everything is, everything has its essence and its presence.”

Siddhartha spoke with delight, this elucidation had made him deeply happy.
For was not, then, all suffering time, was not all self-torture and
self-fear time, was not all difficulty, all hostility in the world
expunged and overcome as soon a time has been overcome, as soon as time
could be removed from our thoughts? He spoke with gleeful passion, but
Vasudeva simple gave him a bright smile and nodded agreement, he nodded in
silence, touched Siddhartha’s shoulder and went back to his work.

Another time in the rainy season, and the swollen river made a mighty
roar, Siddhartha said, “Would you say, my friend, that the river has
many voices, very many voices? Does he not have the voice of a king, and
of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird at night, and of a mother
giving birth, and of a man who sighs and a thousand other voices?”

“You are right,” Vasudeva nodded, “all the voices in creation are in
his voice.”

“And do you know,” Siddhartha, “what word he says when you succeed
in hearing all ten thousand voices at once?”

Happy laughter appeared on Vasudeva’s face, he leant towards Siddhartha
and into his ear he spoke the holy word Om. And this indeed was what
Siddhartha also had heard.

And little by little his smile became like the ferryman’s, became nearly
as beaming, nearly as permeated with happiness, just as radiant from a
thousand tiny wrinkles, just as child-like, just as mature. Many
travellers who saw the two ferrymen thought they must be brothers. In the
evenings they would often sit together on the tree trunk at the riverside,
they would say nothing but both would listen to the water which, for them,
was not water but the voice of life, the voice of existence, of eternal
becoming. Sometimes, as the two of them listened to the river together,
they would both think of the same things, of a discussion that had taken
place two days earlier, of one of the travellers whose face and whose
destiny occupied them, of death, of their childhood. Sometimes, when the
river had said something good to them, they would each look at the other
at the same moment, both thinking the same thing, both feeling the same
joy at hearing the same answer to the same question.

Many of the travellers felt there was something given out from the ferry
and the two ferrymen. Sometimes a traveller would look into the face of
one of the ferrymen and begin to tell his life story, would tell of his
sorrows, acknowledge where he had done wrong, ask for solace and advice.
Sometimes one of them would ask permission to spend the evening with them
to listen to the river. Sometimes someone would come to them because he
was curious, someone who had heard about these two wise men or magicians
or holy men who lived beside this ferry. They would ask many questions but
received no answers, and they found neither magicians nor wise men, all
they found were two elderly and friendly little men who seemed unable to
speak and, in some special way, demented. They would laugh, and tell their
friends about how foolish and credulous those people were who spread such
empty rumours.

The years went by and nobody counted them. One time there came monks on a
pilgrimage, disciples of Gotama, the buddha, and they asked the ferrymen
to take them across the river, and the ferrymen learned that they were
hurrying back to their great teacher because word was spreading that the
noble one was mortally ill and must soon suffer his last death as a human
before going to his release. Not long after came a new flux of monks on
pilgrimage, and then another, and not only the monks but most of the other
travellers and wanderers spoke of nothing but Gotama and his impending
death. There was a flow of people here from all parts as if they had been
an army on campaign or were going to attend the coronation of a king, they
collected like ants, they flowed as if drawn by some kind of magic on
their way to where the great buddha lay awaiting death, to the place where
that awful event would take place and the great perfect one of an era
would rise to majesty.

At this time Siddhartha thought a great deal about the wise man as he was
dying, about the great teacher whose voice had admonished and who had
brought hundreds of thousands to an awakening, whose voice he too had
learned from and whose holy face he too had once looked on with
veneration. He thought of him with kindness, saw his way to perfection
before his eyes and, with a smile, thought of the words which he once, as
a young man, had put to him, the noble one. Those words now seemed proud
and arrogant to him, and he remembered them with a smile. He had long
known that there was nothing that made him different from Gotama, though
he was not able to accept his teachings. No, a true seeker would never be
able to accept any teachings, not if he truly wanted to find what he
sought. But he who has found what he sought would find goodness in any
teachings at all, any path, any objective, he would be in no way different
from the thousands of others who lived in eternity, who breathed in the
breath of the divine.

One of those days, when there were so many making pilgrimage to the dying
buddha, Kamala, who had once been the most beautiful of the courtesans,
also made pilgrimage to him. She had long since withdrawn from her earlier
way of life, had given her garden to Gotama’s monks, had sought refuge
in his teachings, was one of the friends and benefactors of pilgrims.
Together with her son, Siddhartha, she had heard news of Gotama’s
impending death and set out, on foot and in simple clothes, on her way to
him. She was on her way with her little son along the river: but the lad
soon became tired, he wanted to go back home, he wanted to rest, he wanted
something to eat, he became difficult and whining.

Kamala was frequently obliged to rest with him, he was used to imposing
his will on her, she had to feed him, had to comfort him, had to
discipline him. The boy was unable to understand why he had to go on this
sad and arduous pilgrimage with his mother, to go to a place he did not
know about, to go to a strange man who was something holy and who lay
dying. So let him die! Why should it matter to him?

The pilgrims were not far from Vasudeva’s ferry when young Siddhartha
once more insisted he and his mother should stop and rest. Kamala, too,
was tired and while the lad munched on a banana she sank to the ground
and, with eyes half closed, rested. Suddenly though, she gave out a
piercing scream, the boy looked at her in shock and saw her face pale with
horror as out from her dress emerged a small black snake which had just
bitten her.

The two of them now ran along the path to reach people as soon as they
could and were near the ferry crossing when Kamala collapsed, unable to go
any further. But the lad raised a pitiful cry as he kissed and embraced
his mother, who added her own voice to the boy’s loud calls for help.
The sound reached the ears of Vasudeva as he stood by the ferry and he
hurried to Kamala and her son. He took the woman by the arm and carried
her into the boat, the boy also ran in, and they were all soon in the hut
where Siddhartha stood at the stove, lighting the fire. He looked up and
saw, first of all, the face of the boy which reminded him, in a way that
was both wonderful and reproachful, of something he had forgotten. Then he
saw Kamala. He recognised her immediately even though she lay unconscious
in the arms of the ferryman, and now he realised that it was the face of
his own son that had so reproached him, and his heart moved within his

Kamala’s wound was washed, but was already black and her body was
swollen, a healing drink was poured into her. Consciousness returned to
her as she lay on Siddhartha’s bed in the hut, Siddhartha leant over
her, he who had once had such earnest love for her. She thought she was
dreaming, and, with a smile, looked into the face of her friend, slowly
began to realise where she was, remembered the snake bite, and called out
anxiously for the boy.

“He is with you. You need not worry,” said Siddhartha.

Kamala looked into his eyes. She spoke with a heavy tongue, made clumsy by
the venom. “You have grown old, my love,” she said, “you have gone
grey. But you are just like the young samana who once came to me in the
garden with no clothes and with dusty feet. You are much more like him
than you were then for you have gone away from me and Kamaswami. In your
eyes you are just like him, Siddhartha. Oh, I too have grown old, old -
did you still recognise me?”

Siddhartha smiled. “I recognised you immediately, Kamala, my love.”

Kamala pointed to her boy and said, “Did you recognise him, too? He is
your son.”

Her eyes became erratic and fell shut. The boy wept, Siddhartha took him
on his knee, let him cry, stroked his hair and, as he looked at the
child’s face, a brahmanic prayer that he had once learned came to his
mind, one that he had learned when he himself was a lad. Slowly, with
melodic voice, he began to say it, the words flowed into him from the
past, from his childhood. Affected by his sing-song the boy became quiet,
sobbed now and then, and then fell asleep. Siddhartha put him down on
Vasudeva’s bed. Vasudeva stood at the stove cooking rice. Siddhartha
threw him a glance which he returned with a smile.

“She’s dying,” said Siddhartha quietly.

Vasudeva nodded, the light of the fire in the stove ran over his friendly

Kamala became conscious once again. Her face was twisted with pain,
Siddhartha’s eye could read the pain on her mouth, on her pale cheeks.
He read it in silence, watching, waiting, immersed in her suffering.
Kamala felt it, her eyes sought his.

Looking at him, she said, “I can see, now, that your eyes have changed.
They have become quite different. How is it that I can still see that you
are Siddhartha? You are Siddhartha, yet you are not.”

Siddhartha said nothing, his eyes looked into hers in silence.

“Have you achieved it?” she asked. “Have you found peace?”

He smiled, and laid his hand on hers.

“I can see it,” she said, “I can see it. I will find peace too.”

“You have found peace,” said Siddhartha in a whisper.

Kamala looked steadily into his eyes. She thought of how she had intended
to make pilgrimage to Gotama in order to see the face of a perfect one, in
order to breathe in his peace, and now instead of finding Gotama she had
found Siddhartha, and it was good so, just as good as if she had seen
Gotama. She wanted to tell him so, but her tongue would no longer do as
she wished. She looked at him in silence, and he saw in her eyes how her
life was fading. When her final pain filled her eyes, when the final
shudder ran through her limbs, he put his finger to her eyelids and closed

He sat there long, looking at her now lifeless face. He looked long at her
mouth, her aged tired mouth with its lips, that now had become thin, and
he remembered how once, in the springtime of his years, how he had once
compared this mouth with a freshly opened fig. He sat there long, studied
that pale face, those tired creases, filled himself with what he saw
there, saw his own face lying in the same way, just as white, just as
extinguished, simultaneously saw his own face and hers with its red lips,
its burning eyes, and the sense of the present and of simultaneity
permeated his being, the sense of eternity. He felt it deeply, more deeply
than he had ever felt it before, now in that moment of the immortality of
every life, the eternity of every glance.

When he raised himself Vasudeva had prepared rice for him. But Siddhartha
did not eat. In the stall where they kept their goat the two old men
prepared a beds of straw for themselves, and Vasudeva lay down to sleep.
Siddhartha, though, went outside and spent the night sitting in front of
the hut, listening to the river, the past flowing over him, all the ages
of his life at the same time touching him and embracing him. From time to
time, though, he would raise himself, go to the door of the hut and listen
to find out whether the boy was sleeping.

Early in the morning, even before the sun had become visible, Vasudeva
came out of the stall and went to his friend.

“You have not slept,” he said.

“No, Vasudeva. I sat here listening to the river. He told me much, he
filled me deeply with the healing thought, the thought of unity.”

“You have gone through pain, Siddhartha, but I can see that there is no
sadness that has entered your heart.”

“No, my friend, what do I have to be sad about? I used to be rich and
happy, and now I have become even richer and happier. I have received the
gift of a son.”

“Your son is also welcome. But now, Siddhartha, let us go to work, there
is much to be done. Kamala died on the same bed as my wife did, long ago.
Let us make her pyre on the same hill where I made hers.”

They built her pyre while the boy still slept.


At his mother’s funeral the boy was shy and tearful, Siddhartha greeted
him as his son and told him he was welcome in Vasudeva’s hut and he was
shy and gloomy as he listened. With pale face he sat all day on the hill
of the dead, refused to eat, refused to look, refused to open his heart,
struggled to defend himself against fate.

Siddhartha had respect for his grief and did nothing to change his
behaviour. He understood that his son did not know him and could not love
him as a father. Slowly, he also saw and understood that the eleven year
old was spoilt, a mummy’s boy, as he grew he had become used to riches
and fancy food, to a soft bed and to giving orders to servants. Siddhartha
understood that, spoilt and grieving as the boy was, he would not become
content with poverty in a strange place either quickly or with good grace.
He did not force him, he did many jobs for him, always found the daintiest
food for him. He hoped he could slowly win him over by friendliness and

He had counted himself rich and happy when the lad came to him. But time
flowed by and the boy continued to be alien and gloomy, he showed a heart
that was proud and truculent, wanted to do no work, showed no respect for
his elders, robbed Vasudeva of the fruit on his trees, and so Siddhartha
began to understand that it was not peace and happiness that the boy had
brought with him but sorrow and worries. But Siddhartha loved him, and he
preferred the sorrow and worries of love over the happiness he had enjoyed
without the boy. Since the young Siddhartha had been in the hut the two
old men had taken on separate tasks. Vasudeva had once more taken on the
office of ferryman by himself and, in order to be with his son, it was
Siddhartha who did the work in the hut and the fields.

Siddhartha waited long, through many months, for his son to understand
him, for him to accept his love, for him perhaps to return it. Vasudeva
waited long, while he watched and waited and said nothing. One day though,
when the lad had again made his father suffer with his disobedience and
bad humour and had broken both rice dishes, Vasudeva took his friend aside
when evening had come and spoke to him.

“Please forgive me,” he said, “if I say something to you, as I do so
with a friendly heart. I see that you are suffering, I see that you are
worrying. Your son, my friend, is causing you worries and he is causing me
worries too.”

“He is used to a different life, he is a young bird used to a different
nest. He did not run away from wealth and the city in weary disgust as you
did, he was made to leave all this behind him against his will. I have
asked the river, my friend, I have asked him many times. But the river
laughs at me, he laughs at both of us and shakes his head at our folly.
Water will be water, boys will be boys, your son is not in a place where
he can flourish. You too should ask the river, you too should listen to
what he says!”

Siddhartha looked anxiously at the friendly face which showed, in the many
wrinkles it bore, that it was the home of constant cheerfulness.

“Do you think, then, that I would be able to separate myself from
him?” he said gently, with some shame. “Allow me some time, my friend!
Look, I am struggling for him, I am trying to win his heart, I am trying
to gain it with love and with friendly patience. And one day the river
will speak also to him, he also has a calling.”

Vasudeva’s smile became warmer. “Oh yes, he also has a calling, he
also is part of the eternal life. But do we know, you and I, what it is
that he is called to, what path, what acts, what sufferings? His
sufferings will not be light, he has a heart that is proud and hard, such
as he must suffer greatly, make many mistakes, commit many injustices,
burden themselves with many sins. Tell me, my friend; are you not bringing
your son up? Do you not compel him to do what he does not want to do? Do
you not strike him? Do you not punish him?”

“No, Vasudeva, I do not do any of those things.”

“I knew it. You do not compel him, you do not strike him, you give him
no orders, because you know that softness is stronger than hardness, water
stronger than stone, love stronger than violence. That is very good, and I
praise you for it. But are you not mistaken in thinking you should not
compel him, should not punish him? Do you not bind him in the bondage of
your love? Do you not shame him every day, making it more difficult for
him with your goodness and patience? Do you not compel this arrogant and
spoilt child to live in a hut with a pair of aged banana eaters for whom
even rice is a luxury, whose thoughts cannot ever be his thoughts, whose
heart is old and quiet and who are following a different path from his? Is
all of this not a compulsion on him, not a punishment?”

Siddhartha saw that Vasudeva was right and looked down at the ground.
Gently he asked him, “What is it you think I should do?”

Vasudeva said, “Take him to the city, take him to his mother’s house,
the servants will still be there, give him over to them. And if there are
no servants still there then take him to a teacher, not for the sake of
being taught but so that he can have the company of other boys, and of
girls, take him into the world which is his world. Have you never thought
of that?”

“You have seen into my heart,” said Siddhartha sadly. “I have often
thought of doing that. But listen, how should I put him into this world
when he does not have a gentle heart as it is? Will he not become
extravagant, will he not lose himself in the pursuit of fun and of power,
will he not repeat all the errors of his father, might he not become
totally lost in sansara?”

The ferryman’s smile shone brightly; he gently touched Siddhartha’s
arm and said, “Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to him laughing
about it! Do you really think that you have gone through these follies of
yours so that your son would not have to? And can you protect your son
from sansara? How? By teaching, by prayer, by admonishment? Dear friend,
have you entirely forgotten that story, that story of the well educated
brahmin’s son, Siddhartha, that you once told me once on this very spot?
Who was it who held Siddhartha the samana back from sansara, from sin,
from greed, from folly? The piety of his father, his teachings and his
warnings, his own wisdom and his own seekings, were these things able to
keep Siddhartha safe? What father, what teacher has been able to protect
him from living his own life, from soiling himself with the dirt of life,
from taking guilt onto himself, from taking the bitter drink himself, from
having to find his path for himself?

“Do you really think, my friend, that there is anyone who is spared this
path? Do you think your young son might be spared sorrow and pain and
disappointed because you love him and you want to save him from those
things? You could die for him ten times over, but you still would not take
even the tiniest part of his destiny onto yourself.”

Vasudeva had never spoken so many words before. Siddhartha gave him his
friendly thanks, then, feeling anxious, he went into the hut, but was long
unable to sleep. Vasudeva had said nothing to him that he had not already
thought and known. But it was knowledge that he could not implement, his
love for the lad was stronger than that knowledge, his affection was
stronger, the fear of losing him was stronger. Had he ever before lost his
heart for anything so completely, had he ever loved anyone this much, so
blindly, so passionately, so hopelessly and yet so happily?

Siddhartha was not able to follow his friend’s advice, his was not able
to give his son up. He allowed the boy to give him orders, he allowed him
to show him contempt. He remained silent and waited, every day he would
begin the wordless struggle for friendliness, the soundless war of
patience. Vasudeva, too, remained silent and waited, with friendship, with
understanding, with forbearance. Both of them were masters of patience.

One time, when the boy’s face reminded him especially of Kamala,
Siddhartha suddenly remembered something that Kamala, long before had said
to him when he was young; she had once said to him, “you are not capable
of love,” and he had conceded that she was right. He had been comparing
himself with a star, while comparing the childlike people with falling
leaves, but he had nonetheless felt an accusation in every word. It was
true that he had never been able to entirely lose himself in another
person and devote himself to them till he forgot himself, had never
undergone the folly of love for another; he had never been capable of it,
and it had seemed to him then that that was the great difference that
divided him from the childlike people. But now, since his son had been
there, even he, Siddhartha, had become entirely childlike, feeling sorrow
for someone, feeling love for someone, losing himself in love, becoming a
fool for love. It was late, but now even he felt for once in his life this
strongest and oddest of passions, suffered for it, suffered grievously but
was nonetheless blessed, nonetheless somewhat rejuvenated, somewhat

He was well aware that this love, this blind love for his son, was a
passion, something very human, aware that it was sansara, a cloudy source,
a dark water. But he felt at the same time that it was not without value,
that it was something necessary, that it sprang from its own essence. Even
this craving had to be paid for, even these pains had to be tasted, even
these follies had to be gone through.

During all this the son let him go through these follies, let him try to
win him over, every day he would humiliate him with his moods. This father
of his had nothing that pleased him and nothing that he would be afraid
of. He was a good man, this father, a good, good-natured and gentle man,
perhaps a very pious man, perhaps a holy man - but none of these
characteristics were anything that could win the boy over. He found his
father boring, keeping him prisoner in this miserable hut of his, he was
boring, and every time he behaved badly he would respond with a smile,
respond to insults with friendliness, respond to malice with goodness.
This was probably the trick of the old creep that he hated most. The boy
would rather have had him threaten him and mistreat him.

The day came when the young Siddhartha felt it was time to break out, and
he turned against his father quite openly. Siddhartha had given him the
task of collecting firewood, but the boy did not leave the hut, he stood
there in angry defiance, stamped his foot, clenched his fists and burst
out in a fit, screaming hatred and contempt in his father’s face.

“Get the firewood yourself!” he shouted, frothing at the mouth,
“I’m not your servant. I’m well aware you never hit me, ‘cause you
don’t dare to; I’m well aware you want to punish me a make me small
with your God-fearingness and your softness. You want me to be just like
you, all pious and all gentle and all full of wisdom! But listen! I’m
going to make you sorry, I’d rather be a bandit on the roads, rather be
a murderer and go to Hell than be like you! I hate you, you’re not my
father even if you’d been my mother’s lover ten times over!”

He gushed over with anger and self-pity, spat a hundred vapid and spiteful
words out at his father. Then the boy ran off and did not come back until
late in the evening.

But by the following morning he had disappeared. The little basket, woven
of fibres in two colours in which the ferrymen kept all the copper or
silvers coins they received as passengers’ fares, was also missing. Also
their boat was missing, which Siddhartha saw lying at the other side of
river. The boy had run away.

“I will have to go after him,” said Siddhartha, who was still shaken
from the previous day’s tirade by the boy. “A child cannot go through
the forest by himself. He will be killed. We need to build a raft,
Vasudeva, to get across the water.”

“We will build a raft,” said Vasudeva, “to fetch back our boat that
the lad took away. But you should let him go, my friend, he is not a child
any more, he knows how to look after himself. He is looking for the way to
the city, and he is right, do not forget that. He is doing what you have
failed to do yourself. He is looking after himself, he is following his
own path. Oh Siddhartha, I can see that you are suffering, but the pains
you are suffering are pains that could be laughed about, pains that you
too will soon laugh about.”

Siddhartha gave no answer. He already held the chopper in his hand and had
begun to build the raft from bamboo wood. Vasudeva helped him to tie them
together with rope made of grass. Then they made the crossing, were
carried far off course and, on the opposite shore, pulled the raft back

“Why have you brought the chopper with you?” asked Siddhartha.

Vasudeva answered, “It could be that the rudder of our boat will be

But Siddhartha knew what his friend was thinking. He was thinking that the
boy will have thrown the rudder away or smashed it in order to take his
revenge and to make it harder to follow him. And the rudder was indeed no
longer in the boat. Vasudeva pointed to the floor of the boat and looked
at his friend with a smile, as if he meant to say, “Do you not see what
it is that your son wants to tell you? Do you not see that he does not
want to be pursued?” He did not, however, say this in words. He set
about making a new rudder, but Siddhartha took his leave and went to
search for the fugitive. Vasudeva did nothing to stop him.

Siddhartha had long been making his way through the forest before it
occurred to him that his search was pointless. On the one hand, he
thought, the boy might be a long way ahead of him and had already reached
the city or, on the other, if he was still on his journey he would hide
himself from his pursuer. He continued to think about this, and he found
that he was not himself worried about his son for, deep within himself, he
knew he had neither been killed nor faced any danger in the woods.
Siddhartha nonetheless hurried on without rest, no longer in order to save
his son but just because there was something he wanted, just in order to
have the chance of seeing him again. He continued to hurry forward until
he was at the outskirts of the city.

Near by the city, on the broad highway, he reached the entrance to the
beautiful pleasure garden which had once belonged to Kamala, where he had
seen her for the first time carried on her litter, and there he stopped.
The memory rose up in his soul and he once more saw himself standing
there, a young and naked samana, bearded and with hair full of dust.
Siddhartha stood there long, looking in through the open gate into the
garden where monks in yellow robes walked about under the beautiful trees.

He stood there long, thinking, seeing pictures, listening to the story of
his life. He stood there long, watching the monks, and instead of seeing
them he saw the young Siddhartha, saw the young Kamala as she moved about
under the lofty trees. He saw himself clearly, how Kamala made him her
guest, how he accepted her first kiss, the pride and contempt he felt as
he looked back on his life as a brahmin, the pride and greed with which he
began his secular life. He saw Kamaswami, saw the servants, saw the wild
parties, the gamblers with their dice, the musicians, he saw Kamala’s
songbird in its cage, he lived through all this once again, he breathed
sansara, he was once again old and tired, felt once again the wish to
extinguish himself, was healed once again by the holy Om.

He stood long at the gateway into the garden until he saw that it was a
foolish wish that had driven him to this place, that he was unable to help
his son, that he should not stay too attached to him. He felt his love for
the fugitive deep in his heart, like a wound, and at the same time he saw
that the wound had not been given to him for him to dig at it, but that it
would blossom and had to shine.

It made him sad that by this time the wound still had not blossomed, still
did not shine. Instead of having an objective for his wishes, the
objective that had drawn him to this place in pursuit of his runaway son,
he now had nothing. Disheartened, he sat down, felt something die within
his heart, felt the emptiness, saw nothing to bring him joy, nothing to be
his objective. He sat there deep in thought and waited. This was what he
had learned at the riverside, just this: to wait, to be patient, to
listen. And he sat and listened, in the dust of the road, he listened to
his sad and tired heart, he waited for a voice. He remained there for many
hours, crouched and listening, he saw no more pictures, he sank into
emptiness, allowed himself to sink, and saw no path to follow. And when he
felt the wound burning he would silently utter Om, would fill himself with
Om. The monks in the garden saw him, for he crouched there for many hours,
and on his grey hair the dust accumulated, one of them came to him and put
two bananas down in front of him. The old man did not see him.

He was woken from this stupor by a hand shaking his shoulder. He
recognised this gentle and tentative movement straight away, and came out
of his state. He stood up and greeted Vasudeva who had come after him. And
as he looked into Vasudeva’s friendly face, into those cheerful little
eyes surrounded by many laughter wrinkles, he smiled too. Now he saw the
bananas lying in front of him, lifted them up, gave one to the ferryman
and ate the other one himself. Then he and Vasudeva went in silence back
into the wood and back to their home at the ferry point. Neither spoke of
what had happened that day, neither spoke the name of the lad, neither
spoke of his flight, neither spoke of the wound. In the hut Siddhartha lay
down on his bed and a little while later, when Vasudeva came to him to
offer him a cup of coconut milk, he found he was already asleep.


The wound continued to cause pain. Siddhartha had to take many travellers
across the river who had a son or a daughter with them, and there was not
one of them whom Siddhartha did not look on with envy, and he would think,
“There are so many, so many thousands, who have this noblest of
happiness - why do I not? Even evil people, even thieves and robbers have
children whom they love and who are loved by them, and I alone do not
have.” This was the simplicity of his thoughts at that time, so lacking
in understanding, so similar had he become to the child-like people.

He no longer looked on people in the way he had done, less clever, less
proud, but with more warmth, more curiosity, more concerned. When he
carried people who were normal - child-people, businessmen, soldiers,
women - these people did not seem as alien to him as they had done
previously: he understood them, he shared the life they led, a life which
was not directed by thoughts and insights but solely by drives and wishes,
he felt he was the same as they were. He was now near liberation, though
he still suffered from the wound which was still fresh. These people
seemed to him nonetheless to be his brothers, these childlike people, with
all their vanities, their greed and their ridiculousness, no longer seemed
ridiculous, they had become understandable, become deserving of love,
even, it seemed to him, become venerable. The blind love of a mother for
her child, the stupid blind pride of an over-proud father for his only
little son, the vanity of a young woman who has a blind wild wish for more
jewelry and for admiration in the eyes of men, all these drives, all this
childishness, all these simple drives and greeds which were so foolish but
so monstrously strong, strong for life, strong enough to make themselves
felt. For Siddhartha now, these drives and greeds were no longer childish,
he saw how they gave people life, he saw how people could achieve the
infinite, how they could go on journeys, wage war, bear infinite sorrows,
and he was able to love them for it, he saw life, he saw the living, he
saw the indestructible, he saw Brahman in all their sorrows and all their
actions. These people had a faith that was blind, blind was their strength
and their tenderness, and that made them deserving of both love and of
admiration. There was nothing they lacked, there was no way that the wise
man, the thinking man, was ahead of them except for one detail, one single
tiny detail: consciousness, conscious awareness of the unity of all life.
And Siddhartha was often in doubt as to whether he should value this
knowledge, these thoughts, so highly, whether he would not also like to be
as childlike as the thought-people the childlike thought-people. In all
other respects the people of the world were the equals of the wise, in
many respects far superior, just like animals that do what they have to do
with harshness and without error, animals that can seem at many times
superior to man.

The realisation, the knowledge of what wisdom actually is, and of what it
was that he had been seeking for so long, was slow to blossom, slow to
ripen in Siddhartha. It was nothing more than the readiness of the soul, a
capability, a secret talent, to think the thought of the one at every
moment, in the middle of life to feel the one, the ability to breathe the
one. This was slow to blossom in him, it shone on him back from the
child-like face of Vasudeva: harmony, knowledge of eternal perfection, the
world, a smile, the one.

The wound, however, still burned. Siddhartha yearned bitterly for his son,
he nurtured his love and tenderness in his heart, he allowed the pain to
consume him, he went through all the follies of love. This was a flame
that would not die away by itself.

One day, when the wound was burning fiercely, Siddhartha, impelled by the
yearning for his son, crossed the river, disembarked and wanted to go to
the city to seek him out. The river flowed with gentle smoothness, it was
the dry time of year, but his voice sounded odd: it was the voice of
laughter. It was clearly the voice of laughter. The river was laughing,
laughing brightly and clearly at the aged ferryman. Siddhartha stopped and
bent towards the water in order to hear it better, and in the smoothly
flowing water he saw the reflection of his own face, and this reflection
seemed to remind him of something, something forgotten, and as he thought
about it he found it: this face was the same as another face he had once
known and loved and feared. It was the same face as his father’s, the
face of the brahmin. And he remembered how, long ago as a young man, he
had forced his father to let him go and join the penitents, how he had
taken his leave of him, how he had left and never gone back. Had his
father not suffered the same grief as he now suffered for his own son? Was
his father not now long dead, dying alone without ever having seen his son
again? Would he not now have to expect the same fate for himself? Was it
not a comedy, something peculiar and stupid, this repetition, this running
round in circles that would lead only to his fate.

The river was laughing. It was true, everything came back to you that had
not been endured to the end and resolved, the same pains would be suffered
again and again. But Siddhartha got back into the boat and went back to
the hut, thinking of his father, thinking of his son, laughed at by the
river, in dispute with himself, inclined to doubt and no less inclined to
join in with the laughter at himself and at the whole world. But the wound
had still not matured into blossom, his heart still struggled against his
fate, there was still no merriment, no victory, shining from his
suffering. He nonetheless felt hope, and when he had arrived back at the
hut he felt a wish that he could not overcome to open himself to Vasudeva,
to show him all, him the master of listening, to tell him everything.

Vasudeva sat in the hut weaving a basket. He no longer went out on the
boat, his eyes were becoming weak, and not only his eyes; his arms and his
hands were becoming weak too. It was only his joy and the cheerful
benevolence shown in his face that remained unchanged and flourishing.

Siddhartha sat down by the old man and slowly began to speak. He told him
of things they had never before discussed, of his journey to the city, of
his burning wound, of his envy when he saw a happy father, of his
awareness of the folly of such wishes and his unsuccessful struggle
against them. He told him all, he was able to tell him all, even the most
painful, all could be said, all could be shown, all could he relate. He
displayed his wound to him, even told him of his attempt to flee that very
day, how he had crossed the river, fleeing like a child and wishing to
walk to the city, how the river had laughed at him.

He spoke long, Vasudeva listened with a quiet expression on his face,
Siddhartha felt that Vasudeva listened more closely than he ever had
before, he felt how his pain, his anxieties flowed over to him, how his
secret hopes flowed over to him, how he came across to meet him. To tell
this listener about his wounds was the same a bathing them in the river
till they became cool and became one with the river. As he continued to
speak, continued to acknowledge his faults, continued to make his
confession, Siddhartha felt more and more that this was no longer
Vasudeva, no longer a human being, that was listening to him, that
Vasudeva as he sat motionless and listening was drawing in his confession
like a tree draws up rainwater, that Vasudeva as he sat motionless was the
river himself, that he was God himself, that he was the eternal himself.
And as Siddhartha ceased thinking about himself and his wounds awareness
of Vasudeva’s changed nature took possession of him, the more he
received it and penetrated it, the less wonderful it became and he saw
that all was as it should be, all was natural, he saw that Vasudeva had
long been in this state, he had almost always been in this state, he saw
that only he had not quite understood this, he saw that he himself was
hardly separate from him. He perceived that he now saw the aged Vasudeva
in the way that people see the gods, and that this was not something that
could last; he began, in his heart, to take his leave of Vasudeva. And as
he saw these things he continued to speak.

When he had finally finished speaking Vasudeva raised his eyes, friendly
but grown somewhat weak, to Siddhartha. He said nothing, but in silence he
remained cheerful and shone his love, his understanding, and his wisdom
onto him. He took Siddhartha’s hand, led him out to their seat at the
riverside, sat down with him, and smiled down at the water.

“You heard him laughing,” he said. “But you did not hear everything.
Let us listen, you will hear more.”

They listened. The song of the river, sung in his many voices, was sweet.
Siddhartha looked into the water, pictures appeared to him in the water as
it flowed: his father appeared to him, alone and in mourning for his son;
he appeared to himself, alone and he, too, was bound in the fetters of
longing for his son; his son appeared to him, also alone, as the lad
hurried greedily along the burning road of his youthful desire. Each of
them was directed to his aim, each of them obsessed with his aim, each of
them suffering. The river sang with a voice of sorrow, with yearning it
sang, with yearning it flowed towards its aim, its voice was one of

Without speaking, Vasudeva looked at Siddhartha, and his look asked, “Do
you hear?” Siddhartha nodded.

“Hear better,” Vasudeva whispered.

Siddhartha strained to hear better. The image of his father, the image of
himself, the image of his son flowed in and out of each other, the image
of Kamala also appeared and flowed away, the image of Govinda and other
images appeared, flowed in and out of each other, each became a part of
the river, each of them, as a part of the river, strove to reach its aim,
yearning, greedy, suffering, and the voice of the river was full of
yearning, full of burning pain, full of insatiable desire. The river
strove to reach its aim, Siddhartha saw it rushing, the river that was
made up of him and of those who belonged to him and all the people he had
ever seen, all the waves and all the water rushed in sorrow to their aim,
to their many aims, to the waterfall, to the lake, to the rapids, to the
sea, and all the aims were achieved, and each one was followed by another,
and water became steam and rose up to the sky, it became rain and poured
from the sky, it became a spring, became a stream, became a river,
striving for the new, flowing into the new. But the voice of yearning had
changed. It could still be heard, full of sorrow, full of searching, but
other voices came to keep it company, voices of joy and of sorrow, good
voices and bad voices, laughing and mourning, a hundred voices, a thousand

Siddhartha listened. By now he was nothing but listener, engrossed in
listening, quite empty, sucking in, he felt he had now fully learned how
to listen. He had heard all these things many times before, all these
voices in the river, but today it sounded new. He could no longer
distinguish these countless voices, not the gay from the plangent, not the
childish from the manly, they all belonged together, lamentations of
yearning, laughter of the wise man, the shout of anger and the groans of
the dying, all was as one, all was interwoven and conjoined, interwoven in
a thousand places. And all of this together, all the voices, all the aims,
all the yearning, all the sorrows, all the joys, all the good and all the
bad, all of this together was the world. All of this together was the
events that happened, flowing like the river, all of this was the music of
life. And when Siddhartha listened carefully to this flow, to this river
with its thousand voices, when he listened not to the sorrow or the
laughter, when he bound his soul not with any one of those voices and went
into it with his Self, but when he heard everything, the whole, when he
perceived the unity of the whole, that was when the great song of a
thousand voices was made up of a single word, the word Om: Perfection.

Once more, Vasudeva’s glance asked, “Do you hear?”

Vasudeva’s smile shone brightly, all round Vasudeva’s face with all
its wrinkles there was a glow of brightness, just as, over and around all
the voices of the river, there was the Om. His smile shone brightly as he
looked at his friend, also now, on Siddhartha’s face, the same smile
began to glow brightly. His wounds blossomed, his sorrow glowed, his Self
had flowed into the unity.

It was at that moment that Siddhartha stopped struggling against his fate,
stopped suffering. On his face there blossomed the gaiety of knowledge
when there is no longer any will standing against it, the knowledge known
by liberation, the knowledge that is in agreement with the flow of events,
with the river of life with all its shared sorrows, with all its shared
joys, surrendering to the flow, belonging to the unity.

Vasudeva stood up from where he had been sitting on the bank of the river,
he looked in Siddhartha’s eyes and saw the gaiety of wisdom shining
there, he put his hand lightly in his careful and gentle way on
Siddhartha’s shoulder and he said, “I have been waiting for this
moment, my friend. Now that it has come let me take my leave of you. I
have been waiting long for this moment, long have I been Vasudeva the
ferryman. It is now enough. Farewell hut, farewell river, farewell

Siddhartha bowed deeply to Vasudeva as he took his leave.

“I knew it,” he said gently. “Will you go into the woods?”

Vasudeva’s face shone, and he said, “I will go into the woods, I will
go into the unity.”

Still beaming he went on his way; Siddhartha watched him as he went. With
the deepest joy, with the deepest earnestness, he watched him as he went,
saw his steps full of contentment, saw his head as it shone, saw his shape
full of light.


Govinda was spending a rest period with other monks in the pleasure garden
which the courtesan, Kamala, had given to the followers of Gotama. He
heard there about an aged ferryman who lived by a river about a day’s
journey away, and whom many regarded as a wise man. When Govinda resumed
his walking he chose to take the path to the ferry, curious to see who
this ferryman was. All through his life he had lived according to the
regimen of his order, and the younger monks regarded him with veneration
because of his age and his modesty, but there was still unrest in his
heart and a searching which had not been extinguished.

He arrived at the river and asked the old man to take him across. On the
other bank, as they stepped out of the boat, he said to the old man,
“You have been very good to us monks and pilgrims, and you have taken
many of us across the river. Could it be that you too, ferryman, are a
seeker of the right path?”

Siddhartha showed a smile in his aging eyes and said, “Do you call
yourself a seeker, venerable sir, when you are already advanced in years
and you wear the robes of a monk of Gotama?”

“Yes, I am old,” said Govinda, “but I have never stopped searching.
I never will stop searching, this seems to be my destiny. And it seems to
me that you, too, have been seeking. Would you like to say a word to me,
honoured one?”

“What might I want to say to you, venerable sir?” Siddhartha asked.
“Perhaps I should ask you if you are not seeking too hard. Or ask if it
is your seeking that prevents you from finding.”

“How do you mean that?” Govinda asked.

“When someone is seeking,” said Siddhartha, “it is very easy for his
eye to see nothing but the thing sought, that he is unable to find, unable
to receive into himself anything because he thinks only of that which he
seeks, because he has an objective, because he is obsessed with that
objective. Seeking means having an objective, but finding means being
free, being receptive, having no objective. It could be, venerable sir,
that you are indeed a seeker, for in your efforts to reach your objective
you fail to see many things that are close before your eyes.”

“I still do not quite understand,” Govinda asked, “how do you mean

Siddhartha said, “Once before, venerable sir, many years ago, you were
beside this river, and you found there a man who was sleeping, and you sat
down beside him to watch over him as he slept. But, Govinda, you did not
recognise this sleeper.”

Astonished as if bewitched, the monk looked into the ferryman’s eyes.

“You are Siddhartha?” he asked, in timid voice. “Again, I failed to
recognise you! Hearty greetings, Siddhartha, I am heartily glad to see you
again! You have changed so much, my friend - and now, you have become a

Siddhartha gave a friendly laugh. “Yes, Govinda, a ferryman. There are
many who have to go through many changes, have to wear many different
clothes, and I am one of them, my friend. Welcome Govinda! Come and stay
the night in my hut.”

Govinda did stay the night in the hut and he slept in the place which had
formerly been Vasudeva’s bed. He had many questions to put to his
childhood friend, Siddhartha had to recount many episodes of his life to

The following morning came and it was time for Govinda to resume his
wandering. Govinda said, with some hesitation, “Before I continue my
journey, Siddhartha, let me ask you one more thing. Do you have a
doctrine? Do you have a belief or a knowledge that you follow and which
helps you through life and to do the right thing?”

Siddhartha said, “My friend, you know that when I was a young man,
living with you and the other penitents in the woods, that I had already
begun to mistrust doctrines and their teachers, and so I turned my back on
them. I have not changed my view. I have nonetheless had many teachers
since that time. There was a beautiful courtesan who was my teacher for a
long time, and a rich businessman was my teacher, as well as several
gamblers. One time there was even a wandering disciple of the Buddha who
was my teacher; he was on pilgrimage but he sat beside me while I was
asleep in the woods. I learned from him too, and I am grateful to him too,
very grateful. But most of all, I have learned from the river here, and
from my predecessor, Vasudeva the ferryman. He was a very simple man,
Vasudeva, he was not a thinker but he knew the important things as well as
Gotama, he was a perfect man, he was a holy man.”

“I think you’re mocking me again, Siddhartha,” said Govinda. “I
believe you and I both know that you have never followed any teacher. But
even if you have never followed a teacher have you not had certain
thoughts, found certain kinds of knowledge yourself, knowledge which is
your own and which have helped you through life? If you would like to tell
me something of this it would bring joy to my heart.”

“Yes,” said Siddhartha, “there are some things that I have thought
from time to time, and some things that I have seen. There have been times
when, for one hour or for one day, I have felt there is knowledge within
me, just as it is possible to feel life in one’s heart. I have had many
such thoughts, but I would find it very hard to tell you about them.
Govinda, listen, here is one of the thoughts that I have found: wisdom
cannot be taught. If a wise man tries to teach wisdom it will always sound
like folly.”

“Are you joking now?” Govinda asked.

“I am not joking. I am saying what I have found. Knowledge can be
taught, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it can be what
carries you, it can work wonders, but it cannot be spoken and it cannot be
taught. This is what I had already begun to suspect when I was young, this
is what drove me away from the teachers. I have found a thought, Govinda,
a thought that you will again suppose is folly or a joke, but it is the
best thought I have. It reads: For every truth, the opposite is equally
true! This means that a truth that is one-sided can only ever be spoken,
it is encased in words. All that is thought with thoughts and can be
spoken in words will be one-sided, all will be half, all will be lacking
in wholeness, in roundness, in unity. When the noble Gotama spoke of the
world in his teachings he had to divide it into sansara and nirvana, into
delusion and truth, into suffering and liberation. He who wishes to be a
teacher has no choice in the matter, there is no other path for him to
follow. The world itself, though, that which exists around us and within
us, is never one sided. It is never a person, never an act, never the
whole of sansara and never the whole of nirvana, and a person is never
entirely holy and never entirely sinful. It does seem so because we are
subjected to delusion and believe that time is something real. Time is not
real, Govinda, that is something I have experienced many times. And if
time is not real then the gap that seems to lie between the world and
eternity, between suffering and being blessed, between evil and good, is
also just delusion.”

“How do you mean that?” asked Govinda, with some anxiety.

“Listen, my friend, listen well. The sinner, such as me, such as you, is
a sinner, but he will one day become once more Brahma, he will one day
achieve nirvana, will become a buddha - but now think of this: this ‘one
day’ is delusion, it is only a comparison! The sinner is not on his way
to becoming a buddha, he is not engrossed in any kind of development, even
though it is not possible for our thought to imagine these things in any
other way. No, the prospective buddha is already within the sinner, now
and today, his future is all already there, within him, within you, within
everyone is that which will be, that which is possible, that which is the
hidden buddha to be honoured. The world, Govinda my friend, is not
imperfect, nor is it trapped on a weary road to perfection: no, it has
perfection in every glance of the eye, every sin contains mercy within it,
every little child has the old man within it, every suckling has death
within it, every dying man has eternal life within him. No man is able to
see how far he has progressed along his path by looking at others, within
the thief and within the gambler the buddha is waiting, within the brahmin
the thief is waiting. In deep meditation it is possible to remove time and
to see all that has been, all that is and all that will be in one moment,
and in that moment all is good, all is perfect, all is Brahman. That is
why it appears to me that all that is good, death appears to me as the
same as life, sin appears to me the same as holiness, wisdom appears to me
the same as folly, everything has to be thus, nothing needs anything more
than my agreement, more than my will, my loving involvement, and so, for
me, it is good, it can only advance me and can never harm me. I have
learned through experience that I needed to sin, body and soul, I needed
lust, I strove for more possessions, I was vain, and I needed only the
slightest doubt to teach me to give up struggling against these things, to
learn to love the world, to stop comparing it with any kind of imaginary
world I might have wished for or any kind of perfection I might have
invented, I learned to leave the world as it is and to love it and to
enjoy being a part of it. These, Govinda, are some of the thoughts that
have come into my mind.”

Siddhartha reached down and picked up a stone from the ground, then he
weighed it in his hand. “This,” he said playfully, “is a stone, and
after a certain time it might become soil, and then the soil might become
a plant or an animal or a person. But earlier I would have said: this
stone is just a stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of maya;
but through the circle of metamorphoses it might become a person or a
spirit, and that is why I attribute value to it. That is what I might have
thought earlier. But now I think: this stone is a stone, it is also an
animal, it is also a god, it is also a buddha, I do not venerate it, I do
not love it because it might one day become this or that but because it
has always been everything and always will be - and that is exactly why I
love it, for being a stone, because it appears to me as a stone and always
will do, that is why I see value and meaning in each of its veins and each
of its hollows, in the yellow, in the grey, in its hardness, in the sound
it makes when I tap it, in the dryness or the wetness of its surface.
There are some stones that feel like oil or soap, others feel like leaves,
others like sand, and each of them is unique and each of them prays to Om
in its own way, each of them is Brahman but at the same time each of them
is a stone, all the more is it a stone, it is oily or juicy, and that is
what appeals to me, that is what seems so wonderful to me and so worthy of
worship. But do not let continue talking about this. Words are not good
for the invisible spirit, it always instantly becomes a little different
when spoken about, a little false, a little foolish - and even that is
something very good and something I like very much, something I fully
consent to, that which one man sees as valuable wisdom will always seem to
another to be folly.”

Govinda listened in silence.

After a pause he asked, hesitantly, “Why did you tell me all that about
the stone?”

“It just happened. I did not plan it. Or perhaps I meant to say that I
love this stone, and the river, and all these things we think about and
from which we can learn. I am capable of loving a stone, Govinda, and also
a tree or a piece of bark. Those are things, and it is possible to love
things. But it is not possible to love words. That is why teachings are
not for me, they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no
smell, no taste, they have nothing but words. Maybe that is what is
preventing you from finding peace, maybe it is all those words. As even
redemption and virtue, even sansara and nirvana are nothing but words,
Govinda. There is nothing for nirvana to be; there is only the word,

Govinda said, “Nirvana is not merely a word, my friend. It is a

Siddhartha continued, “A thought, maybe it is. I have to admit, my
friend, I do not make any great distinction between thoughts and words. To
put it simply, I do not have much respect for thoughts. I have more
respect for things. There was a man here on this ferryboat, for example,
who was my predecessor and my teacher, a holy man who, for many years,
believed simply in the river, and nothing else. He had noticed that the
river’s voice spoke to him and he learned from it, it brought him up, it
helped him to develop, it taught him. The river seemed to him like a god,
for many years he did not know that every wind, every cloud, every bird,
every beetle is just as god-like as the river he venerated so much, and
knew just as much, and had just as much to teach him. By the time this
holy man went off into the woods he knew everything, he knew more than you
and I, without a teacher, without books, and only because he believed in
the river.”

Govinda said, “And is that what you mean by ‘things,’ something
real, something that exists? Is that not just the delusion of maya, just a
picture, just an appearance? This stone of yours, this tree, this river,
are they then reality?”

“Even this question,” said Siddhartha, “no longer gives me much
bother. Perhaps these things are delusory and perhaps they are not, but
then I too am an illusion and so they continue to be the same as me. That
is what makes them so dear and so venerable for me: they are the same as
me. That is why I can love them. And now, here is a teaching that will
make you laugh: it seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important
thing of all. Perhaps seeing through the world, explaining the world,
despising the world, is an important matter for the great thinkers, but
only one thing is important for me, the ability to love the world, not to
despise it, not to hate it or myself, but the ability to see it and myself
and all that exists with love and admiration and honour.”

“I can understand that,” said Govinda. “But this, too, is something
that the noble one has recognised as delusion. He instructs us to show
benevolence, mercy, compassion, patience, but not love; he has forbidden
us to tether our hearts to the world with love.”

“I know it well,” said Siddhartha, and his face shone with smile of
gold. “I know it well, Govinda. But now look; we find ourselves now in
the middle of a thicket of meanings, we’re quibbling about words. I
cannot deny that my words about love contradict - or seem to contradict -
the words of Gotama. And that is the very reason I mistrust words so much,
I know that this contradiction is delusory. I know that I agree with
Gotama. For how could it be that he knew nothing of love, even he who
acknowledged the transitoriness of all human existence, acknowledged it in
all its nothingness, but nonetheless loved mankind so much that he devoted
his long and strenuous life to one thing, to help them and to teach them!
And even the things about him, about your great teacher are more important
for me than his words, his actions and his life are more important than
what he said, the movements of his hand are more important than his
beliefs. I don’t see his greatness in what he said or what he thought, I
see it only in his actions, in his life.”

For a long while the two old men remained silent. Then Govinda began to
take his leave of Siddhartha, saying, “Thank you for showing me
something of your thoughts, Siddhartha. Some of them are odd, and I am not
able to understand them all straight away. Be that as it may, I give you
my thanks and wish you peaceful days.”

(Privately, though, Govinda thought to himself, “This Siddhartha is a
wonderful man, these are wonderful thoughts he expresses, his teaching
sounds foolish. The pure teachings of the noble one are different, they
are clearer, purer, easier to understand, and contain nothing odd or
foolish or ridiculous. But Siddhartha’s hands and feet seem different
from his thoughts. His eyes, his brow, his breath, his smile, his
greeting, his walk, they all seem different. Since our noble one, Gotama,
went into Nirvana I have never met any one about whom I have felt, ‘This
is a holy man.’ He alone, this Siddhartha, is the only one I have found.
His teachings may sound odd, his words may sound foolish, but his look and
his hands, his skin and his hair, everything about him is radiant with
purity, radiant with peace, radiant with gaiety and gentleness and
holiness. Not since the recent death of our noble teacher have I seen this
on anyone.”)

As Govinda was thinking these things, things which his heart strongly
resisted, he bowed to Siddhartha once again, drawn by love. He bowed
deeply as Siddhartha sat peacefully.

“Siddhartha,” he said, “we have grown into old men. It seems hardly
likely that either of us will see the other in his present form ever
again. I see, my dear friend, that you have found peace. I admit that I
have not. Give me another word, venerated one, give me something that I
can grasp, something I can understand! Give me something to take as I go
on my way. My way is often difficult, often dark, Siddhartha.”

Siddhartha remained silent and continued to look at him with the same
quiet smile. Govinda stared into his face, with anxiety, with yearning.
Sorrow and a never ending search could be read in his expression, a never
ending search without finding.

Siddhartha saw it, and grinned.

“Bow down to me!” he whispered gently into Govinda’s ear. “Bow
down to me here! Yes, closer! Very close! Kiss me on the forehead,

Govinda was puzzled but, drawn by the great love and trust he had for his
friend, did as he was told, he bowed down close to him and touched his
forehead with his lips, and something wonderful happened to him. His
thoughts remained with the wonderful words that Siddhartha had spoken, he
strove in vain to remove time from his thoughts and to see nirvana and
sansara as one, he felt even a certain disdain for his friend’s words
which competed with the enormous love and veneration he felt for him, and
while all this was going on this is what happened to him:

He could no longer see his friend’s face, instead he saw other faces,
many other faces, a long sequence of them, a flowing river of faces,
hundreds of them, thousands of them, all of them came and went yet all of
them seemed to be there at the same time, all of them were in continuous
change yet all of them were Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp
with its mouth permanently gaping in pain, a fish that was dying as its
eyes broke open, he saw the face of a new-born child, wrinkly, red and
contorted in its tears, he saw the face of a murderer, saw him as he
thrust the knife into his victim’s body - he saw, at the same moment,
this criminal as he knelt in chains and how the executioner struck off his
head with a blow of his sword - he saw the bodies of men and women naked
and struggling in positions of fervent love - he saw corpses stretched
out, still, cold, empty - he saw the heads of animals, of pigs, of
crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds - he saw gods, he saw Krsna,
he saw Agni - he saw all these forms and all these faces connected with
each other in a thousand places, helping each other, loving each other,
hating each other, destroying each other, giving birth to them anew, each
of them was a death wish, a passionate torturous acknowledgement of the
past, but none of them did die but only transformed itself, underwent
continual rebirths, each time receiving a new face although no time passed
between one face and the next - and all these forms and all these faces
rested, flowed, appeared, swam one way and flowed in between each other
and above all of this there was always something thin, something that had
no essence but nonetheless existed, like a thin piece of glass or ice,
like a transparent skin, a shell or a shape or a mask of water, and this
mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face which he,
Govinda, was at that very moment touching with his lips. And so it was
that Govinda saw the smile on the mask, the smile of unity over and above
the forms as they rushed past, the smile of simultaneity over the thousand
births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha’s was exactly the same, was
exactly identical, calm, fine, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps
mocking, wise, the thousand-fold smile of Gotama, the buddha, the smile he
had seen and venerated a hundred times himself. Govinda knew that this was
how the perfect ones smiled.

He no longer knew whether time existed, he no longer knew whether this
vision had lasted one second or a hundred years, he no longer knew whether
a Siddhartha or a Gotama or an I and you existed. It was as if his deepest
part had been struck with an arrow from the divine, causing a wound that
tasted so sweet, his innermost part was enchanted, was dissolved. Govinda
continued to stand there bent over Siddhartha’s quiet face, the face he
had just kissed, the face that had just been the theatre for all forms,
all becoming, all existence. That face, that under its surface had shown
the depths of the thousands, remained unchanged, it bore a peaceful smile,
a smile that was gentle and tender, perhaps very benevolent, perhaps very
mocking, just like the smile on the face of the noble one.

Govinda bowed deeply, tears that he was unaware of ran from his eyes and
over his aged face, the sense of deepest love burnt in him like a fire,
the humblest veneration burnt in his heart. He bowed deeply, touching the
ground in front of Siddhartha who sat motionless, whose smile reminded him
of everything in his life he had ever loved, of everything in his life
that had been worthwhile to him, and holy.


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