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Title: Siddhartha: A Poem of India

Author: Hermann Hesse

Translator: David Wyllie

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

Language: English


Copyright (C) 2018 by David Wyllie.

This translation is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, which appears below and may be found online at

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 brahmins.

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 sorrow.

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 contemplation.”

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 Brahman.

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 skin.

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 crossed.

“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 day.”

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 him.

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 teachers.

“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 steps.”

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 finding.”

“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 ways?”

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 mouth.”

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 mouth.”

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 buddha.”

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 sorrow.”

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 liberation!”

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

“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 else.”

“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 clever!”

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 man.

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 teachings.

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 myself.

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 path.

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 water.

“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 children.”

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 dismissal.

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 laughed.

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 wood.

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

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 hair?”

“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 expert.”

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 are?”

“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 fasting.”

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

“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 luck.”

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 service?”

“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 give?”

“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 heart.

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 businessman.”

“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 it.”

“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 folly.

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 forgotten.

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 sleep.

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 here?”

“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.”

“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.”

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 speak.

“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 breast.

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 face.

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 them.

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 patience.

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 wealthier.

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 upstream.

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

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

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 lament.

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 voices.

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!”

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 that?”

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 ferryman?”

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 him.

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, ‘nirvana’.”

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

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!”

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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  2. Where Your right to use the Licensed Material has terminated under Section 6(a), it reinstates:

    1. automatically as of the date the violation is cured, provided it is cured within 30 days of Your discovery of the violation; or
    2. upon express reinstatement by the Licensor.
    For the avoidance of doubt, this Section 6(b) does not affect any right the Licensor may have to seek remedies for Your violations of this Public License.
  3. For the avoidance of doubt, the Licensor may also offer the Licensed Material under separate terms or conditions or stop distributing the Licensed Material at any time; however, doing so will not terminate this Public License.
  4. Sections 1, 5, 6, 7, and 8 survive termination of this Public License.

Section 7 – Other Terms and Conditions.

  1. The Licensor shall not be bound by any additional or different terms or conditions communicated by You unless expressly agreed.
  2. Any arrangements, understandings, or agreements regarding the Licensed Material not stated herein are separate from and independent of the terms and conditions of this Public License.

Section 8 – Interpretation.

  1. For the avoidance of doubt, this Public License does not, and shall not be interpreted to, reduce, limit, restrict, or impose conditions on any use of the Licensed Material that could lawfully be made without permission under this Public License.
  2. To the extent possible, if any provision of this Public License is deemed unenforceable, it shall be automatically reformed to the minimum extent necessary to make it enforceable. If the provision cannot be reformed, it shall be severed from this Public License without affecting the enforceability of the remaining terms and conditions.
  3. No term or condition of this Public License will be waived and no failure to comply consented to unless expressly agreed to by the Licensor.
  4. Nothing in this Public License constitutes or may be interpreted as a limitation upon, or waiver of, any privileges and immunities that apply to the Licensor or You, including from the legal processes of any jurisdiction or authority.