The Son of the Brahmin
SIDDHARTHA, the handsome son of the Brahmin, the young falcon, grew up together with his friend Govinda, the Brahmin's son, in the shadow of the house, in the sun of the riverbank near the boats, in the shadow of the sala forest, and in the shadow of the fig trees. The sun tanned his fair shoulders on the riverbank while he bathed, during the holy cleansing, at the holy sacrifices. Shadows flowed into his black eyes in the mango grove, during the boyish games, when his mother sang, at the holy sacrifices, during the teaching of his father the scholar, and when speaking with the wise ones. For a long time Siddhartha had taken part in the wise ones' discussions; he had practiced word-wrestling with Govinda, had practiced the art of contemplation and the duty of meditation with Govinda. He already understood how to speak the “Om” silently, that word of words, how to speak it silently in his inner being as he inhaled, how to pronounce it silently out of himself as he exhaled, how to do so with his whole soul while his forehead was enveloped by the radiance of the clear-thinking mind. He already understood how to recognize Atman within this inner essence of his that was indestructible and one with the universe.
Joy sprang up in his father's heart over the son who was so apt to learn and so thirsty after knowledge; he saw growing within him a great sage and priest, a prince among the Brahmins.
Delight welled up in his mother's heart when she saw him taking long strides, saw him sitting down and standing up: Siddhartha the strong and handsome, who strode upon lean legs and who greeted her with impeccable manners.
All the young daughters of the Brahmins felt love stirring within their hearts when Siddhartha walked through the side-streets of the city with a beaming face, a lean physique, and a royal look in his eyes.
Govinda, the Brahmin's son, however, loved him more than all of these. He loved the eye of Siddhartha and his sweet voice, his gait and the perfection of his movements; he loved everything that Siddhartha did and said, and above all he loved Siddhartha's mind, his sublime and fiery thoughts, his blazing will, and Siddhartha's high calling. Govinda knew that this would be no ordinary Brahmin, no lazy official presiding over the sacrifices, no money-grubbing merchant hawking magic trinkets, no vain and vacuous speaker, no wicked and lying priest, and also not a good-hearted but dim-witted sheep in the plebian herds. Govinda didn't want to be such a person either, didn't want to be a Brahmin like all the ten thousand other Brahmins. He wanted to follow Siddhartha, who was beloved and majestic. When Siddhartha first became a god, when he entered into the radiance, then Govinda wanted to follow him as his friend, his escort, his servant, his spear-carrier, and his shadow.
In this manner, everyone loved Siddhartha. He brought everyone joy; he pleased everyone.
However, Siddhartha didn't bring himself joy; he didn't please himself. He strolled on the rosy paths of the fig gardens, sat in the blue shadows of the grove of meditation, washed his limbs daily in baths of atonement, and sacrificed in the deep shadows of the mango forest. Everyone loved him; he was joyous to them, and yet he carried no joy in his own heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him out of the river's water, twinkled to him from the stars of the night, melted out of the sunbeams. Dreams and anxiety came billowing out of the sacrificial smoke, whispering from the verses of the Rig-Veda, or trickling out of the old Brahmin's teachings.
Siddhartha had started to cultivate the seed of discontent within himself. He had started to feel as if his father's love, his mother's love, and the love of his friend Govinda wouldn't make him happy forever, wouldn't bring him peace, satisfy him, and be sufficient for all time. He had started to suspect that his illustrious father, his other teachers, and the wise Brahmins had shared the majority and the best of their wisdom with him, that they had already poured their all into his ready vessel without filling the vessel: the mind wasn't satisfied, the soul wasn't quiet, the heart wasn't stilled. The purifications were nice, but they were just water, and didn't wash away sins; they didn't cure the mental thirst or allay his heart's anxiety. Sacrifices and invocations to the gods were superb—but were they sufficient? Did the sacrifices bring happiness? And what about all those gods? Was Prajapati really the one who had created the world? Wasn't it Atman, He who was the Only One, the All-One? Weren't the gods creatures, created just as you and I were: subject to time and transitory? Was it even good, was it right, did it make sense or was it important to sacrifice to the gods? To whom else would one sacrifice, to whom else should one bring worship other than Him, the Only, the Atman? And where could Atman be found, where did he live, where did his eternal heart beat—where else other than in the self, in one's inner being, in the indestructible part of all persons that they carried within themselves? But where was this self, where was this inner being, this most paramount thing? It was not made of flesh or the legs that carried it, it wasn't just the thoughts or the awareness—or so taught the wisest men. Where then was it? One had to penetrate that far into the self, into myself, into the Atman—was there some other way, however, a search which still yielded worthwhile results? Ah, but nobody pointed to this way, nobody knew it: not father, not the teachers and wise ones, not the holy chants sung during sacrifices! They knew everything, those Brahmins and their holy books. They knew everything, they had concerned themselves with everything and with more than everything: the creation of the world, the origins of language, of foods, of inhalation and exhalation, the institution of the senses, the deeds of the gods—they knew an inordinate amount, and yet was it worthwhile to know everything like this when one didn't know the one and only thing that was most important—that which alone was important?
To be sure, many verses from the holy books—especially the Upanishads of the Sama-Veda—spoke about these innermost and most important things—majestic verses. “Your soul is the whole world” was written there; it was also written that the person who slept in the deepest slumber went within to his or her innermost place and lived in Atman. Wonderful wisdom stood within these verses, all the wisdom of the wisest was gathered there in the magical words, pure like the honey gathered by the bees. No, the behemoth of knowledge that innumerable generations of wise Brahmins had gathered and protected there wasn't to be lightly esteemed. But where were the Brahmins, where were the priests, the wise ones and the penitents—those who were successful not only in knowing this deepest wisdom but also in living it? Where were the elders who could merge this Atman of their dreams with the waking being, to bring it fully into their lives and into their words and deeds? Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmins—not the least of whom was his father, who was pure, scholarly, and highly esteemed. His father was admirable: his habits were quiet and elegant, his life pure, his words wise, and the thoughts that inhabited his brow were both fine and noble—but did he who possessed so much wisdom live a blessed life? Did he have joy; wasn't he also a mere seeker, one who had thirst? Did not he, who had thirst, have to receive a holy quenching of this thirst by drinking time and time again at the sacrifices, at the books, at the conversations of the Brahmins? Why did he, who was irreproachable, have to wash out his sins every day, have to expend great effort once more to attain purification each and every day. Wasn't Atman in him; didn't the ancient spring flow in his heart? The ancient spring must be found in one's own self; one must own it! Everything else was just a search, a detour; it was to go astray.
Thus went Siddhartha's thoughts; this was his thirst, his sorrow.
He often spoke to himself out of the Chandogya-Upanishad: “Verily, the name of the Brahman is Satyam— in truth, one who knows this enters daily into the heavenly world.” This heavenly world often appeared close, but he had never totally reached it; never had he quenched the ultimate thirst. Furthermore, among all the wise ones whom he knew whose teaching he had savored—even the wisest—among them all there were none who had totally reached the heavenly world, who had completely quenched the eternal thirst.
“Govinda,” said Siddhartha to his friend, “Govinda, beloved, come with me among the Banyan trees, and we will practice meditating.”
They went to the Banyan trees and sat down: here Siddhartha, and Govinda twenty paces further. When Siddhartha sat down, ready to speak the Om, he murmured and repeated the verse:
When the usual time for practicing meditation had passed, Govinda rose up. The twilight had come, and it was time to perform the cleansing of the evening hour. He called Siddhartha's name. Siddhartha gave no answer. Siddhartha sat with his eyes open, immersed, staring with his eyes fixed upon a very far goal; the tip of his tongue stuck out a little between his teeth, and he didn't appear to be breathing. Thus he sat, shrouded in meditation, thinking Om, his soul sent out like an arrow after the Brahman.
Once, the Samanas pulled through Siddhartha's town. They were pilgrims and ascetics: three scraggly, worn-out men who were neither old nor young, with dusty and bloody shoulders. They were nearly naked, singed by the sun, given over to loneliness, strangers and enemies of the world, and estranged, gaunt jackals in the domain of mankind. From behind them wafted a hot scent of quiet passion, of a duty that destroys, of a merciless self-effacing.
In the evening, after the hour of contemplation, Siddhartha said to Govinda: “Early tomorrow, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the Samanas. He will become a Samana.”
Govinda paled when he heard these words and saw the resolution in the stony face of his friend, a resolution that, like the swiftest arrow let loose from the bow, could never be deflected. As soon as Govinda glimpsed this, he recognized: now it begins; now Siddhartha goes his own way, now his fate begins to sprout, and with his, mine. Govinda paled like the peel of a dry banana.
“O Siddhartha,” he called, “Will your father allow you to do that?”
Siddhartha glanced at his friend like one just waking up. As quickly as the arrow flies, he read Govinda's soul; he read the anxiety and the devotion there.
“O Govinda,” he said quietly, “don't waste any words on this. Tomorrow at daybreak I will begin a Samana's life. Don't discuss this any more.”
Siddhartha stepped in the chamber where his father sat on a raffia mat, and walked behind his father, standing there until his father sensed that someone was standing behind him. The Brahmin spoke: “Is that you, Siddhartha? Well, say what you have come here to say.”
Siddhartha spoke: “With your permission, my father. I have come to say to you that I am desirous of leaving your house tomorrow and going to the ascetics. My wish is to become a Samana. May my father not be opposed to this.”
The Brahmin was silent, and silent so long that in the little window the stars wandered and changed their configuration before the silence in the chamber found an end. Silent and still, the son stood with crossed arms; silent and still, the father sat on the mat, and the stars moved in the heavens. Then the father spoke: “It is not fitting for the Brahmins to speak with severe and scornful words. Yet, I see displeasure moving your heart. I would not like to hear this request come out of your mouth a second time.”
Slowly the Brahmin raised himself, Siddhartha, mute and with crossed arms, stood there.
“What are you waiting for?” asked the father.
Spoke Siddhartha: “You know what for.”
Displeased, the father went out of the chamber; displeased, he sought his bed and lay down.
After an hour during which no sleep came to his eyes, the Brahmin stood up, paced to and fro, and stepped out of the house. Through the little window of the chamber he looked in, and saw that Siddhartha stood there with crossed arms, unmoved. His lightweight outer garment shimmered with a pale light. Restless at heart, the father returned to his bed.
After an hour during which no sleep came to his eyes, the Brahmin stood up again, paced to and fro, stepped in front of the house, and saw the moon, which had risen. Through the window of the chamber he glanced inside: there stood Siddhartha, unmoved, with crossed arms and the moonlight mirrored on his bare shins. The father, concerned in his heart, sought his bed.
And he came again after an hour, and came again after two hours; he glanced through the little window, saw Siddhartha standing in the moonlight, in the star shine, and in the darkness. And the father silently came again from hour to hour, glanced in the chamber, saw the immobile person standing there, then filled his heart with rage, filled his heart with disquietude, filled his heart with anxiety, and filled it with sorrow.
And in the last hour of the night, before the day began, he turned again, came into the chamber, and saw standing there the young boy that now appeared so large and strange to him.
“Siddhartha,” said he, “What are you waiting for?”
“You know what for.”
“Will you always stand like this and wait, until it becomes day, becomes noon, becomes evening?”
“I will stand and wait.”
“You will become tired, Siddhartha.”
“I will become tired.”
“You will fall asleep, Siddhartha.”
“I will not fall asleep.”
“You will die, Siddhartha.”
“I will die.”
“And you would rather die than listen to your father?”
“Siddhartha has always listened to his father.”
“So you want to give up your intentions?”
“Siddhartha will do what his father is going to tell him to do.”
The first sunshine of the day fell upon the chamber. The Brahmin saw that Siddhartha's knees were gently trembling. In Siddhartha's face, however, he saw no trembling: the eyes looked far away. Then the father realized that Siddhartha had already gone from him and his household, that he had already left him.
The father touched Siddhartha's shoulder.
“You will,” he said, “go in the woods and be a Samana. If you have found blessedness in the woods, then come and teach me how to be blessed. If you find disappointment, then return once more and let us once again sacrifice to the gods together. Now go and kiss your mother; tell her where you are going. For me, however, it is time to go to the river and perform the first cleansing.”
He took his hand from his son's shoulder and went outside. Siddhartha swayed to one side as if he wanted to go. He conquered his limbs, bowed down before his father and went to his mother in order to do as his father had said.
At dawn, he slowly and with stiff legs left the still-quiet city. At the last hut, he saw a shadow that was crouching down there rise up and join him, the new pilgrim—Govinda.
“You have come,” said Siddhartha as he smiled.
“I have come,” said Govinda.
“Om is the bow; the arrow is the soul,
The Brahman is the arrow's goal
That one should continuously hit.”
With the Samanas
THEY CAUGHT UP with the ascetics, the scraggly Samanas, in the evening of that same day, and they offered to accompany them and obey them. They were accepted.
Siddhartha gave his robe as a gift to a poor Brahmin along the road. Siddhartha wore only a loincloth and an unstitched, earth-colored shawl. He ate only once a day, and never ate anything cooked. He fasted for fifteen days. He fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh on his thighs and cheeks dwindled away. From his enlarged eyes flickered hot dreams; the nails grew long on his dried-out fingers and he had a dry, unkempt beard on his chin. When he encountered females, his gaze was frigid; when he went through a city where the men were handsomely clothed, his mouth twitched with contempt. He saw merchants conduct trade, princes go on their hunts, mourners bemoan deaths, whores offer their services, doctors tend to their sick, priests specify which days were good for sowing seed, lovers love, mothers shush their children—and nothing was worth even the glance of his eyes. Everything was a lie, everything stank, everything stank of lies, everything feigned meaning and happiness and beauty, and yet everything was decaying while nobody acknowledged the fact. The world tasted bitter; life was agony.
One goal loomed before Siddhartha, and only one: to become empty, to be empty of thirst, of wishing, of dreams—empty of all joy and pain. He wanted the Self to die, to no longer be an “I,” to find peace with an empty heart. His goal was to stand open to the wonder of thoughts conceived in self-dissolution. When every shred of his self had been conquered and put to death, when every longing and every inclination of the heart had been silenced, then the Ultimate had to awaken, that which was innermost had to come into being, that which was nothing less than the ego, the great secret.
Siddhartha stood silently in the intense rays streaming vertically from the sun; blazing with pain and blazing with thirst, he stood until he felt neither pain nor thirst any longer. He stood silently in the rain while water dripped from his hair over his frozen shoulders, over his frigid hips and legs, and still the penitent stood there until his shoulders and legs were frozen no longer, until they became silent and were still. Silently he crouched down among the briar tendrils, while blood dripped from his burning skin and pus came from his lesions. Siddhartha languished there without movement or any animation until the blood flowed no longer, until he felt nothing stinging or burning any more.
Siddhartha sat upright and learned how to breathe sparingly, learned how to get by with little breath and then learned how to halt his breathing. He learned, beginning with the breath, how to quiet his heartbeat, and then how to diminish his heart's beating until it was very little and then was almost nonexistent.
Under the teaching of the oldest Samanas, Siddhartha mastered self-denial, practiced mystic contemplation according to the new methods of the Samanas. A heron flew over the bamboo forest—and Siddhartha took the heron into his soul, he flew over the woods and the mountains. He was a heron: he fed upon fish and hungered with the heron's hunger, he spoke the cawing of the heron and died the heron's death. A dead jackal lay there on the sandy riverbank, and Siddhartha's soul slipped into the dead body. He was a dead jackal: he lay on the beach, he swelled up and stank, he rotted away and was dismembered by the hyenas before being skinned by the vultures. He turned to a skeleton and then to dust, and then he blew into the fields. And Siddhartha's soul returned. His soul had died, it had decayed, it had crumbled to dust. He had tasted the hazy intoxication of the cycle of existence and, like the hunter poised for the opportunity, awaited his chance to escape from this cycle to the place where causality ended and an eternity free of sorrow began. He deadened his senses and dulled his memory, he slid out of his self-existence into a thousand strange created things: he was an animal, he was carrion, he was stone, wood, and water, and every time when he found himself awakened once more, whether the sun or moon was shining, he was once more himself within the cycle of existence. He felt thirst, he overcame his thirst, and then he felt new thirst.
With the Samanas, Siddhartha learned quite a bit, and learned how to go away from the self in many ways. He followed the method of self-dissolution through pain, whereby he suffered voluntarily and overcame the pain, hunger, thirst, or fatigue. He achieved self-dissolution through meditation, by the concentrated clearing of all perceptions from his senses. He learned to go by these ways as well as others: he abandoned his being a thousand times, he lingered in the Not-Self hours and days at a time. But, although these paths led away from one's being, in the end they always led back to the self. Although Siddhartha fled the self a thousand times and tarried in nothing, although he spent time within animals and stones, the return was unavoidable. The hours where he found his own being were inescapable, whether in shadows or in rain he was once more Siddhartha, and the agony of the cycle of existence was once again laid upon him.
Govinda, his shadow, lived by his side. He followed this same path and he himself undertook the same tasks. They seldom spoke more to one another than the service and practices required. At times, these two went through the villages so that they could beg sustenance for themselves and their teachers.
“What do you think, Govinda?” said Siddhartha once during these begging trips, “What do you think? Should we go further? Have we achieved our goal?”
Govinda answered: “We have learned, and we continue to learn. You will be a great Samana, Siddhartha. You have learned every practice quickly, and the old Samanas have often marveled at you. One day, you will be a saint, Siddhartha.”
Siddhartha spoke: “It doesn't look that way to me, my friend. The things that I have learned with the Samanas up to this point, O Govinda, I could have learned even easier and more quickly. I could have learned it in any pub located in the whore's district, there among the manual laborers and the gamblers, my friend.”
Govinda said: “Siddhartha is joking with me! How could you have acquired meditation, and how could you have learned how to cease breathing; how could you have possessed immunity to hunger and pain there among all that is miserable?”
And Siddhartha spoke quietly, as if to himself: “What is mystic contemplation? What is an out-of-body experience? What is fasting? What is the cessation of breath? It is flight from one's being, it's a brief escape out of the agony of self-existence, it's a momentary anesthetic against the pain and meaninglessness of life. The ox driver could find this selfsame flight. He could find the very same momentary anesthetic in the tavern when he drinks a couple of bowls of rice wine or fermented coconut milk. At that point he no longer senses his self. He finds fleeting anesthesia. He, while falling into slumber over his bowl of rice wine, finds the same thing that Siddhartha and Govinda find when they, after hours of practice, are able to journey outside of their bodies. So it is, O Govinda.”
Govinda spoke: “So you say, O friend, but you know that Siddhartha is no ox driver and that a Samana is no drunkard. True, the drinker finds anesthesia, true he finds short flight and respite, but he returns out of the illusion and finds everything just as it was before; he has not grown wiser, he has not gathered knowledge, he has not climbed one step higher.”
And Siddhartha said, smiling: “I don't know that I'm never going to become a drunkard. I only know that I, Siddhartha, only find momentary numbness in my methods and meditations. I know that I am even as far removed from wisdom and deliverance as the child is while still cradled by the mother's love. This I know, O Govinda; this I know.”
At another time when Siddhartha and Govinda left the woods in order to beg for some nourishment for their brothers and teachers in a village, Siddhartha began to speak, saying: “How now, Govinda; are we truly on the right path? Are we really growing towards a realization? Or are we, perhaps, just going in circles—we who think that at some point we shall escape the circle of existence?”
Govinda said: “We have learned much, Siddhartha, and much remains to be learned. We're not going in circles; we are going upwards. The circle is a spiral, and we have already climbed several steps.”
Siddhartha answered: “How old do you think our oldest Samana, the one most worthy of honor, really is?”
Said Govinda: “The oldest among us is perhaps sixty years.”
And Siddhartha: “He is sixty years old and has never reached Nirvana. He will become seventy and eighty, and you and I will also become old while practicing, fasting, and meditating. But we will not reach Nirvana just as he will not. O Govinda, I believe that, among all the Samanas in existence, not even a single one will reach Nirvana. We may find consolation, or numbness, or may learn genuine skills with which we can deceive ourselves. But the fundamental thing, that Way of Ways, we do not find.”
“On the contrary,” said Govinda, “you should not speak such outrageous words, Siddhartha! Are you saying we will find no Way of Ways among so many learned men, Brahmins, and seekers, among so many sincerely zealous and holy men, or among so many strong and venerable Samanas?
Siddhartha then said in a voice that contained scoffing and sadness, in a voice that was quiet, somewhat sad, and somewhat mocking: “Soon, Govinda, your friend will leave the Samanas' path that he has traveled for so long with you. Unfortunately, I thirst, O Govinda, and on this long path of the Samana my thirst had dwindled until it has become nothing. I have always thirsted after enlightenment; I am always becoming full of questions. I have asked the Brahmins and the holy Vedas year after year. O Govinda, perhaps it would have been just as good, just as intelligent, and just as efficacious if I had asked the rhinoceros birds or the chimpanzees. It has required a great deal of time, and even now I have not come to the end of the journey of learning this fact, O Govinda: that man can learn nothing! The thing that we call “learning” is, in truth, nonexistent! It is inherent, oh my friend, in a knowledge that is everywhere, that is Atman; it is in me and in you and in every essence. I am starting to believe that this knowledge has no more aggressive enemy than learning and the desire for knowledge.
Govinda remained on the road, standing there. He raised his hands and said: “You shouldn't alarm your friend with such conversations! Your words truly stir up worry within my heart. Just think: what would lend holiness to one's prayers, what would make the Brahmin class worthy of honor, what would make the Samanas holy, if, as you say, there is no learning?! What would all of these be, O Siddhartha, in such a case; what would be holy, what would be worthwhile, what would be venerable?
Govinda then murmured a verse out of the Upanishad:
Siddhartha, however, remained silent. He thought about the words Govinda had spoken to him, and considered them until their conclusion.
Yes, he thought while he stood there with a lowered head, what still remains of it all; what appears holy to us? What remains? What is worth doing? He then shook his head.
One time, when both lads had lived with the Samanas and shared their practices for about three years, a rumor, an adage arrived to them through various highways and byways: one named “Gotama” has appeared, the sublime, the Buddha, who has overcome the world's anguish within himself and has brought the Wheel of Rebirth to a standstill. He was surrounded by disciples as he went through the land, teaching. He was without possessions, homeless, womanless, wearing the yellow mantle of an ascetic but with a cheerful visage. He was a saint; princes and Brahmins bowed down before him and wanted to sit under his tutelage.
This tale, this rumor, this fairy tale resonated outwards, wafted upwards, and traveled here and there. The Brahmins spoke about these things in the cities, the Samanas did so in the woods; the name of Gotama, the Buddha, hammered upon the ears of young lads time and time again. They heard both good and bad reports about Gotama; they heard both adulation and abuse.
Just as it is in a land where the pestilence is raging, and tidings go forth: “here or there is a man, a sage, a harbinger whose words or whose breath, when they fell upon a person, were sufficient for healing the plague”—and just as every person spoke about these reports running rampant throughout in the land, with many believing and doubting while others immediately went on their way to seek help from the wise man—in this same way went out every tale and aromatic report of Gotama, the Buddha, the wise man of the Sakya clan. According to the believers, he possessed the highest knowledge: he could recall his previous lives, he had reached Nirvana and would not return time and again to the circle of existence, he did not submerge himself any longer in the turbulent streams of mortal beings. Many majestic and unbelievable things were reported of him: he had done miracles, he had overcome the devil, he had spoken with the gods. His enemies and the unbelievers, however, said that this Gotama was a vain seducer. They said he lived extravagantly, that he despised the sacrifices, that he had no learning and had intimate knowledge of neither customs nor the caste system.
The tales of the Buddha sounded sweet; the reports had the scent of magic. The world was certainly sick, and life was difficult to endure—and see, here a fountain appeared to spring up, here a clarion call appeared to sound that was trustworthy, mild, and full of elegant promises. Everywhere that the rumor of the Buddha cropped up, in every place in the lands of India the lads pricked up their ears. They felt a deep longing of the heart; they felt hope. Among the sons of the Brahmin and in every city and village a pilgrim or a stranger was welcome when he brought news of him who was Sublime, the Sakyamuni.
The tales slowly permeated to the Samanas in the woods as well as to Siddhartha and Govinda. The tales came slowly; they trickled in drops that were heavy with hope and heavy with doubt. They spoke little about these things, as the oldest Samana was no friend of these tales. He had heard that the one everyone looked upon as the Buddha had previously been an ascetic in the woods but had turned back to pursue luxury and the world's lusts, and he had little regard for this Gotama.
“O Siddhartha,” Govinda said at one point to his friend, “Today I was in the village, and a Brahmin invited me to step into his house. In his house was a Brahmin's son from Magadha who had seen the Buddha with his own eyes and had heard his teachings. Truly, the breath in my breast failed me, and I thought to myself: how I would also like—how I would like us both, Siddhartha and I, to experience the hour when we would hear the teachings proceed from the mouth of this perfect one! Speak, friend, don't we want to go there and listen to the teachings that come from the Buddha's mouth?”
Siddhartha said: “I had always thought, O Govinda, that you would remain with the Samanas. I have always believed that it was your goal to become sixty or seventy years old, pursuing all the while the methods and means that adorn the Samanas. Ah, but see, I had known too little of Govinda. I had known little of your true heart! Now, all right—as you wish, most precious one: open forth a path and go ahead on it. Go where the Buddha proclaims his teachings.”
Govinda said: “You love to mock it. You shall mock it regardless, Siddhartha! Don't you also desire, doesn't a yearning also awaken within you to hear this teaching? Didn't you once say to me that it wouldn't be long before you left the way of the Samanas?”
Siddhartha laughed at this; he laughed and his voice took on a shadow of sorrow and mockery. He said: “Truly, Govinda, you have spoken truly and have remembered correctly. Would that you had remembered the other things you have heard me say as well, namely that I have become skeptical and tired about teaching and learning, and that my trust in words that come from teachers is small. But nevertheless, dear one, I am ready to hear every teaching—even though I in my heart believe that we have already gleaned the best fruit from every teaching.”
Govinda spoke: “Your readiness to do so strikes joy in my heart. But say: how is that possible? How could the teaching of Gotama have already developed its best fruit before we have ever examined it?”
Siddhartha said: “Let's savor this fruit and save the rest of it for later, Govinda! We already owe the Gotama thanks for this fruit, however, and it lies in the fact that he is calling us away from the Samanas! Whether he has other things to give us, O friend…well, let us wait for this with quieted hearts.”
On this same day, Siddhartha gave the oldest Samana his decision: that he would leave. He let the elder know with the politeness and decorum that was fitting for disciples and scholars. The Samana, however, approached him in scorn because both of the lads were leaving. He spoke loudly and used coarse insults.
Govinda was shocked and became embarrassed. Siddhartha, however, leaned his mouth over to Govinda's ear and whispered to him “Now I will show the old one that I have learned something from him.”
At this Siddhartha took up a position in front of the Samana and gathered his thoughts. He captured the elder's gaze with his own, entranced him, made him be silent, and drained him of his will. Siddhartha conquered the elder's will, making the elder do what he wanted. The old man became silent as his eyes stared; he was paralyzed and his arms hung down. The feeble elder was shot out of the sky by Siddhartha's spellbinding. Siddhartha's thoughts seized hold of the Samana and had to perform the actions imposed upon him. So the elder bowed down several times, completing this blessed gesture fully, and then stammered a devout wish for good travels. The lads reciprocated this wish, likewise bowing down with thanks as they walked away and bid him farewell.
As they went on their way, Govinda said: “O Siddhartha, you have learned more among the Samanas than I knew. It is very difficult indeed to bewitch an older Samana. Had you remained there, you truly would have learned to walk on water before too long.”
“I don't have any desire to walk on water,” said Siddhartha. “Let the old Samanas satisfy themselves with such tricks.”
“Whosoever immerses themselves in Atman through contemplation and a purified spirit.
Will receive ineffable blessing in their heart.”
EVERY CHILD IN the town of Savathi knew the name of the exalted Buddha, and every house was prepared to fill the alms-dishes of the silent beggars who were Gotama's disciples. Gotama's favorite place to stay was near the town: the grove of Jetavana. The wealthy merchant Anathapindika, an obedient worshipper of the exalted one, had given this grove as a gift to Gotama and his people
As the two young ascetics had searched for Gotama's dwelling place, the responses and the stories they had heard pointed them towards this area. Upon arriving in Savathi, they received a meal at the door of the first house where they had stood and begged. Siddhartha asked the woman who gave them the meal:
“You whose deeds are most gracious—we would be most glad to learn where the Buddha, who is venerable, spends his time. We are two Samanas from the woods, and have come in order to see him who is the perfected one, and to hear the teachings from his mouth.”
The woman said: “You Samanas from the forest have certainly come to the right place. Know this: it is in Jetavana, in the garden of Anathapindika, that the Sublime one spends his time. You should spend the night there, pilgrims, because there is enough room there for the countless multitudes who flock here to hear the teachings from his mouth.”
Govinda rejoiced at this, and full of joy he exclaimed: “Well then, our goal has been reached and our path has come to an end! But tell us, you who are mother to the pilgrims, do you know him, the Buddha; have you seen him with your eyes?”
Spoke the woman: “Many times have I seen him who is sublime. I have seen him upon many occasions, how he goes silently through the alleyways in a yellow mantle, how he silently extends his bowl at the doors of houses, and how he carries the filled dish away.”
Govinda listened with delight, and still wanted to ask and hear about many things. But Siddhartha was in a hurry to continue onwards. They thanked her and went on their way, hardly having to ask for directions because so many pilgrims and monks from Gotama's neighborhood were on their way to Jetavana. As they reached it that evening, there were constant arrivals, with people shouting or talking as they sought shelter and received it. The two Samanas, who were used to living in the forest, silently and quickly found a place to stay and rested there until the morning.
At sunrise, they were astounded to see such large throngs of believers and people who were curious who had spent the night there. Monks went to and fro in yellow robes on all the paths of the majestic grove; they sat here and there among the trees, immersed in contemplation or spiritual discussions. The shadowy gardens were like a city, full of people who were bustling like bees. Most of the monks went with their alms-dishes to collect food in the city for the midday meal, the only meal of the day. The Buddha himself, the enlightened one, was also in the habit of taking this walk to beg in the morning.
Siddhartha recognized him as soon as he saw him, as if a god had pointed him out to him. He saw him, a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently.
“See here!” Siddhartha said quietly to Govinda. “This one here is the Buddha.”
Attentively, Govinda glanced at the monk in the yellow robe, who seemed no different from the hundreds of other monks. And soon, Govinda also realized: this is the one. And they followed him and observed him.
The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly. With his hidden smile, the Buddha strolled on quietly, calmly, and not unlike a healthy child. He wore his robe and placed his feet much as all the other monks did, according to an exact rule. But his face and his gait, his gaze lowered quietly, his motionless hands hanging down, and even every finger of his dangling hands bespoke peace, expressed perfection—they did not search, or imitate—as they breathed softly with a calm that did not wither, with a light that did not fade, and with a peace that was intangible.
In this way Gotama strolled towards the town collecting alms, and the two Samanas recognized him simply by the perfection of his peace, by the stillness of his being in which there was no seeking, no desire, no imitation, no attempts at being seen—only light and peace.
“Today, we'll hear the teachings from his mouth.” said Govinda.
Siddhartha gave no answer. He was slightly curious about this teaching. He did not believe that they would teach him anything new, but he, like Govinda, had heard the contents of this Buddha's teachings again and again, though these reports only represented second- or third-hand information. But attentively he looked at Gotama's head, his shoulders, his feet, his quietly dangling hand, and it seemed to Siddhartha as if every joint of every finger of this hand was a teacher who spoke, breathed of, exhaled the fragrance of, and shone forth with truth. This man, this Buddha was truthful down to the gesture of his last finger. This man was holy. Never before had Siddhartha revered a person so much, never before had he loved a person as much as this one.
They both followed the Buddha until they reached the town and then returned in silence, for they themselves had thought to abstain from food for the day. They saw Gotama returning—what he ate could not even have satisfied a bird's appetite—and they saw him retiring into the shade of the mango trees.
But in the evening, when the heat cooled down and everyone in the camp started to bustle about and gathered around, they heard the Buddha teaching. They heard his voice, and it also was perfected, wholly calm and full of peace. Gotama taught the lessons of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of ways to relieve suffering. Calmly and clearly his quiet speech flowed on. Suffering was life, the whole world was full of suffering, but salvation from suffering had been found: salvation was obtained by walking the path of the Buddha. The exalted one spoke with a voice that was soft yet firm; he taught the four main doctrines and taught the eightfold path. He patiently followed the typical path of teaching by using examples and repetition; his voice hovered brightly and quietly over the listeners like a light, like a star in heaven.
Night had already fallen when the Buddha had ended his speech, and many pilgrims stepped forward and asked to be accepted into the community, taking their refuge in his teachings. And Gotama accepted them by saying: “You have heard the teachings well, they have come to you well. Join us then and walk in holiness, putting an end to all suffering.”
Behold, then Govinda, the shy one, also stepped forward and spoke: “I also take my refuge in the exalted one and his teachings,” and he asked to be accepted into the community of discipleship and was accepted.
Directly after this, when the Buddha had retired for the night, Govinda turned to Siddhartha and spoke eagerly: “Siddhartha, it is not my place to reproach you. We have both heard the exalted one, we have both heard the teachings. Govinda has heard the teachings, he has taken refuge in it. But you, my honored friend, don't you also want to walk the path of salvation? Would you want to hesitate, do you want to wait any longer?”
Siddhartha awakened as if he had been asleep, when he heard Govinda's words. For a long time, he looked into Govinda's face. Then he spoke quietly, in a voice without mockery: “Govinda, my friend, now you have taken this step, you have chosen this path. You've always been my friend, O Govinda; you've always walked one step behind me. Often have I thought: Won't Govinda for once also take a step by himself, without me, out of his own soul? Behold, now you've turned into a man and are choosing your path for yourself. May you follow it to the end, O my friend! May you find salvation!”
Govinda, who had not yet fully understood, repeated his question in an impatient tone: “Speak up, I beg you, dear one! Tell me, since it could not be any other way, that you also, my erudite friend, will take your refuge in the exalted Buddha!”
Siddhartha placed his hand on Govinda's shoulder: “You failed to hear my blessing for you, O Govinda. I'm repeating it: May you follow this path to its end; may you find salvation!”
In this instant, Govinda realized that his friend had left him, and he started to weep.
“Siddhartha!” he exclaimed in a lamenting voice.
Siddhartha spoke kindly to him: “Don't forget, Govinda, that you are now one of the Samanas of the Buddha! You have renounced your home and your parents, renounced your heritage and possessions, renounced your free will, renounced all friendship. This is what the teachings require, this is what the exalted one wants. This is what you wanted for yourself. Tomorrow, O Govinda, I'll leave you.”
For a long time, the friends continued walking in the grove; for a long time, they lay there and found no sleep. And over and over again, Govinda urged his friend to tell him why he didn't want to seek refuge in Gotama's teachings, what fault he had found in them. But Siddhartha turned him away every time and said: “Be at peace, Govinda! The teachings of the sublime one are very good; how could I find an error in them?”
Very early in the morning, a follower of Buddha, one of his oldest monks, went through the garden and called to him all those who had taken their refuge in the teachings and become novices, so that he could lay the yellow robe on them and instruct them in the primary teachings and duties of their position. Then Govinda tore himself away, embraced once again his childhood friend, and left with the novices.
But Siddhartha walked through the grove, lost in thought. There he encountered Gotama, the exalted one, and as he greeted him with respect and the Buddha's glance was so full of kindness and calm, the young man summoned his courage and asked the venerable one for the permission to speak to him. Silently the exalted one nodded his assent.
Spoke Siddhartha: “Yesterday, O exalted one, it was my privilege to hear your wondrous teachings. I came here from afar with my friend to hear your teachings. And now my friend is going to remain with your people; he has taken his refuge with you. I, however, will begin my pilgrimage once again.”
“As you please,” said the revered one politely.
“My speech is too bold,” continued Siddhartha, “but I do not want to leave the exalted one without having honestly shared with him my thoughts. Does it please the venerable one to listen to me for one moment longer?”
Silently, the Buddha nodded his assent.
Siddhartha said: “There is one thing, O most venerable one, that I have admired in your teachings most of all. Everything in your teachings is perfectly clear and proven; you are presenting the world as a perfect chain, a chain which is never and nowhere broken, an eternal chain, the links of which are causes and effects. Never before has this been so clearly seen; never before has this been presented so irrefutably. Truly, the heart of every Brahmin has to beat stronger with love, once he has seen the world connected perfectly through your teachings, without gaps, clear as a crystal, not depending on chance or upon gods. Whether it may be good or bad, whether living according to it would be suffering or joy, may remain undecided. It may be that this is not essential. However, the unity of the world, the interconnectedness of all that transpires, the fact that the great and the small things are all encompassed by the same forces of time and law of causation, of coming into being and of dying—these shine brightly out of your exalted teachings, O perfected one. But according to your very own teachings, this unity and logical consistency of all things is nevertheless broken in one place. But through a small gap this world of unity is invaded by something alien, something which had not been there before, and which cannot be demonstrated and cannot be proven: these are your teachings of overcoming the world, of salvation. But with this small gap, with this small breach, the entire eternal and uniform law of the world is being smashed to pieces and is done away with. Please forgive me for expressing this objection.”
Quietly, Gotama had listened to him, unmoved. Now the perfected one spoke with his kind, polite, and clear voice: “You've heard the teachings, O son of a Brahmin, and it is good that you've thought about them deeply. You've found a gap in them, a mistake. You should think about this further. Let me warn you, however, O seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of opinions and of arguing about words. Opinions are insubstantial: they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish; everyone can support them or discard them. But the teachings you've heard from me are not my opinions, and their goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is that which Gotama teaches, and nothing else.”
“May you, O exalted one, not scorn me,” said the young man. “I have not spoken to you like this to quarrel with you, to argue about words. You are truly right: opinions are insubstantial. But let me say this one more thing: I have not doubted in you for a single moment. I have not doubted for a single moment that you are Buddha who has reached the goal, the highest goal towards which so many thousands of Brahmins and sons of Brahmins are on their way. You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realization, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—so are my thoughts, O exalted one—nobody will partake in salvation through teachings! You will not be able to convey and share with anyone, O venerable one, in words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much. They teach many to live righteously and avoid evil. But there is one thing which these lucid and honorable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one alone among hundreds of thousands has experienced for himself. This is what I have thought and realized when I heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there aren't any, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and either to reach my goal on my own or to die. But I'll often think of this day, oh exalted one, and of this hour, when my eyes beheld a saint.”
The Buddha's eyes quietly looked to the ground; quietly, in perfect equanimity his inscrutable face was smiling.
“May your thoughts,” the venerable one spoke slowly, “not be in error! May you reach the goal! But tell me: Have you seen the multitude of my Samanas, my many brothers who have taken refuge in the teachings? And do you believe, O stranger, O Samana, do you believe that it would be better for them all to abandon the teachings and return into the life of the world and desires?”
“Such a thought is far from my mind,” exclaimed Siddhartha. “Would that they all stay with the teachings, that they reach their goal! It is not my place to judge another person's life. Only for myself, for myself alone, must I pass judgment, choose, or reject. Salvation from the self is what we Samanas search for, O exalted one. If I were now one of your disciples, O honorable one, I fear that it may come to pass that my existence would only appear to be calm and redeemed, but in reality my inner being would live on and grow large because I had replaced my inner being with teachings, my duty to follow you, my love for you, and with the community of monks!”
With half of a smile, with an unwavering openness and kindness, Gotama looked into the stranger's eyes and bid him to leave with an almost imperceptible gesture.
“You are wise, O Samana.” said the venerable one. “You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be wary of too much wisdom!”
The Buddha turned away, and his glance and half-smile remained forever etched in Siddhartha's memory.
“I have never before seen a person glance and smile, sit and walk that way,” he thought. “Truly, I want to be able to glance and smile, sit and walk that way, too: so free, so venerable, so concealed, so open, so child-like and mysterious. Truly, only a person who has succeeded in reaching the innermost part of his self would glance and walk this way. Truly, I also will seek to reach the innermost part of my self.”
“I saw a person,” Siddhartha thought, “a single one before whom I had to lower my glance. I do not want to lower my glance before any other, not before any other. No teachings will entice me any more, since this man's teachings have not enticed me.”
“The Buddha has robbed me,” thought Siddhartha, “he has robbed me, and he has given as a gift much more to me. He has robbed me of my friend, the one who had believed in me and now believes in him, who had been my shadow and is now Gotama's shadow. But he has given me Siddhartha, myself.”
WHEN SIDDHARTHA LEFT the grove where Buddha, the perfected one, stayed behind, and where Govinda stayed behind, he felt that in this grove his past life also stayed behind and separated from him. This sensation that filled him so completely was something that he pondered as he walked slowly along. He pondered deeply, like diving into deep water: he let himself sink down to the bottom of the sensation, down to the place where the causes lie. He did so because identifying causes, so it seemed to him, was the very essence of thinking, and by this act alone sensations turn into realizations and are not lost, but become entities and start to emit like rays of light what is inside of them.
Slowly walking along, Siddhartha pondered. He realized that he was no longer a youth, but had turned into a man. He realized that one thing had left him, as a snake left its old skin; one thing which had accompanied him throughout his youth and used to be a part of him no longer existed inside him: the desire to have teachers and to listen to teachings. He had also left the last teacher who had appeared on his path, even the highest and wisest teacher, the most holy one, the Buddha. He had left him, parted from him, and was not able to accept his teachings.
The thinker walked forward more slowly, asking himself: “But what is it that you wanted to learn from teachings and from teachers that they, who have taught you much, were still unable to impart to you?” And he found: “It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self from which I sought freedom and that I wanted to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it; I could only deceive it, flee from it, hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has so occupied my thoughts as has my own self, the riddle of the fact I am alive, that I am distinct and separate from all others, that I am Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!”
After ruminating over this while he was walking along, he stopped as these thoughts caught hold of him, and immediately another thought sprang forth from these, a new thought, namely: “The fact that I know nothing about myself, that Siddhartha has remained alien and unknown to me, stems from one cause, a single cause: I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself! I searched Atman, I searched Brahman, I was willing to dissect my self and peel off all of its layers, to find the core of all peels in its unknown interior, the Atman, life, the divine part, the ultimate part. But I have lost myself in the process.”
Siddhartha opened his eyes and looked around; a smile filled his face and a profound feeling of awakening from long dreams flowed through him from his head down to his toes. And it was not long before he walked again, this time walking quickly like a man who knows what he must do.
“Ah,” he thought, taking a deep breath, “this time I won't allow Siddhartha to escape from me again! I no longer want to begin my thoughts and my life with Atman and with the suffering of the world. I no longer want to kill and dissect myself just to find a secret behind the ruins. Neither Yoga-Veda shall teach me any more, nor Atharva-Veda, nor the ascetics, nor any kind of teachings. I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha.”
He looked around, as if he were seeing the world for the first time. The world was beautiful and colorful; the world was strange and mysterious! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green; the sky and the river flowed, the forest and the mountains were fixed in their places. All of it was beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst he, Siddhartha, the awakening one, was on the path to himself. All of this—the yellow and blue, river and forest—entered Siddhartha for the first time through the eyes; it was no longer a spell of Mara, no longer the veil of Maya, no longer a pointless and coincidental diversity of mere appearances, despicable to the Brahmin of deep thoughts who scorns diversity and seeks unity. Blue was blue, river was river, and if the divine principle lay hidden within the blue and the river that lived within Siddhartha, so it was divinity's way and purpose for there to be here yellow, here blue, there sky, there forest, and here Siddhartha. The purpose and the essential properties were not somewhere behind the things; they were in them, in everything.
“How deaf and stupid I have been!” he thought, walking swiftly along. “When someone reads a text and wants to discover its meaning, he will not scorn the symbols and letters and call them deceptions, coincidence, and worthless shells, but he will read them, he will study and love them, letter by letter. But I, who wanted to read the book of the world and the book of my own being, I have, for the sake of a meaning I had assumed before I read, scorned the symbols and letters, I called the visible world a deception, called my eyes and my tongue coincidental and worthless forms without substance. No, this is over; I have awakened, I have indeed awakened and have not been born before this very day.”
In thinking these thoughts, Siddhartha stopped once again, suddenly, as if a snake were lying in front of him on the path.
Because suddenly, this had also become clear to him: he, who was indeed like someone who had just woken up or like a new-born baby, had to start his life anew from the very beginning. When he left the grove of Jetavana this very morning, the grove of that exalted one, already awakening and already on the path towards himself, he had taken for granted and considered it only natural that he, after years as an ascetic, would return to his home and his father. But it was only in this moment when he stopped as if a snake were lying on his path that he came to this realization: “But I am no longer the person I was, I am no longer an ascetic, I am no longer a priest, I am no longer a Brahmin. Whatever would I do at my father's place, at home? Study? Make offerings? Practice meditation? But all this is over, none of this is now on my path.”
Motionless, Siddhartha remained standing there, and for the span of one moment and breath, his heart felt cold. He felt a chill in his chest, just as a small animal, such as a bird or a rabbit, would when seeing how alone he was. For many years, he had been without home and had felt nothing. Now, he felt it. Still, even in the deepest meditation, he had been his father's son, had been a Brahmin, a cleric of a high caste. Now, he was nothing but Siddhartha, the awoken one; nothing else was left. He inhaled deeply, and for a moment, he felt cold, and he shivered. There was no one who was alone as he was. There was no nobleman who did not belong among the noblemen, no worker that did not belong with the workers and found refuge among them, shared their life, spoke their language. There was no Brahmin who would not be regarded as a Brahmin and live with them, no ascetic who would not find shelter in the Samana caste, and even the most forlorn hermit in the forest was not alone, he was also surrounded by a place to which he belonged. He also belonged to a caste where he was at home. Govinda had become a monk, and the thousand monks who were his brothers wore the same robe as he did, believed in his faith, spoke his language. But where did Siddhartha belong? With whom would he share his life? Whose language would he speak?
Out of this moment when the world melted away all around him, when he stood alone like a star in the sky, out of this moment of cold and despair, Siddhartha emerged, more himself than before, firmer in his resolve. He sensed that this had been the last tremor of the awakening, the final pangs of this birth. And it was not long until he walked again in long strides, started to proceed swiftly and impatiently, as he headed no longer for home, no longer to his father, no longer backwards.