Siddhartha

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Siddhartha

By Herman Hesse

Chapter XI: OM


FOR a long time, the wound continued to burn. Many a traveler Siddhartha had to ferry across the river who was accompanied by a son or a daughter, and he saw none of them without envying him, without thinking: "So many, so many thousands possess this sweetest of good fortunes — why don't I? Even bad people, even thieves and robbers, have children and love them, and they are being loved by them, all except for me."

Thus, simply and without reason, he now thought. And, thus similar to the childlike people, he had become.
Differently than before, he now looked upon people: less smart, less proud, instead warmer, more curious, and more involved. When he ferried travelers of the ordinary kind — childlike people, businessmen, warriors, and women — these people did not seem alien to him as they used to. He understood them. He understood and shared their life, which was not guided by thoughts and insight, but solely by urges and wishes. He felt like them. 
Though he was near perfection and was bearing his final wound, it still seemed to him as if those childlike people were his brothers. Their vanities, desires for possession, and ridiculous aspects were no longer ridiculous to him.

They became understandable, became lovable, and became even worthy of veneration to him. The blind love of a mother for her child; the stupid, blind pride of a conceited father for his only son; the blind, wild desire of a young, vain woman for jewelry and admiring glances from men were understood and admired. All of these urges, all of this childish stuff, and all of these simple, foolish, but immensely strong prevailing urges and desires were now no childish notions for Siddhartha any more. He saw people living for their sake, and he saw them achieving infinitely much for their sake: travelling, conducting wars, suffering infinitely much, bearing infinitely much. He could love them for it. He saw life —that what is alive, the indestructible, the Brahman — in each of their passions and each of their acts. 

Worthy of love and admiration were these people in their blind loyalty, blind strength, and tenacity. They lacked nothing. There was nothing the knowledgeable one, the thinker, had to put him above them except for one little thing, a single, tiny, small thing: the consciousness, the conscious thought of the oneness of all life. 

And Siddhartha even doubted in many an hour, whether this knowledge and this thought was to be valued thus highly. He doubted whether it might not also perhaps be a childish idea of the thinking people and of the thinking and childlike people. In all other respects, the worldly people were of equal rank to the wise men and were often far superior to them, just as animals too can, after all, in some moments, seem to be superior to humans in their tough, unrelenting performance of what is necessary.

Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realization and the knowledge of what wisdom actually was and of what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul. It was an ability and a secret art to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness and to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, and it was shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, and oneness.

But the wound still burned. Longingly and bitterly, Siddhartha thought of his son, nurtured his love and tenderness in his heart, allowed the pain to gnaw at him, and committed all foolish acts of love. Not by itself, this flame would go out.

And one day when the wound burned violently, Siddhartha ferried across the river. Driven by a yearning, he got off the boat, was willing to go to the city, and to look for his son. The river flowed softly and quietly. It was the dry season, but its voice sounded strange: it laughed! It laughed clearly. 

The river laughed. It laughed brightly and clearly at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, and he bent over the water, in order to hear even better. He saw his face reflected in the quietly moving waters, and in this reflected face there was something, which reminded him of something he had forgotten. And as he thought about it, he found it: this face resembled another face, which he used to know, love, and also fear. It resembled his father's face, the Brahman. 

And he remembered how he had a long time ago, as a young man, forced his father to let him go to the penitents. He remembered how he had bed his farewell to him, and how he had gone and had never come back. Had his father not also suffered the same pain for him, which he now suffered for his son? Had his father not long since died, alone, without having seen his son again? Did he not have to expect the same fate for himself? Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid matter, this repetition and this running around in a fateful circle?

The river laughed. Yes, so it was, everything came back, which had not been suffered and solved up to its end. The same pain was suffered over and over again. But Siddhartha went back into the boat and ferried back to the hut thinking of his father and thinking of his son. He was laughed at by the river, at odds with himself, tending towards despair, and not less tending towards laughing along at, Uber, himself and the entire world.

Alas, the wound was not blossoming yet, and his heart was still fighting his fate. Cheerfulness and victory were not yet shining from his suffering. Nevertheless, he felt hope, and once he had returned to the hut, he felt an undefeatable desire to open up to Vasudeva and to show him everything, the master of listening, and to say everything.

Vasudeva was sitting in the hut and weaving a basket. He no longer used the ferry-boat, and his eyes were starting to get weak, and not just his eyes: his arms and hands as well. Unchanged and flourishing was only the joy and the cheerful benevolence of his face.

Siddhartha sat down next to the old man, slowly he started talking. What they had never talked about, he now told him of: of his walk to the city at that time, of the burning wound, of his envy at the sight of happy fathers, of his knowledge of the foolishness of such wishes, and of his futile fight against them. He reported everything. He was able to say everything, even the most embarrassing parts — everything could be said, everything shown, and everything he could tell. He presented his wound. He also told how he fled today and how he ferried across the water, a childish run-away, willing to walk to the city, and how the river had laughed.

While he spoke for a long time and while Vasudeva was listening with a quiet face, Vasudeva's listening gave Siddhartha a stronger sensation than ever before. He sensed how his pain and his fears flowed over to him. He sensed how his secret hope flowed over and came back at him from his counterpart. To show his wound to this listener was the same as bathing it in the river, until it had cooled and become one with the river. While he was still speaking, admitting, and confessing, Siddhartha felt more and more that this was no longer Vasudeva, no longer a human being, who was listening to him. He felt that this motionless listener was absorbing his confession into himself like a tree the rain, and that this motionless man was the river itself. He felt that he was God himself, and that he was the eternal itself. 

And while Siddhartha stopped thinking of himself and his wound, this realization of Vasudeva's changed character took possession of him. The more he felt it and entered into it, the less wondrous it became, and the more he realized that everything was in order and natural. He realized that Vasudeva had already been like this for a long time, almost forever, and that only he had not quite recognized it. He realized, yes, that he himself had almost reached the same state. He felt that he was now seeing old Vasudeva as the people see the gods, and that this could not last. In his heart, he started bidding his farewell to Vasudeva. Thorough all this, he talked incessantly.

When he had finished talking, Vasudeva turned his friendly eyes, which had grown slightly weak at him, and said nothing. He let his silent love and cheerfulness and his understanding and knowledge shine at him. He took Siddhartha's hand, led him to the seat by the bank, sat down with him, and smiled at the river.

"You've heard it laugh," he said. "But you haven't heard everything. Let's listen. You'll hear more."

They listened. Softly sounded the river, singing in many voices. Siddhartha looked into the water and images appeared to him in the moving water: his father appeared, lonely, mourning for his son; he himself appeared, lonely, and being tied with the bondage of yearning to his distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy, greedily rushing along the burning course of his young wishes; each one appeared heading for his goal, obsessed by the goal, and suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering. Longingly, it sang. Longingly, it flowed towards its goal, and lamentingly, its voice sang.

"Do you hear?" Vasudeva's mute gaze asked. Siddhartha nodded.

"Listen better!" Vasudeva whispered.

Siddhartha made an effort to listen better. The image of his father, his own image, the image of his son merged. Kamala's image also appeared and was dispersed. And the images of Govinda and others, they merged with each other, turned all into the river, and headed all, being the river, for the goal. Longing, desiring, and suffering, the river's voice sounded full of yearning, full of burning woe, and full of unsatisfiable desire. 

For the goal, the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and his loved ones and of all people he had ever seen. All of these waves and waters were hurrying and suffering towards goals, many goals: the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, and the sea. And all goals were reached, and every goal was followed by a new one. The water turned into vapor and rose to the sky, turned into rain, poured down from the sky, and turned into a source — a stream, a river — headed forward once again and flowed on once again. 

But the longing voice had changed. It still resounded, full of suffering and searching, but other voices joined it: voices of joy and of suffering, good and bad voices, laughing and sad ones, a hundred voices, a thousand voices.

Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrated on listening and completely empty. He felt that he had now finished learning to listen. Often before he had heard all this, these many voices in the river, but today it sounded new. 

Already, he could no longer tell the many voices apart: not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men. They all belonged together — the lamentation of yearning, the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage, and the moaning of the dying ones. Everything was one. Everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, and all of this together, was the world.

All of it together was the flow of events and was the music of life. And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, he perceived the whole, the oneness. Then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was OM: the perfection.

"Do you hear?" Vasudeva's gaze asked again.

Brightly, Vasudeva's smile was shining and floating radiantly over all the wrinkles of his old face, as the OM was floating in the air over all the voices of the river. Brightly his smile was shining when he looked at his friend, and brightly the same smile was now starting to shine on Siddhartha's face as well. His wound blossomed; his suffering was shining; his self had flown into the oneness.

In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate and stopped suffering. On his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge which is no longer opposed by any will, which knows perfection, and which is in agreement with the flow of events and with the current of life. It was full of sympathy for the pain of others and full of sympathy for the pleasure of others. It was devoted to the flow, belonging to the oneness.

When Vasudeva rose from the seat by the bank and when he looked into Siddhartha's eyes and saw the cheerfulness of the knowledge shining in them, he softly touched his shoulder with his hand, in this careful and tender manner, and said: "I've been waiting for this hour, my dear. Now that it has come, let me leave. For a long time, I've been waiting for this hour; for a long time, I've been Vasudeva the ferryman. Now it's enough. Farewell, hut; farewell, river; farewell, Siddhartha!"

Siddhartha made a deep bow before him who bid his farewell.

"I've known it," he said quietly. "You'll go into the forests?"

"I'm going into the forests. I'm going into the oneness," spoke Vasudeva with a bright smile.

With a bright smile, he left; Siddhartha watched him leaving. With deep joy and with deep solemnity, he watched him leave, saw his steps full of peace, saw his head full of lustre, and saw his body full of light.

 

 

 

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