Siddhartha

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Siddhartha

By Herman Hesse

Chapter VII. Sansara


FOR a long time, Siddhartha had lived the life of the world and of lust, though without being a part of it. His senses, which he had killed off in hot years as a Samana, had awoken again. He had tasted riches, had tasted lust, and had tasted power; nevertheless, he had still remained, in his heart, for a long time a Samana; Kamala, being smart, had realized this quite right.

It was still the art of thinking, of waiting, and of fasting, which guided his life; still the people of the world, the childlike people, had remained alien to him as he was alien to them. Years passed by; surrounded by the good life, Siddhartha hardly felt them fading away. He had become rich; for quite a while, he had possessed a house of his own, his own servants, and a garden before the city by the river. The people liked him. They came to him whenever they needed money or advice, but there was nobody close to him, except Kamala.

That high, bright state of being awake ­— which he had experienced that one time at the height of his youth, in those days after Gotama's sermon after the separation from Govinda — that tense expectation, that proud state of standing alone without teachings and without teachers, and that supple willingness to listen to the divine voice in his own heart had slowly become a memory. It had been fleeting; distant and quiet, the holy source murmured, which used to be near and which used to murmur within himself. Nevertheless, many things he had learned from the Samanas. He had learned from Gotama. He had learned from his father the Brahman and had remained within him for a long time afterwards: moderate living, joy of thinking, hours of meditation, and secret knowledge of the self — of his eternal entity, which is neither body nor consciousness. Many a part of this he still had, but one part after another had been submerged and had gathered dust.

Just as a potter's wheel, once it has been set in motion, will keep on turning for a long time and only slowly lose its vigor and come to a stop, thus Siddhartha's soul had kept on turning the wheel of asceticism, the wheel of thinking, the wheel of differentiation for a long time. It was still turning, but it turned slowly and hesitantly and was close to coming to a standstill. Slowly, like humidity entering the dying stem of a tree by filling it slowly and making it rot the world and sloth had entered Siddhartha's soul. Slowly it filled his soul, made it heavy, made it tired, and put it to sleep. On the other hand, his senses had become alive; there was much they had learned and much they had experienced.

Siddhartha had learned to trade, to use his power over people, and to enjoy himself with a woman. He had learned to wear beautiful clothes, to give orders to servants, and to bathe in perfumed waters. He had learned to eat tenderly and carefully prepared food — even fish, meat, poultry, spices, and sweets — and to drink wine, which causes sloth and forgetfulness. He had learned to play with dice and on a chess-board, to watch dancing girls, to have himself carried about in a sedan-chair, and to sleep on a soft bed. But still he had felt different from and superior to the others; always he had watched them with some mockery. He had watched them with some mocking disdain, with the same disdain which a Samana constantly feels for the people of the world. When Kamaswami was ailing, when he was annoyed, when he felt insulted, and when he was vexed by his worries as a merchant, Siddhartha had always watched it with mockery. Just slowly and imperceptibly, as the harvest seasons and rainy seasons passed by, his mockery had become more tired and his superiority had become more quiet. Just slowly, among his growing riches, Siddhartha had assumed something of the childlike people's ways for himself, something of their childlikeness, and something of their fearfulness.

And yet, he envied them. He envied them just the more and the more similar he became to them. He envied them for the one thing that was missing from him and that they had: the importance they were able to attach to their lives, the amount of passion in their joys and fears, and the fearful but sweet happiness of being constantly in love. These people were all of the time in love with themselves, with women, with their children, with honors or money, and with plans or hopes. But he did not learn this from them. This out of all things, this joy of a child, and this foolishness of a child; he learned from them out of all things the unpleasant ones, which he himself despised.

It happened more and more often that, in the morning after having had company the night before, he stayed in bed for a long time and felt unable to think and tired. It happened that he became angry and impatient when Kamaswami bored him with his worries. It happened that he laughed just too loud when he lost a game of dice. His face was still smarter and more spiritual than others, but it rarely laughed, and assumed, one after another, those features which are so often found in the faces of rich people. His face assumed those features of discontent, of sickliness, of ill-humor, of sloth, and of a lack of love. Slowly the disease of the soul, which rich people have, grabbed hold of him.

Like a veil and like a thin mist, tiredness came over Siddhartha, slowly, getting a bit denser every day, a bit murkier every month, and a bit heavier every year. As a new dress becomes old in time and loses its beautiful color, gets stains, gets wrinkles, gets worn off at the seams, and starts to show threadbare spots here and there, thus Siddhartha's new life, which he had started after his separation from Govinda, had grown old. It had lost color and splendor as the years passed by. It was gathering wrinkles and stains, and hidden at bottom. It was already showing its ugliness here and there — disappointment and disgust were waiting. Siddhartha did not notice it. He only noticed that this bright and reliable voice inside of him, which had awoken in him at that time and had ever guided him in his best times, had become silent.

He had been captured by the world, by lust, by covetousness, and by sloth. And, finally, he had also been captured by that vice which he had used to despise and mock the most as the most foolish one of all vices: greed. Property, possessions, and riches also had finally captured him; they were no longer a game and trifles to him, and they had become a shackle and a burden. On a strange and devious way, Siddhartha had gotten into this final and most base of all dependencies, by means of the game of dice.

It was since that time, when he had stopped being a Samana in his heart, that Siddhartha began to play the game for money and precious things, which he at other times only joined with a smile and casually as a custom of the childlike people, with an increasing rage and passion. He was a feared gambler, few dared to take him on, so high and audacious were his stakes. He played the game due to a pain of his heart. Losing and wasting his wretched money in the game brought him an angry joy, for in no other way he could demonstrate his disdain for wealth, the merchants' false god, more clearly and more mockingly.

Thus, he gambled with high stakes and mercilessly. He, hating and mocking himself, won thousands, threw away thousands, lost money, lost jewelry, lost a house in the country, won again, and lost again. That fear, that terrible and petrifying fear, which he felt while he was rolling the dice and while he was worried about losing high stakes, that fear he loved and sought to always renew it. He sought always to increase it, always get it to a slightly higher level, for in this feeling alone he still felt something like happiness, something like an intoxication, and something like an elevated form of life in the midst of his saturated, lukewarm, dull life.

And after each big loss, his mind was set on new riches. He pursued the trade more zealously and forced his debtors more strictly to pay because he wanted to continue gambling. He wanted to continue squandering and to continue demonstrating his disdain of wealth. Siddhartha lost his calmness when losses occurred, lost his patience when he was not payed on time, lost his kindness towards beggars, and lost his disposition for giving away and loaning money to those who petitioned him. He, who gambled away tens of thousands at one roll of the dice and laughed at it, became more strict and more petty in his business, occasionally dreaming at night about money!

And whenever he woke up from this ugly spell, whenever he found his face in the mirror at the bedroom's wall to have aged and become more ugly, and whenever embarrassment and disgust came over him, he continued fleeing — fleeing into a new game, fleeing into a numbing of his mind brought on by sex and by wine. From there, he fled back into the urge to pile up and obtain possessions. In this pointless cycle, he ran: growing tired, growing old, and growing ill.

Then the time came when a dream warned him. He had spent the hours of the evening with Kamala, in her beautiful pleasure-garden. They had been sitting under the trees, talking, and Kamala had said thoughtful words, words behind which a sadness and tiredness lay hidden.

She had asked him to tell her about Gotama. She could not hear enough of him: how clear his eyes, how still and beautiful his mouth, how kind his smile, and how peaceful his walk had been. For a long time, he had to tell her about the exalted Buddha, and Kamala had sighed and had said: "One day, perhaps soon, I'll also follow that Buddha. I'll give him my pleasure-garden for a gift and take my refuge in his teachings."

But after this, she had aroused him and had tied him to her in the act of making love with painful fervor. Biting and in tears, as if, once more, she wanted to squeeze the last sweet drop out of this vain, fleeting pleasure.

Never before had it become so strangely clear to Siddhartha how closely lust was akin to death. Then he had lain by her side, and Kamala's face had been close to him. Under her eyes and next to the corners of her mouth, he had, as clearly as never before, read a fearful inscription. It was an inscription of small lines, of slight grooves. It was an inscription reminiscent of autumn and old age, just as Siddhartha himself, who was only in his forties, had already noticed, here and there, gray hairs among his black ones.

Tiredness was written on Kamala's beautiful face. It was tiredness from walking a long path, which has no happy destination. It was tiredness and the beginning of withering. It was a concealed, still unsaid, and perhaps not even conscious anxiety: fear of old age, fear of the autumn, and fear of having to die. With a sigh, he had bid his farewell to her — the soul full of reluctance and full of concealed anxiety.

Then, Siddhartha had spent the night in his house with dancing girls and wine. He had acted as if he was superior to them towards the fellow-members of his caste, though this was no longer true. He had drunk much wine and gone to bed a long time after midnight, being tired and yet excited. Close to weeping and despair, he had for a long time sought to sleep in vain with his heart full of misery which he thought he could not bear any longer. It was full of a disgust which he felt penetrating his entire body like the lukewarm, repulsive taste of the wine — the just too sweet, dull music, the just too soft smile of the dancing girls, and the just too sweet scent of their hair and breasts.

But more than by anything else, he was disgusted by himself, by his perfumed hair, by the smell of wine from his mouth, and by the flabby tiredness and listlessness of his skin. Like when someone who has eaten and drunk far too much, vomits it back up again with agonizing pain, and is nevertheless glad about the relief, thus this sleepless man wished to free himself of these pleasures, these habits, and all of this pointless life and himself, in an immense burst of disgust. Not until the light of the morning and the beginning of the first activities in the street before his city-house, he had slightly fallen asleep and had found for a few moments a half unconsciousness, a hint of sleep.

In those moments, he had a dream: Kamala owned a small, rare singing bird in a golden cage. Of this bird, he dreamt. He dreamt that this bird had become mute, who at other times always used to sing in the morning. Since this arose his attention, he stepped in front of the cage and looked inside; there the small bird was dead and lay stiff on the ground. He took it out, weighed it for a moment in his hand, and then threw it away, out in the street. In the same moment, he felt terribly shocked and his heart hurt, as if he had thrown away from himself all value and everything good by throwing out this dead bird.

Starting up from this dream, he felt encompassed by a deep sadness. Worthless, so it seemed to him, worthless and pointless was the way he had been going through life. Nothing which was alive and nothing which was in some way delicious or worth keeping he had left in his hands. Alone he stood there empty like a castaway on the shore.

With a gloomy mind, Siddhartha went to the pleasure-garden he owned. He locked the gate, sat down under a mango-tree, felt death in his heart and horror in his chest. He sat and sensed how everything died in him, withered in him, and came to an end in him. By and by, he gathered his thoughts, and in his mind, he once again went the entire path of his life starting with the first days he could remember. When was there ever a time when he had experienced happiness, felt a true bliss? Oh yes, several times he had experienced such a thing. In his years as a boy, he has had a taste of it when he had obtained praise from the Brahmans. He had felt it in his heart: "There is a path in front of the one who has distinguished himself in the recitation of the holy verses and in the dispute with the learned ones, as an assistant in the offerings."

Then, he had felt it in his heart: "There is a path in front of you. You are destined for it; the gods are awaiting you."

And again, as a young man, when the ever rising and upward fleeing goal of all thinking had ripped him out of and up from the multitude of those seeking the same goal, when he wrestled in pain for the purpose of Brahman, and when every obtained knowledge only kindled new thirst in him, then again, he had in the midst of the thirst and in the midst of the pain felt this very same thing: "Go on! Go on! You are called upon!"

He had heard this voice when he had left his home and had chosen the life of a Samana. He heard it again when he had gone away from the Samanas to that perfected one, and also when he had gone away from him to the uncertain. For how long had he not heard this voice any more, for how long had he reached no height any more, how even and dull was the manner in which his path had passed through life, and for many long years without a high goal, without thirst, and without elevation, content with small lustful pleasures and yet never satisfied!

For all of these many years, without knowing it himself, he had tried hard and longed to become a man like those many, like those children. And in all this, his life had been much more miserable and poorer than theirs. Their goals were not his, nor their worries; after all, that entire world of the Kamaswami-people had only been a game to him, a dance he would watch, and a comedy. Only Kamala had been dear, had been valuable to him — but was she still thus? Did he still need her, or she him? Did they not play a game without an ending? Was it necessary to live for this? No, it was not necessary!

The name of this game was Sansara: a game for children. A game which was perhaps enjoyable to play once, twice, ten times — but for ever and ever over again?

Then, Siddhartha knew that the game was over and that he could not play it any more. Shivers ran over his body, and inside of him, so he felt that something had died.

That entire day, he sat under the mango-tree: thinking of his father, thinking of Govinda, and thinking of Gotama. Did he have to leave them to become a Kamaswami? He still sat there when the night had fallen. When, looking up, he caught sight of the stars, he thought: "Here I'm sitting under my mango-tree, in my pleasure-garden."

He smiled a little. Was it really necessary, was it right, and was it not as foolish game that he owned a mango-tree, and that he owned a garden?

He also put an end to this; this also died in him. He rose, bid his farewell to the mango-tree, and bid his farewell to the pleasure-garden. Since he had been without food this day, he felt strong hunger. He thought of his house in the city, of his chamber and bed, and of the table with the meals on it. He smiled tiredly, shook himself, and bid his farewell to these things.

In the same hour of the night, Siddhartha left his garden, left the city, and never came back. For a long time, Kamaswami had people look for him thinking that he had fallen into the hands of robbers. Kamala had no one look for him. When she was told that Siddhartha had disappeared, she was not astonished. Did she not always expect it? Was he not a Samana: a man who was at home nowhere, a pilgrim? And most of all, she had felt this the last time they had been together, and she was happy. She was happy in spite of all the pain of the loss that she had pulled him so affectionately to her heart for this last time and that she had felt one more time to be so completely possessed and penetrated by him.

When she received the first news of Siddhartha's disappearance, she went to the window where she held a rare singing bird captive in a golden cage. She opened the door of the cage, took the bird out, and let it fly. For a long time, she gazed after it — the flying bird. From this day on, she received no more visitors and kept her house locked. But after some time, she became aware that she was pregnant from the last time she was together with Siddhartha.

 

 

 

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