Siddhartha

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Siddhartha

By Herman Hesse

Chapter I. The Son of the Brahman


IN the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, and in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up. He the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing: performing the sacred ablutions and the sacred offerings. 

In the mango grove, shade poured into his black eyes when he played as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father the scholar taught him, and when the wise men talked. For a long time, Siddhartha had been partaking in the discussions of the wise men, practicing debate with Govinda, practicing with Govinda the art of reflection, and practicing the service of meditation. He already knew how to speak the OM silently: the word of words. He knew to speak it silently into himself while inhaling and to speak it silently out of himself while exhaling with all the concentration of his soul: the forehead surrounded by the glow of the clear-thinking spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of his being: indestructible and one with the universe.

Joy leapt in his father's heart for his son who was quick to learn and thirsty for knowledge. He saw him growing up to become great wise man and priest — a prince among the Brahmans. Bliss leapt in his mother's breast when she saw him, when she saw him walking, and when she saw him sit down and get up. Siddhartha was strong and handsome. He walked on slender legs and greeted her with perfect respect. Love touched the hearts of the Brahmans' young daughters when Siddhartha walked through the lanes of the town with the luminous forehead, with the eye of a king, and with his slim hips.

But more than all the others, he was loved by Govinda: his friend and the son of a Brahman. He loved Siddhartha's eye and sweet voice. He loved his walk and the perfect decency of his movements. He loved everything Siddhartha did and said. What Govinda loved most was his spirit; his transcendent, fiery thoughts; his ardent will; and his high calling. 

Govinda knew that he would not become a common Brahman; not a lazy official in charge of offerings; not a greedy merchant with magic spells; not a vain, vacuous speaker; and not a mean, deceitful priest. Also, he would not become a decent, stupid sheep in the herd of the many. No, and he, Govinda, as well did not want to become one of those — not one of those tens of thousands of Brahmans. He wanted to follow Siddhartha, the beloved and the splendid. And, in days to come, when Siddhartha would become a god and join the glorious, Govinda wanted to follow him as his friend, his companion, his servant, his spear-carrier, and his shadow.

Siddhartha was thus loved by everyone. He was a source of joy for everybody. He was a delight for them all. But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself. He found no delight in himself. Walking the rosy paths of the fig tree garden, sitting in the bluish shade of the grove of contemplation, washing his limbs daily in the bath of repentance, and sacrificing in the dim shade of the mango forest with his gestures of perfect decency and everyone's love and joy, he still lacked all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind — flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night, and melting from the beams of the sun.

Dreams came to him and a restlessness of the soul fuming from the sacrifices, breathing forth from the verses of the Rig-Veda, and being infused into him, drop by drop, from the teachings of the old Brahmans. Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself. He had started to feel that the love of his father, the love of his mother, and the love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever. It would not nurse him, feed him, and satisfy him. He had started to suspect that his venerable father and his other teachers, the wise Brahmans, had already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom. That they had already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was not full; the spirit was not content; the soul was not calm; and the heart was not satisfied. The ablutions were good, but they were water. They did not wash off the sin. They did not heal the spirit's thirst and they did not relieve the fear in his heart. 

The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent, but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? And what about the gods? Was it really Prajapati who had created the world? Was it not the Atman: He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not creations, created like me and you, subject to time and mortal? Was it, therefore, good, right, meaningful, and the highest occupation, to make offerings to the gods? 

For whom else, were offerings to be made? Who else was to be worshipped but Him: the only one, the Atman? And where was Atman to be found? Where did He reside? Where did his eternal heartbeat? Where else but in one's own self, in its innermost and indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self: this innermost and ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone. It was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. 

So, where was it? Was there another way to reach this place which was worth looking for — the self, myself, the Atman? 

Alas, nobody showed the way. Nobody knew it — not the father, not the teachers, not the wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! They knew everything — the Brahmans and their holy books. They knew everything, and they had taken care of everything, of more than everything. They knew infinitely much — of the creation of the world, of the origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, of the arrangement of the senses, and of the acts of the gods. But, was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing?

Surely, many verses of the holy books, particularly in the Upanishads of Samaveda, spoke of this innermost and ultimate thing in wonderful verses. "Your soul is the whole world," was written there, and it was written that man in his sleep, in his deep sleep, would meet with his innermost part and would reside in the Atman. Marvelous wisdom was in these verses. All knowledge of the wisest ones had been collected here in magic words: pure as honey collected by bees. No, not to be looked down upon was the tremendous amount of enlightenment which lay here collected and preserved by innumerable generations of wise Brahmans.

But where were the Brahmans, the priests, the wise men, or the penitents who had succeeded in not just knowing this deepest of all knowledge but also to live it? Where was the knowledgeable one who wove his spell to bring his familiarity with the Atman out of the sleep into the state of being awake; into the life; into every step of the way; and into word and deed? 

Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father: the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable. His father was to be admired. Quiet and noble were his manners. Pure was his life; wise were his words and the delicate, noble thoughts that lived behind its brow. But even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness? Did he have peace? Was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink as a thirsty man from holy sources, from the offerings, from the books, and from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day? Why did he have to strive, over and over, for a cleansing every day? Was not Atman in him? Did not the pristine source spring from his heart? 
It had to be found: the pristine source in one's own self. It had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, and was getting lost.

Thus, were Siddhartha's thoughts. This was his thirst, and this was his suffering. Often, he spoke to himself from a Chandogya-Upanishad the words: 

Truly, the name of the Brahman is Satyam 
 — Verily, he who knows such a thing, 
Will enter the heavenly world every day.

Often the heavenly world seemed near, but he had never reached it completely. He had never quenched the ultimate thirst. And, there was no one among all the wise men he knew, and from whom he had received instruction, that had reached it completely: the heavenly world. He knew no one that had quenched it completely: the eternal thirst.

"Govinda," Siddhartha spoke to his friend. "Govinda, my dear, come with me under the Banyan tree. Let's practice meditation." They went to the Banyan tree and sat down: Siddhartha right here and Govinda twenty paces away. While putting himself down, ready to speak the OM, Siddhartha repeated murmuring the verse:

OM is the bow, the arrow is soul, 
The Brahman is the arrow's target, 
That one should incessantly hit.

After the usual time of the exercise in meditation had passed, Govinda rose. The evening had come, and it was time to perform the evening's ablution. He called Siddhartha's name. Siddhartha did not answer. Siddhartha sat there lost in thought with his eyes rigidly focused towards a very distant target, and the tip of his tongue protruding a little between the teeth. He seemed not to breathe. Thus, sat he wrapped up in contemplation and thinking OM; his soul sent after the Brahman as an arrow.

Once, Samanas had travelled through Siddhartha's town, ascetics on a pilgrimage. They were three skinny, withered men, neither old nor young, with dusty and bloody shoulders. They were almost naked, scorched by the sun, and surrounded by loneliness. They were strangers and enemies to the world; strangers and lank jackals in the realm of humans. Behind them blew a hot scent of quiet passion, of destructive service, and of merciless self-denial.

In the evening after the hour of contemplation, Siddhartha spoke to Govinda: "Early tomorrow morning, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the Samanas. He will become a Samana."

Govinda turned pale when he heard these words. He read the decision in the motionless face of his friend — unstoppable like the arrow shot from the bow. With the first glance, Govinda realized: Now it is beginning. Now Siddhartha is taking his own way. Now his fate is beginning to sprout and, with his, my own. And, he turned pale like a dry banana-skin.

"O Siddhartha," he exclaimed, "will your father permit you to do that?"

Siddhartha looked over as if he was just waking up. Arrow-fast he read Govinda's soul. He read the fear and read the submission.

"O Govinda," he spoke quietly, "let's not waste words. Tomorrow, at daybreak, I will begin the life of the Samanas. Speak no more of it."

Siddhartha entered the chamber where his father was sitting on a mat of bast. He stepped behind his father and remained standing there until his father felt that someone was standing behind him. Quote the Brahman: "Is that you, Siddhartha? Then say what you came to say."

Quote Siddhartha: "With your permission, my father. I came to tell you that it is my longing to leave your house tomorrow and go to the ascetics. My desire is to become a Samana. May my father not oppose this."

The Brahman fell silent, and remained silent for so long that the stars in the small window wandered and changed their relative positions, 'ere the silence was broken. Silent and motionless stood the son with his arms folded. Silent and motionless sat the father on the mat, and the stars traced their paths in the sky. 

Then spoke the father: "Not proper it is for a Brahman to speak harsh and angry words. But indignation is in my heart. I wish not to hear this request for a second time from your mouth."

Slowly, the Brahman rose; Siddhartha stood silently, his arms folded. "What are you waiting for?" asked the father.

Quote Siddhartha: "You know what."

Indignant, the father left the chamber; indignant, he went to his bed and lay down.

After an hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman stood up, paced to and fro, and left the house. Through the small window of the chamber he looked back inside, and there he saw Siddhartha standing with his arms folded, not moving from his spot. Pale shimmered his bright robe. With anxiety in his heart, the father returned to his bed.

After another hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman stood up again, paced to and fro, walked out of the house and saw that the moon had risen. Through the window of the chamber he looked back inside; there stood Siddhartha, not moving from his spot with his arms folded, moonlight reflecting from his bare shins. With worry in his heart, the father went back to bed.

And, he came back after an hour. He came back after two hours. He looked through the small window and saw Siddhartha standing in the moonlight, by the light of the stars, and in the darkness. 

He came back hour after hour. Silently, he looked into the chamber and saw him standing in the same place. It filled his heart with anger, filled his heart with unrest, filled his heart with anguish, and filled it with sadness.

And, in the night's last hour before the day began, he returned and stepped into the room. He saw the young man standing there — who seemed tall and like a stranger to him.

"Siddhartha," he spoke, "what are you waiting for?"

"You know what."

"Will you always stand that way and wait, until it becomes morning, noon, and 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 would you rather die, than obey your father?"

"Siddhartha has always obeyed his father."

"So, will you abandon your plan?"

"Siddhartha will do what his father will tell him to do."

The first light of day shone into the room. The Brahman saw that Siddhartha was trembling softly in his knees. In Siddhartha's face, he saw no trembling — his eyes were fixed on a distant spot. Then his father realized that even now Siddhartha no longer dwelt with him in his home. That he had already left him.

The Father touched Siddhartha's shoulder.

"You will," he spoke, "go into the forest and be a Samana. When you have found blissfulness in the forest, then come back and teach me to be blissful. If you find disappointment, then return and let us once again make offerings to the gods together. Go now and kiss your mother. Tell her where you are going. But, for me, it is time to go to the river and to perform the first ablution."

He took his hand from the shoulder of his son and went outside. Siddhartha wavered to the side, as he tried to walk. He put his limbs back under control, bowed to his father, and went to his mother to do as his father had said.

In the first light of the day, as he slowly left the still quiet town on stiff legs, a shadow, who had crouched, rose near the last hut and joined the pilgrim — Govinda.

"You have come," said Siddhartha and smiled.

"I have come," said Govinda.

 

 

 

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