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Amongst the People

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This page was last updated: February 04, 2003


The Brahmin's Son
With the Samanas
Amongst the People
By the River
The Ferryman
The Son

Siddhartha went to see Kamaswami, the merchant, and was shown into a rich house. Servants conducted him across costly carpets to a room where he waited for the master of the house.

Kamaswami came in, a supple, lively man, with greying hair, with clever prudent eyes and a sensual mouth. Master and visitor greeted each other in a friendly manner.

'I have been told,' the merchant began, 'that you are a Brahmin, a learned man, and you seek service with a merchant. Are you then in need, Brahmin, that you seek service?'

'No,' replied Siddhartha, 'I am not in need and I have never been in need. I have come from the Samanas with whom I lived for a long time.'

'If you come from the Samanas, how is that you are not in need? Are not all the Samanas completely without possessions?'

'I possess nothing,' said Siddhartha, 'if that is what you mean. I am certainly without possessions, but of my own free will, so I am not in need.'

'But how will you live if you are without possessions?'

'I have never thought about it, sir. I have been without possessions for nearly three years and I have never thought on what I should live.'

'So you have lived on the possessions of others?'

'Apparently. The merchant also lives on the possessions of others.'

'Well spoken, but he does not take from others for nothing, he gives his goods in exchange.'

'That seems the way of things. Everyone takes, everyone gives. Life is like that.'

'Ah, but if you are without possessions, how can you give?'

'Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.'

'Very well and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?'

'I can think, I can wait, I can fast.'

'Is that all?'

'I think that is all.'

'And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that?'

'It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned how to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it. Therefore, fasting is useful, sir.'

'You are right, Samana. Wait for a moment.'

Kamaswami went out and returned with a roll which he handed to his guest and inquired: 'Can you read this?'

Siddhartha looked at the roll, on which a sales agreement was written, and began to read the contents.

'Excellent,' said Kamaswami, 'and will you write something for me on this sheet?'

He gave him a sheet and a pen and Siddhartha wrote something and returned the sheet.

Kamaswami read: 'Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better.'

'You write very well,' the merchant praised him. 'We shall still have plenty to discuss, but today I invite you to be my guest and to live in my house.'

Siddhartha thanked him and accepted. He now lived in the merchant's house. Clothes and shoes were brought to him and a servant prepared him a bath daily. Splendid meals were served twice a day, but Siddhartha ate once a day, and neither ate meat nor drank wine. Kamaswami talked to him about his business, showed him goods and warehouses and accounts. Sidddhartha learned many new things; he heard much and said little. And remembering Kamala's words, he was never servile to the merchant, but compelled him to treat him as an equal and even more than his equal. Kamaswami conducted his business with care and often with passion, but Siddhartha regarded it all as a game, the rules of which he endeavoured to learn well, but which did not stir his heart.

He was not long in Kamaswami's house when he was already taking part in his master's business. Daily, however, at the hour she invited him, he visited the beautiful Kamala, in handsome clothes, in fine shoes, and soon he also brought her presents. He learned many things from her wise red lips. Her smooth gentle hand taught him many things. He, who was still a boy as regards love and was inclined to plunge into the depths of it blindly and insatiably, was taught by her that one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to one who can understand.

She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused. He spent wonderful hours with the clever, beautiful courtesan and became her pupil, her lover, her friend. Here with Kamala lay the value and the meaning of his present life, not in Kamaswami's business.

The merchant passed on to him the writing of the important letters and orders, and grew accustomed to conferring with him about all important affairs. He soon saw that Siddhartha understood little about rice and wool, shipping and trading, but that he had a happy knack and surpassed the merchant in calmness and equanimity, and in the art of listening and making a good impression on strange people. 'This Brahmin,' he said to a friend, 'is no real merchant and will never be one; he is never absorbed in the business. But he has the secret of those people to whom success comes by itself, whether it is due to being born under a lucky star or whether it is magic, or whether he has learned it from the Samanas. He always seems to be playing at business, it never makes much impression on him, it never masters him, he never fears failure, he is never worried about a loss.'

The friend advised the merchant: 'Give him a third of the profits of the business which he conducts for you, but let him share the same proportion of losses if any arise. He will thus become more enthusiastic.'

Kamaswami followed his advice, but Siddhartha was little concerned about it. If he made a profit, he accepted it calmly; if he suffered a loss, he laughed and said, 'Oh, well, this transaction has gone badly.'

He did, in fact, seem indifferent about business. Once he travelled the village in order to buy a large rice harvest. When he arrived there, the rice was already sold to another merchant. However, Siddhartha remained in that village several days, entertained the farmers, gave money to the children, attended a wedding and returned from the journey completely satisfied. Kamaswami reproached him for not returning immediately, for wasting time and money. Siddhartha replied: 'Do not scold, my dear friend. Nothing was ever achieved by scolding. If a loss has been sustained, I will bear the loss. I am very satisfied with this journey. I have become acquainted with many people, I have become friendly with a Brahmin, children sat on my knee, farmers have showed me their fields. Nobody took me for a merchant.'

'That is all very fine,' admitted Kamaswami reluctantly, 'but you are in fact a merchant. Or were you only travelling for your pleasure?'

'Certainly I travelled for my pleasure,' laughed Siddhartha. 'Why not? I have become acquainted with people and new districts. I have enjoyed friendship and confidence. Now, if I had been Kamaswami, I should have departed immediately feeling very annoyed when I saw I was unable to make a purchase, and time and money would indeed have been lost. But I spent a number of good days, learned much, had much pleasure and did not hurt either myself or others through annoyance or hastiness. If I ever go there again, perhaps to buy a later harvest, or for some other purpose, friendly people will receive me and I will be glad that I did not previously display hastiness and displeasure. Anyway, let it rest, my friend, and do not hurt yourself by scolding. If the day comes when you think, this Siddhartha is doing me harm, just say one word and Siddhartha will go on his way. Until then, however, let us be good friends.'

The merchant's attempts to convince Siddhartha that he was eating his, Kamaswami's, bread were also in vain. Siddhartha ate his own bread; moreover, they all ate the bread of others, everybody's bread. Siddhartha was never concerned about Kamaswami's troubles and Kamaswami had many troubles. If a transaction threatened to be unsuccessful, if a consignment of goods was lost, if a debtor appeared unable to pay, Kamaswami could never persuade his colleague that it served any purpose to utter troubled or angry words, to form wrinkles on the forehead and sleep badly. When Kamaswami once reminded him that he had learned everything from him, he replied: 'Do not make such jokes. I have learned from you how much a basket of fish costs and how much interest one can claim for lending money. That is your knowledge. But I did not learn how to think from you, my dear Kamaswami. It would be better if you learned that from me.'

His heart was not indeed in business. It was useful in order to bring him money for Kamala, and it brought him more than he really needed. Moreover, Siddhartha's sympathy and curiosity lay only with people, whose work, troubles, pleasures and follies were more unknown and remote from him than the moon. Although he found it so easy to speak to everyone, to live with everyone, to learn from everyone, he was very conscious of the fact that there was something which separated him from them and this was due to the fact that he had been a Samana. He saw people living in  a childish or animal-like way, which he both loved and despised. He saw them toiling, saw them suffer and grow grey about things that to him did not seem worth a price for money, small pleasures and trivial honours. He saw them scold and hurt each other; he saw them lament over pains at which the Samana laughs, and suffer at deprivations which a Samana does not feel.

He accepted all that people brought to him. The merchant who brought him linen for sale was welcome; the debtor who sought a loan was welcome, the beggar was welcome who stayed an hour telling him the story of his poverty, and who was yet not as poor as any Samana. He did not treat the rich foreign merchant differently from the servant who shaved him and the pedlars from whom he bought bananas and let himself be robbed of small coins. If Kamaswami came to him and told him his troubles or made him reproaches about a transaction, he listened curiously and attentively, was amazed at him, tried to understand him, conceded to him a little where it seemed necessary and turned away from him to the next one who wanted him. And many people came to him many to trade with him, many to deceive him, many to listen to him, many to elicit his sympathy, many to listen to his advice. He gave advice, he sympathized, he gave presents, he allowed himself to be cheated a little, and he occupied his thoughts with all this game and the passion with which all men play it, as much as he had previously occupied his thoughts with the gods and Brahman.

At times he heard within him a soft, gentle voice, which reminded him quietly, complained quietly, so that he could hardly hear it. Then he suddenly saw clearly that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing many things that were only a game, that he was quite cheerful and sometimes experienced pleasure, but that real life was flowing past him and did not touch him. Like a player who plays with his ball, he played with his business, with the people around him, watched them, derived amusement from them; but with his heart, with his real nature, he was not there. His real self wandered elsewhere, far away, wandered on and on invisibly and had nothing to do with his life.

He was sometimes afraid of these thoughts and wished that he could also share their childish daily affairs with intensity, truly to take part in them, to enjoy and live their lives instead of only being there as an onlooker.

He visited the beautiful Kamala regularly, learned the art of love in which, more than anything else, giving and taking become one. He talked to her, learned from her, gave her advice, received advice. She understood him better than Govinda had once done. She was more like him.

Once he said to her: 'You are like me; you are different from other people. You are Kamala and no one else, and within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself, just as I can. Few people have that capacity and yet everyone could have it.'

'Not all people are clever,' said Kamala.

'It has nothing to do with that, Kamala,' said Siddhartha. 'Kamaswami is just as clever as I am and yet he has no sanctuary. Others have it who are only children in understanding. Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path. Among all the wise men, of whom I knew many, there was one who was perfect in this respect. I can never forget him. He is Gautam, the Illustrious One who preaches his gospel. Thousands of young men hear his teachings every day and follow his instructions every hour, but they are all falling leaves; they have not the wisdom and guide within themselves.'

Kamala looked at him and smiled. 'You are talking about him again,' she said. 'Again you have Samana thoughts.'

Siddhartha was silent, and they played the game of love, one of the thirty or forty different games which Kamala knew. Her body was as supple as a jaguar and a hunter's bow; whoever learned about love from her, learned many pleasures, many secrets. She played with Siddhartha for a long time, repulsed him, overwhelmed him, conquered him, rejoiced at her mastery, until he was overcome and lay exhausted at her side.

The courtesan bent over him and looked long at his face, into his eyes that had grown tired.

'You are the best lover that I have had,' she said thoughtfully. 'You are stronger than others, more supple, more willing. You have learned my art well, Siddhartha. Some day, when I am older, I will have a child by you. And yet, my dear, you have remained a Samana. You do not really love me you love nobody. Is that not true?'

'May be,' said Siddhartha wearily. 'I am like you. You cannot love either, otherwise how could you practise love as an art? Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can that is their secret.'



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