wandered into the forest, already far from the town and knew only one thing —
could not go back, that the life he had lived for many years was past,
tasted and drained to a degree of nausea. The songbird was dead; its death,
which he had dreamt about, was the bird in his own heart. He was deeply
entangled in Sansara, he had drawn nausea and death to himself from all
sides, like a sponge that absorbs water until it is full. He was full of
ennui, full of misery, full of death; there was nothing left in the world
that could attract him, that could give him pleasure and solace.
wished passionately for oblivion, to be at rest, to be dead. If only a flash
of lightning would strike him! If only a tiger would come and eat him! If
there were only some wine, some poison, that would give him oblivion, that
would make him forget, that would make him sleep and never awaken! Was there
any kind of filth with which he had not besmirched himself, any sin and
folly which he had not committed, any stain upon his soul for which he alone
had not been responsible? Was it then still possible to live? Was it
possible to take in breath again and again, to breathe out, to feel hunger,
to eat again, to sleep again, to lie with women again? Was this cycle not
exhausted and finished for him?
Siddhartha reached the long river in the wood, the same river across which a
ferryman had once taken him when he was still a young man and had come from
Gautam's town. He stopped at this river and stood hesitatingly on the bank.
Fatigue and hunger had weakened him. Why should he go any farther, where,
and for what purpose? There was no more purpose, there was nothing more than
a deep, painful longing to shake off this whole confused dream, to spit out
this stale wine, to make an end of this bitter, painful life.
was a tree on the river bank, a coconut tree. Siddhartha leaned against it,
placed his arm round the trunk and looked down into the green water which
flowed beneath him. He looked down and was completely filled with a desire
to let himself go and be submerged in the water. A chilly emptiness in the
water reflected the terrible emptiness in his soul. Yes, he was at the end.
There was nothing more for him but to efface himself, to destroy the
unsuccessful structure of his life, to throw it away, mocked at by the gods.
That was the deed which he longed to commit, to destroy the form which he
hated! Might the fishes devour him, this dog of a Siddhartha, this madman,
this corrupted and rotting body, this sluggish and misused soul! Might the
fishes and crocodiles devour him, might the demons tear him to little
distorted countenance he stared into the water. He saw his face reflected,
and spat at it; he took his arm away from the tree trunk and turned a
little, so that he could fall headlong and finally go under. He bent, with
closed eyes —
from a remote part of his soul, from the past of his tired life, he heard a
sound. It was one word, one syllable, which without thinking he spoke
indistinctly, the ancient beginning and ending of all Brahmin prayers, the
holy Om, which had the meaning of 'the Perfect One' or 'Perfection'. At that
moment, when the sound of Om reached Siddhartha's ears, his slumbering soul
suddenly awakened and he recognized the folly of his action.
Siddhartha was deeply horrified. So that was what he had come to; he was so
lost, so confused, so devoid of all reason, that he had sought death. This
wish, this childish wish had grown so strong within him: to find peace by
destroying his body/ All the torment of those recent times, all the
disillusionment, all the despair, had not affected him so much as it did the
moment the Om reached his consciousness and he recognized his wretchedness
and his crime.
he pronounced inwardly, and he was conscious of Brahman, of the
indestructibleness of life; he remembered all that he had forgotten, all
that was divine.
was only for a moment, a flash. Siddhartha sank down at the foot of the
coconut tree, overcome by fatigue. Murmuring Om, he laid his head on the
tree roots and sank into a deep sleep.
sleep was deep and dreamless; he had not slept like that for a long time.
When he awakened after many hours, it seemed to him as if ten years had
passed. He heard the soft rippling of the water; he did not know where he
was nor what had brought him there. He looked up and was surprised to see
the trees and the sky above him. He remember where he was and how he came to
be there. He felt a desire to remain there for a long time. The past now
seemed to him to be covered by a veil, extremely remote, very unimportant.
He only knew that his previous life (at the first moment of his return to
consciousness his previous life seemed to him like a remote incarnation,
like an earlier birth of his present Self) was finished, that it was so full
of nausea and wretchedness that he had wanted to destroy it, but that he had
come to himself by a river, under a coconut tree, with the holy word Om on
his lips. Then he had fallen asleep, and on awakening he looked at the world
like a new man. Softly he said the word Om to himself, over which he had
fallen asleep, and it seemed to him as if his whole sleep had been a long
deep pronouncing of Om, thinking of Om, an immersion and penetration into Om,
into the nameless, into the Divine.
wonderful sleep it had been! Never had a sleep so refreshed him, so renewed
him, so rejuvenated him! Perhaps he had really died, perhaps he had been
drowned and was reborn in another form. No, he recognized himself, he
recognized his hands and feet, the place where he lay and the Self in his
breast, Siddhartha, self-willed, individualistic. But this Siddhartha was
somewhat changed, renewed. He had slept wonderfully. He was remarkably
awake, happy and curious.
Siddhartha raised himself and saw a monk in a yellow gown, with shaved
head, sitting opposite him in the attitude of a thinker. He looked at the
man, who had neither hair on his head nor a beard, and he had not looked at
him long when he recognized in this monk Govinda, the friend of his youth,
Govinda who had taken refuge in the Illustrious Buddha. Govinda had also
aged, but he still showed the old characteristics in his face —
eagerness, loyalty, curiosity, anxiety. But when Govinda, feeling his
glance, raised his eyes and looked at him, Siddhartha saw that Govinda did
not recognize him. Govinda was pleased to find him awake. Apparently he had
sat there a long time waiting for him to awaken, although he did not know
sleeping,' said Siddhartha. 'How did you come here?'
were sleeping,' answered Govinda, 'and it is not good to sleep in such
places where there are often snakes and animals from the forest prowling
about. I am one of the followers of the Illustrious Gautam, the Buddha of
Sakyamuni, and I am on a pilgrimage with a number of our order. I saw you
lying asleep in a dangerous place, so I tried to awaken you , and then as I
saw you were sleeping very deeply, I remained behind my brothers and sat by
you. Then it seems that I, who wanted to watch over you, fell asleep myself.
Weariness overcame me and I kept my watch badly. But now you are awake, so I
must go and overtake my brothers.'
thank you, Samana, for guarding my sleep. The followers of the Illustrious
One are very kind, but now you may go on your way.'
going. May you keep well.'
thank you, Samana.'
Govinda bowed and said 'Goodbye.'
'Goodbye, Govinda,' said Siddhartha.
monk stood still.
'Excuse me, sir, how do you know my name?'
Thereupon Siddhartha laughed.
know you, Govinda, from your father's house and from the Brahmin's school,
and from the sacrifices, and from our sojourn with the Samanas and from that
hour in the grove of Jetavana when you swore allegiance to the Illustrious
are Siddhartha,' cried Govinda aloud. 'Now I recognize you and do not
understand why I did not recognize you immediately. Greetings, Siddhartha,
it gives me great pleasure to see you again.'
also pleased to see you again. You have watched over me during my sleep. I
thank you once again, although I needed no guard. Where are you going, my
not going anywhere. We monks are always on the way, except during the rainy
season. We always move from place to place, live according to the rule,
preach the gospel, collect alms and then move on. It is always the same. But
where are you going, Siddhartha?'
Siddhartha said: 'It is the same with me as it is with you, my friend. I am
not going anywhere. I am only on the way. I am making a pilgrimage.'
Govinda said: 'You say you are making a pilgrimage and I believe you. But
forgive me, Siddhartha, you do not look like a pilgrim. You are wearing the
clothes of a rich man, you are wearing the shoes of a man of fashion, and
your perfumed hair is not the hair of a pilgrim, it is not the hair of a
have observed well, my friend; you see everything with your sharp eyes. But
I did not tell you that I am a Samana. I said I was making a pilgrimage and
that is true.'
are making a pilgrimage,' said Govinda, 'but few make a pilgrimage in such
clothes, in such shoes and with such hair. I, who have been wandering for
many years, have never seen such a pilgrim.'
believe you, Govinda. But today you have met such a pilgrim in such shoes
and dress. Remember, my dear Govinda, the world of appearances is
transitory, the style of our clothes and hair is extremely transitory. Our
hair and our bodies are themselves transitory. You have observed correctly.
I am wearing the clothes of a rich man, and I am wearing them because I have
been a rich man, and I am wearing my hair like men of the world and fashion
because I have been one of them.'
what are you now, Siddhartha?'
not know; I know as little as you. I am on the way. I was a rich man, but I
am no longer and what I will be tomorrow I do not know.'
you lost your riches?'
have lost them, or they have lost me —
not sure. The wheel of appearances revolves quickly, Govinda. Where is
Siddhartha the Brahmin, where is Siddhartha the Samana, where is Siddhartha
the rich man? The transitory soon changes, Govinda. You know that.'
long time Govinda looked doubtfully at the friend of his youth. Then he
bowed to him, as one does to a man of rank, and went on his way.
Smiling, Siddhartha watched him go. He still loved him, this faithful
anxious friend. And at that moment, in that splendid hour, after his
wonderful sleep, permeated with Om, how could he help but love someone and
something. That was just the magic that had happened to him during his sleep
and the Om in him —
loved everything, he was full of joyous love towards everything that he saw.
And it seemed to him that was just why he was previously so ill —
he could love nothing and nobody.
smile Siddhartha watched the departing monk. His sleep had strengthened him,
but he suffered great hunger for he had not eaten for two days, and the time
was long past when he could ward off hunger. Troubled, yet also with
laughter, he recalled that time. He remembered that at that time he had
boasted of three things to Kamala, three noble and invincible arts: fasts,
waiting and thinking. These were his possessions, his power and strength,
his firm staff. He had learned these three arts and nothing else during the
diligent, assiduous years of his youth. Now he had lost them, he possessed
non of them any more, neither fasting, nor waiting, nor thinking. He had
exchanged them for the most wretched things, for the transitory, for the
pleasures of the senses, for high living and riches. He had gone along a
strange path. And now, it seemed that he had indeed become an ordinary
Siddhartha reflected on his state. He found it difficult to think; he really
had no desire to, but he forced himself.
he thought, that all these transitory things have slipped away from me
again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child.
Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing. I have learned nothing.
How strange it is! Now, when I am no longer young, when my hair is fast
growing grey, when strength begins to diminish, now I am beginning again
like a child. He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was strange! He was
going backwards, and now he again stood empty and naked and ignorant in the
world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even felt a great desire to
laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this strange foolish world!
are going backwards with you, he said to himself and laughed, and as he said
it, his glance lighted on the river, and he saw the river also flowing
continually backwards, singing merrily. That pleased him immensely; he
smiled cheerfully at the river. Was this not the river in which he had once
wished to drown himself —
hundreds of years ago —
he dreamt it?
strange his life had been, he thought. He had wandered along strange paths.
As a boy I was occupied with the gods and sacrifices, as a youth with
asceticism, with thinking and meditation. I was in search of Brahman and
revered the eternal in Atman. As a young man I was attracted to expiation. I
lived in the woods, suffered heat and cold. I learned to fast, I learned to
conquer my body. I then discovered with wonder the teachings of the great
Buddha. I felt knowledge and the unity of the world circulate in me like my
own blood, but I also felt compelled to leave the Buddha and the great
knowledge. I went and learned the pleasures of love from Kamala and business
from Kamaswami. I hoarded money, I squandered money, I acquired a taste for
rich food, I learned to stimulate my senses. I had to spend many years like
that in order to lose my intelligence, to lost the power to think, to forget
about the unity of things. Is it not true, that slowly and through many
deviations I changed from a man into a child? From a thinker into an
ordinary person? And yet this path has been good and the bird in my breast
has not died. But what a path it has been! I have had to experience so much
stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and
sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. But it was
right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to
experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts
of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear Om again, to sleep deeply
again and to awaken refreshed again. I had to become a fool again in order
to live again. Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it
goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will
aware of a great happiness mounting within him.
does it come from, he asked himself? What is the reason for this feeling of
happiness? Does it arise from my good long sleep which has done me so much
good? Or from the word Om which I pronounced? Or because I have run away,
because my flight is accomplished, because I am at last free again and stand
like a child beneath the sky? Ah, how good this flight has been, the
liberation! In the place from which I escaped there was always an atmosphere
of pomade, spice, excess and inertia. How I hated that world of riches,
carousing and playing! How I hated myself for remaining so long in that
horrible world! How I hated myself, thwarted, poisoned and tortured myself,
made myself old and ugly. Never again, as I once fondly imagined, will I
consider that Siddhartha is clever. But one thing I have done well, which
pleases me, which I must praise —
now put an end to that self-detestation, to that foolish empty life. I
commend you, Siddhartha, that after so many years of folly, you have again
had a good idea, that you have accomplished something, that you have again
heard the bird in your breast sing and followed it.
praised himself, was pleased with himself and listened curiously to his
stomach which rumbled from hunger. He felt he had thoroughly tasted and
ejected a portion of sorrow, a portion of misery during those past times,
that he had consumed them up to a point of despair and death. But all was
well. He could have remained much longer with Kamaswami, made and squandered
money, fed his body and neglected his soul; he could have dwelt for a long
time yet in that soft, well-upholstered hell, if this had not happened, this
moment of complete hopelessness and despair and the tense moment when he had
bent over the flowing water, ready to commit suicide. This despair, this
extreme nausea which he had experienced had not overpowered him. The bird,
the clear spring and voice within him was still alive —
that was why he rejoiced,
that was why he laughed, that was why his face was radiant under his grey
a good thing to experience everything oneself, he thought. As a child I
learned that pleasures of the world and riches were not good. I have known
it for a long time, but I have only just experienced it. Now I know it not
only with my intellect, but with my eyes, with my heart, with my stomach. It
is a good thing that I know this.
thought long of the change in him, listened to the bird singing happily. If
this bird within him had died, would he have perished? No, something else in
him had died, something that he had long desired should perish. Was it not
what he had once wished to destroy during his ardent years of asceticism?
Was it not his Self, his small, fearful and proud Self, with which he had
wrestled for so many years, but which had always conquered him again, which
appeared each time again and again, which robbed him of happiness and filled
him with fear? Was it not this which had finally died today in the wood by
this delightful river? Was it not because of its death that he was now like
a child, so full of trust and happiness, without fear?
Siddhartha now also realized why he had struggled in vain with this Self
when he was a Brahmin and an ascetic. Too much knowledge had hindered him;
too many holy versee, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of
the flesh, too much doing and striving. He had been full of arrogance; he
had always been the cleverest, the most eager —
always a step ahead of the
others, always the learned and intellectual one, always the priest or the
sage. His Self had crawled into his priesthood, into his arrogance, into his
intellectuality. It sat there tightly and grew, while he thought he was
destroying it by fasting and penitence. Now he understood it and realized
that the inward voice had been right, that no teacher could have brought him
salvation. That was why he had to go into the world, to lose himself in
power, women and money; that was why he had to be a merchant, a dice player,
a drinker and a man of property, until the priest and Samana in him were
dead. That was why he had to undergo those horrible years, suffer nausea,
learn the lesson of the madness of an empty, futile life till the end, till
he reached bitter despair, so that Siddhartha the pleasure-monger and
Siddhartha the man of property could die. He had dies and a new Siddhartha
had awkened from his sleep. He also would grow old and die. Siddhartha was
transitory, all forms were transitory, but today he was young, he was a
the new Siddhartha —
and he was very happy.
thoughts passed through his mind. Smiling, he listened to his stomach,
listened thankfully to a humming bee. Happily he looked into the flowing
river. Never had a river attracted him as much as this one. Never had he
found the voice and appearance of flowing water so beautiful. It seemed to
him as if the river had something special to tell him, something which he
did not know, something which still awaited him. Siddhartha had wanted to
drown himself in this river; the old, tired, despairing Siddhartha was today
drowned in it. The new Siddhartha felt a deep love for this flowing water
and decided that he would not leave it again so quickly.