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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

In the town of Savathi every child knew the name of the Illustrious Buddha and every house was ready to fill the alms-bowls of Gautam's silently begging disciples. Near the town was Gautam's favourite abode, the Jetavana grove, which the rich merchant, Anathapindika, a great devotee of the Illustrious One, had presented to him and his followers.

The two young ascetics, in their search for Gautam's abode, had been referred to this destrict by tales and answers to their questions, and on their arrival at Savathi, food was offered to them immediately at the first house in front of whose door they stood silently begging. They partook of food and Siddhartha asked the lady who handed him the food:

'Good lady, we should very much like to know where the Buddha, the Illustrious One, dwells for we are two Samanas from the forest and have come to see the Perfect One and hear his teachings from his own lips.'

The woman said: 'You have come to the right place, O Samanas from the forest. The Illustrious One sojourns in Jetavana, in the garden of Anathapindika. You may spend the night there, pilgrims, for there is enough room for the numerous people who flock there to hear the teachings from his lips.'

Then Govinda rejoiced and happily said: 'Ah, then we have reached our goal and our journey is at an end. But tell us, mother of pilgrims, do you know the Buddha? Have you seen him with your own eyes?'

The woman said: 'I have seen the Illustrious One many times. On many a day I have seen him walk through the streets, silently, in a yellow cloak, and silently hold out his alms-bowl at the house doors and return with his filled bowl.'

Govinda listened enchanted and wanted to ask many more questions and hear much more, but Siddhartha reminded him that it was time to go. They expressed their thanks and departed. It was hardly necessary to inquire the way, for quite a number of pilgrims and monks from Gautam's followers were on the way to Jetavana. When they arrived there at night, there were continual new arrivals. There was a stir of voices from them, requesting and obtaining shelter. The two Samanas, who were used to life in the forest, quickly and quietly found shelter and stayed there till morning.

At sunrise they were astounded to see the large number of believers and curious people who had spent the night there. Monks in yellow robes wandered along all the paths of the magnificent grove. Here and there they sat under the trees, lost in meditation or engaged in spirited talk. The shady gardens were like a town, swarming with bees. Most of the monks departed with their alms-bowls, in order to obtain food for their midday meal, the only one of the day. Even the Buddha himself went begging in the morning.

Siddhartha saw him and recognized him immediately, as if pointed out to him by a god. He saw him, bearing an alms-bowl, quietly leaving the place, an unassuming man in a yellow cowl.

'Look,' said Siddhartha softly to Govinda, 'there is the Buddha.'

Govinda looked attentively at the monk in the yellow cowl, who could not be distinguished in any way from the hundreds of other monks, and yet Govinda soon recognized him. Yes, it was he, and they followed him and watched him.

The Buddha went quietly on his way, lost in thought. His peaceful countenance was neither happy nor sad. He seemed to be smiling gently inwardly. With a secret smile, not unlike that of a healthy child, he waked along peacefully, quietly. He wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step, his peaceful downward glance, his peaceful downward-hanging hand, and very finger of his hand spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflected a continual quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace.

And so Gautam wandered into the town to obtain alms, and the two Samanas recognized him only by his complete peacefulness of demeanour, by the stillness of his form, in which there was no seeking, no will, no counterfeit, no effort only light and peace.

'Today we will hear the teaching from his own lips,' said Govinda.

Siddhartha did not reply. He was not very curious about the teachings. He did not think they would teach him anything new. He, as well as Govinda, had heard the substance of the Buddha's teachings, if only from second- and third-hand reports. But he looked attentively at Gautam's head, at his shoulders, at his feet, at his still, downward-hanging hand, and it seemed to him that in every joint of every finger of his hand there was knowledge; they spoke, breathed, radiated truth. This man, this Buddha, was truly a holy man to his finger tips. Never had Siddhartha esteemed a man so much, never had he loved a man so much.

They both followed the Buddha into the town and returned in silence. They themselves intended to abstain from food that day. They saw Gautam return, saw him take his meal within the circle of his disciples what he ate would not have satisfied a bird and saw him withdraw to the shades of the mango tree.

In the evening, however, when the heat abated and everyone in the camp was alert and gathered together, they heard the Buddha preach. They heard his voice, and this also was perfect, quiet and full of peace. Gautam talked about suffering, the origin of suffering, the way to release from suffering. Life was pain, the world was full of suffering, but the path to the release from suffering had been found. There was salvation for those who went the way of the Buddha.

When the Buddha had finished it was already night many pilgrims came forward and asked to be accepted into the community, and the Buddha accepted them and said: 'You have listened well to the teachings. Join us then and walk in bliss; put an end to suffering.'

Govinda, the shy one, also stepped forward and said: 'I also wish to pay my allegiance to the Illustrious One and his teachings.' He asked to be taken into the community and was accepted.

As soon as the Buddha had withdrawn for the night, Govinda turned to Siddhartha and said eagerly: 'Siddhartha, it is not for me to reproach you. We have both listened to the Illustrious One, we have both heard his teachings. Govinda has listened to the teachings and has accepted them, but you my dear friend, will you not also tread the path of salvation? Will you delay, will you still wait?'

When he heard Govinda's words, Siddhartha awakened as if from a sleep. He looked at Govinda's face for a long time. Then he spoke softly and there was no mockery in his voice. 'Govinda, my friend, you have taken the step, you have chosen your path. You have always been my friend, Govinda, you have always gone a step behind me. Often I have thought: will Govinda ever take a step without me, from his own conviction? Now, you are a man and have chosen your own path. May you go along it to the end, my friend. May you find salvation!'

Govinda, who did not yet fully understand, repeated his question impatiently: 'Speak, my dear friend, say that you also cannot do other than swear allegiance to the Buddha.'

Siddhartha placed his hand on Govinda's shoulder. 'You have heard my blessing, Govinda. I repeat it. May you travel this path to the end. May you find salvation!'

In that moment, Govinda realized that his friend was leaving him and he began to weep.

'Siddhartha,' he cried.

Siddhartha spoke kindly to him. 'Do not forget, Govinda, that you now belong to the Buddha's holy men. You have renounced home and parents, you have renounced origin and property, you have renounced your own will, you have renounced friendship. That is what the teachings preach, that is the will of the Illustrious One. That is what you wished yourself. Tomorrow, Govinda, I will leave you.'

For a long time the friends wandered through the woods. They lay down for a long time but could not sleep. Govinda pressed his friend again and again to tell him why he would not follow the Buddha's teachings, what flaw he found in them, but each time Siddhartha waved him off: 'Be at peace, Govinda. The Illustrious One's teachings are very good. How could I find a flaw in them?'

Early in the morning, one of the Buddha's followers, one of his oldest monks, went through the garden and called to him all the new people who had sworn their allegiance to the teachings, in order to place upon them the yellow robe and instruct them in the first teachings and duties of their order. Thereupon Govinda tore himself away, embraced the friend of his youth, and drew on the monk's robe.

Siddhartha wandered through the grove deep in thouht.

There he met Gautam, the Illustrious One, and as he greeted him respectfully and the Buddha's expression was so full of goodness and peace, the young man plucked up courage and asked the Illustrious One's permission to speak to him. Silently the Illustrious One nodded his permission.

Siddhartha said: 'Yesterday, O Illustrious One, I had the pleasure of hearing your wonderful teachings. I cam from afar with my friend to hear you, and now my friend will remain with you; he has sworn allegiance to you. I, however, am continuing my pilgrimage anew.'

'As you wish,' said the Illustrious One politely.

'My talk is perhaps too bold,' continued Siddhartha, 'but I do not wish to leave the Illustrious One without sincerely communicating to him my thoughts. Will the Illustrious One hear me a little longer?'

Silently the Buddha nodded his consent.

Siddhartha said: 'O Illustrious One, in one thing above all have I admired your teachings. Everything is completely clear and proved. You show the world as a complete, unbroken chain, an eternal chain, linked together by cause and effect. Never has it been presented so clearly, never has it been so irrefutably demonstrated. Surely every Brahmin's heart must beat more quickly, when through your teachings he looks at the world, completely coherent, without a loophole, clear as crystal, not dependent on chance, not dependent on the gods. Whether it is good or evil, whether life itself is pain or pleasure, whether it is uncertain that it may perhaps be this is not important but the unity of the world, the coherence of all events, the embracing of the big and the small from the same stream, from the same law of cause, of becoming and dying: this shines clearly from your exalted teachings, this unity and logical consequence of all things is broken in one place. Through a small gap there streams into the world of unity something strange, something new, something that was not there before and that cannot be demonstrated and proved: that is your doctrine of rising above the world, of salvation. With this small gap, through this small break, however, the eternal and single world law breaks down again. Forgive me if I raise this objection.'

Gautam had listened quietly, motionless. And now the Perfect One spoke in his kind, polite and clear voice. 'You have listened well to the teachings, O Brahmin's son, and it is a credit to you that you have thought so deeply about them. You have found a flaw. Think well about it again. Let me warn you, you who are thirsty for knowledge, against the thicket of opinions and the conflict of words. Opinions mean nothing; they may be beautiful or ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can embrace or reject them. The teaching which you have heard, however, is not my opinion, and its goal is not to explain the world to those who are thirsty for knowledge. Its goal is quite different; the goal is salvation from suffering. That is what Gautam teaches, nothing else.'

'Do not be angry with me, O Illustrious One,' said the young man. 'I have not spoken to you thus to quarrel with you about words. You are right when you say that opinions mean little, but may I say one thing more? I did not doubt you for one moment. Not for one moment did I doubt that you were the Buddha, that you have reached the highest goal which so many thousands of Brahmin's and Brahmin's sons are striving to reach. You have done so by your own seeking in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment. You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings. To nobody, O Illustrious One, can you communicate in words and teachings, what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment. The teachings of the enlightened Buddha embrace much, they teach much how to live righteously, how to avoid evil. But there is one thing that this clever, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced he alone among hundreds of thousands. That is what I thought and realized when I heard your teachings. That is why I am going on my way not to seek another and better doctrine, for I know thee is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone or die. But I will often remember this day, O Illustrious One, and this hour when my eyes beheld a holy man.'

The Buddha's eyes were lowered, his unfathomable face expressed complete equanimity.

'I hope you are not mistaken in your reasoning,' said the Illustrious One slowly. 'May you reach your goal! But tell me, have you seen my gathering of holy men, my many brothers who have sworn allegiance to the teachings? Do you think, O Samana from afar, that it would be better for all these to relinquish the teachings and to return to the life of the world and desires?'

'That thought never occurred to me,' cried Siddhartha. 'May they all follow the teachings! May they reach their goal! It is not for me to judge another life. I must judge for myself. I must choose and reject. We Samanas seek release from the Self, O Illustrious One. If I were one of your followers, I fear that it would only be on the surface, that I would deceive myself that I was at peace and had attained salvation, while in truth the Self would continue to live and grow, for it would have been transformed into your teachings, into my allegiance and love for you and for the community of the monks.'

Half smiling, with imperturbable brightness and friendliness, the Buddha looked steadily at the stranger and dismissed him with a hardly visible gesture.

'You are clever, O Samana,' said the Illustrious One; 'you know how to speak cleverly, my friend. Be on your guard against too much cleverness.'

The Buddha walked away and his look and half-smile remained imprinted in Siddhartha's memory for ever. I have never seen a man look and smile, sit and walk like that, he thought. I, also, would like to look and smile, sit and walk like that, so free, so worthy, so restrained, so candid, so childlike and mysterious. A man only looks and walks like that when he has conquered his Self. I also will conquer my Self.

I have been one man, one man only, thought Siddhartha, before whom I must lower my eyes. I will never lower my eyes before any other man. No other teachings will attract me, since this man's teachings have not done so.

The Buddha has robbed me, thought Siddhartha. He has robbed me, yet he has given me something of greater value. He has robbed me of my friend, who believed in me and who now believes in him; he was my shadow and is now Gautam's shadow. But he has given me Siddhartha, myself.




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