First Part - Gotama

EVERY CHILD IN the town of Savathi knew the name of the exalted Buddha, and every house was prepared to fill the alms-dishes of the silent beggars who were Gotama's disciples. Gotama's favorite place to stay was near the town: the grove of Jetavana. The wealthy merchant Anathapindika, an obedient worshipper of the exalted one, had given this grove as a gift to Gotama and his people

As the two young ascetics had searched for Gotama's dwelling place, the responses and the stories they had heard pointed them towards this area. Upon arriving in Savathi, they received a meal at the door of the first house where they had stood and begged. Siddhartha asked the woman who gave them the meal:

“You whose deeds are most gracious—we would be most glad to learn where the Buddha, who is venerable, spends his time. We are two Samanas from the woods, and have come in order to see him who is the perfected one, and to hear the teachings from his mouth.”

The woman said: “You Samanas from the forest have certainly come to the right place. Know this: it is in Jetavana, in the garden of Anathapindika, that the Sublime one spends his time. You should spend the night there, pilgrims, because there is enough room there for the countless multitudes who flock here to hear the teachings from his mouth.”

Govinda rejoiced at this, and full of joy he exclaimed: “Well then, our goal has been reached and our path has come to an end! But tell us, you who are mother to the pilgrims, do you know him, the Buddha; have you seen him with your eyes?”

Spoke the woman: “Many times have I seen him who is sublime. I have seen him upon many occasions, how he goes silently through the alleyways in a yellow mantle, how he silently extends his bowl at the doors of houses, and how he carries the filled dish away.”

Govinda listened with delight, and still wanted to ask and hear about many things. But Siddhartha was in a hurry to continue onwards. They thanked her and went on their way, hardly having to ask for directions because so many pilgrims and monks from Gotama's neighborhood were on their way to Jetavana. As they reached it that evening, there were constant arrivals, with people shouting or talking as they sought shelter and received it. The two Samanas, who were used to living in the forest, silently and quickly found a place to stay and rested there until the morning.

At sunrise, they were astounded to see such large throngs of believers and people who were curious who had spent the night there. Monks went to and fro in yellow robes on all the paths of the majestic grove; they sat here and there among the trees, immersed in contemplation or spiritual discussions. The shadowy gardens were like a city, full of people who were bustling like bees. Most of the monks went with their alms-dishes to collect food in the city for the midday meal, the only meal of the day. The Buddha himself, the enlightened one, was also in the habit of taking this walk to beg in the morning.

Siddhartha recognized him as soon as he saw him, as if a god had pointed him out to him. He saw him, a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently.

“See here!” Siddhartha said quietly to Govinda. “This one here is the Buddha.”

Attentively, Govinda glanced at the monk in the yellow robe, who seemed no different from the hundreds of other monks. And soon, Govinda also realized: this is the one. And they followed him and observed him.

The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly. With his hidden smile, the Buddha strolled on quietly, calmly, and not unlike a healthy child. He wore his robe and placed his feet much as all the other monks did, according to an exact rule. But his face and his gait, his gaze lowered quietly, his motionless hands hanging down, and even every finger of his dangling hands bespoke peace, expressed perfection—they did not search, or imitate—as they breathed softly with a calm that did not wither, with a light that did not fade, and with a peace that was intangible.

In this way Gotama strolled towards the town collecting alms, and the two Samanas recognized him simply by the perfection of his peace, by the stillness of his being in which there was no seeking, no desire, no imitation, no attempts at being seen—only light and peace.

“Today, we'll hear the teachings from his mouth.” said Govinda.

Siddhartha gave no answer. He was slightly curious about this teaching. He did not believe that they would teach him anything new, but he, like Govinda, had heard the contents of this Buddha's teachings again and again, though these reports only represented second- or third-hand information. But attentively he looked at Gotama's head, his shoulders, his feet, his quietly dangling hand, and it seemed to Siddhartha as if every joint of every finger of this hand was a teacher who spoke, breathed of, exhaled the fragrance of, and shone forth with truth. This man, this Buddha was truthful down to the gesture of his last finger. This man was holy. Never before had Siddhartha revered a person so much, never before had he loved a person as much as this one.

They both followed the Buddha until they reached the town and then returned in silence, for they themselves had thought to abstain from food for the day. They saw Gotama returning—what he ate could not even have satisfied a bird's appetite—and they saw him retiring into the shade of the mango trees.

But in the evening, when the heat cooled down and everyone in the camp started to bustle about and gathered around, they heard the Buddha teaching. They heard his voice, and it also was perfected, wholly calm and full of peace. Gotama taught the lessons of suffering, of the origin of suffering, of ways to relieve suffering. Calmly and clearly his quiet speech flowed on. Suffering was life, the whole world was full of suffering, but salvation from suffering had been found: salvation was obtained by walking the path of the Buddha. The exalted one spoke with a voice that was soft yet firm; he taught the four main doctrines and taught the eightfold path. He patiently followed the typical path of teaching by using examples and repetition; his voice hovered brightly and quietly over the listeners like a light, like a star in heaven.

Night had already fallen when the Buddha had ended his speech, and many pilgrims stepped forward and asked to be accepted into the community, taking their refuge in his teachings. And Gotama accepted them by saying: “You have heard the teachings well, they have come to you well. Join us then and walk in holiness, putting an end to all suffering.”

Behold, then Govinda, the shy one, also stepped forward and spoke: “I also take my refuge in the exalted one and his teachings,” and he asked to be accepted into the community of discipleship and was accepted.

Directly after this, when the Buddha had retired for the night, Govinda turned to Siddhartha and spoke eagerly: “Siddhartha, it is not my place to reproach you. We have both heard the exalted one, we have both heard the teachings. Govinda has heard the teachings, he has taken refuge in it. But you, my honored friend, don't you also want to walk the path of salvation? Would you want to hesitate, do you want to wait any longer?”

Siddhartha awakened as if he had been asleep, when he heard Govinda's words. For a long time, he looked into Govinda's face. Then he spoke quietly, in a voice without mockery: “Govinda, my friend, now you have taken this step, you have chosen this path. You've always been my friend, O Govinda; you've always walked one step behind me. Often have I thought: Won't Govinda for once also take a step by himself, without me, out of his own soul? Behold, now you've turned into a man and are choosing your path for yourself. May you follow it to the end, O my friend! May you find salvation!”

Govinda, who had not yet fully understood, repeated his question in an impatient tone: “Speak up, I beg you, dear one! Tell me, since it could not be any other way, that you also, my erudite friend, will take your refuge in the exalted Buddha!”

Siddhartha placed his hand on Govinda's shoulder: “You failed to hear my blessing for you, O Govinda. I'm repeating it: May you follow this path to its end; may you find salvation!”

In this instant, Govinda realized that his friend had left him, and he started to weep.

“Siddhartha!” he exclaimed in a lamenting voice.

Siddhartha spoke kindly to him: “Don't forget, Govinda, that you are now one of the Samanas of the Buddha! You have renounced your home and your parents, renounced your heritage and possessions, renounced your free will, renounced all friendship. This is what the teachings require, this is what the exalted one wants. This is what you wanted for yourself. Tomorrow, O Govinda, I'll leave you.”

For a long time, the friends continued walking in the grove; for a long time, they lay there and found no sleep. And over and over again, Govinda urged his friend to tell him why he didn't want to seek refuge in Gotama's teachings, what fault he had found in them. But Siddhartha turned him away every time and said: “Be at peace, Govinda! The teachings of the sublime one are very good; how could I find an error in them?”

Very early in the morning, a follower of Buddha, one of his oldest monks, went through the garden and called to him all those who had taken their refuge in the teachings and become novices, so that he could lay the yellow robe on them and instruct them in the primary teachings and duties of their position. Then Govinda tore himself away, embraced once again his childhood friend, and left with the novices.

But Siddhartha walked through the grove, lost in thought. There he encountered Gotama, the exalted one, and as he greeted him with respect and the Buddha's glance was so full of kindness and calm, the young man summoned his courage and asked the venerable one for the permission to speak to him. Silently the exalted one nodded his assent.

Spoke Siddhartha: “Yesterday, O exalted one, it was my privilege to hear your wondrous teachings. I came here from afar with my friend to hear your teachings. And now my friend is going to remain with your people; he has taken his refuge with you. I, however, will begin my pilgrimage once again.”

“As you please,” said the revered one politely.

“My speech is too bold,” continued Siddhartha, “but I do not want to leave the exalted one without having honestly shared with him my thoughts. Does it please the venerable one to listen to me for one moment longer?”

Silently, the Buddha nodded his assent.

Siddhartha said: “There is one thing, O most venerable one, that I have admired in your teachings most of all. Everything in your teachings is perfectly clear and proven; you are presenting the world as a perfect chain, a chain which is never and nowhere broken, an eternal chain, the links of which are causes and effects. Never before has this been so clearly seen; never before has this been presented so irrefutably. Truly, the heart of every Brahmin has to beat stronger with love, once he has seen the world connected perfectly through your teachings, without gaps, clear as a crystal, not depending on chance or upon gods. Whether it may be good or bad, whether living according to it would be suffering or joy, may remain undecided. It may be that this is not essential. However, the unity of the world, the interconnectedness of all that transpires, the fact that the great and the small things are all encompassed by the same forces of time and law of causation, of coming into being and of dying—these shine brightly out of your exalted teachings, O perfected one. But according to your very own teachings, this unity and logical consistency of all things is nevertheless broken in one place. But through a small gap this world of unity is invaded by something alien, something which had not been there before, and which cannot be demonstrated and cannot be proven: these are your teachings of overcoming the world, of salvation. But with this small gap, with this small breach, the entire eternal and uniform law of the world is being smashed to pieces and is done away with. Please forgive me for expressing this objection.”

Quietly, Gotama had listened to him, unmoved. Now the perfected one spoke with his kind, polite, and clear voice: “You've heard the teachings, O son of a Brahmin, and it is good that you've thought about them deeply. You've found a gap in them, a mistake. You should think about this further. Let me warn you, however, O seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of opinions and of arguing about words. Opinions are insubstantial: they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish; everyone can support them or discard them. But the teachings you've heard from me are not my opinions, and their goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is that which Gotama teaches, and nothing else.”

“May you, O exalted one, not scorn me,” said the young man. “I have not spoken to you like this to quarrel with you, to argue about words. You are truly right: opinions are insubstantial. But let me say this one more thing: I have not doubted in you for a single moment. I have not doubted for a single moment that you are Buddha who has reached the goal, the highest goal towards which so many thousands of Brahmins and sons of Brahmins are on their way. You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realization, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—so are my thoughts, O exalted one—nobody will partake in salvation through teachings! You will not be able to convey and share with anyone, O venerable one, in words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much. They teach many to live righteously and avoid evil. But there is one thing which these lucid and honorable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one alone among hundreds of thousands has experienced for himself. This is what I have thought and realized when I heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there aren't any, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and either to reach my goal on my own or to die. But I'll often think of this day, oh exalted one, and of this hour, when my eyes beheld a saint.”

The Buddha's eyes quietly looked to the ground; quietly, in perfect equanimity his inscrutable face was smiling.

“May your thoughts,” the venerable one spoke slowly, “not be in error! May you reach the goal! But tell me: Have you seen the multitude of my Samanas, my many brothers who have taken refuge in the teachings? And do you believe, O stranger, O Samana, do you believe that it would be better for them all to abandon the teachings and return into the life of the world and desires?”

“Such a thought is far from my mind,” exclaimed Siddhartha. “Would that they all stay with the teachings, that they reach their goal! It is not my place to judge another person's life. Only for myself, for myself alone, must I pass judgment, choose, or reject. Salvation from the self is what we Samanas search for, O exalted one. If I were now one of your disciples, O honorable one, I fear that it may come to pass that my existence would only appear to be calm and redeemed, but in reality my inner being would live on and grow large because I had replaced my inner being with teachings, my duty to follow you, my love for you, and with the community of monks!”

With half of a smile, with an unwavering openness and kindness, Gotama looked into the stranger's eyes and bid him to leave with an almost imperceptible gesture.

“You are wise, O Samana.” said the venerable one. “You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be wary of too much wisdom!”

The Buddha turned away, and his glance and half-smile remained forever etched in Siddhartha's memory.

“I have never before seen a person glance and smile, sit and walk that way,” he thought. “Truly, I want to be able to glance and smile, sit and walk that way, too: so free, so venerable, so concealed, so open, so child-like and mysterious. Truly, only a person who has succeeded in reaching the innermost part of his self would glance and walk this way. Truly, I also will seek to reach the innermost part of my self.”

“I saw a person,” Siddhartha thought, “a single one before whom I had to lower my glance. I do not want to lower my glance before any other, not before any other. No teachings will entice me any more, since this man's teachings have not enticed me.”

“The Buddha has robbed me,” thought Siddhartha, “he has robbed me, and he has given as a gift much more to me. He has robbed me of my friend, the one who had believed in me and now believes in him, who had been my shadow and is now Gotama's shadow. But he has given me Siddhartha, myself.”