Second Part - “Om”
SIDDHARTHA'S WOUND continued to burn for a long time. He had to ferry many travelers accompanied by their sons or daughters across the river, and there wasn't one that he saw without envy, thinking: “So many thousands possess this sweetest of good fortunes. Why don't I? Even evil people—thieves and robbers—have children and love them, receiving love in return—all except for me.” He now thought like a simpleton without reason, similar to the childlike people he had become like.
He looked upon people differently than he had before. He was less shrewd, less proud, and instead was warmer, more curious, and more engaging. When he ferried ordinary travelers (childlike people, businessmen, warriors, or women), they did not seem as alien to him as they once had. He understood them and shared their lives, which were not guided by thoughts and insight, but only by urges and wishes. He felt akin to them. Even though he was close to perfection and was bearing his final wound, it still seemed to him as if these childlike people were his brothers. Their vanities, desires for possessions, and ridiculous traits were no longer laughable to him. They became comprehendible, lovable, and even worthy of veneration to him. All of the childish, simple, foolish, and yet very strong and vibrant urges and desires that prevailed among them—the blind love of a mother for her child, the stupid and blind pride of a conceited father for his only son, the blind and wild desire of a young, vain woman for jewelry and admiration from men—all of these desires were no longer childish to Siddhartha. He saw people live for themselves, saw them achieve an infinite amount for themselves, saw them travel, wage war, suffer an infinite amount, and endure an infinite amount. He could love them for it, and he saw life and that which is alive—the indestructible Brahman—in each of their passions and actions. These people were worthy of love and admiration in their blind loyalty, strength, and tenacity. There was nothing they lacked, and there was nothing that the wise one or thinker possessed that put him above the rest of them except for one single, small, tiny thing: the awareness and conscious thought of the unity of all life. At many times, Siddhartha even doubted whether this knowledge should be so highly valued, or whether it was also perhaps some childishness of the intellectual people, the childlike people who practiced thinking. In every other regard, worldly people were of equal rank to the wise men, and were often far superior to them in the same way that animals can, in some moments, seem superior to humans because of the tough, unrelenting pursuit of necessities.
The realization and knowledge of what wisdom actually is slowly blossomed and ripened within Siddhartha; he now knew what the goal of his long search was. His goal was nothing more than a readiness of the soul, an ability and secret method of thinking the thought of unity every moment of his life, and being able to feel and inhale the unity. This is what blossomed within him and was shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiles, and unity.
The wound still burned, however, and Siddhartha thought bitterly and longingly about his son. He nurtured love and tenderness in his heart, and allowed the pain to gnaw at him, and reveled in all the foolish acts of love. This flame would not go out on its own.
One day, when the wound was burning violently, Siddhartha crossed the river and was driven by a yearning. He got off the boat and wanted to go into the city and look for his son. The river flowed softly and quietly. It was the dry season, but the river's voice sounded strange: it laughed! It clearly laughed. The river laughed brightly and clearly at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, bent over the water in order to hear the river better, and saw his face reflected in the quietly moving waters. In this reflected face was a reminder of something he had forgotten, and as he thought about it, he found it: this face resembled another face which he used to know, love, and fear. It resembled the face of his father, the Brahmin. He remembered how he, long ago when he was a young man, had forced his father to let him go to the penitents, and how he had said farewell to him, and how he had gone and never come back. Hadn't his father also suffered the same pain on his account that he was now suffering because of his son? Hadn't his father long since died alone without having seen his son again? Didn't Siddhartha have to expect this same fate himself? Wasn't this repetition, this running around in fateful circles, a strange and stupid comedy?
The river laughed. Yes, it was so; everything that had not been suffered and come to its resolution returned again. The same pain was suffered time and time again. But Siddhartha went back to the boat and went back to the hut. He thought of his father, his son, and the river was laughing at him. He was at odds with himself: he was inclined to despair, and was no less inclined to laugh at himself and the entire world. Alas, the wound was not yet blossoming, and his heart still fought his fate. Good cheer and victory did not yet shine from his suffering. Nevertheless, he felt hope, and once he had returned to the hut, he felt and indefatigable desire to open up to Vasudeva, showing and saying everything to him who was the master of listening.
Vasudeva sat in the hut and wove a basket. He no longer used the ferry boat, as not only were his eyes starting to get weak, but his arms and hands were as well. The joy and cheerful benevolence of his face were the only things that were unchanged and flourishing.
Siddhartha sat down next to the old man and slowly began to talk. He now told him about that which they had never talked about: his walk to the city that one time, his burning wound, the envy he experienced at the sight of happy fathers, how he knew such wishes to be foolish, and how his fight against them was futile. He recounted everything, and he was able to say everything. Even the most embarrassing parts could be spoken; everything could be shown, everything told. He laid bare his wound, and told about how he fled today, going across the water in a childish sort of running away. He told how he was willing to walk to the city, and how the river had laughed.
Siddhartha spoke for a long time, and Vasudeva listened with a quiet face. Vasudeva's listening gave Siddhartha a sensation that was stronger than ever before. He sensed how his pain and fears flowed over to Vasudeva, and how the secret hope flowed over and came back to him from his companion. Showing his wound to this listener was just like bathing it in the river until it had cooled and become one with the river. While he was speaking, admitting and confessing all this, Siddhartha felt more and more that this was no longer Vasudeva, a human being, who was listening to him; he felt that this motionless listener was absorbing his confession into himself ass a tree did the rain. He felt that this motionless man was the river itself, God himself, that he was eternity itself. While Siddhartha stopped thinking about himself and his wound, this realization of Vasudeva's changed nature took possession of him, and the more he felt it and entered into this nature, the less wondrous it became, and the more he realized that everything was in its proper place and natural. Vasudeva had already been like this for a long time—forever, almost—and Siddhartha was the only one who had not quite recognized it; yes, and he himself had almost reached the same state. He felt that he was now seeing old Vasudeva as the people see the gods, and that this could not last. In his heart, he began to say goodbye to Vasudeva. He talked incessantly through all of this.
When Siddhartha had finished talking, Vasudeva turned his friendly eyes, which had grown somewhat weak, directly at him. He said nothing, letting his silent love and cheer, his understanding and knowledge shine at him. He took Siddhartha's hand, led him to the seat by the riverbank, and sat down with him, smiling at the river.
“You've heard it laugh,” he said. “But you haven't heard everything. Let's listen. You'll hear more.”
They listened. The polyphonic song of the river resonated softly. Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him out of the moving water: his father appeared, and he was lonely and mourning for his son; he himself appeared, and he was also in bondage with yearning for his estranged son; his son appeared, and he was also lonely, as the boy greedily stormed along the burning road of his young wishes, reaching every goal, obsessed by every goal and every suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering, and it sang longingly, flowing towards its goal. Its voice resonated with lamentations.
“Do you hear?” asked the mute gaze of Vasudeva. Siddhartha nodded.
“Listen closer!” whispered Vasudeva.
Siddhartha endeavored to listen better. The images of his father, himself, and his son merged. Kamala's image also appeared and was dispersed, and the images of Govinda and others merged with one another, all turning into the river, and all heading for the goal as the river itself. They were all filled with desire and suffering, and the river's voice was filled with yearning, burning woe, and unsatisfied desire. The river was headed for the goal, and Siddhartha saw it hurrying. The river, which consisted of him, his loved ones, and all the people he had ever seen, hurried in waves of suffering water towards many goals: the waterfall, the lake, the rapids, or the sea. Each goal was achieved, and every goal was followed by a new one as the water turned into vapor and rose into the sky, transformed then into rain and poured down from the sky, turned into a source, a stream, or a river, and then continued to flow onward once again. The longing voice, however, had changed. It still resounded with suffering and seeking, but other voices had joined it: voices of joy and suffering, good and evil, laughter or sadness. There were hundreds or even thousands of voices.
Siddhartha listened. He was nothing but a listener now; he was completely concentrated on listening, completely empty. He felt that he had now finished learning how to listen. He had often heard all of these many voices in the river before; today, however, they sounded new. He could no longer distinguish the individual voices in the multitude, could not differentiate between the happy ones and weeping ones, the children and the men. All the voices belonged together: the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the wise one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones. All was one, and everything was intertwined and connected, entangled together a thousand times over. And together—all the voices, all the goals, all suffering, pleasure, good, and evil—together, it was all the world. All of it together was the flow of events and the music of life. And, when Siddhartha listened attentively to this river that contained the song of a thousand voices, when he listened neither to the suffering nor the laughter and did not bind his soul to any individual voice but submerged his self into it, and when he heard them all and perceived the entirety and the unity of it, then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of a single word, and that was “Om,” the perfection.
“Do you hear?” asked Vasudeva's gaze again.
Vasudeva's smile was shining brightly, and floating radiantly over all the wrinkles of his old face just as the “Om” was floating in the air over all the voices of the river. His smile was shining brightly when he looked at his friend, and the same smile now started to shine brightly on Siddhartha's face as well. His wound now blossomed, and his suffering was radiant; his self had taken flight into the unity.
Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate this very hour, and he stopped suffering. Blooming on his face was mirth of a knowledge no longer opposed by any will, knowing perfection, and in agreement with the flow of events and the current of life. This mirth was full of sympathy for the pain and pleasure of others; it was devoted to the flow and dedicated to the unity.
When Vasudeva stood up from the seat by the riverbank and looked into Siddhartha's eyes, he saw the mirth and the knowledge shining within them. He then touched Siddhartha's shoulder softly with his hand, and in this careful and tender manner, he said: “I've been waiting for this hour, my friend. Now that it has come, let me leave. I've been waiting for this hour for a long time. I've been Vasudeva the ferryman for a long time. Now it has been long enough. Farewell, hut; farewell, river; farewell, Siddhartha!”
Siddhartha bowed deeply before the one who was bidding him farewell.
“I have known this would come,” he said quietly. “You'll go into the forest?”
“I'm going into the forest; I'm entering the unity,” spoke Vasudeva with a bright smile.
He left with this same bright smile, and Siddhartha watched him leave. Siddhartha watched him leave with deep joy and intense solemnity; he saw that Vasudeva's steps were full of peace, that his head was filled with radiance, and that his whole body was filled with light.