First Part - The Son of the Brahmin

SIDDHARTHA, the handsome son of the Brahmin, the young falcon, grew up together with his friend Govinda, the Brahmin's son, in the shadow of the house, in the sun of the riverbank near the boats, in the shadow of the sala forest, and in the shadow of the fig trees. The sun tanned his fair shoulders on the riverbank while he bathed, during the holy cleansing, at the holy sacrifices. Shadows flowed into his black eyes in the mango grove, during the boyish games, when his mother sang, at the holy sacrifices, during the teaching of his father the scholar, and when speaking with the wise ones. For a long time Siddhartha had taken part in the wise ones' discussions; he had practiced word-wrestling with Govinda, had practiced the art of contemplation and the duty of meditation with Govinda. He already understood how to speak the “Om” silently, that word of words, how to speak it silently in his inner being as he inhaled, how to pronounce it silently out of himself as he exhaled, how to do so with his whole soul while his forehead was enveloped by the radiance of the clear-thinking mind. He already understood how to recognize Atman within this inner essence of his that was indestructible and one with the universe.

Joy sprang up in his father's heart over the son who was so apt to learn and so thirsty after knowledge; he saw growing within him a great sage and priest, a prince among the Brahmins.

Delight welled up in his mother's heart when she saw him taking long strides, saw him sitting down and standing up: Siddhartha the strong and handsome, who strode upon lean legs and who greeted her with impeccable manners.

All the young daughters of the Brahmins felt love stirring within their hearts when Siddhartha walked through the side-streets of the city with a beaming face, a lean physique, and a royal look in his eyes.

Govinda, the Brahmin's son, however, loved him more than all of these. He loved the eye of Siddhartha and his sweet voice, his gait and the perfection of his movements; he loved everything that Siddhartha did and said, and above all he loved Siddhartha's mind, his sublime and fiery thoughts, his blazing will, and Siddhartha's high calling. Govinda knew that this would be no ordinary Brahmin, no lazy official presiding over the sacrifices, no money-grubbing merchant hawking magic trinkets, no vain and vacuous speaker, no wicked and lying priest, and also not a good-hearted but dim-witted sheep in the plebian herds. Govinda didn't want to be such a person either, didn't want to be a Brahmin like all the ten thousand other Brahmins. He wanted to follow Siddhartha, who was beloved and majestic. When Siddhartha first became a god, when he entered into the radiance, then Govinda wanted to follow him as his friend, his escort, his servant, his spear-carrier, and his shadow.

In this manner, everyone loved Siddhartha. He brought everyone joy; he pleased everyone.

However, Siddhartha didn't bring himself joy; he didn't please himself. He strolled on the rosy paths of the fig gardens, sat in the blue shadows of the grove of meditation, washed his limbs daily in baths of atonement, and sacrificed in the deep shadows of the mango forest. Everyone loved him; he was joyous to them, and yet he carried no joy in his own heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him out of the river's water, twinkled to him from the stars of the night, melted out of the sunbeams. Dreams and anxiety came billowing out of the sacrificial smoke, whispering from the verses of the Rig-Veda, or trickling out of the old Brahmin's teachings.

Siddhartha had started to cultivate the seed of discontent within himself. He had started to feel as if his father's love, his mother's love, and the love of his friend Govinda wouldn't make him happy forever, wouldn't bring him peace, satisfy him, and be sufficient for all time. He had started to suspect that his illustrious father, his other teachers, and the wise Brahmins had shared the majority and the best of their wisdom with him, that they had already poured their all into his ready vessel without filling the vessel: the mind wasn't satisfied, the soul wasn't quiet, the heart wasn't stilled. The purifications were nice, but they were just water, and didn't wash away sins; they didn't cure the mental thirst or allay his heart's anxiety. Sacrifices and invocations to the gods were superb—but were they sufficient? Did the sacrifices bring happiness? And what about all those gods? Was Prajapati really the one who had created the world? Wasn't it Atman, He who was the Only One, the All-One? Weren't the gods creatures, created just as you and I were: subject to time and transitory? Was it even good, was it right, did it make sense or was it important to sacrifice to the gods? To whom else would one sacrifice, to whom else should one bring worship other than Him, the Only, the Atman? And where could Atman be found, where did he live, where did his eternal heart beat—where else other than in the self, in one's inner being, in the indestructible part of all persons that they carried within themselves? But where was this self, where was this inner being, this most paramount thing? It was not made of flesh or the legs that carried it, it wasn't just the thoughts or the awareness—or so taught the wisest men. Where then was it? One had to penetrate that far into the self, into myself, into the Atman—was there some other way, however, a search which still yielded worthwhile results? Ah, but nobody pointed to this way, nobody knew it: not father, not the teachers and wise ones, not the holy chants sung during sacrifices! They knew everything, those Brahmins and their holy books. They knew everything, they had concerned themselves with everything and with more than everything: the creation of the world, the origins of language, of foods, of inhalation and exhalation, the institution of the senses, the deeds of the gods—they knew an inordinate amount, and yet was it worthwhile to know everything like this when one didn't know the one and only thing that was most important—that which alone was important?

To be sure, many verses from the holy books—especially the Upanishads of the Sama-Veda—spoke about these innermost and most important things—majestic verses. “Your soul is the whole world” was written there; it was also written that the person who slept in the deepest slumber went within to his or her innermost place and lived in Atman. Wonderful wisdom stood within these verses, all the wisdom of the wisest was gathered there in the magical words, pure like the honey gathered by the bees. No, the behemoth of knowledge that innumerable generations of wise Brahmins had gathered and protected there wasn't to be lightly esteemed. But where were the Brahmins, where were the priests, the wise ones and the penitents—those who were successful not only in knowing this deepest wisdom but also in living it? Where were the elders who could merge this Atman of their dreams with the waking being, to bring it fully into their lives and into their words and deeds? Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmins—not the least of whom was his father, who was pure, scholarly, and highly esteemed. His father was admirable: his habits were quiet and elegant, his life pure, his words wise, and the thoughts that inhabited his brow were both fine and noble—but did he who possessed so much wisdom live a blessed life? Did he have joy; wasn't he also a mere seeker, one who had thirst? Did not he, who had thirst, have to receive a holy quenching of this thirst by drinking time and time again at the sacrifices, at the books, at the conversations of the Brahmins? Why did he, who was irreproachable, have to wash out his sins every day, have to expend great effort once more to attain purification each and every day. Wasn't Atman in him; didn't the ancient spring flow in his heart? The ancient spring must be found in one's own self; one must own it! Everything else was just a search, a detour; it was to go astray.

Thus went Siddhartha's thoughts; this was his thirst, his sorrow.

He often spoke to himself out of the Chandogya-Upanishad: “Verily, the name of the Brahman is Satyam— in truth, one who knows this enters daily into the heavenly world.” This heavenly world often appeared close, but he had never totally reached it; never had he quenched the ultimate thirst. Furthermore, among all the wise ones whom he knew whose teaching he had savored—even the wisest—among them all there were none who had totally reached the heavenly world, who had completely quenched the eternal thirst.

“Govinda,” said Siddhartha to his friend, “Govinda, beloved, come with me among the Banyan trees, and we will practice meditating.”

They went to the Banyan trees and sat down: here Siddhartha, and Govinda twenty paces further. When Siddhartha sat down, ready to speak the Om, he murmured and repeated the verse:

When the usual time for practicing meditation had passed, Govinda rose up. The twilight had come, and it was time to perform the cleansing of the evening hour. He called Siddhartha's name. Siddhartha gave no answer. Siddhartha sat with his eyes open, immersed, staring with his eyes fixed upon a very far goal; the tip of his tongue stuck out a little between his teeth, and he didn't appear to be breathing. Thus he sat, shrouded in meditation, thinking Om, his soul sent out like an arrow after the Brahman.

Once, the Samanas pulled through Siddhartha's town. They were pilgrims and ascetics: three scraggly, worn-out men who were neither old nor young, with dusty and bloody shoulders. They were nearly naked, singed by the sun, given over to loneliness, strangers and enemies of the world, and estranged, gaunt jackals in the domain of mankind. From behind them wafted a hot scent of quiet passion, of a duty that destroys, of a merciless self-effacing.

In the evening, after the hour of contemplation, Siddhartha said to Govinda: “Early tomorrow, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the Samanas. He will become a Samana.”

Govinda paled when he heard these words and saw the resolution in the stony face of his friend, a resolution that, like the swiftest arrow let loose from the bow, could never be deflected. As soon as Govinda glimpsed this, he recognized: now it begins; now Siddhartha goes his own way, now his fate begins to sprout, and with his, mine. Govinda paled like the peel of a dry banana.

“O Siddhartha,” he called, “Will your father allow you to do that?”

Siddhartha glanced at his friend like one just waking up. As quickly as the arrow flies, he read Govinda's soul; he read the anxiety and the devotion there.

“O Govinda,” he said quietly, “don't waste any words on this. Tomorrow at daybreak I will begin a Samana's life. Don't discuss this any more.”

Siddhartha stepped in the chamber where his father sat on a raffia mat, and walked behind his father, standing there until his father sensed that someone was standing behind him. The Brahmin spoke: “Is that you, Siddhartha? Well, say what you have come here to say.”

Siddhartha spoke: “With your permission, my father. I have come to say to you that I am desirous of leaving your house tomorrow and going to the ascetics. My wish is to become a Samana. May my father not be opposed to this.”

The Brahmin was silent, and silent so long that in the little window the stars wandered and changed their configuration before the silence in the chamber found an end. Silent and still, the son stood with crossed arms; silent and still, the father sat on the mat, and the stars moved in the heavens. Then the father spoke: “It is not fitting for the Brahmins to speak with severe and scornful words. Yet, I see displeasure moving your heart. I would not like to hear this request come out of your mouth a second time.”

Slowly the Brahmin raised himself, Siddhartha, mute and with crossed arms, stood there.

“What are you waiting for?” asked the father.

Spoke Siddhartha: “You know what for.”

Displeased, the father went out of the chamber; displeased, he sought his bed and lay down.

After an hour during which no sleep came to his eyes, the Brahmin stood up, paced to and fro, and stepped out of the house. Through the little window of the chamber he looked in, and saw that Siddhartha stood there with crossed arms, unmoved. His lightweight outer garment shimmered with a pale light. Restless at heart, the father returned to his bed.

After an hour during which no sleep came to his eyes, the Brahmin stood up again, paced to and fro, stepped in front of the house, and saw the moon, which had risen. Through the window of the chamber he glanced inside: there stood Siddhartha, unmoved, with crossed arms and the moonlight mirrored on his bare shins. The father, concerned in his heart, sought his bed.

And he came again after an hour, and came again after two hours; he glanced through the little window, saw Siddhartha standing in the moonlight, in the star shine, and in the darkness. And the father silently came again from hour to hour, glanced in the chamber, saw the immobile person standing there, then filled his heart with rage, filled his heart with disquietude, filled his heart with anxiety, and filled it with sorrow.

And in the last hour of the night, before the day began, he turned again, came into the chamber, and saw standing there the young boy that now appeared so large and strange to him.

“Siddhartha,” said he, “What are you waiting for?”

“You know what for.”

“Will you always stand like this and wait, until it becomes day, becomes noon, becomes evening?”

“I will stand and wait.”

“You will become tired, Siddhartha.”

“I will become tired.”

“You will fall asleep, Siddhartha.”

“I will not fall asleep.”

“You will die, Siddhartha.”

“I will die.”

“And you would rather die than listen to your father?”

“Siddhartha has always listened to his father.”

“So you want to give up your intentions?”

“Siddhartha will do what his father is going to tell him to do.”

The first sunshine of the day fell upon the chamber. The Brahmin saw that Siddhartha's knees were gently trembling. In Siddhartha's face, however, he saw no trembling: the eyes looked far away. Then the father realized that Siddhartha had already gone from him and his household, that he had already left him.

The father touched Siddhartha's shoulder.

“You will,” he said, “go in the woods and be a Samana. If you have found blessedness in the woods, then come and teach me how to be blessed. If you find disappointment, then return once more and let us once again sacrifice to the gods together. Now go and kiss your mother; tell her where you are going. For me, however, it is time to go to the river and perform the first cleansing.”

He took his hand from his son's shoulder and went outside. Siddhartha swayed to one side as if he wanted to go. He conquered his limbs, bowed down before his father and went to his mother in order to do as his father had said.

At dawn, he slowly and with stiff legs left the still-quiet city. At the last hut, he saw a shadow that was crouching down there rise up and join him, the new pilgrim—Govinda.

“You have come,” said Siddhartha as he smiled.

“I have come,” said Govinda.

“Om is the bow; the arrow is the soul,
The Brahman is the arrow's goal
That one should continuously hit.”