Siddhartha By Hermann Hesse Part 2: The Ferryman

Siddhartha spoke with ecstasy; deeply, this enlightenment had delighted him. Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as time would have been put out of existence by one's thoughts? In ecstatic delight, he had spoken, but Vasudeva smiled at him brightly and nodded in confirmation; silently he nodded, brushed his hand over Siddhartha's shoulder, turned back to his work.

And once again, when the river had just increased its flow in the rainy season and made a powerful noise, then said Siddhartha: "Isn't it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn't it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?"

"So it is," Vasudeva nodded, "all voices of the creatures are in its voice."

"And do you know," Siddhartha continued, "what word it speaks, when you succeed in hearing all of its ten thousand voices at once?"

Happily, Vasudeva's face was smiling, he bent over to Siddhartha and spoke the holy Om into his ear. And this had been the very thing which Siddhartha had also been hearing.

And time after time, his smile became more similar to the ferryman's, became almost just as bright, almost just as throughly glowing with bliss, just as shining out of thousand small wrinkles, just as alike to a child's, just as alike to an old man's. Many travellers, seeing the two ferrymen, thought they were brothers. Often, they sat in the evening together by the bank on the log, said nothing and both listened to the water, which was no water to them, but the voice of life, the voice of what exists, of what is eternally taking shape. And it happened from time to time that both, when listening to the river, thought of the same things, of a conversation from the day before yesterday, of one of their travellers, the face and fate of whom had occupied their thoughts, of death, of their childhood, and that they both in the same moment, when the river had been saying something good to them, looked at each other, both thinking precisely the same thing, both delighted about the same answer to the same question.

There was something about this ferry and the two ferrymen which was transmitted to others, which many of the travellers felt. It happened occasionally that a traveller, after having looked at the face of one of the ferrymen, started to tell the story of his life, told about pains, confessed evil things, asked for comfort and advice. It happened occasionally that someone asked for permission to stay for a night with them to listen to the river. It also happened that curious people came, who had been told that there were two wise men, or sorcerers, or holy men living by that ferry. The curious people asked many questions, but they got no answers, and they found neither sorcerers nor wise men, they only found two friendly little old men, who seemed to be mute and to have become a bit strange and gaga. And the curious people laughed and were discussing how foolishly and gullibly the common people were spreading such empty rumours.

The years passed by, and nobody counted them. Then, at one time, monks came by on a pilgrimage, followers of Gotama, the Buddha, who were asking to be ferried across the river, and by them the ferrymen were told that they were most hurriedly walking back to their great teacher, for the news had spread the exalted one was deadly sick and would soon die his last human death, in order to become one with the salvation. It was not long, until a new flock of monks came along on their pilgrimage, and another one, and the monks as well as most of the other travellers and people walking through the land spoke of nothing else than of Gotama and his impending death. And as people are flocking from everywhere and from all sides, when they are going to war or to the coronation of a king, and are gathering like ants in droves, thus they flocked, like being drawn on by a magic spell, to where the great Buddha was awaiting his death, where the huge event was to take place and the great perfected one of an era was to become one with the glory.

Often, Siddhartha thought in those days of the dying wise man, the great teacher, whose voice had admonished nations and had awoken hundreds of thousands, whose voice he had also once heard, whose holy face he had also once seen with respect. Kindly, he thought of him, saw his path to perfection before his eyes, and remembered with a smile those words which he had once, as a young man, said to him, the exalted one. They had been, so it seemed to him, proud and precocious words; with a smile, he remembered them. For a long time he knew that there was nothing standing between Gotama and him any more, though he was still unable to accept his teachings. No, there was no teaching a truly searching person, someone who truly wanted to find, could accept. But he who had found, he could approve of any teachings, every path, every goal, there was nothing standing between him and all the other thousand any more who lived in that what is eternal, who breathed what is divine.

On one of these days, when so many went on a pilgrimage to the dying Buddha, Kamala also went to him, who used to be the most beautiful of the courtesans. A long time ago, she had retired from her previous life, had given her garden to the monks of Gotama as a gift, had taken her refuge in the teachings, was among the friends and benefactors of the pilgrims. Together with Siddhartha the boy, her son, she had gone on her way due to the news of the near death of Gotama, in simple clothes, on foot. With her little son, she was travelling by the river; but the boy had soon grown tired, desired to go back home, desired to rest, desired to eat, became disobedient and started whining.

Kamala often had to take a rest with him, he was accustomed to having his way against her, she had to feed him, had to comfort him, had to scold him. He did not comprehend why he had to to go on this exhausting and sad pilgrimage with his mother, to an unknown place, to a stranger, who was holy and about to die. So what if he died, how did this concern the boy?

The pilgrims were getting close to Vasudeva's ferry, when little Siddhartha once again forced his mother to rest. She, Kamala herself, had also become tired, and while the boy was chewing a banana, she crouched down on the ground, closed her eyes a bit, and rested. But suddenly, she uttered a wailing scream, the boy looked at her in fear and saw her face having grown pale from horror; and from under her dress, a small, black snake fled, by which Kamala had been bitten.

Hurriedly, they now both ran along the path, in order to reach people, and got near to the ferry, there Kamala collapsed, and was not able to go any further. But the boy started crying miserably, only interrupting it to kiss and hug his mother, and she also joined his loud screams for help, until the sound reached Vasudeva's ears, who stood at the ferry. Quickly, he came walking, took the woman on his arms, carried her into the boat, the boy ran along, and soon they all reached the hut, were Siddhartha stood by the stove and was just lighting the fire. He looked up and first saw the boy's face, which wondrously reminded him of something, like a warning to remember something he had forgotten. Then he saw Kamala, whom he instantly recognised, though she lay unconscious in the ferryman's arms, and now he knew that it was his own son, whose face had been such a warning reminder to him, and the heart stirred in his chest.

Kamala's wound was washed, but had already turned black and her body was swollen, she was made to drink a healing potion. Her consciousness returned, she lay on Siddhartha's bed in the hut and bent over her stood Siddhartha, who used to love her so much. It seemed like a dream to her; with a smile, she looked at her friend's face; just slowly she, realized her situation, remembered the bite, called timidly for the boy.

"He's with you, don't worry," said Siddhartha.

Kamala looked into his eyes. She spoke with a heavy tongue, paralysed by the poison. "You've become old, my dear," she said, "you've become gray. But you are like the young Samana, who at one time came without clothes, with dusty feet, to me into the garden. You are much more like him, than you were like him at that time when you had left me and Kamaswami. In the eyes, you're like him, Siddhartha. Alas, I have also grown old, old — could you still recognise me?"

Siddhartha smiled: "Instantly, I recognised you, Kamala, my dear."

Kamala pointed to her boy and said: "Did you recognise him as well? He is your son."

Her eyes became confused and fell shut. The boy wept, Siddhartha took him on his knees, let him weep, petted his hair, and at the sight of the child's face, a Brahman prayer came to his mind, which he had learned a long time ago, when he had been a little boy himself. Slowly, with a singing voice, he started to speak; from his past and childhood, the words came flowing to him. And with that singsong, the boy became calm, was only now and then uttering a sob and fell asleep. Siddhartha placed him on Vasudeva's bed. Vasudeva stood by the stove and cooked rice. Siddhartha gave him a look, which he returned with a smile.

"She'll die," Siddhartha said quietly.

Vasudeva nodded; over his friendly face ran the light of the stove's fire.

Once again, Kamala returned to consciousness. Pain distorted her face, Siddhartha's eyes read the suffering on her mouth, on her pale cheeks. Quietly, he read it, attentively, waiting, his mind becoming one with her suffering. Kamala felt it, her gaze sought his eyes.

Looking at him, she said: "Now I see that your eyes have changed as well. They've become completely different. By what do I still recognise that you're Siddhartha? It's you, and it's not you."

Siddhartha said nothing, quietly his eyes looked at hers.

"You have achieved it?" she asked. "You have found peace?"

He smiled and placed his hand on hers.

"I'm seeing it," she said, "I'm seeing it. I too will find peace."

"You have found it," Siddhartha spoke in a whisper.

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