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Ch. 11: OM

For a long time, the wound continued to burn. Many a traveller
Siddhartha had to ferry across the river who was accompanied by a son or
a daughter, and he saw none of them without envying him, without
thinking: "So many, so many thousands possess this sweetest of good
fortunes--why don't I? Even bad people, even thieves and robbers have
children and love them, and are being loved by them, all except for me."
Thus simply, thus without reason he now thought, thus similar to the
childlike people he had become.

Differently than before, he now looked upon people, less smart, less
proud, but instead warmer, more curious, more involved. When he ferried
travellers of the ordinary kind, childlike people, businessmen,
warriors, women, these people did not seem alien to him as they used to:
he understood them, he understood and shared their life, which was not
guided by thoughts and insight, but solely by urges and wishes, he felt
like them. Though he was near perfection and was bearing his final
wound, it still seemed to him as if those childlike people were his
brothers, their vanities, desires for possession, and ridiculous aspects
were no longer ridiculous to him, became understandable, became lovable,
even became worthy of veneration to him. The blind love of a mother
for her child, the stupid, blind pride of a conceited father for his
only son, the blind, wild desire of a young, vain woman for jewelry and
admiring glances from men, all of these urges, all of this childish
stuff, all of these simple, foolish, but immensely strong, strongly
living, strongly prevailing urges and desires were now no childish
notions for Siddhartha any more, he saw people living for their sake,
saw them achieving infinitely much for their sake, travelling,
conducting wars, suffering infinitely much, bearing infinitely much, and
he could love them for it, he saw life, that what is alive, the
indestructible, the Brahman in each of their passions, each of their
acts. Worthy of love and admiration were these people in their blind
loyalty, their blind strength and tenacity. They lacked nothing, there
was nothing the knowledgeable one, the thinker, had to put him above them
except for one little thing, a single, tiny, small thing: the
consciousness, the conscious thought of the oneness of all life. And
Siddhartha even doubted in many an hour, whether this knowledge, this
thought was to be valued thus highly, whether it might not also perhaps
be a childish idea of the thinking people, of the thinking and childlike
people. In all other respects, the worldly people were of equal rank
to the wise men, were often far superior to them, just as animals too
can, after all, in some moments, seem to be superior to humans in their
tough, unrelenting performance of what is necessary.

Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realisation, the
knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search
was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret
art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of
oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this
blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike
face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world,
smiling, oneness.

But the wound still burned, longingly and bitterly Siddhartha thought of
his son, nurtured his love and tenderness in his heart, allowed the
pain to gnaw at him, committed all foolish acts of love. Not by itself,
this flame would go out.

And one day, when the wound burned violently, Siddhartha ferried across
the river, driven by a yearning, got off the boat and was willing to go
to the city and to look for his son. The river flowed softly and
quietly, it was the dry season, but its voice sounded strange: it
laughed! It laughed clearly. The river laughed, it laughed brightly
and clearly at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, he bent over the
water, in order to hear even better, and he saw his face reflected in
the quietly moving waters, and in this reflected face there was
something, which reminded him, something he had forgotten, and as he
thought about it, he found it: this face resembled another face, which
he used to know and love and also fear. It resembled his father's face,
the Brahman. And he remembered how he, a long time ago, as a young man,
had forced his father to let him go to the penitents, how he had bed his
farewell to him, how he had gone and had never come back. Had his
father not also suffered the same pain for him, which he now suffered
for his son? Had his father not long since died, alone, without having
seen his son again? Did he not have to expect the same fate for
himself? Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid matter, this
repetition, this running around in a fateful circle?

The river laughed. Yes, so it was, everything came back, which had not
been suffered and solved up to its end, the same pain was suffered over
and over again. But Siddhartha want back into the boat and ferried back
to the hut, thinking of his father, thinking of his son, laughed at by
the river, at odds with himself, tending towards despair, and not less
tending towards laughing along at himself and the entire world.

Alas, the wound was not blossoming yet, his heart was still fighting his
fate, cheerfulness and victory were not yet shining from his suffering.
Nevertheless, he felt hope, and once he had returned to the hut, he felt
an undefeatable desire to open up to Vasudeva, to show him everything,
the master of listening, to say everything.

Vasudeva was sitting in the hut and weaving a basket. He no longer used
the ferry-boat, his eyes were starting to get weak, and not just his
eyes; his arms and hands as well. Unchanged and flourishing was only
the joy and the cheerful benevolence of his face.

Siddhartha sat down next to the old man, slowly he started talking.
What they had never talked about, he now told him of, of his walk to
the city, at that time, of the burning wound, of his envy at the sight
of happy fathers, of his knowledge of the foolishness of such wishes, of
his futile fight against them. He reported everything, he was able to
say everything, even the most embarrassing parts, everything could be
said, everything shown, everything he could tell. He presented his
wound, also told how he fled today, how he ferried across the water,
a childish run-away, willing to walk to the city, how the river had
laughed.

While he spoke, spoke for a long time, while Vasudeva was listening
with a quiet face, Vasudeva's listening gave Siddhartha a stronger
sensation than ever before, he sensed how his pain, his fears flowed
over to him, how his secret hope flowed over, came back at him from
his counterpart. To show his wound to this listener was the same as
bathing it in the river, until it had cooled and become one with the
river. While he was still speaking, still admitting and confessing,
Siddhartha felt more and more that this was no longer Vasudeva, no
longer a human being, who was listening to him, that this motionless
listener was absorbing his confession into himself like a tree the rain,
that this motionless man was the river itself, that he was God himself,
that he was the eternal itself. And while Siddhartha stopped thinking
of himself and his wound, this realisation of Vasudeva's changed
character took possession of him, and the more he felt it and entered
into it, the less wondrous it became, the more he realised that
everything was in order and natural, that Vasudeva had already been like
this for a long time, almost forever, that only he had not quite
recognised it, yes, that 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 started bidding his
farewell to Vasudeva. Thorough all this, he talked incessantly.

When he had finished talking, Vasudeva turned his friendly eyes, which
had grown slightly weak, at him, said nothing, let his silent love and
cheerfulness, understanding and knowledge, shine at him. He took
Siddhartha's hand, led him to the seat by the bank, sat down with him,
smiled 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. Softly sounded the river, singing in many voices.
Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him in the
moving water: his father appeared, lonely, mourning for his son; he
himself appeared, lonely, he also being tied with the bondage of
yearning to his distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy,
greedily rushing along the burning course of his young wishes, each
one heading for his goal, each one obsessed by the goal, each one
suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering, longingly it sang,
longingly, it flowed towards its goal, lamentingly its voice sang.

"Do you hear?" Vasudeva's mute gaze asked. Siddhartha nodded.

"Listen better!" Vasudeva whispered.

Siddhartha made an effort to listen better. The image of his father,
his own image, the image of his son merged, Kamala's image also appeared
and was dispersed, and the image of Govinda, and other images, and they
merged with each other, turned all into the river, headed all, being the
river, for the goal, longing, desiring, suffering, and the river's voice
sounded full of yearning, full of burning woe, full of unsatisfiable
desire. For the goal, the river was heading, Siddhartha saw it
hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and his loved ones and of
all people, he had ever seen, all of these waves and waters were
hurrying, suffering, towards goals, many goals, the waterfall, the lake,
the rapids, the sea, and all goals were reached, and every goal was
followed by a new one, and the water turned into vapour and rose to the
sky, turned into rain and poured down from the sky, turned into a
source, a stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed on once
again. But the longing voice had changed. It still resounded, full of
suffering, searching, but other voices joined it, voices of joy and of
suffering, good and bad voices, laughing and sad ones, a hundred voices,
a thousand voices.

Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely
concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now
finished learning to listen. Often before, he had heard all this, these
many voices in the river, today it sounded new. Already, he could no
longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping
ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged
together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the
knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones,
everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled
a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all
yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all
of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow of
events, was the music of life. And when Siddhartha was listening
attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he
neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie
his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but
when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great
song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om:
the perfection.

"Do you hear," Vasudeva's gaze asked again.

Brightly, Vasudeva's smile was shining, floating radiantly over all the
wrinkles of his old face, as the Om was floating in the air over all the
voices of the river. Brightly his smile was shining, when he looked at
his friend, and brightly the same smile was now starting to shine on
Siddhartha's face as well. His wound blossomed, his suffering was
shining, his self had flown into the oneness.

In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering.
On his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge, which is no
longer opposed by any will, which knows perfection, which is in
agreement with the flow of events, with the current of life, full of
sympathy for the pain of others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of
others, devoted to the flow, belonging to the oneness.

When Vasudeva rose from the seat by the bank, when he looked into
Siddhartha's eyes and saw the cheerfulness of the knowledge shining
in them, he softly touched his shoulder with his hand, in this careful
and tender manner, and said: "I've been waiting for this hour, my dear.
Now that it has come, let me leave. For a long time, I've been waiting
for this hour; for a long time, I've been Vasudeva the ferryman. Now
it's enough. Farewell, hut, farewell, river, farewell, Siddhartha!"

Siddhartha made a deep bow before him who bid his farewell.

"I've known it," he said quietly. "You'll go into the forests?"

"I'm going into the forests, I'm going into the oneness," spoke Vasudeva
with a bright smile.

With a bright smile, he left; Siddhartha watched him leaving. With deep
joy, with deep solemnity he watched him leave, saw his steps full of
peace, saw his head full of lustre, saw his body full of light.

Hermann Hesse

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