Ch. 12: Govinda

Together with other monks, Govinda used to spend the time of rest
between pilgrimages in the pleasure-grove, which the courtesan Kamala
had given to the followers of Gotama for a gift. He heard talk of an
old ferryman, who lived one day's journey away by the river, and
who was regarded as a wise man by many. When Govinda went back on his
way, he chose the path to the ferry, eager to see the ferryman.
Because, though he had lived his entire life by the rules, though he was
also looked upon with veneration by the younger monks on account of his
age and his modesty, the restlessness and the searching still had not
perished from his heart.

He came to the river and asked the old man to ferry him over, and when
they got off the boat on the other side, he said to the old man:
"You're very good to us monks and pilgrims, you have already ferried
many of us across the river. Aren't you too, ferryman, a searcher for
the right path?"

Quoth Siddhartha, smiling from his old eyes: "Do you call yourself a
searcher, oh venerable one, though you are already of an old in years
and are wearing the robe of Gotama's monks?"

"It's true, I'm old," spoke Govinda, "but I haven't stopped searching.
Never I'll stop searching, this seems to be my destiny. You too, so it
seems to me, have been searching. Would you like to tell me something,
oh honourable one?"

Quoth Siddhartha: "What should I possibly have to tell you, oh
venerable one? Perhaps that you're searching far too much? That in all
that searching, you don't find the time for finding?"

"How come?" asked Govinda.

"When someone is searching," said Siddhartha, "then it might easily
happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches
for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind,
because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search,
because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching
means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having
no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because,
striving for your goal, there are many things you don't see, which are
directly in front of your eyes."

"I don't quite understand yet," asked Govinda, "what do you mean by

Quoth Siddhartha: "A long time ago, oh venerable one, many years ago,
you've once before been at this river and have found a sleeping man by
the river, and have sat down with him to guard his sleep. But, oh
Govinda, you did not recognise the sleeping man."

Astonished, as if he had been the object of a magic spell, the monk
looked into the ferryman's eyes.

"Are you Siddhartha?" he asked with a timid voice. "I wouldn't have
recognised you this time as well! From my heart, I'm greeting you,
Siddhartha; from my heart, I'm happy to see you once again! You've
changed a lot, my friend.--And so you've now become a ferryman?"

In a friendly manner, Siddhartha laughed. "A ferryman, yes. Many
people, Govinda, have to change a lot, have to wear many a robe, I am
one of those, my dear. Be welcome, Govinda, and spend the night in my

Govinda stayed the night in the hut and slept on the bed which used to
be Vasudeva's bed. Many questions he posed to the friend of his youth,
many things Siddhartha had to tell him from his life.

When in the next morning the time had come to start the day's journey,
Govinda said, not without hesitation, these words: "Before I'll
continue on my path, Siddhartha, permit me to ask one more question.
Do you have a teaching? Do you have a faith, or a knowledge, you
follow, which helps you to live and to do right?"

Quoth Siddhartha: "You know, my dear, that I already as a young man, in
those days when we lived with the penitents in the forest, started to
distrust teachers and teachings and to turn my back to them. I have
stuck with this. Nevertheless, I have had many teachers since then. A
beautiful courtesan has been my teacher for a long time, and a rich
merchant was my teacher, and some gamblers with dice. Once, even a
follower of Buddha, travelling on foot, has been my teacher; he sat with
me when I hat fallen asleep in the forest, on the pilgrimage. I've also
learned from him, I'm also grateful to him, very grateful. But most of
all, I have learned here from this river and from my predecessor, the
ferryman Vasudeva. He was a very simple person, Vasudeva, he was no
thinker, but he knew what is necessary just as well as Gotama, he was a
perfect man, a saint."

Govinda said: "Still, oh Siddhartha, you love a bit to mock people, as
it seems to me. I believe in you and know that you haven't followed a
teacher. But haven't you found something by yourself, though you've
found no teachings, you still found certain thoughts, certain insights,
which are your own and which help you to live? If you would like to
tell me some of these, you would delight my heart."

Quoth Siddhartha: "I've had thoughts, yes, and insight, again and
again. Sometimes, for an hour or for an entire day, I have felt
knowledge in me, as one would feel life in one's heart. There have
been many thoughts, but it would be hard for me to convey them to you.
Look, my dear Govinda, this is one of my thoughts, which I have found:
wisdom cannot be passed on. Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on
to someone always sounds like foolishness."

"Are you kidding?" asked Govinda.

"I'm not kidding. I'm telling you what I've found. Knowledge can be
conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is
possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it
cannot be expressed in words and taught. This was what I, even as a
young man, sometimes suspected, what has driven me away from the
teachers. I have found a thought, Govinda, which you'll again regard as
a joke or foolishness, but which is my best thought. It says: The
opposite of every truth is just as true! That's like this: any truth
can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided.
Everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with
words, it's all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness,
roundness, oneness. When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of
the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into deception
and truth, into suffering and salvation. It cannot be done differently,
there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself,
what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. A person or
an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never
entirely holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this,
because we are subject to deception, as if time was something real.
Time is not real, Govinda, I have experienced this often and often
again. And if time is not real, then the gap which seems to be between
the world and the eternity, between suffering and blissfulness, between
evil and good, is also a deception."

"How come?" asked Govinda timidly.

"Listen well, my dear, listen well! The sinner, which I am and which
you are, is a sinner, but in times to come he will be Brahma again, he
will reach the Nirvana, will be Buddha--and now see: these "times to
come" are a deception, are only a parable! The sinner is not on his
way to become a Buddha, he is not in the process of developing, though
our capacity for thinking does not know how else to picture these
things. No, within the sinner is now and today already the future
Buddha, his future is already all there, you have to worship in him, in
you, in everyone the Buddha which is coming into being, the possible,
the hidden Buddha. The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or
on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is perfect in every moment,
all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small
children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already
have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is nor possible for
any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his
path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the
Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the
possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was,
is, and will be as if it was simultaneous, and there everything is
good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see
whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness,
wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only
requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be
good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever
harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin
very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed
the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all
resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop
comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection
I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy
being a part of it.--These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which
have come into my mind."

Siddhartha bent down, picked up a stone from the ground, and weighed it
in his hand.

"This," he said playing with it, "is a stone, and will, after a
certain time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a
plant or animal or human being. In the past, I would have said: This
stone is just a stone, it is worthless, it belongs to the world of the
Maja; but because it might be able to become also a human being and a
spirit in the cycle of transformations, therefore I also grant it
importance. Thus, I would perhaps have thought in the past. But today
I think: this stone is a stone, it is also animal, it is also god, it is
also Buddha, I do not venerate and love it because it could turn into
this or that, but rather because it is already and always everything--
and it is this very fact, that it is a stone, that it appears to me now
and today as a stone, this is why I love it and see worth and purpose in
each of its veins and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray, in the
hardness, in the sound it makes when I knock at it, in the dryness or
wetness of its surface. There are stones which feel like oil or soap,
and others like leaves, others like sand, and every one is special and
prays the Om in its own way, each one is Brahman, but simultaneously and
just as much it is a stone, is oily or juicy, and this is this very fact
which I like and regard as wonderful and worthy of worship.--But let me
speak no more of this. The words are not good for the secret meaning,
everything always becomes a bit different, as soon as it is put into
words, gets distorted a bit, a bit silly--yes, and this is also very
good, and I like it a lot, I also very much agree with this, that this
what is one man's treasure and wisdom always sounds like foolishness to
another person."

Govinda listened silently.

"Why have you told me this about the stone?" he asked hesitantly after
a pause.

"I did it without any specific intention. Or perhaps what I meant was,
that love this very stone, and the river, and all these things we are
looking at and from which we can learn. I can love a stone, Govinda,
and also a tree or a piece of bark. This are things, and things can be
loved. But I cannot love words. Therefore, teachings are no good for
me, they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no smell,
no taste, they have nothing but words. Perhaps it are these which keep
you from finding peace, perhaps it are the many words. Because
salvation and virtue as well, Sansara and Nirvana as well, are mere
words, Govinda. There is no thing which would be Nirvana; there is just
the word Nirvana."

Quoth Govinda: "Not just a word, my friend, is Nirvana. It is a

Siddhartha continued: "A thought, it might be so. I must confess to
you, my dear: I don't differentiate much between thoughts and words.
To be honest, I also have no high opinion of thoughts. I have a better
opinion of things. Here on this ferry-boat, for instance, a man has
been my predecessor and teacher, a holy man, who has for many years
simply believed in the river, nothing else. He had noticed that the
river's spoke to him, he learned from it, it educated and taught him,
the river seemed to be a god to him, for many years he did not know that
every wind, every cloud, every bird, every beetle was just as divine and
knows just as much and can teach just as much as the worshipped river.
But when this holy man went into the forests, he knew everything, knew
more than you and me, without teachers, without books, only because he
had believed in the river."

Govinda said: "But is that what you call `things', actually something
real, something which has existence? Isn't it just a deception of the
Maja, just an image and illusion? Your stone, your tree, your river--
are they actually a reality?"

"This too," spoke Siddhartha, "I do not care very much about. Let the
things be illusions or not, after all I would then also be an illusion,
and thus they are always like me. This is what makes them so dear and
worthy of veneration for me: they are like me. Therefore, I can love
them. And this is now a teaching you will laugh about: love, oh
Govinda, seems to me to be the most important thing of all. To
thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be
the thing great thinkers do. But I'm only interested in being able to
love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to
look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great

"This I understand," spoke Govinda. "But this very thing was discovered
by the exalted one to be a deception. He commands benevolence,
clemency, sympathy, tolerance, but not love; he forbade us to tie our
heart in love to earthly things."

"I know it," said Siddhartha; his smile shone golden. "I know it,
Govinda. And behold, with this we are right in the middle of the
thicket of opinions, in the dispute about words. For I cannot deny, my
words of love are in a contradiction, a seeming contradiction with
Gotama's words. For this very reason, I distrust in words so much, for
I know, this contradiction is a deception. I know that I am in
agreement with Gotama. How should he not know love, he, who has
discovered all elements of human existence in their transitoriness, in
their meaninglessness, and yet loved people thus much, to use a long,
laborious life only to help them, to teach them! Even with him, even
with your great teacher, I prefer the thing over the words, place more
importance on his acts and life than on his speeches, more on the
gestures of his hand than his opinions. Not in his speech, not in his
thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life."

For a long time, the two old men said nothing. Then spoke Govinda,
while bowing for a farewell: "I thank you, Siddhartha, for telling me
some of your thoughts. They are partially strange thoughts, not all
have been instantly understandable to me. This being as it may, I thank
you, and I wish you to have calm days."

(But secretly he thought to himself: This Siddhartha is a bizarre
person, he expresses bizarre thoughts, his teachings sound foolish.
So differently sound the exalted one's pure teachings, clearer, purer,
more comprehensible, nothing strange, foolish, or silly is contained in
them. But different from his thoughts seemed to me Siddhartha's hands
and feet, his eyes, his forehead, his breath, his smile, his greeting,
his walk. Never again, after our exalted Gotama has become one with the
Nirvana, never since then have I met a person of whom I felt: this is a
holy man! Only him, this Siddhartha, I have found to be like this. May
his teachings be strange, may his words sound foolish; out of his gaze
and his hand, his skin and his hair, out of every part of him shines a
purity, shines a calmness, shines a cheerfulness and mildness and
holiness, which I have seen in no other person since the final death of
our exalted teacher.)

As Govinda thought like this, and there was a conflict in his heart, he
once again bowed to Siddhartha, drawn by love. Deeply he bowed to him
who was calmly sitting.

"Siddhartha," he spoke, "we have become old men. It is unlikely for
one of us to see the other again in this incarnation. I see, beloved,
that you have found peace. I confess that I haven't found it. Tell me,
oh honourable one, one more word, give my something on my way which I
can grasp, which I can understand! Give me something to be with me on
my path. It it often hard, my path, often dark, Siddhartha."

Siddhartha said nothing and looked at him with the ever unchanged,
quiet smile. Govinda stared at his face, with fear, with yearning,
suffering, and the eternal search was visible in his look, eternal

Siddhartha saw it and smiled.

"Bent down to me!" he whispered quietly in Govinda's ear. "Bend down to
me! Like this, even closer! Very close! Kiss my forehead, Govinda!"

But while Govinda with astonishment, and yet drawn by great love and
expectation, obeyed his words, bent down closely to him and touched his
forehead with his lips, something miraculous happened to him. While his
thoughts were still dwelling on Siddhartha's wondrous words, while he
was still struggling in vain and with reluctance to think away time, to
imagine Nirvana and Sansara as one, while even a certain contempt for
the words of his friend was fighting in him against an immense love and
veneration, this happened to him:

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw
other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of
hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all
seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and
renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the
face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the
face of a dying fish, with fading eyes--he saw the face of a new-born
child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying--he saw the face
of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another
person--he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling
and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his
sword--he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps
of frenzied love--he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void--
he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of
bulls, of birds--he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni--he saw all of these
figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one
helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth
to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of
transitoriness, and yet none of then died, each one only transformed,
was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time
having passed between the one and the other face--and all of these
figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along
and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by
something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like
a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of
water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling
face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips.
And, Govinda saw it like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of
oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above
the thousand births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha was precisely
the same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate,
impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-fold
smile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it himself with great
respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the perfected ones
are smiling.

Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted
a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed
a Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you, feeling in his innermost self
as if he had been wounded by a divine arrow, the injury of which tasted
sweet, being enchanted and dissolved in his innermost self, Govinda
still stood for a little while bent over Siddhartha's quiet face, which
he had just kissed, which had just been the scene of all manifestations,
all transformations, all existence. The face was unchanged, after under
its surface the depth of the thousandfoldness had closed up again, he
smiled silently, smiled quietly and softly, perhaps very benevolently,
perhaps very mockingly, precisely as he used to smile, the exalted one.

Deeply, Govinda bowed; tears, he knew nothing of, ran down his old face;
like a fire burnt the feeling of the most intimate love, the humblest
veneration in his heart. Deeply, he bowed, touching the ground, before
him who was sitting motionlessly, whose smile reminded him of everything
he had ever loved in his life, what had ever been valuable and holy to
him in his life.


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