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The Son

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This page was last updated: February 04, 2003


The Brahmin's Son
With the Samanas
Amongst the People
By the River
The Ferryman
The Son

Frightened and weeping, the boy had attended his mother's burial; frightened and gloomy, he had listened to Siddhartha greeting him as his son and making him welcome in Vasudeva's hut. For days on end he sat with a pale face on the hill of the dead, looked away, locked his heart, fought and strove against his fate.

Siddhartha treated him with consideration and left him alone, for he respected his grief. Siddhartha understood that his son did not know him, that he could not love him as a father. Slowly, he also saw and realized that the eleven-year-old child was the mother's spoilt boy and had been brought up in the habits of the rich, that he was accustomed to fine food and a soft bed, accustomed to commanding servants. Siddhartha understood that the spoilt and grieving boy could not suddenly be content in a strange and poor place. He did not press him; he did a great deal for him and always saved the best morsels for him. Slowly, by friendly patience, he hoped to win him over.

He had considered himself rich and happy when the boy had come to him, but as time passed and the boy remained unfriendly and sulky, when he proved arrogant and defiant, when he would do no work, when he showed no respect to the old people and robbed Vasudeva's fruit trees, Siddhartha began to realize that no happiness and peace had come to him with his son, only sorrow and trouble. But he loved him and preferred the sorrow and trouble of his love rather than happiness and pleasure without the boy.

Since young Siddhartha was in the hut, the old men had shared the work. Vasudeva had taken over all the work at the ferry and Siddhartha, in order to be in his son, the work in the hut and the fields.

For many months Siddhartha waited patiently in the hope that his son would come to understand him, that he would accept his love and that he would perhaps return to it. For many months Vasudeva observed this, waited and was silent. One day, when young Siddhartha was distressing his father with his defiance and temper and had broken both rice bowls, Vasudeva took his friend aside in the evening and talked to him.

'Forgive me,' he said. 'I am speaking to you as my friend. I can see that you are worried and unhappy. Your son, my dear friend, is troubling you, and also me. The young bird is accustomed to a different life, to a different nest. He did not run away from riches and the town with a feeling of nausea and disgust as you did; he has had to leave all these things against his will. I have asked the river, my friend, I have asked it many times, and the river laughed, it laughed at me and it laughed at you; it shook itself with laughter at our folly. Water will go to water, youth to youth. Your son will not be happy in this place. You ask the river and listen to what it says.'

Troubled, Siddhartha looked at the kind face, in which there were many good-natured wrinkles.

'How can I part from him?' he said softly. 'Give me time yet, my dear friend. I am fighting for him, I am trying to reach his heart. I will win him with love and patience. The river will also talk to him some day. He is also called.'

Vasudeva's smile became warmer. 'Oh yes,' he said, 'he is also called; he also belongs to the everlasting life. But do you and I know to what he is called, to which path, which deeds, which deeds, which sorrows? His sorrows will not be slight. His heart is proud and hard. He will probably suffer much, make many mistakes, do much injustice and commit many sins. Tell me, my friend, are you educating your son? Is he obedient to you? Do you strike him or punish him?'

'No, Vasudeva, I do not do any of these things.'

'I knew it. You are not strict with him, you do not punish him, you do not command him  because you know that gentleness is stronger than severity, that water is stronger than rock, that love is stronger than force. Very good, I praise you. But is it not perhaps a mistake on your part not to be strict with him, not to punish him? Do you not chain him with your love? Do you not shame him daily with your goodness and patience and make it still more difficult for him? Do you not compel this arrogant, spoilt boy to live in a hut with two old banana eaters, to whom even rice is a dainty, whose thoughts cannot be the same as his, whose hearts are old and quiet and beat differently from his? Is he not constrained and punished by all this?'

Siddhartha looked at the ground in perplexity. 'What do you think I should do?' he asked softly.

Vasudeva said: 'Take him into the town; take him to his mother's house. There will be servants there; take him to them. And if they are no longer there, take him to a teacher, not just for the sake of education, but so that he can meet other boys and girls and be in the world to which he belongs. Have you never thought about it?'

'You can see into my heart,' said Siddhartha sadly. 'I have often thought about it. But how will he, who is so hard-hearted, go on in this world? Will he not consider himself superior, will he not lose himself in pleasure and power, will he not repeat all his father's mistakes, will he not perhaps be quite lost in Sansara?'

The ferryman smiled again. He touched Siddhartha's arm gently and said: 'Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to it, laugh about it! Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son then? Can you then protect your son from Sansara? How? Through instruction, through prayers, through exhortation? My dear friend, have you forgotten that instructive story about Siddhartha, the Brahmin's son, which you once told me here? Who protected Siddhartha the Samana from Sansara, from sin, greed and folly? Could his father's piety, his teacher's exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Which father, which teacher, could prevent him from living his own life, from soiling himself with life, from loading himself with sin, from swallowing the bitter drink himself, from finding his own path? Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path? Perhaps your  little son, because you would like to see him spared sorrow and pain and disillusionment? But it you were to die ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest.'

Never had Vasudeva talked so much. He thanked him in a friendly fashion, went troubled to his hut, but could not sleep. Vasudeva had not told him anything that he had not already thought and known himself. But stronger than his knowledge was his love for the boy, his devotion, his fear of losing him. Had he ever lost his heart to anybody so completely, had he ever loved anybody so much, so blindly, so painfully, so hopelessly and yet so happily?

Siddhartha could not take his friend's advice; he could not give up his son. He allowed the boy to command him, to be disrespectful to him. He was silent and waited; he began daily the mute battle of friendliness and patience. Vasudeva was also silent and waited, friendly, understanding, forbearing. They were both masters of patience.

Once, when the boy's face reminded him of Kamala, Siddhartha suddenly remembered something she had once said to him a long time ago. 'You cannot love,' she had said to him and he had agreed with her. He had compared himself with a star, and other people with falling leaves, and yet he had felt some reproach in her words. It was true that he had never fully lost himself in another person to such an extent as to forget himself; he had never undergone the follies of love for another person. He had never been able to do this, and it had then seemed to him that this was the biggest difference between him and the ordinary people. But now, since his son was there, he, Siddhartha, had become completely like one of the people, through sorrow, through loving. He was madly in love, a fool because of love. Now he also experienced belatedly, for once in his life, the strongest and strangest passion: he suffered tremendously through it and yet was uplifted, in some way renewed and richer.

He felt indeed that this love, this blind love for his son, was a very human passion, that it was Samana, a troubled spring of deep water. At the same time he felt that it was not worthless, that it was necessary, that it came from his own nature. This emotion, this pain, these follies also had to be experienced.

In the meantime, his son let him commit his follies, let him strive, let him be humbled by his moods. There was nothing about his father that attracted him and nothing that he feared. This father was a good man, a kind gentle man, perhaps a pious man, perhaps a holy man  but all these were not qualities which could win the boy. This father who kept him in this wretched hut bored him, and when he answered his rudeness with a smile, every insult with friendliness, every naughtiness with kindness, that was the most hateful cunning of the old fox. The boy would have much preferred him to threaten him, to ill-treat him.

A day came when young Siddhartha said what was in his mind and openly turned against his father. The latter had told him to gather some twigs. But the boy did not leave the hut, he stood there, defiant and angry, stamped on the ground, clenched his fists and forcibly declared his hatred and contempt in his father's face.

'Bring you own twigs,' he shouted, foaming. 'I am not your servant. I know that you do not beat me; you dare not! I know, however, that you continually punish me and make me feel small with your piety and indulgence. You want me to become like you, so pious, so gentle, so wise, but just to spite you, I would rather become a thief and a murderer and go to hell, than be like you. I hate you; you are not my father even if you have been my mother's lover a dozen times!'

Full of rage and misery, he found an outlet in a stream of wild and angry words at his father. Then the boy ran away and only returned late in the evening.

The following morning he had disappeared. A small two-coloured basket made of bast, in which the ferrymen kept the copper and silver coins which they received as their payment, had also disappeared. The boat, too, had gone. Siddhartha saw it on the other side of the bank. The boy had run away.

'I must follow him,' said Siddhartha, who had been in great distress since the boy's hard words of the previous day. 'A child cannot go through the forest alone; he will come to some harm. We must make a raft, Vasudeva, in order to cross the river.'

'We will make a raft,' said Vasudeva, 'in order to fetch our boat which the boy took away. But let him go, my friend, he is not a child any more; he knows how to look after himself. He is seeking the way to the town and he is right. Do not forget that. He is doing what you yourself have neglected to do. He is looking after himself; he is going his own way. Oh, Siddhartha, I can see you are suffering, suffering pain over which one should laugh, over which you will soon laugh yourself.'

Siddhartha did not reply. He already held the hatchet in his hands and began to build a raft from bamboo and Vasudeva helped him to bind the cane together with grass rope. Then they sailed across, were driven far out, but directed the raft upstream to the other bank.

'Why have you brought the hatchet with you?' asked Siddhartha.

Vasudeva said: 'It is possible that the oar of our boat is lost.'

But Siddhartha knew what his friend was thinking  probably that the boy would have thrown the oar away or broken it out of revenge and to prevent them following him. And indeed, there was no longer an oar in the boat. Vasudeva indicated the bottom of the boat and smiled at his friend as if to say: Do you not see what your son wishes to say? Do you not see that he does not wish to be followed? But he did not say it in words and started to make a new oar. Siddhartha took leave of him to look for the boy. Vasudeva did not hinder him.

Siddhartha had been in the forest a long time when the thought occurred to him that his search was useless. Either, he thought, the boy had long ago left the wood and reached the town, or if he were still on the way, he would hide from the pursuer. And when he reflected further, he found that he was not troubled about his son, that inwardly he knew he had neither come to any harm nor was threatened with danger in the forest. Nevertheless, he went on steadily, no longer to save him, but with a desire perhaps to see him again, and he walked up to the outskirts of the town.

When he reached the wide road near the town, he stood still at the entrance to the beautiful pleasure garden that had once belonged to Kamala, where he had once seen her in a sedan chair for the first time. The past rose before his eyes. Once again he saw himself standing there, a young, bearded, naked Samana, his hair full of dust. Siddhartha stood there a long time and looked through the open gate into the garden. He saw monks walking about under the beautiful trees.

He stood there for a long time, thinking, seeing pictures, seeing the story of his life. He stood there a long time looking at the monks, saw in their place the young Siddhartha and Kamala walking beneath the tall trees. Clearly he saw himself attended by Kamala and receiving her first kiss. He saw how he had arrogantly and contemptuously looked back on his Samana days, how he had proudly and eagerly begun his worldly life. He saw Kamaswami, the servants, the banquets, the dice players, the musicians. He saw Kamala's songbird in its cage; he lived it all over again, breathed Sansara, was again old and tired, again felt nausea and the desire to die, again heard the holy Om.

After he had stood for a long time at the gate to the garden, Siddhartha realized that the desire that had driven him to this place was foolish, that he could not help his son, that he should not force himself on him. He felt a deep love for the runaway boy, like a wound, and yet felt at the same time that this wound was not intended to fester in him, but that it should heal.

Because the wound did not heal during that hour, he was sad. In place of the goal which had brought him here after his son, there was only emptiness. Sadly, he sat down. He felt something die in his heart; he saw no more happiness, no goal. He sat there depressed and waited. He had learned this from the river: to wait, to have patience, to listen. He sat and listened in the dusty road, listened to his heart which beat wearily and sadly and waited for a voice. He crouched there and listened for many hours, saw no more visions, sank into emptiness and let himself sink without seeing a way out. And when he felt the wound smarting, he whispered the word Om, filled himself with Om. The monks in the garden saw him and as he crouched there for many hours and the dust collected on his grey hairs, one of the monks came towards him and placed two bananas in front of him. The old man did not see him.

A hand touching his shoulder awakened him from his trance. He recognized his gentle, timid touch and recovered. He rose and greeted Vasudeva, who had followed him. When he saw Vasudeva's kind face, looked at his little laughter wrinkles, into his bright eyes, he smiled also. He now saw the bananas lying near him. He picked them up, gave one to the ferryman and ate the other. Then he went silently with Vasudeva through the wood again, back to the ferry. Neither spoke of what had happened, neither mentioned the boy's name, neither spoke of his flight, nor of the wound. Siddhartha went to his bed in the hut and when Vasudeva went to him after a time to offer him some coconut milk, he found him asleep.




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