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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    In the evening of this day they caught up with the ascetics, the skinny
    Samanas, and offered them their companionship and--obedience. They
    were accepted.

    Siddhartha gave his garments to a poor Brahman in the street. He wore
    nothing more than the loincloth and the earth-coloured, unsown cloak.
    He ate only once a day, and never something cooked. He fasted for
    fifteen days. He fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh waned from
    his thighs and cheeks. Feverish dreams flickered from his enlarged
    eyes, long nails grew slowly on his parched fingers and a dry, shaggy
    beard grew on his chin. His glance turned to icy when he encountered
    women; his mouth twitched with contempt, when he walked through a city
    of nicely dressed people. He saw merchants trading, princes hunting,
    mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering themselves, physicians
    trying to help the sick, priests determining the most suitable day for
    seeding, lovers loving, mothers nursing their children--and all of this
    was not worthy of one look from his eye, it all lied, it all stank,
    it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful and
    beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted
    bitter. Life was torture.

    A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of
    thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.
    Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an
    emptied heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was
    his goal. Once all of my self was overcome and had died, once every
    desire and every urge was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part
    of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer my
    self, the great secret.

    Silently, Siddhartha exposed himself to burning rays of the sun directly
    above, glowing with pain, glowing with thirst, and stood there, until he
    neither felt any pain nor thirst any more. Silently, he stood there in
    the rainy season, from his hair the water was dripping over freezing
    shoulders, over freezing hips and legs, and the penitent stood there,
    until he could not feel the cold in his shoulders and legs any more,
    until they were silent, until they were quiet. Silently, he cowered in
    the thorny bushes, blood dripped from the burning skin, from festering
    wounds dripped pus, and Siddhartha stayed rigidly, stayed motionless,
    until no blood flowed any more, until nothing stung any more, until
    nothing burned any more.

    Siddhartha sat upright and learned to breathe sparingly, learned to
    get along with only few breathes, learned to stop breathing. He
    learned, beginning with the breath, to calm the beat of his heart,
    leaned to reduce the beats of his heart, until they were only a few and
    almost none.

    Instructed by the oldest if the Samanas, Siddhartha practised
    self-denial, practised meditation, according to a new Samana rules.
    A heron flew over the bamboo forest--and Siddhartha accepted the heron
    into his soul, flew over forest and mountains, was a heron, ate fish,
    felt the pangs of a heron's hunger, spoke the heron's croak, died a
    heron's death. A dead jackal was lying on the sandy bank, and
    Siddhartha's soul slipped inside the body, was the dead jackal, lay on
    the banks, got bloated, stank, decayed, was dismembered by hyaenas, was
    skinned by vultures, turned into a skeleton, turned to dust, was blown
    across the fields. And Siddhartha's soul returned, had died, had
    decayed, was scattered as dust, had tasted the gloomy intoxication of
    the cycle, awaited in new thirst like a hunter in the gap, where he
    could escape from the cycle, where the end of the causes, where an
    eternity without suffering began. He killed his senses, he killed his
    memory, he slipped out of his self into thousands of other forms, was an
    animal, was carrion, was stone, was wood, was water, and awoke every
    time to find his old self again, sun shone or moon, was his self again,
    turned round in the cycle, felt thirst, overcame the thirst, felt new

    Siddhartha learned a lot when he was with the Samanas, many ways leading
    away from the self he learned to go. He went the way of self-denial
    by means of pain, through voluntarily suffering and overcoming pain,
    hunger, thirst, tiredness. He went the way of self-denial by means of
    meditation, through imagining the mind to be void of all conceptions.
    These and other ways he learned to go, a thousand times he left his
    self, for hours and days he remained in the non-self. But though the
    ways led away from the self, their end nevertheless always led back to
    the self. Though Siddhartha fled from the self a thousand times, stayed
    in nothingness, stayed in the animal, in the stone, the return was
    inevitable, inescapable was the hour, when he found himself back in the
    sunshine or in the moonlight, in the shade or in the rain, and was once
    again his self and Siddhartha, and again felt the agony of the cycle which
    had been forced upon him.

    By his side lived Govinda, his shadow, walked the same paths, undertook
    the same efforts. They rarely spoke to one another, than the service
    and the exercises required. Occasionally the two of them went through
    the villages, to beg for food for themselves and their teachers.

    "How do you think, Govinda," Siddhartha spoke one day while begging
    this way, "how do you think did we progress? Did we reach any goals?"

    Govinda answered: "We have learned, and we'll continue learning.
    You'll be a great Samana, Siddhartha. Quickly, you've learned every
    exercise, often the old Samanas have admired you. One day, you'll be
    a holy man, oh Siddhartha."

    Quoth Siddhartha: "I can't help but feel that it is not like this, my
    friend. What I've learned, being among the Samanas, up to this day,
    this, oh Govinda, I could have learned more quickly and by simpler
    means. In every tavern of that part of a town where the whorehouses
    are, my friend, among carters and gamblers I could have learned it."

    Quoth Govinda: "Siddhartha is putting me on. How could you have
    learned meditation, holding your breath, insensitivity against hunger
    and pain there among these wretched people?"

    And Siddhartha said quietly, as if he was talking to himself: "What is
    meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is
    holding one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short
    escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the
    senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape,
    the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the
    inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk. Then
    he won't feel his self any more, then he won't feel the pains of life
    any more, then he finds a short numbing of the senses. When he falls
    asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same what Siddhartha
    and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long exercises,
    staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."

    Quoth Govinda: "You say so, oh friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha
    is no driver of an ox-cart and a Samana is no drunkard. It's true that
    a drinker numbs his senses, it's true that he briefly escapes and rests,
    but he'll return from the delusion, finds everything to be unchanged, has
    not become wiser, has gathered no enlightenment,--has not risen several

    And Siddhartha spoke with a smile: "I do not know, I've never been a
    drunkard. But that I, Siddhartha, find only a short numbing of the
    senses in my exercises and meditations and that I am just as far removed
    from wisdom, from salvation, as a child in the mother's womb, this I
    know, oh Govinda, this I know."

    And once again, another time, when Siddhartha left the forest together
    with Govinda, to beg for some food in the village for their brothers and
    teachers, Siddhartha began to speak and said: "What now, oh Govinda,
    might we be on the right path? Might we get closer to enlightenment?
    Might we get closer to salvation? Or do we perhaps live in a circle--
    we, who have thought we were escaping the cycle?"

    Quoth Govinda: "We have learned a lot, Siddhartha, there is still
    much to learn. We are not going around in circles, we are moving up,
    the circle is a spiral, we have already ascended many a level."

    Siddhartha answered: "How old, would you think, is our oldest Samana,
    our venerable teacher?"

    Quoth Govinda: "Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age."

    And Siddhartha: "He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the
    nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow
    just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate.
    But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda,
    I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one,
    not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find
    numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important
    thing, the path of paths, we will not find."

    "If you only," spoke Govinda, "wouldn't speak such terrible words,
    Siddhartha! How could it be that among so many learned men, among so
    many Brahmans, among so many austere and venerable Samanas, among so
    many who are searching, so many who are eagerly trying, so many holy
    men, no one will find the path of paths?"

    But Siddhartha said in a voice which contained just as much sadness as
    mockery, with a quiet, a slightly sad, a slightly mocking voice: "Soon,
    Govinda, your friend will leave the path of the Samanas, he has walked
    along your side for so long. I'm suffering of thirst, oh Govinda, and
    on this long path of a Samana, my thirst has remained as strong as ever.
    I always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions.
    I have asked the Brahmans, year after year, and I have asked the holy
    Vedas, year after year, and I have asked the devote Samanas, year after
    year. Perhaps, oh Govinda, it had been just as well, had been just as
    smart and just as profitable, if I had asked the hornbill-bird or the
    chimpanzee. It took me a long time and am not finished learning this
    yet, oh Govinda: that there is nothing to be learned! There is indeed
    no such thing, so I believe, as what we refer to as 'learning'. There
    is, oh my friend, just one knowledge, this is everywhere, this is Atman,
    this is within me and within you and within every creature. And so I'm
    starting to believe that this knowledge has no worser enemy than the
    desire to know it, than learning."

    At this, Govinda stopped on the path, rose his hands, and spoke: "If
    you, Siddhartha, only would not bother your friend with this kind of
    talk! Truly, you words stir up fear in my heart. And just consider:
    what would become of the sanctity of prayer, what of the venerability of
    the Brahmans' caste, what of the holiness of the Samanas, if it was as
    you say, if there was no learning?! What, oh Siddhartha, what would
    then become of all of this what is holy, what is precious, what is
    venerable on earth?!"

    And Govinda mumbled a verse to himself, a verse from an Upanishad:

    He who ponderingly, of a purified spirit, loses himself in the
    meditation of Atman, unexpressable by words is his blissfulness of his

    But Siddhartha remained silent. He thought about the words which
    Govinda had said to him and thought the words through to their end.

    Yes, he thought, standing there with his head low, what would remain of
    all that which seemed to us to be holy? What remains? What can stand
    the test? And he shook his head.

    At one time, when the two young men had lived among the Samanas for
    about three years and had shared their exercises, some news, a rumour, a
    myth reached them after being retold many times: A man had appeared,
    Gotama by name, the exalted one, the Buddha, he had overcome the
    suffering of the world in himself and had halted the cycle of rebirths.
    He was said to wander through the land, teaching, surrounded by
    disciples, without possession, without home, without a wife, in the
    yellow cloak of an ascetic, but with a cheerful brow, a man of bliss,
    and Brahmans and princes would bow down before him and would become his

    This myth, this rumour, this legend resounded, its fragrants rose up,
    here and there; in the towns, the Brahmans spoke of it and in the
    forest, the Samanas; again and again, the name of Gotama, the Buddha
    reached the ears of the young men, with good and with bad talk, with
    praise and with defamation.

    It was as if the plague had broken out in a country and news had been
    spreading around that in one or another place there was a man, a wise
    man, a knowledgeable one, whose word and breath was enough to heal
    everyone who had been infected with the pestilence, and as such news
    would go through the land and everyone would talk about it, many would
    believe, many would doubt, but many would get on their way as soon as
    possible, to seek the wise man, the helper, just like this this myth
    ran through the land, that fragrant myth of Gotama, the Buddha, the
    wise man of the family of Sakya. He possessed, so the believers said,
    the highest enlightenment, he remembered his previous lives, he had
    reached the nirvana and never returned into the cycle, was never again
    submerged in the murky river of physical forms. Many wonderful and
    unbelievable things were reported of him, he had performed miracles,
    had overcome the devil, had spoken to the gods. But his enemies and
    disbelievers said, this Gotama was a vain seducer, he would spent his
    days in luxury, scorned the offerings, was without learning, and knew
    neither exercises nor self-castigation.

    The myth of Buddha sounded sweet. The scent of magic flowed from these
    reports. After all, the world was sick, life was hard to bear--and
    behold, here a source seemed to spring forth, here a messenger seemed
    to call out, comforting, mild, full of noble promises. Everywhere
    where the rumour of Buddha was heard, everywhere in the lands of India,
    the young men listened up, felt a longing, felt hope, and among the
    Brahmans' sons of the towns and villages every pilgrim and stranger was
    welcome, when he brought news of him, the exalted one, the Sakyamuni.

    The myth had also reached the Samanas in the forest, and also
    Siddhartha, and also Govinda, slowly, drop by drop, every drop laden
    with hope, every drop laden with doubt. They rarely talked about it,
    because the oldest one of the Samanas did not like this myth. He had
    heard that this alleged Buddha used to be an ascetic before and had
    lived in the forest, but had then turned back to luxury and worldly
    pleasures, and he had no high opinion of this Gotama.

    "Oh Siddhartha," Govinda spoke one day to his friend. "Today, I was
    in the village, and a Brahman invited me into his house, and in his
    house, there was the son of a Brahman from Magadha, who has seen the
    Buddha with his own eyes and has heard him teach. Verily, this made
    my chest ache when I breathed, and thought to myself: If only I would
    too, if only we both would too, Siddhartha and me, live to see the
    hour when we will hear the teachings from the mouth of this perfected
    man! Speak, friend, wouldn't we want to go there too and listen to the
    teachings from the Buddha's mouth?"

    Quoth Siddhartha: "Always, oh Govinda, I had thought, Govinda would
    stay with the Samanas, always I had believed his goal was to live to be
    sixty and seventy years of age and to keep on practising those feats and
    exercises, which are becoming a Samana. But behold, I had not known
    Govinda well enough, I knew little of his heart. So now you, my
    faithful friend, want to take a new path and go there, where the Buddha
    spreads his teachings."

    Quoth Govinda: "You're mocking me. Mock me if you like, Siddhartha!
    But have you not also developed a desire, an eagerness, to hear these
    teachings? And have you not at one time said to me, you would not walk
    the path of the Samanas for much longer?"

    At this, Siddhartha laughed in his very own manner, in which his voice
    assumed a touch of sadness and a touch of mockery, and said: "Well,
    Govinda, you've spoken well, you've remembered correctly. If you
    only remembered the other thing as well, you've heard from me, which is
    that I have grown distrustful and tired against teachings and learning,
    and that my faith in words, which are brought to us by teachers, is
    small. But let's do it, my dear, I am willing to listen to these
    teachings--though in my heart I believe that we've already tasted the
    best fruit of these teachings."

    Quoth Govinda: "Your willingness delights my heart. But tell me, how
    should this be possible? How should the Gotama's teachings, even before
    we have heard them, have already revealed their best fruit to us?"

    Quoth Siddhartha: "Let us eat this fruit and wait for the rest, oh
    Govinda! But this fruit, which we already now received thanks to the
    Gotama, consisted in him calling us away from the Samanas! Whether he
    has also other and better things to give us, oh friend, let us await
    with calm hearts."

    On this very same day, Siddhartha informed the oldest one of the Samanas
    of his decision, that he wanted to leave him. He informed the oldest
    one with all the courtesy and modesty becoming to a younger one and a
    student. But the Samana became angry, because the two young men wanted
    to leave him, and talked loudly and used crude swearwords.

    Govinda was startled and became embarrassed. But Siddhartha put his
    mouth close to Govinda's ear and whispered to him: "Now, I want to show
    the old man that I've learned something from him."

    Positioning himself closely in front of the Samana, with a concentrated
    soul, he captured the old man's glance with his glances, deprived him of
    his power, made him mute, took away his free will, subdued him under his
    own will, commanded him, to do silently, whatever he demanded him to do.
    The old man became mute, his eyes became motionless, his will was
    paralysed, his arms were hanging down; without power, he had fallen
    victim to Siddhartha's spell. But Siddhartha's thoughts brought the
    Samana under their control, he had to carry out, what they commanded.
    And thus, the old man made several bows, performed gestures of blessing,
    spoke stammeringly a godly wish for a good journey. And the young men
    returned the bows with thanks, returned the wish, went on their way with

    On the way, Govinda said: "Oh Siddhartha, you have learned more from
    the Samanas than I knew. It is hard, it is very hard to cast a spell
    on an old Samana. Truly, if you had stayed there, you would soon have
    learned to walk on water."

    "I do not seek to walk on water," said Siddhartha. "Let old Samanas be
    content with such feats!"
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