“Are you Siddharta?” he asked with a timid voice. “I wouldn’t have recognized 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.”
G: 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?”
S: 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 had fallen asleep in the forest, on the pilgrimaage. 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 Vesudeva. He was a very simple person, Vesudeva, he was no thinker, but he knew what is necessary just as well as Gotama, he was a perfect man, a saint.”
G: 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.”
S: 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.”
G: Are you kidding?
S: 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 is 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 Samsara 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 Samsara 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 blissfullness, between evil and good, is also a deception.
G: How come?
S: 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 of the 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 perfection 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 not 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, 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.
S: This here, (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 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 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 always 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.
G: Why have you told me about this stone?
S: 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. These 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 is these which keep you from finding peace, perhaps it is the many words. Because salvation and virtue as well, Samsara and Nirvana as well, are mere words, Govinda. There is no such thing which would be Nirvana; there is just the world Nirvana.
G: Not just a word, my friend, is Nirvana. It is a thought.”
S: 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 spoke to him, he learned from it, it educated and taught him, the river seemed to be a god to him, for many hears he did not know that every wind, every cloud, every bird, every bettle 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.
G: 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?
S: This too, i do not care very much about. Let these 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 respect.
G: This i understand. 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.
S: I know it. 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 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.