Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (The Son)

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 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 to go water, youth to youth. You 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 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 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 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?…”

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

“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! Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them? 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 if 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’s former lover] Siddhartha suddenly remembered something he 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 Sansara, 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.


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