Siddhartha said: “Yesterday, O Illustrious One, I had the pleasure of hearing your wonderful teachings. I came from afar with my friend to hear you, and now my friend will remain with you; he has sworn allegiance to you. I, however, am continuing my pilgrimage anew.”
“As you wish,” said the Illustrious One politely.
“My talk is perhaps too bold, continued Siddhartha, “but I do not wish to leave the Illustrious One without sincerely communicating to him my thoughts. Will the Illustrious One hear my a little longer?”
Silently the Buddha nodded his consent.
Siddhartha said: “O Illustrious One, in one thing above all have I admired your teachings. Everything is completely clear and proved. You show the world as a complete, unbroken chain, linked together by cause and effect. Never has it been presented so clearly, never has it been so irrefutably demonstrated. Surely every Brahmin’s heart must beat more quickly, when through your teachings he looks at the world, completely coherent, without a loophole, clear as crystal, not dependent on chance, not dependent on the gods. Whether it is good or evil, whether life in itself is pain or pleasure, whether it is uncertain, whether such questions are themselves even important, I do not know. But the unity of the world, the coherence of all events, the embracing of the big and the small from the same stream, from the same law of cause, of becoming and dying: this shines clearly from your exalted teachings, O Perfect One. But according to your teachings, this unity and logical consequence of all things is broken in one place. Through a small gap there streams into the world something strange, something new, something that was not there before and that cannot be demonstrated and proved: that is your doctrine of rising above the world, of salvation. With this small gap, through this small break, however, the eternal and single world law breaks down again. Forgive me if I raise this objection.”
Gotama had listened quietly, motionless. And now the Perfect One spoke in his kind, polite, and clear voice. “You have listened well to the teachings, O Brahmin’s son, and it is a credit to you that you have thought so deeply about them. You have found a flaw. Think well about it again. Let me warn you, you who are thirsty for knowledge, against the thicket of opinions and the conflict of words. Opinions mean nothing; they may be beautiful or ugly, clever or foolish, anyone can embrace or reject them. The teaching which you have heard, however, is not my opinion, and its goal is not to explain the world to those who are thirsty for knowledge. Its goal is quite different; its goal is salvation from suffering. That is what Gotama teaches, nothing else.”
“Do not be angry with me, O Illustrious One,” said the young man. “I have not spoken to you thus to quarrel with you about words. You are right when you say that opinions mean little, but may I say one thing more? I did not doubt you for one moment. Not for one moment did I doubt that you were the Buddha, that you have reached the highest goal which so many thousands of Brahmins and Brahmins’ sons are striving to reach. You have done so by your own seeking in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment. You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings. To nobody, O Illustrious One, can you communicate in words and teachings, what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment. The teachings of the enlightened Buddha embrace much, they teach much – how to live righteously, how to avoid evil. But there is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced – he alone among hundreds of thousands. That is what I thought and realized when I heard your teachings. That is why I am going on my way – not to seek another and better doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone – or die. But I will often remember this day, O Illustrious One, and this hour when my eyes beheld a holy man.”
The Buddha’s eyes were lowered, his unfathomable face expressed complete equanimity.
“I hope you are not mistaken in your reasoning,” said the Illustrious One slowly. “May you reach your goal! But tell me, have you seen my gathering of holy men, my many brothers who have sworn allegiance to the teachings? Do you think, O Samana from afar, that it would be better for all these to relinquish the teachings and to return to the life of the world and desires?”
“That thought never occurred to me,” cried Siddhartha, “May they all follow the teachings! May they reach their goal! It is not for me to judge another life. I must judge for myself. I must choose and reject. We Samanas seek release from the Self, O Illustrious One. If I were one of your followers, I fear that it would only be on the surface, that I would deceive myself that I was at peace and had attained salvation, while in truth the Self would continue to live and grow, for it would have been transformed into your teachings, into my allegiance and love for you and for the community of the monks.”
Half smiling, with imperturbable brightness and friendliness, the Buddha looked steadily at the stranger and dismissed him with a hardly visible gesture.
“You are clever, O Samana,” said the Illustrious One: “you know how to speak cleverly, my friend. Be on your guard against too much cleverness.”
The Buddha walked away and his look and half-smile remained imprinted in Siddhartha’s memory for ever. I have never seen a man look and smile, sit and walk like that, he thought. I, also, would like to look and smile, sit and walk like that, so free, so worthy, so restrained, so candid, so childlike and mysterious. A man only looks and walks like that when he has conquered his Self. I also will conquer my Self.
I have seen one man, one man only, thought Siddhartha, before whom I must lower my eyes. I will never lower my eyes before any other man. No other teachings will attract me, since this man’s teachings have not done so.
The Buddha has robbed me, thought Siddhartha… He has robbed me of my friend, who believed in me and who now believes in him; he was my shadow and is now Gotama’s shadow. But he has given to me Siddhartha, myself.