“You’re joking, sir,” the ferryman laughed.
“I’m not joking, friend. Behold, once before you have ferried me across this water in your boat for the immaterial reward of a good deed. Thus, do it today as well, and accept my clothes for it.”
“And do you, sir, intent to continue travelling without clothes?”
“Ah, most of all I wouldn’t want to continue travelling at all. Most of all I would like you, ferryman, to give me an old loincloth and kept me with you as your assistant, or rather as your trainee, for I’ll have to learn first how to handle the boat.”
For a long time, the ferryman looked at the stranger, searching.
“Now I recognise you,” he finally said. “At one time, you’ve slept in my hut, this was a long time ago, possibly more than twenty years ago, and you’ve been ferried across the river by me, and we parted like good friends. Haven’t you’ve been a Samana? I can’t think of your name any more.”
“My name is Siddhartha, and I was a Samana, when you’ve last seen me.”
“So be welcome, Siddhartha. My name is Vasudeva. You will, so I hope, be my guest today as well and sleep in my hut, and tell me, where you’re coming from and why these beautiful clothes are such a nuisance to you.”
They had reached the middle of the river, and Vasudeva pushed the oar with more strength, in order to overcome the current. He worked calmly, his eyes fixed in on the front of the boat, with brawny arms. Siddhartha sat and watched him, and remembered, how once before, on that last day of his time as a Samana, love for this man had stirred in his heart. Gratefully, he accepted Vasudeva’s invitation. When they had reached the bank, he helped him to tie the boat to the stakes; after this, the ferryman asked him to enter the hut, offered him bread and water, and Siddhartha ate with eager pleasure, and also ate with eager pleasure of the mango fruits, Vasudeva offered him.
Afterwards, it was almost the time of the sunset, they sat on a log by the bank, and Siddhartha told the ferryman about where he originally came from and about his life, as he had seen it before his eyes today, in that hour of despair. Until late at night, lasted his tale.
Vasudeva listened with great attention. Listening carefully, he let everything enter his mind, birthplace and childhood, all that learning, all that searching, all joy, all distress. This was among the ferryman’s virtues one of the greatest: like only a few, he knew how to listen. Without him having spoken a word, the speaker sensed how Vasudeva let his words enter his mind, quiet, open, waiting, how he did not lose a single one, awaited not a single one with impatience, did not add his praise or rebuke, was just listening. Siddhartha felt, what a happy fortune it is, to confess to such a listener, to burry in his heart his own life, his own search, his own suffering.
But in the end of Siddhartha’s tale, when he spoke of the tree by the river, and of his deep fall, of the holy Om, and how he had felt such a love for the river after his slumber, the ferryman listened with twice the attention, entirely and completely absorbed by it, with his eyes closed.
But when Siddhartha fell silent, and a long silence had occurred, then Vasudeva said: “It is as I thought. The river has spoken to you. It is your friend as well, it speaks to you as well. That is good, that is very good. Stay with me, Siddhartha, my friend. I used to have a wife, her bed was next to mine, but she has died a long time ago, for a long time, I have lived alone. Now, you shall live with me, there is space and food for both.”
“I thank you,” said Siddhartha, “I thank you and accept. And I also thank you for this, Vasudeva, for listening to me so well! These people are rare who know how to listen. And I did not meet a single one who knew it as well as you did. I will also learn in this respect from you.”
“You will learn it,” spoke Vasudeva, “but not from me. The river has taught me to listen, from it you will learn it as well. It knows everything, the river, everything can be learned from it. See, you’ve already learned this from the water too, that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek depth. The rich and elegant Siddhartha is becoming an oarsman’s servant, the learned Brahman Siddhartha becomes a ferryman: this has also been told to you by the river. You’ll learn that other thing from it as well.”
Quoth Siddhartha after a long pause: “What other thing, Vasudeva?”
Vasudeva rose. “It is late,” he said, “let’s go to sleep. I can’t tell you that other thing, oh friend. You’ll learn it, or perhaps you know it already. See, I’m no learned man, I have no special skill in speaking, I also have no special skill in thinking. All I’m able to do is to listen and to be godly, I have learned nothing else. If I was able to say and teach it,