I might be a wise man, but like this I am only a ferryman, and it is my task to ferry people across the river. I have transported many, thousands; and to all of them, my river has been nothing but an obstacle on their travels. They travelled to seek money and business, and for weddings, and on pilgrimages, and the river was obstructing their path, and the ferryman’s job was to get them quickly across that obstacle. But for some among thousands, a few, four or five, the river has stopped being an obstacle, they have heard its voice, they have listened to it, and the river has become sacred to them, as it has become sacred to me. Let’s rest now, Siddhartha.”
Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman and learned to operate the boat, and when there was nothing to do at the ferry, he worked with Vasudeva in the rice-field, gathered wood, plucked the fruit off the banana-trees. He learned to build an oar, and learned to mend the boat, and to weave baskets, and was joyful because of everything he learned, and the days and months passed quickly. But more than Vasudeva could teach him, he was taught by the river. Incessantly, he learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgement, without an opinion.
In a friendly manner, he lived side by side with Vasudeva, and occasionally they exchanged some words, few and at length thought about words. Vasudeva was no friend of words; rarely, Siddhartha succeeded in persuading him to speak.
“Did you,” so he asked him at one time, “did you too learn that secret from the river: that there is no time?”
Vasudeva’s face was filled with a bright smile.
“Yes, Siddhartha,” he spoke. “It is this what you mean, isn’t it: that the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future?”
“This it is,” said Siddhartha. “And when I had learned it, I looked at my life, and it was also a river, and the boy Siddhartha was only separated from the man Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha by a shadow, not by something real. Also, Siddhartha’s previous births were no past, and his death and his return to Brahma was no future. Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present.”
Siddhartha spoke with ecstasy; deeply, this enlightenment had delighted him. Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as time would have been put out of existence by one’s thoughts? In ecstatic delight, he had spoken, but Vasudeva smiled at him brightly and nodded in confirmation; silently he nodded, brushed his hand over Siddhartha’s shoulder, turned back to his work.
And once again, when the river had just increased its flow in the rainy season and made a powerful noise, then said Siddhartha: “Isn’t it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn’t it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?”
“So it is,” Vasudeva nodded, “all voices of the creatures are in its voice.”
“And do you know,” Siddhartha continued, “what word it speaks, when you succeed in hearing all of its ten thousand voices at once?”
Happily, Vasudeva’s face was smiling, he bent over to Siddhartha and spoke the holy Om into his ear. And this had been the very thing which Siddhartha had also been hearing.
And time after time, his smile became more similar to the ferryman’s, became almost just as bright, almost just as throughly glowing with bliss, just as shining out of thousand small wrinkles, just as alike to a child’s, just as alike to an old man’s. Many travellers, seeing the two ferrymen, thought they were brothers. Often, they sat in the evening together by the bank on the log, said nothing and both listened to the water, which was no water to them, but the voice of life, the voice of what exists, of what is eternally taking shape. And it happened from time to time that both, when listening to the river, thought of the same things, of a conversation from the day before yesterday, of one of their travellers, the face and fate of whom had occupied their thoughts, of death, of their childhood, and that they both in the same moment, when the river had been saying something good to them, looked at each other, both thinking precisely the same thing, both delighted about the same answer to the same question.
There was something about this ferry and the two ferrymen which was transmitted to others, which many of the travellers felt. It happened occasionally that a traveller, after having looked at the face of one of the ferrymen, started to tell the story of his life, told about pains, confessed evil things, asked for comfort and advice. It happened occasionally that someone asked for permission to stay for a night with them to listen to the river. It also happened