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Siddhartha: Novel Summary: Part 2 - The Ferryman

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Part Two
The Ferryman
Siddhartha decides to stay near the river, which he loves. His inner voice tells him he can learn from it. The river is always flowing on and yet it is always present; its is always different and yet always the same. Hungry, Siddhartha walks along the river bank to the ferry. The ferryman is the same man who conveyed him across the river many years ago. As they cross the river, Siddhartha says he has no money to pay the ferryman, but will offer his rich clothes instead. He hopes the ferryman can give him some old clothes to wear in exchange, and employ him as an apprentice. The ferryman, whose name is Vasudeva, agrees to take him in as a guest. That night Siddhartha tells Vasudeva the story of his life, and Vasudeva, whose wife died many years ago, invites Siddhartha to live with him. Siddhartha accepts.
Days and months pass quickly. Siddhartha learns how to look after the boat, and he also learns from the river, as Vasudeva said he would. He learns that just as the river is always present everywhere, and has neither a past nor a future, so it is with life. There is no such thing as time. This discovery makes him very happy.
As time goes by, Siddhartha begins to look as radiant and as happy as Vasudeva does. They both listen to the voice of the river. They begin to get a reputation among travelers for being holy men. One day, a group of monks come to be ferried across the river. They are going to see Gotama the Buddha, who is seriously ill and will shortly die. A stream of pilgrims come as the news spreads. They include Kamala, who has long since given up her life as a courtesan and taken refuge in the teachings of the Buddha. She has her young son with her. When they are not far from the ferry, a snake bites Kamala. She and her son run to the ferry, but Kamala collapses. They cry out for help. Vasudeva hears them and carries Kamala back to his hut. Siddhartha immediately recognizes her. They exchange kind words, and Siddhartha puts his son on his knee and recites a Brahmin prayer for him. Kamala is dying. She asks Siddhartha whether he has found peace, and as he smiles at her she realizes that he has. Kamala finds the same peace for herself as she gazes at Siddhartha in her last moments before death. That night, Siddhartha sits alone in front of the hut, listening to the river. In the morning, he and Vasudeva build Kamala's funeral pyre.
Siddhartha, who has in the past scorned teachers, finds in Vasudeva a teacher who teaches no doctrines and uses few words. He simply listens to what Siddhartha has to say, and sometimes directs Siddhartha to listen to the river. It is through this practice of listening to the river and observing it that Siddhartha comes to the conclusion that time does not exist. Everything exists in a simultaneous present. Time is merely a construct that the intellect places on events in order to categorize and understand them. But it is not real. This profound realization serves only as a preliminary awakening, however. Siddhartha has realized this truth intellectually, but he has yet to know it as a matter of direct experience. This will only come in his moment of enlightenment.
The death of Kamala reinforces that fact that Siddhartha's own involvement in the sensual world is over. Once he had played the role of a lover, but now, with the same woman, he plays a different role. The peace Kamala experiences as she gazes on Siddhartha's face in her last moments is utterly different from the physical ecstasy they had known together in the act of love. It shows how far Siddhartha has progressed on the spiritual path. He is able to communicate peace to others. This episode also foreshadows the experience Govinda will have in the final chapter.


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