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Siddhartha – an Indian Tale by Hermann Hesse

“I have been told,” the merchant began, “that you were a Brahman, a learned man, but that you seek to be in the service of a merchant. Might you have become destitute, Brahman, so that you seek to serve?”

“No,” said Siddhartha, “I have not become destitute and have never been destitute. You should know that I’m coming from the Samanas, with whom I have lived for a long time.”

 

“If you’re coming from the Samanas, how could you be anything but destitute? Aren’t the Samanas entirely without possessions?”

 

“I am without possessions,” said Siddhartha, “if this is what you mean. Surely, I am without possessions. But I am so voluntarily, and therefore I am not destitute.”

 

“But what are you planning to live off, being without possessions?”

 

“I haven’t thought of this yet, sir. For more than three years, I have been without possessions, and have never thought about of what I should live.”

 

“So you’ve lived off the possessions of others.”

 

“Presumable this is how it is. After all, a merchant also lives of what other people own.”

 

“Well said. But he wouldn’t take anything from another person for nothing; he would give his merchandise in return.”

 

“So it seems to be indeed. Everyone takes, everyone gives, such is life.”

 

“But if you don’t mind me asking: being without possessions, what would you like to give?”

 

“Everyone gives what he has. The warrior gives strength, the merchant gives merchandise, the teacher teachings, the farmer rice, the fisher fish.”

 

“Yes indeed. And what is it now what you’ve got to give? What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”

 

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

 

“That’s everything?”

Siddhartha “I believe, that’s everything!”

 

“And what’s the use of that? For example, the fasting−− what is it good for?”

 

“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.”

 

“You’re right, Samana. Wait for a moment.” Kamaswami left the room and returned with a scroll, which he handed to his guest while asking: “Can you read this?”

 

Siddhartha looked at the scroll, on which a sales−contract had been written down, and began to read out its contents. “Excellent,” said Kamaswami.

 

“And would you write something for me on this piece of paper?”

 

He handed him a piece of paper and a pen, and Siddhartha wrote and returned the paper. Kamaswami read: “Writing is good, thinking is better. Being smart is good, being patient is better.”

 

“It is excellent how you’re able to write,” the merchant praised him. “Many a thing we will still have to discuss with one another. For today, I’m asking you to be my guest and to live in this house.” Siddhartha thanked and accepted, and lived in the dealers house from now on. Clothes were brought to him, and shoes, and every day, a servant prepared a bath for him. Twice a day, a plentiful meal was served, but Siddhartha only ate once a day, and ate neither meat nor did he drink wine. Kamaswami told him about his trade, showed him the merchandise and storage−rooms, showed him calculations. Siddhartha got to know many new things, he heard a lot and spoke little. And thinking of Kamala’s words, he was never subservient to the merchant, forced him to treat him as an equal, yes even more than an equal. Kamaswami conducted his business with care and often with passion, but Siddhartha looked upon all of this as if it was a game, the rules of which he tried hard to learn precisely, but the contents of which did not touch his heart.

 

Today when many are thinking only of themselves, hoarding food, buying guns it is important to remember if you’ve heard them before and listen to them if you are hearing them for the first time now those words, “I can think. I can fast. I can wait.”

It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.

The world we lived in yesterday has died.

Tomorrow belongs not to those who hoard and buy guns. These are people who have panicked.

Tomorrow belongs to those who can think, who can fast, who can wait, who can share.

We who learn to fast always have plenty to share.

–Reg Hartt 2020–03–19.

 

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