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Posted by on Feb 1, 2008

Hesse, Buddha and Korea

These are the last few paragraphs of Siddharthra by Herman Hesse. It truly is some of the more remarkable verse ever written. It is my second favorite ending of any novel.

The image itself is Buddha from Seokguram grotto way up on the mountain outside of Gyeongju, Korea, the site of the oldest of the Korean kingdoms. Gyeongju enjoyed its golden age between 300-700 A.D. and was eventually swept away. The town itself is literally an open-air museum. But I digress. The text from the Hesse novel is below.
He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes–he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying–he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person–he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword–he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love–he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void–he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds–he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni–he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of them died, each one only transformed,was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face–and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated alongand merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask ofwater, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips.

And, Govinda saw it like this, this smile of the mask, this smile of oneness above the flowing forms, this smile of simultaneousness above the thousand births and deaths, this smile of Siddhartha was preciselythe same, was precisely of the same kind as the quiet, delicate, impenetrable, perhaps benevolent, perhaps mocking, wise, thousand-foldsmile of Gotama, the Buddha, as he had seen it himself with great respect a hundred times. Like this, Govinda knew, the perfected ones are smiling.

Not knowing any more whether time existed, whether the vision had lasted a second or a hundred years, not knowing any more whether there existed a Siddhartha, a Gotama, a me and a you, feeling in his innermost self as if he had been wounded by a divine arrow, the injury of which tasted sweet, being enchanted and dissolved in his innermost self, Govinda still stood for a little while bent over Siddhartha’s quiet face, which he had just kissed, which had just been the scene of all manifestations, all transformations, all existence. The face was unchanged, after under its surface the depth of the thousandfoldness had closed up again, he smiled silently, smiled quietly and softly, perhaps very benevolently, perhaps very mockingly, precisely as he used to smile, the exalted one. Deeply, Govinda bowed; tears he knew nothing of, ran down his old face; like a fire burnt the feeling of the most intimate love, the humblest veneration in his heart. Deeply, he bowed, touching the ground, before him who was sitting motionlessly, whose smile reminded him of everything he had ever loved in his life, what had ever been valuable and holy to him in his life.
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