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Siddhartha observes the river and realizes that every movement of the water is new.
He is painfully hungry and finds the ferryman he met years before. The man’s name is Vasudeva.
Siddhartha asks for a ride across the river. He has no money to offer the ferryman, but asks if Vasudeva will accept his fine clothes. The ferryman is confused, but agrees.
Siddhartha asks if can move in with Vasudeva and learn about the river as the ferryman’s apprentice.
Vasudeva graciously invites Siddhartha to stay in his home and offers him a meal.
Siddhartha eats a simple plate of bread and mango and recounts his life to Vasudeva. He is astounded by the Ferryman’s profound ability to listen.
Vasudeva remarks that he cannot teach, but that he can help Siddhartha to learn from the river—to learn how to be devout and to listen.
Vasudeva rarely speaks, but the men work hard together and focus on listening to the river.
It says to them, "Come in for a dip!"
More accurately, the river teaches the two men about life.
For instance, one day Siddhartha realizes that the river exists only in the present: it is everywhere at once, upstream, downstream, at the sea, and at the source. Life is the same way. Siddhartha realizes that his existence as a boy and his existence as an old man are not separate. Everything has its existence in the present.
In the voice of the river Siddhartha hears the holy word "Om" being repeated over and over again.
Vasudeva and Siddhartha live joyously on the river, listening to its stories and finding silent companionship in one another. Travelers begin mistaking the two for brothers.
One day Siddhartha learns from traveling monks that Gotama Buddha is gravely ill and will die.
Meanwhile, Kamala has joined the followers of the Buddha and is making a pilgrimage to see the holy man. She rests on the riverbank with her son, who is tired and wants to eat. While resting, Kamala is bitten by a snake.
Vasudeva hears her scream and brings her home.
Siddhartha immediately recognizes Kamala (she’s still gorgeous).
He also realizes that the boy is his son.
They clean her wound but she is badly poisoned. Siddhartha calms his crying son.
When she regains consciousness, Kamala recognizes Siddhartha but sees how profoundly he has changed.
She dies before she is able to tell Siddhartha that finding him was as good as it would have been to find Gotama Buddha.
Siddhartha sits with Kamala for a long time after she dies. Later he sits awake and listens to the river. While he suffers, the river offers him a sense of unity. Siddhartha becomes peaceful.
In the morning, Vasudeva helps him construct a funeral pyre.