The Symbol Of River In The Novel Siddhartha
Bennett explains in his article that Siddhartha “focuses most specifically on three principal themes, the nature of the self, the nature of knowledge, and the essential unity of all things.” This novel is important because Siddhartha “follows his own personal path instead of just following the Buddha’s or anyone else’s doctrines,” (Bennet 1). While Hesse’s novel mostly focuses “on various Hindu or Buddhist principles,” it also focuses on “symbolic lyricism,” (…) (what’s missing here?) Herman Hesse evokes its deeper meaning in his beautiful work of literature, Siddhartha. Thirsty for knowledge, Siddhartha travels the Indian countryside in search of nirvana. Throughout his lifelong journey “to find peace and an end to his sufferings,” Siddhartha encounters the river several times (Johannes 4). Each approach exemplifies different phases of his life and leads him to his salvation. The river presents itself in Siddhartha’s spirituality, provides the path to his lust, and grants him true unity in the end. Indeed, the river holds great importance to the story. To explain, Siddhartha questions his beliefs and leaves the life of becoming a Brahmin prince to understand the life of a Samana. However, in doing this, Siddhartha did not get the satisfaction he needed. Siddhartha then left the Samanas for a rich life and where he trades with a merchant, Kamaswmi. This experience also taught him the lesson of love by a courtesan named Kamala. Again, Siddhartha did not “enter the state of fulfillment,” (Ziolkowski …). Furthermore, Siddhartha joins Vasudeva, the ferryman who helps him achieve nirvana through the river. Malthaner proceeds to say the journey between Vasudeva and Siddhartha was a “visionary experience.” Vasudeva teaches Siddhartha about his “final epiphany” and this became a great learning experience for Siddhartha. . Throughout Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the river is used as a great symbol. It is the essence of life which brings together many people and allows Siddhartha to finally find his spiritual enlightenment.
The onset of the story explains how the river had been with Siddhartha in his beginning days. Siddhartha grew up as a son of a Brahmin and had been taught the “Brahmin” ways. However, he began to grow unsatisfied with this simple life as it does not “completely quench the eternal thirst” (Hesse 8). This ‘thirst’ is an example of the relationship between Siddharth and the river. The thirst aspect throughout the novel preludes the lessons the river offers. But, despite all the love that he sees in the hearts of others, Siddhartha does not bring happiness to himself. He goes about his daily offerings and meditations with a restless mind. And the love and knowledge of those around him, even if his mind full of “dreams” and “restless thoughts” from this “river water,” teachers, will not sustain him (Hesse 5). He feels that he is a vessel and even with the Brahmins’ knowledge poured into it, it is not full. Unable to receive the justification that he wants, Siddhartha goes against his father’s wishes, and leaves to search for Ataman. Ataman is his innermot essence and what he really feels inside. Siddhartha believes that Ataman, like the river can provide the pricipal of life. Yet with the Samansas, Siddhartha wants ‘no longer to be with self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart’ (Hesse 14). They believe enlightenment can be reached through asceticism. This is a rejection of the body and physical desire. The path the Samanas take was a much different way than Siddhartha had been taught. He then starts to believe it may provide some answers and “essential unity,” (Bennett 3). Siddhartha adjusts quickly to the ways of the Samanas because of the patience and discipline he learned in the Brahmin tradition. His goal is to find enlightenment by eliminating himself, and he successfully renounces the pleasures of the world. Siddhartha learned a lot when he was with the Samanas. And in many ways led him away from the self he previously learned. He went the way of self-denial by means of pain, through voluntarily suffering and learned to overcome pain, hunger, thirst, tiredness. As an example, Siddhartha went “twenty-eight days” without food. (Hesse 13). He went the way of self-denial by means of meditation, through imagining the mind to be void of all conceptions. Throughout this time, he used “meditation” with the “river” as another way to receive enlightenment (Bennett 3). And though the ways he applied led away from the self, their end, always led back to the self. However, Siddhartha starts to distrust the teachings. Siddhartha felt that even learning from the wisest and oldest Samana, is any better than learning from a “rhinoceros or chimpanzee,” (Hesse 19 ). Siddhartha was in a state of confusion and felt trapped and didn’t know where to go. And yet, he always used his , meditation with the river to get sense at “unity and totality,” (Ziolkowski…).
Soon after leaving the Samanas, Siddhartha realized that he had nothing left. Even “the old skin a snake sheds,” did not exist anymore. (Hesse 37). Later Siddhartha came across a beautiful river where he stood still “as if a snake lay in his path” and the ferryman approached, (Hesse 41). The ferryman explained his feeling about the beautiful river by saying that he “always learned something from it,” (Hesse ). The ferryman noticed Siddhartha’s appearance and invited him in. That night he slept in the ferryman’s hut. When he awoke, he took sight of the “pale river” shimmering in the doorway, (Hesse 48). The ferryman began to teach him wonderful lessons about the river. As much as Siddhartha continuously offered, the ferryman wanted nothing in return. He also proclaimed that he will “everything comes back,”?? and that Siddhartha himself will return to the river as well (Hesse 49). While asleep, Siddhartha experiences a dream that he contemplates. In this dream, Siddhartha embraces Govinda (who is this??), who then transforms into a woman. Later that day, That day, the ferryman took Siddhartha across the river and informed s him that “one can learn a great deal from it” (Hesse ). Across the river, Siddhartha comes across a beautiful and favorable courtesan named Kamala, who taught him the act of love. She then goes on to tell Siddhartha that he must secure money in order to learn the art of love from her. Kamala tells him to meet Kamaswami for he is “the richest merchant in the town” (Hesse 59) Siddhartha considers the advice , and goes and meets Kamaswami. Siddhartha then spends a lot of time with him, and learns how to trade. He then becomes rich and soon starts to learn that not everything in life has to do with enlightenment. As he becomes comfortable and familiar to this life, he begins to abuse the things he is exposed to in life. He starts to gamble, drink, and enjoy dancing girls. He is then seen as a “song bird in a golden cage” (Hesse 82). Even though he starts to realize his actions, Siddhartha has become used to that way of life. Even though he has a love for many people including, Kamaswami and Kamala, he is still not fulfilled with his life. Even in the state of wealth and lavishness, Siddhartha still felt trapped with the weight of sadness.
Again, full of sorrow, uses the river as an outlet for his troubles in life. At this time in Siddhartha’s life he had no one and nowhere to go. One night Siddarthas goes to the river, and looks into the water “with a distorted countenance” and “spat at it” (Hesse 89). All of a sudden, Siddartha lets go of his body so that“he could fall headlong and finally go under” into the river (Hesse 89 ). As he slipped “towards death” Siddhartha stopped caring and was not thinking. Siddhartha “sank down” by “fatigue” and into “a deep sleep” (Hesse 90) When Siddhartha awoke after many hours he felt as though “ten years had passed.” (Hesse 90). It took Siddhartha a little while to understand why the world around him was “covered by a veil.” (Hesse 90) Metaphorically, Siddhartha died from drowning, but was reborn as a new person. Through this, he obtained salvation. With this revelation, Siddhartha eventually grew fond of who he was seeing. Siddhartha “had been so refreshed” and “rejuvenated” (Hesse 91). This anomaly depicts Siddhartha’s circle of life. With this experience Siddahatha attains the harmony of both worlds.Throughout this time, Siddahartha began to know the “river and its secrets” (Hesse 102). After this experience Siddartha goes to Vasudeva. Vasudava then helps Siddartha with many things. He teaches Siddhartha practical trades, like ferrying a boat. Vausudava also taught Siddhartha about his experiences. Vasudeva explained that the river taught him to listen. He shared with Siddhartha that if you learn to listen “one can learn everything from it [the river]” (Hesse 105). Vasudeva also taught Siddhartha how to listen to the river’s wisdom, while providing Siddhartha with additional wisdomHe was also able to give Siddhartha some wisdom. It’s important to note that Vasudeva merely helpeds Siddhartha access the river’s wisdom, rather than trying to tell Siddhartha what the river has to offer. Siddarhatha understood that the river’s wisdom is everywhere. It is at the “source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains” it is everywhere at once (Hesse 107 ). After the river reached all its goals the water “changed into vapor” and rose to heaven (Hesse 135). From there the water “became rain” and “flowed anew” (Hesse 135). The river also taught a lesson through Siddhartha and Govinda’s life. It brought them both together. Even though Govinda Siddhartha took separate paths, they become reunited by the river. The river also taught him that time has no existence. As well as the river has neither a past or a future, it just flows eternally.
Throughout Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the river is used as a great symbol and the essence of life which brings together many people and lets Siddhartha finally find his spiritual enlightenment. Simone Schwarz-Bart once wrote “All rivers, even the most dazzling, those that catch the sun in their course, all rivers go down to the ocean and drown. And life awaits man as the sea awaits the river.” This is a common theme in Siddhartha. Siddhartha continued to battle with himself throughout his life. His troubles came to a point of life and death. In this novel Hesse explores a closer and connected look at the stages of life. Through the stages of his life, Siddhartha became a Samana in the woods, a merchant of the village, and seeks nirvana?he is able to complete his life journey with the river by his side. Most of Siddhartha’s life, he was not satisfied. When Siddhartha joined Vasudeva he showed him the “secrets of the river” (Malthaner…). They start to understand that the river does not have a past, future, or end, it is only the present. Vasudeva also told him that “happiness is real only when casualty-that is time-has ceased to exist for him. After researching the great novel, Siddhartha the river became a lifelong symbol which serves as peace and solidarity to the life of Hess’s creation.
- Bennet, Robert. “Novels For Students.” Novels for Student (1999): n. page. Web.
- Hesse, Herman: Siddhartha, New York: New Directions, 1951. Print
- Malthaner, Johannes, “Herman Hesse, Sidhartha.” The German Quartely 25.2 (1952): 1-4. Web.
- Ziolkowski, Theodore. “Siddhartha: The Landscape of the Sould- The Beaific Smile and The Epiphany.” The Novels of Herman Hesse: A Study Theme in Structure (1965): 170-77. Web.
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