Symbolism Through The River
Herman Hesse's Siddhartha depicts the epic of “a man's search for himself through the stages of guilt, alienation, despair, to the experience of unity” (Ziolkowski 1). The novel is credited as a critical attribution to Hesse's works as “it marks an important step in the development of Hesse and is unique in German literature in its presentation of Eastern philosophy” (Malthaner 1). In it, Siddhartha wrestles with the beliefs of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other aspects of various Eastern religions in an attempt to achieve Nirvana. He begins his life as the son of a holy Brahmin and matures to become one himself. Finding no solace in his prayers and daily rituals, he abandons all he has known in order to become a simple Samana and lose the Self in order to attain Enlightenment. However, he finds himself “caught in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth because he has not yet achieved a state of total enlightenment or Nirvana” (Bennett 2). Siddhartha uses what he has learned from the Samanas to hypnotize an elder so that the elder will allow Siddhartha and his lifelong friend, Gotama, to leave in order for them to enlighten themselves through the teachings of the Buddha. He listens to the Illustrious One, and finds error in his ways as “it becomes clear to him that the way of salvation can not be taught, that words and creeds are empty sounds, that each man must find the way by himself, the secret of the experience can not be passed on” (Malthaner 3). He leaves Gotama in order to better find the Self, and in the process becomes a man of no religion, faith, friends, or followers, but solely the Self. Siddhartha stumbles upon a beautiful courtesan by the name of Kamala. He promises to achieve wealth in order to provide her with money, a luxury he had since given up to become a Samana. Siddhartha enlists Kamaswami as his mentor and works for him as a merchant, and over the course of many years loses himself to greed. Realizing this, he flees from the town, saying goodbye to no one, and contemplates suicide. Instead of being welcomed by death, he becomes intrigued with the river, and is saved by the holy “Om” he has found within it. Throughout the novel Siddhartha, penned by Herman Hesse, the river is used as a crucial symbol to further develop and guide him to attain Nirvana. Following his salvation given to him through the river, Siddhartha embarks on a journey to find the ferryman who had taken him across the river to the town in which he had become so greedy in during his stay. He finds the man, whose name he soon learns is Vasudeva, meaning “indwelling God” in Sanskrit. Siddhartha recounts his entire story for the ferryman, who offers Siddhartha a place in his home to work alongside him and learn from the river together, a proposal Siddhartha quickly accepts. Day after day, Siddhartha works and studies the river, learning multitudinous ideas in the process. A paramount concept Siddhartha learns is that time is nonexistent and “the river just is, for the river there is no past, no future, no beginning, no end; for the river is only the presence” (Malthaner 3). The discovery comforts Siddhartha, and he asks himself, “Was not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time?” (Hesse 107). The ascertainment provides a greater sense of complacency in Siddhartha as he regains the inward voice of Atman. Siddhartha uses the thought to reflect on his life thus far and states, 'I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man, and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha's previous lives were also not in his past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.' (Hesse 107) The epiphany is one of few throughout the...
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