18 April 2014m
In Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, a young boy named Siddhartha leaves home in order to pursue Nirvana. Siddhartha’s understanding of Nirvana is that it is the highest enlightenment, when one frees oneself from the cycle of Samsara. Siddhartha searches for teachers that will help him attain Nirvana, but after his many attempts at reaching a complete understanding fail, he chooses to stop forcing himself to reach enlightenment by searching for it. Enlightenment is the state of trusting one’s own judgment about the world. Hesse uses three symbols to elaborate this theme, and they are the singing bird, which symbolizes his freedom, the river, which symbolizes his autonomous being, and the hut, which symbolizes the simple living that is required to reach enlightenment. The singing bird in Siddhartha’s dream symbolizes represents Siddhartha and his inner voice. This bird is Kamala’s special singing bird. In the dream, the bird always sings sweetly, until it suddenly dies. Then Siddhartha dreams that he throws the bird out of the window. Siddhartha, terrified, wakes up from the dream and decides to leave his former life of greed and lust. This bird helps Siddhartha realize that the inner voice that used to guide him on his spiritual path has now died and no longer communicates with him. Just as the bird is caged in the dream, Siddhartha’s inner voice has been restricted by the judgment of his past teachers as well as the current cycle of Samsara in which he lives – working as a merchant and being with his girlfriend and teacher Kamala. Siddhartha has always gone to teachers to help him find enlightenment, whether it be the Samanas, or Kamala or Kamaswami, who respectively taught him how to control his desires, how to love and how to earn money. None of his teachers managed to help Siddhartha realize how to find enlightenment, and it is only when he frees himself of his preconceived ideas about Nirvana, that he ends up being in tune with the universe. Kamala later lets the bird out of the cage, just as Siddhartha has freed himself from his relationship with her and with Kamaswami. The bird can fly, it sings, and it is agile and it further symbolizes Sidhartha’s enlightenment because it can quickly and happily travel to the next stage of freedom. The next symbol, the river, also symbolizes Siddhartha’s search for enlightenment. The river has two major appearances, and the river symbolizes Sidhartha’s freedom as an autonomous being. One appearance is right after Siddhartha leaves the Buddha and realizes that he needs to be his own teacher. Another is after he has left the town and Kamala after twenty years. He almost drowns himself in this river, but the voice inside of him awakens and he finally is able to hear the om, the vibration of the universe. While he first walks along the river, after leaving the Buddha, he realizes, No longer, I want to begin my thoughts and my life with Atman and with the suffering of the world. I do not want to kill and dissect myself any longer, to find a secret behind the ruins. Neither Yoga-Veda shall teach me any more, nor Atharva-Veda, nor the ascetics, nor any kind of teachings. I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha. He figures out that he cannot go out and search for enlightenment. He realizes that to reach enlightenment, he needs to trust himself. While he was with the Samanas, he tried to kill his soul until he was not himself anymore. He does not want to take direction from others and he wants to be self-sufficient. The river symbolizes this new state of mind because it flows without direction from anyone or anything else. A river does not think about being a river, it does not try to slow down or take another course, it simply runs its natural course without thinking. The river simply is. And this is what Siddhartha learns that he has to do when he comes across the river for the second time. Just as a river always moves forward, Siddhartha abandons all past experience to move in his own direction. The river does not ever go back to where it is from; it keeps going forward with no hesitation. No one can stop the river, and to change’s its course would force the river to do something it is not supposed to do. Siddhartha’s effort to morph himself to fit other paths of life sways him from the path of life that he is meant to take, and this effort keeps him from trusting his own judgment without reference to anyone or anything else. The last symbol that relates to the theme is the hut. When Siddhartha decides that he wants to stay by the river, he happens upon the ferryman, and the ferryman’s hut is a symbol for the simple living that is required to reach enlightenment. This ferryman, Vasuveda, had helped him along the river before, when he was leaving the Buddha and on a search for pleasure. Later, in a very different period of his life, Siddhartha meets the ferryman and asks if he could have a loincloth and be a trainee. Vasuveda invited him to live in his simple hut. The hut is one of the humblest forms of living. There is nothing lavish about living in a hut, yet it provides everything that is needed to not only live a simple life, but to live an enlightened life. To be enlightened is when a person trusts only in his own judgment. A person who lives a lavish life does so because they value the judgment of others and pleasure. If there were no other people to make a person self-conscious enough to live in luxury, such as Kamala did to Siddhartha, then they would live a very modest life. An extravagant life distracts one from enlightenment because one is constantly enjoying pleasures rather than focusing on the vibrations of the universe and enlightenment. When Siddhartha forgets about trying to live life the way that others tell him to, and when he forgets all the distractions of Samsara, he becomes at peace with himself. The hut communicates that finding enlightenment requires one to live humbly so one is not caught in the cycle of Samsara and of trying to live in greed and lust. The hut also symbolizes enlightenment because it does not require much maintenance so one should not be distracted from enlightenment by having to do a lot of work and upkeep of other things in life. The hut is the perfect symbol of the simple living that is necessary for enlightenment. The symbols that portray the theme that enlightenment is trusting one’s own judgment completely are the bird, the river, and the hut. These symbols helped guide Siddhartha to the path of ultimate enlightenment, and he was able to finally hear the om and be one with the universe. After finally reaching enlightenment, he has reached the goal that he has spent thirty years searching for.