In today’s society, people are overwhelmed with responsibilities and desires. This means that while people are passionate about what they want, they also find themselves burdened by what others want for them, such as their parents. It becomes difficult to change the values which have been instilled into a person by the people around them, because these are the values that the person’s morals and beliefs are influenced by. While it is known that this is a fairly common practice in today’s time, it was surprising to see almost similar things happen in the novella, Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse.
The main character in the novel, also the namesake for the novel, Siddhartha was born into a traditional Brahmin household. Since Siddhartha was an only child, all of this family’s expectations were placed onto him from early childhood, most likely from the time that he was born. While this was common practice in that time period and still is in some households in today’s time, it was also rare for a child to step away from the family’s teachings to pursue something they considered to be their own path. It was difficult to break away from the beliefs and values that were instilled in him from birth.
Siddhartha has traits that distinguish himself from others, such as his devotion to discover himself and the world around him. Siddhartha not only does what he feels he needs to do in order to achieve his ultimate goal of nirvana, which was something his family encouraged him to do, but he also had the courage and strength to break away from his family’s beliefs, and learn on his own that the path to enlightenment can’t be taught by others, but rather, it is something that comes from within. Firstly, Siddhartha looked to the people around him and the nvironment that he grew up in to help guide him towards his goal, which was to obtain enlightenment. Since he was born and raised in a Brahmin household, Siddhartha looked to his family’s religious teachings to lead him towards his goal of reaching Nirvana.
Siddhartha’s father was unable to give Siddhartha the proper guidance that he needed, which is the reason that Siddhartha was able to make the decision to step away from his family’s teachings in order to find his goal. However, when he failed to discover the external guidance he was lookin e was looking for from these groups of people, Siddhartha decided to look elsewhere, when he interacted with the Buddhists and the Samanas. Buddhism was the religion and set of beliefs which were founded by the Buddha, who is known for reaching Nirvana. Buddha, also known as Gotama, was the man who made other people also believe that achieving Nirvana was possible. And it was the Buddha’s accomplishment, that encouraged Siddhartha even further to seek his own enlightenment. But he was unable to achieve the wisdom that he seeked with this group either.
Siddhartha learned that while Gotama achieved enlightenment, the path taken by him was not necessarily the path for other people to take. Then, he approached the group of people who were not bound together by any religion: The Samanas, who were a group of wandering ascetics who, along with the Brahmins and Buddhists, helped Siddhartha come to the realization that he would not find the wisdom he was looking for under their guidance. This was an important realization for him, because with realizing that he wasn’t finding what he was looking for in areas he was familiar with, Siddhartha realized that he needed to look elsewhere.
He didn’t realize, though, where exactly he would find what he was looking for. In a way, the Samanas symbolize what Siddhartha was experiencing at this point in his life. Like the ascetics, Siddhartha, too, was wandering and he didn’t know where he was going. Secondly, Siddhartha knew that he wasn’t going to find he was looking for in the world he was familiar with, so he decided to approach a new world that he was less acquainted with. Siddhartha decided to search for enlightenment in the material world, where he met Kamala and Kamaswami.
Kamala was a materialistic woman who was well aware of the ways of the world. She was able to pull Siddhartha away from his ascetic life and bring him into a world of city-dwellers. She introduced him to the more physical aspect of life. She also introduced him to Kamaswami. Kamaswami was a businessman who taught Siddhartha the art of business. Both these individuals taught Siddhartha aspects of a city life and represented a life filled with material things. While these external sources taught Siddhartha many things, they failed to teach him the things he was truly looking for.
They didn’t teach him wisdom, but they did help him realize that wisdom couldn’t be taught in a materialistic world. Both of them symbolized to Siddhartha things that man wanted, but didn’t need, and represented a life filled with good things, but was an unhappy life. And Siddhartha realized that he didn’t need them. This is similar to what Gotama realized while living in his palace before setting out to live a life as a lone traveler. The path he had chosen was one he needed to tread on his own and Siddhartha would need to do the same.
This realization for Siddhartha contrasts the one made by his friend Govinda, because while Govinda and Siddhartha had set off on the same path, their direction had changed somewhere along the way. While Siddhartha was slowly moving away from external guidance, Govinda was constantly looking for it. Once Siddhartha realizes that he needed to move away from the material and religious world, he is crossing into a different world. The individual who helped him through this transition was the ferryman who helped him cross the river, Vasudeva.
Both the river and Vasudeva symbolize Siddhartha’s guidance from external guidance to internal guidance. While Siddhartha knows that he will only be able to find enlightenment within himself, he had been influenced by external sources his whole life. First his family, and then like his friend, Govinda, he too lived under the influence of other people for a very long time. Vasudeva symbolized an external guidance, but while he was one, he never pressured Siddhartha during their travel together to listen to him and him only. Instead, he suggested to Siddhartha to listen to the river, which represented many things.
While the river is a great force of nature, it also represented flow, consistency, change, and the complexity of the existence of people. Understanding these things would help Siddhartha find what he was looking for within himself and Vasudeva wasn’t an instructor to Siddhartha, but rather a companion who was helping another companion cross over from one place to another, just like a ferryman. By following Vasudeva’s advice and listening to the river and searching within himself for the understanding of what the river would tell him, Siddhartha is able to understand these new revelations through sound and image, instead of words.
Siddhartha now knew that he needed to gain an understanding of all these things, and he needed to do that on his own, with no external guidance. Siddhartha perhaps would never have been able to reach the level he reached in pursuing his goal without the interference of both external and internal guidance, but his ability to differentiate between the two is what truly helped him cross the river. Ultimately, the ferryman is a guide for both the river and the journey towards enlightenment.
Siddhartha’s main goal was to cross the river. Crossing the river represents life itself. There will always be twists, turns, and conflicts. However, the flow of the river will always guide you into the correct direction. The ferryman displays to Siddhartha how to find enlightenment within himself rather that materialistic things, for any person can sacrifice those. Vasudeva serves Siddhartha as a teacher who will tell Siddhartha what needs to be done, and as a director who will take Siddhartha wherever he needs to go.
Although the ferryman gives Siddhartha guidance towards the right direction, the river itself is Siddhartha’s last mentor. The ferryman is a guide for the river and the path of enlightenment. In conclusion, Siddhartha becomes a ferryman after obtaining enlightenment. In the novella Siddhartha, only the ferrymen manage to help other people perceive enlightenment. Siddhartha not only guides people back and forth across the river, but also helps them find enlightenment.