Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
Siddhartha continues his journey through a world of natural beauty that had always existed but of which he was never before aware. He now sees sunrise and sunset, the stars and moon in the night sky, animals mating, birds and insects flying, rivers flowing. He considers the thinking self and the self of the senses and decides that both are essential. This passage is a prose poem of considerable beauty, expressing not only the loveliness of the natural world but Siddhartha's joy of discovery and his delight in wonders that were hidden until now behind a veil of scorn as Maya, illusion.
The joy in the natural world and the unaffected poetic language here recall two facts about Hesse: that his early work won him the reputation of a nature novelist, and that he was regarded in Germany as that country's leading poet of the twentieth century. The translation has been credited with doing justice to his poetic style. Notice the unbroken line from the end of the last chapter through the beginning of this one, continuing Siddhartha's journey into this second phase of his quest.
Hesse suffered an eighteen-month writing block after the eighth chapter.
Hesse scholars have offered varying explanations of his difficulty in
proceeding with the part of the book that resolves Siddhartha's quest.
One is that he had not sufficiently clarified his concepts of India. The
other is that he had not resolved his own religious philosophy. When you
come to the final chapter you will be able to judge how Hesse overcame
his difficulties and what religious philosophy he finally developed.
Siddhartha comes to the river and spends the night in the ferryman's hut. In a dream he embraces Govinda, who in his arms is transformed into a woman. Siddhartha drinks from the woman's breast. The psychoanalytic interpretation here returns to the idea of Govinda as another side of Siddhartha, in this dream the suppressed female side of the male personality. A further, not necessarily contradictory, interpretation is that Siddhartha, already awakened to the sensory world of nature, is now becoming aware of his own sensuality. You may find this convincing, since his next adventure is his discovery of sex.
Siddhartha parts from the ferryman, who tells him he will return-that the river teaches that everything comes back.
Rivers have long been a symbol of change. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (about 535 to 475 B.C.) said that one could not step into the same river twice, that no experiences in life are ever the same. Here the river is seen as a symbol of return, or sameness: everything comes back, the ferryman says, in a cycle of recurrence. How are change and recurrence reconciled in Siddhartha's quest?
Passing through a village, Siddhartha is momentarily drawn to a seductive young woman, but he goes on. Outside the city, in a procession of servants and bearers he sees Kamala, a beautiful courtesan in a sedan chair. Shaved and bathed, but still a half-naked Samana, he gains admittance to her presence. She gives him a kiss for a poem he has written in her honor, and she agrees to teach him the arts of love if he will come back properly dressed and with money and gifts.
Siddhartha is amazed that everything is so easy compared with the hard Samana life. All he must do is acquire clothes and money! The next day even this becomes easy-for Kamala has spoken to Kamaswami, the town's richest merchant, and the man expects Siddhartha. She tells Siddhartha he is lucky, that all doors open to him. It is not luck, says Siddhartha. With the Samanas he learned to let nothing enter his mind except his goal. So, like a stone dropping through water, he is drawn to his goal. Fools call this magic or the work of demons, but there are no demons and everyone can perform magic: "Everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait, and fast."
Kamala suggests that it may also be because Siddhartha is handsome and pleases women. You can add other traits that contribute to his good fortune: He has the grace and self-confidence of his princely birth and, most practically, he can read and write. As it turns out, his literacy is what wins him his job with Kamaswami. His other talents later win him success in business.
Still, Siddhartha has some useful advice here for young people everywhere. His single-mindedness, a refusal to be distracted from the pursuit of a desired goal, is a discipline anyone can learn. His self-confidence, which at some moments has come close to arrogance, may be more difficult to acquire, but it is often necessary to put on a show of having it. Still more difficult is his patience: "I can think, I can fast, I can wait." In what ways can these abilities help young people achieve their goals?
What may be especially wholesome in Siddhartha's prescription for success is his dismissal of luck, magic, and demons. Have you known individuals who persistently ascribe their failures to bad luck? Fate is against them, people are out to get them, or they just haven't got what it takes-that they are too nice, too refined, too something or other-to get ahead in this dog-eat-dog world. On the basis of Siddhartha's principle, can you explain what may in fact be wrong with these individuals?