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CHAPTER 8: By the River
Siddhartha wanders into the forest far away from the town. He feels disgust for the life he has led. He reaches the long river which the ferryman had helped him to cross when he had returned from Gotama's grove. Weakened by fatigue and hunger, he stops on the banks of this river and wishes for an end to his life. Then, from a remote corner of his soul, Siddhartha hears a sound. It one syllable -- the sound of the holy Om. When it reaches his ears, his slumbering soul suddenly awakens.
Siddhartha sinks into a deep sleep at the foot of a coconut tree. When he wakes, he feels refreshed and rejuvenated, as though he is born anew. Siddhartha raises himself and sees a monk with no beard or hair on his head. He realizes it is Govinda, who has aged like Siddhartha; but eagerness, loyalty, curiosity, and anxiety are still written on his face. Siddhartha greets him, but does not reveal his identity. Govinda does not linger, saying that he must go and join the other followers of Gotama with whom he is traveling. When Siddhartha says "good-bye, Govinda," the monk is surprised to hear his name. He then realizes with joy that Siddhartha is before him. When Govinda quizzes his friend, asking "what are you now, Siddhartha," he can only say that he does not know, since he is no longer the Brahmin, the Samana, or the rich man. Govinda looks at his friend doubtfully, bows to him and goes on his way.
Siddhartha is suddenly filled with a sense of happiness and joy. He realizes that he still has emotions, for he still loves Govinda. He thinks of himself as a child who is happy with nothing. He glances at the river and sings merrily. He ruminates on all that he has been so far and knows that everything in his past is dead. He realizes that his future salvation must come from within himself, not from any teacher. Siddhartha accepts that he is a new creation, rejuvenated by the river, where he decides to stay.
As indicated by the title of the chapter, the river dominates this scene. Earlier the river had symbolized Siddhartha's crossing from the spiritual to the sensual. Now the river symbolizes a new metamorphosis, a baptism into a rejuvenated life. Beside the river and spurred by seeing Govinda, he moves from self-loathing and despair to happiness and joy. He fully renounces his entanglement in Samsara, the ways of the world, and replaces it with a renewed spirit. Siddhartha has passed into a new phase in life, where the river represents continuity and oneness. By the river, Siddhartha again becomes conscious of all that he has forgotten, all that is divine. It is appropriate that he hears the holy syllable of Om and then falls into a deep sleep. He has never slept so soundly before, and when he wakes he feels reborn.
It is significant that Siddhartha has an encounter with Govinda at this moment of regeneration, for Govinda is always present whenever Siddhartha is about to change course. In this instance, Govinda serves as the agent that brings to light Siddhartha's current dilemma. Seeing Govinda restores Siddhartha's faith in feeling, emotion, and spirit. After a brief discussion with his friend, Siddhartha realizes that his soul has been sick due to his inability to love.
The reborn Siddhartha knows that it is not his soul which has died, but his ego -- that self which he has constantly tried to suppress or exorcise. With Brahmin and Samsara behind him, he is now free to follow his own inner voice, find love, and achieve peace.