Significance Of The River Essay Research Paper

Significance Of The River Essay, Research Paper

Symbolically, a river means different things to different people depending on their religion and culture. In Siddhartha, the significance of the river is held more in the religious light. Religion plays a large part in everyone s life. In Hermann Hesse s epic story Siddhartha, the images of the river represent the river s knowledge and wisdom. In the Christian and Islamic doctrines, the image of river represent tranquility, peace, serenity and the presence of a holy spirit. The aspect of religion is taken apart and looked at from nearly every possible angle. There are many key concepts revolving around the significance of the river in Siddhartha. But two which seem to be the most important and powerful are the closely related idea that time is not real and The Oneness of All Experience; and that knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.

The first key concept concerning the significance of the river in Siddhartha is really two very closely related ideas. These thoughts are that time is not real and the oneness of all experience. All experience is happening every moment. Everything exists all at once, and the only thing separating these existences is the illusion of time. When Siddhartha is sitting by the river Vasudeva comes up to him and asks what he has learned from the river, and Siddhartha tells him that he has learned that time is not real. The river is at its mouth and its source and the waterfall and they re with them at all times and yet it is always going, always flowing. Later, when Siddhartha again meets Govinda he tells Govinda of what he has learned. He first shows Govinda a rock, and explains how the rock is not just a rock now and maybe something else later, but that it is all things now. It is everything it will ever be at this moment, because these different forms are only separated by time, which is an illusion. When he finishes telling Govinda about what he has learned he asks Govinda to kiss him on the forehead, and as Govinda did this, he saw the truth of all things. Govinda realized that all things coexist and that Siddhartha was but one face of his form, one of a thousand others.

.He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces…hundreds, thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha. He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and becoming newly born. Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another x (150).

Robert Bennett contends that Siddartha experiences a vision of this oneness of life while he is meditating on the river. During this visionary experience he comes to realize that the endless flowing of the river symbolizes how all of the various forms and aspects of life flow into each other to form a single whole. The river, the Brahman and Buddha-nature, encompasses the entirety of existence in all of its diverse manifestations, and the meaning of the essential unity is best expressed through the sacred Hindu word, .Om x. This word expresses a unity that transcends all barriers of time, difference, oppositions, and illusions to recognize the interconnectedness of all beings. I m not sure if this is true, but it makes you wonder, it makes you think of the endless possibilities of life. Many books deal with the concept of the illusion of time, but I wonder if we will ever know the truth, if we will ever achieve Nirvana.

The one religious aspect I truly desire to experience is the realization that time is not real. It would be wonderful if it were true, which it very well may be.

According to Joseph Mcleck, Siddhartha becomes more progressively intrigued by the ever-changing yet never different, the ever-flowing yet always present river. At first it puzzles him, but further contemplative observation of its waters persuades him to conclude that there is no such thing as time. Contemplation of the river suggests only a present, no past, and no future. The river simply is. It is not first here, then there, but is everywhere simultaneously; at its source and at every point along its mouth. Contemplating himself in the manner in which he has contemplated the water, Siddhartha realizes that his life is a river. It too has its source, its course, and its point of termination; birth, childhood, youth, manhood, old age, and death. So observed, his life also suggests only a present, and as such, timelessness. To contemplate life in this manner is to concentrate on essence, on the idea of Siddhartha, and not just on the on the ephemeral manifestation of the idea, on noumenon and not phenomenon. Nor do Siddhartha s many reincarnations suggest any past or future. Siddhartha simply is. Time and timelessness depends entirely upon what the individual in his observation concentrates upon(166).

To G.W. Fields, the river symbolizes the boundary between two worlds and ways of life. This river symbol soon assumes syncretic power, becoming also the major symbol of oneness, as its voice whispers the mystic syllable .om x(76).

Ruth Goode asserts that .In the eight out of the twelve chapters of Siddhartha a clear boundary is drawn between the spiritual and the material world: the river. When Siddhartha crosses it, he leaves on one side the Brahmins, the Samanas, the Buddhists-all aspects of the religious and spiritual. On the other side he plunges into the merchant Kawasani, the sensuous world of the courtesan Kamala, and the physical luxuries and pleasure of city life. He savors all this for twenty years, and then suddenly turns away and returns to the river. Here he shares the simple life of Vaseduva the ferryman, and for the next twenty years listens to the river. The river is no longer a boundary that divides. Now it represents a unity in which past, present, and future, all people and their experiences, all aspects of life flow together. Siddhartha comes to understand that there is no conflict between the spiritual and the material, that all human experience is to be embraced, and that the only difference between ordinary people and sages is that the sages understand this unity. This is the vision that Siddhartha at last sees in the river x(80).

This second major concept concerning the significance of the river in Siddhartha is the idea that knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. Siddhartha believes this very strongly, and feels it is only right that one must gain wisdom for himself. Walter Sorell analyzed that, .Like Vaseduva, who found his oneness with the river, with the peaceful flow of the water that was, is and will be, Siddhartha realized that you can communicate knowledge, but not wisdom which everyone must gain through experiences. You can love things like the river, the stone, the tree. But one cannot love words. It was, therefore, through silence and a kiss on Siddhartha s forehead that he communicated his inner experience of peace to his friend Govinda. x For instance, When he and Govinda come to the garden of the Buddha and listened to Gotoma s words, Govinda is immediately converted and stays. Siddhartha, however, does not. He respects Gotoma and believes that he has actually reached Nirvana, but Siddhartha does not believe that Gotoma can teach him to reach it. Later Siddhartha finds himself at a river, having run away from riches. Here he sees another wise man, Vaseduva, the ferryman. He stays at the river and gains wisdom for himself. Siddhartha learns of the wonders of life, and that what he had always held to be true; that wisdom is teachable. When he again meets his friend Govinda he tells of the wisdom that he has found. .Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but cannot communicate and teach it. x He tells Govinda about Vaseduva. .For example, there was a man at this ferry who was my predecessor and teacher. He noticed the river s voice spoke to him. He learned from it; it educated and taught him. The river seemed like a god to him and for many years he did not know that every wind, every cloud, every bird, every beetle is equally divine and knows and can teach just as well as the esteemed river. x Belief is everything, and I believe in what this book says, that everything is important, no matter how small. I also believe that Siddhartha is correct when he says that wisdom is not communicable. A man can spend years learning physics and can be so intelligent that he invents the next nuclear weapon, but did he have the wisdom not to build it in the first place? The answer is no.

Works Cited

Bennett, Robert. An overview of Siddhartha for Exploring Novels, Gale, 1998

Field, G.W. Hermann Hesse: the way within

San Francisco: University of California press, c1973

Goode, Ruth. Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf& siddhartha.

New York: Baron’s Educational Series, Inc. 1985.

. Mcleck, Joseph. Hermann Hesse: life and Art.

Berkeley: University of California press, c1977

Sorell, Walter. Hermann Hesse: the man who sought and found himself. Vol. two London: Oswald Wolff



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