Siddhartha: Om. Feraco Search for Human Potential 9 October 2012. If “The Son” finds Hesse bringing his cycles/repetition motif to a head, “Om” allows him to finally harvest another crop he’s steadily planted for ten chapters.
Search for Human Potential
9 October 2012
If “The Son” finds Hesse bringing his cycles/repetition motif to a head, “Om” allows him to finally harvest another crop he’s steadily planted for ten chapters.
Here, all of the river/water/stream imagery finally reaches its triumphant conclusion; as we’ve suspected all along, the river provides Siddhartha with the catalyst for his final epiphany.
That’s not to say that the chapter begins in particularly glorious fashion.
Once again, Siddhartha’s beginning to regress, as his suffering proves so intense that his view of people and lines of reasoning begin to distort again.
Fortunately, this proves to be a fairly short process, and it leads to some good things.
For example, it leads him to reassess desire as the source of both man’s strengths and weakness, as well as to reconsider what counts as wisdom.
“Within Siddhartha there slowly grew and ripened the knowledge of what wisdom really was and the goal of his long seeking. It was nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life.”
Yet his thoughts still aren’t about unity: They’re about his son, who (through no fault of his own) has become an anchor around his father’s neck, dragging him away from the path just as he dragged Kamala away from hers.
At one point, Siddhartha’s pain becomes so great that he rows back across the river – specifically going against Vasudeva’s advice – in order to chase after his son.
He’s fueled by love here, but – once again – only by one of its components.
He desires his son’s presence in his life again, desires relief from pain, regardless of whether it’s truly in his son’s best interest.
Once again, he’s not thinking ahead; what would he do if he actually found the boy?
For a grown man, Siddhartha sure behaves like that overamped 1-year-old pretty often…
But once he’s across the river, he hears it laughing at him!
When he turns to look at his reflection, we see the first of two “faces” scenes in the chapter: he realizes how strongly his reflection, after all these years, resembled his father’s.
“Had not his father also suffered the same pain that he was now suffering for his son? Had not his father died long ago, alone, without having seen his son again? Did he not expect the same fate? Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid thing, this repetition, this course of events in a fateful circle?…Yes, that was how it was. Everything that was not suffered to the end and finally concluded recurred, and the same sorrows were undergone.”
Having reached this realization, he turns and heads back to Vasudeva’s hut, still without his son.
Vasudeva hears him recount his experience and takes him right back down to the river; he knows Siddhartha’s on the verge of the breakthrough he’s sought for decades.
He saw his father, lonely, mourning for his son; he saw himself, lonely, also with the bonds of longing for his faraway son; he saw his son, also lonely, the boy eagerly advancing along the burning path of life’s desires; each one concentrating on his goal, each one obsessed by his goal, each one suffering…The picture of his father, his own picture, and the picture of his son all flowed into each other. Kamala’s picture also appeared and flowed on, and the picture of Govinda and others emerged and passed on. They all became part of the river. It was the goal of all of them, yearning, desiring, suffering; and the river’s voice was full of longing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire.
As Siddhartha listens, he realizes that all of the voices in the river – to this day, he’s heard them all distinctly – are in fact indistinguishable from each other.
They all belonged to each other: the lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of indignation and the groan of the dying. They were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life…then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om – perfection.
Siddhartha finally understands what he’s been this close to understanding for many chapters: the true nature of the unity of the universe.
He has finally reached an enlightened state: “There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.”
At this point, Vasudeva takes his leave of Siddhartha; there’s no sadness in his departure, for there’s no reason for him to stay.
He, like Govinda in “By the River,” has served as a midwife for Siddhartha’s transition between phases, and he’s done his job – the job of a bodhisattva – exceedingly well…
…for Siddhartha has finally reached enlightenment.
When he leaves, he heads “into the woods…into the unity of all things,” and he’s virtually glowing with light (i.e., enlightenment) as he walks away.
The two share one last gaze – you see the “bright eyes” in Siddhartha’s face once more – and the chapter concludes on a beautiful, peaceful note.
Siddhartha has become “ordinary,” working as a ferryman instead of a rich man or a village leader…and yet, he’s finally become extraordinary, finally fulfilled his potential.
There remains but one loose thread, and it’s about to be dealt with…