Siddhartha: Final Essay


The Thematic Significance of

Water in Siddhartha
In the novel Siddhartha, the symbolism of the river and of water is displayed throughout, and they greatly surpass all others in importance. Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment becomes the predominant theme in the novel, and Herman Hesse makes the river the key contributor of this quest. Through listening to the river, Siddhartha discovers the concept of time and how it associates to life. He comes to realize that his previous conclusion is correct, wisdom cannot be taught. Ultimately, when Siddhartha reaches nirvana, he also sees how spiritualism and materialism both have a place in the circle of life. The river becomes an expression of the ideas through which Siddhartha reaches his enlightenment.


Early in the novel, Siddhartha begins to question the concept and authority of his religion. He has learned a great deal by the holiest and wisest of teachers, yet he does not find himself feeling fulfilled or enlightened. Thus him, and his friend Govinda, commence their life pattern of searching for enlightenment and nirvana. With the samanas, Siddhartha begins to master their teachings swiftly. Feeling unfulfilled, Siddhartha realizes he will not attain his goal as an ascetic, for the eldest samana has yet to obtain enlightenment, “He will turn seventy and eighty, and you and I, we will get almost as old and we will practice, and we will fast and we will meditate. But we will never reach Nirvana, not he, not we.” (Page 17) With this awareness, Siddhartha and Govinda depart from the samanas and head out to hear the teachings of the illustrious Buddha. After listening to Gautama’s preaching, Siddhartha reaches the conclusion that he will never reach enlightenment through teaching alone, for wisdom cannot be taught, but through a path which he must contrive, “That is why I am resuming my wandering – not to seek a different, a better teaching, for I know that there is none; but to leave all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal alone or die.” (Page 33) Siddhartha, with his mind all clear and conscious, begins to explore life in the material world. After spending little over two decades in his new habitat, he becomes deeply entangled with samsara, “But above all he was disgusted at himself, at his fragrant hair, at the smell of wine from his mouth, at the slack fatigue and surfeit of his skin.” (Page 73) Disgusted with his life, Siddhartha leaves again and discovers the river, where he learns the concepts time, wisdom, and spirituality.


With Vasudeva – the ferryman, Siddhartha begins his spiritual quest anew, “I had to go through so much stupidity, so much vice … so much disgust and disillusion and distress, merely in order to become a child again and begin afresh.” (Page 85) where he is no longer hindered by pushy determination to achieve enlightenment, “Too much knowledge had hindered him … too much acting, and striving.” (Page 87) Siddhartha begins to hear the river, and learn from it, “But more than Vasudeva could teach him, the river taught him.” (Page 93) In his education, the concept of time often arose. “That the river is everywhere at once … and only the present exists for it, and not the shadow of the future.” (Page 94) He begins to comprehend that, for the river, time does not exist. The only change is how it is reflected in the contemporary life. From this, Siddhartha comes to understand that, in life, there is no past or future, but only the present, “Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has being and is present.” (Page 94) From this revelation, Siddhartha begins to release much of his self-torment, and shows early glimpses of bliss and enlightenment, “This revelation had made him deeply blissful.” (Page 94)


The idea of timelessness is again expressed in Govinda’s vision during his last visit with Siddhartha. In this vision, he sees faces of people continually flowing from one to another, “He no longer saw his friend Siddhartha’s face; instead he saw other faces, many, a long row, a streaming river of faces … which kept changing and being renewed, and yet which were all Siddhartha.” (Page130) Govinda comes to realize that, even though the faces are continuingly changing, everything