Siddhartha's Quest to Find Himself

I once heard that true understanding comes only as we cross the line that separates learning from experience. I did not at first comprehend what it meant. Then my instructor further explained, “A man who is blind can learn all that there is to know about vision, the physiology of the eye and its features, but not until he has experienced eyesight will he begin to truly understand.”
Over the course of this novel, Siddhartha—who journeys all walks of life in desperate search to find himself—does not find the peace of conscience and peace of mind he desires until he has experienced the soul-searching, the trials, the longing, and the rebirth essential for him to attain a state of wholeness and bliss.
Although Siddhartha was well beloved and “gave joy to all”, he “did not give himself joy, he was no pleasure to himself” (pg 2).
Siddhartha was not content. “He had begun to foresee that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the Brahman sages, had already imparted to him the greatest part and the best part of their wisdom, that they had already poured their abundance into his expectant vessel; and the vessel was not full, his mind was not satisfied, his soul was not at ease, his heart was not contented” (pg 3).
As he pondered about his life and his father’s life, he realized that there was more out there than life as a Brahman; he needed answers; he needed to find himself. “It had to be found, the well-spring in one’s own self, it had to be securely possessed! All else was a mere quest, a detour, an aberration” (pg 4).
external image CurledBrownHoodedOwletCaterpillar.jpgHis first attempt at finding himself was to lose himself. As a samana, he would discard his identity, his physical needs, his desires; however, he did not find answers or peace in this endeavor. He only found further detachment and discontent.
As time passed he eventually was able to meet and observe Buddha, whose “face and his step, his calmly lowered gaze, his hands held calmly at his side, and indeed every finger of his calmly held hands, spoke of peace, spoke of perfection, sought nothing, imitated nothing, but breathed softly in unfading repose, in unfading light, in unassailable peace” (pg 15). Here Siddhartha first sees the signs of what he wants, but he still hasn’t found it for himself, and therefore is not satisfied.
Rather than being content in the presence of Buddha and learning from the man himself, Siddhartha realized that in order to reach this “unassailable peace” he had to find it for himself. “I have never seen anyone gaze and smile, sit and walk, that way,” he thought; “truly I wish I could also gaze and smile, sit and walk, that way, with such freedom, such venerableness, such concealment, such openness, such childlikeness, and such mystery. Truly, such a gaze and stride belong only to a person who has penetrated into his innermost self. Well, I, too will strive to penetrate into my innermost self” (pg 20).
Siddhartha realizes that he must get to know himself. He dismisses other teachings and sets on a quest as the pupil of himself. After this awakening he sees the world with new eyes. He discovered that “meaning and essence were not somewhere or other in back of things, they were in them, in everything” (pg 22). Now trying to find where he belonged, he journeyed forward, not looking back.
He realized that the “Buddha’s treasure and secret were not his doctrine but the ineffable, unteachable experience he had once had in the hour of his enlightenment—it was this very thing that he was now setting out to experience, that he was now beginning to experience. He now had to experience himself.” Experience! This is the key to true understanding. He had already learned much, but now he was beginning to experience.
At this point he meets Kamala and the Kamaswami-people. Here he learns many new and interesting things. Above all, he learns that he has not yet learned to love.
The longer he stayed there the more he changed. Gradually, day by day, he was becoming one of these “child-people”. “Just as a potter’s wheel, once set in motion, still turns for a long time and only slowly slackens and comes to rest” all of the thoughts, discernments, values, and habits that Siddhartha once possessed, slowly began to fade as he became more and more like the people of the world. Eventually, “he ceased in his heart to be a samana” (pg 42).
external image VoloBogMonarchChrysalis.jpgIt took time, but he eventually realized that he had been searching for joy in the pleasures of the world and found only disgust and misery. “He wished he could rid himself of these pleasures, of these habits, of this whole pointless life, and of himself, in one enormous surge of nausea.”
Siddhartha realized he could never truly be happy in the world of the Kamaswami-people, because “their goals were not his, nor their worries.” 45
He was on the brink of suicide. He looked at his reflection in the water of the river and spat at it. Just as he was about to jump, a word ran through his soul—om. This marks the great turnaround in Siddhartha’s life; that two letter word generated a spiritual rebirth.
Thinking back on it all, he said, “It is good to taste for yourself everything you need to know. That worldly pleasure and wealth are not good things, I learned even as a child. I knew it for a long time, but only now have I experienced it. And now I know it, I know it not only because I remember hearing it, but with my eyes, with my heart, with my stomach. And it is good for me to know it!” (pg 53). Here is the ultimate change of heart; this is where Siddhartha finally came to and began anew.
Shortly after, he was reintroduced to Vasudeva, a humble ferry boatman. Vasudeva took Siddhartha under his wing and became his mentor. As Siddhartha rehearsed his life story, “Vasudeva listened most attentively. As he listened, he absorbed it all, family and childhood, all the learning, all the seeking, all the joy, all the distress. Among the ferryman’s virtues this was one of the greatest: he knew how to listen as only few people do. Although Vasudeva said not a word, the speaker felt that he was taking in his words, quietly, openly, expectantly; that he was not losing one of them, was not awaiting them impatiently, was not assigning praise or blame to them, but was merely listening. Siddhartha realized what a great good fortune it is to confess oneself to a listener like that, to confide one’s own life to his heart, one’s own questing, one’s own suffering.”
Siddartha seeks to learn how to listen in this manner. Vasudeva taught that, “You will learn it, but not from me. The river taught me how to listen, and you will learn that from it, too.” As months sped by, Siddhartha did indeed learn from the river. “He never stopped learning from it. Above all it taught him how to listen, to listen with a quiet heart, with an open, expectant soul, without passion, without a desire, without judging, without forming an opinion” (pg 57).
external image butterfly.jpgNear the end of the novel, through experience as a father, Siddartha learns how to love. He learned empathy, finally seeing and feeling the feelings of the child-people. “Ever since his son had come, now he, too, Siddhartha, had totally become a child-person, suffering for someone’s sake, loving someone, lost through love, a fool for the sake of love. Now he, too, felt belatedly for once in his life that strongest and strangest of passions; he suffered from it, suffered pitifully, and yet he was blessed, and yet he was in some way renewed, in some way richer. To be sure, he sensed that this love, this blind love for his son, was a passion, something very human, that is was samsara… this pleasure, too had to be atoned for; these pains, too had to be experienced; these follies, too, had to be committed” (pg 66).
Siddhartha essentially became a perfected man—whole, complete, at perfect peace. His soul, which had been so unsettled his entire life, was now still and in harmony with the om of the river and the world around him. He finally reached or maybe even exceeded the repose and light of Gotama. He came to this state through experience. Going from richest of rich to poorest of poor, traveling with wisest of men and innocent children, knowing acceptance, knowing abandonment, he now had experienced a rebirth, a change of heart, and step by step, inch by inch, he climbed to the top of the mountain of self-actualization. Siddhartha reached this perfection and understanding, because he experienced.