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Direction and Indirection Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment Theme Icon
Nature and the Spirit Theme Icon
Direction and Indirection Theme Icon
Truth and Illusion Theme Icon
Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Siddhartha, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Direction and Indirection Theme Icon

Part of the teaching of the Buddha is that deliverance comes from rising above the cycles and circles of a worldly life. Throughout the novel, cyclic experiences are viewed negatively. The cycles are connected with the spiritless, sinful lives of the people in the town, whereas the samanas and the Buddha intend to live their lives towards enlightenment and Nirvana, aiming for higher places with every action.

Though Siddhartha appreciates Buddha’s teaching, he doesn’t understand how to leave the unending cycles behind. So rather than choose a direct path that would have him follow the lead of one who has attained enlightenment, such as the Buddha, Siddhartha chooses a path that might be described as moving along ground level, seeking through the natural paths and waters, through the streets of the town, to achieve his own progression. In this way, the novel is full of contradicting directions of flow and influence. The path upward is elusive and the path along is repetitive and cyclical. Perhaps it is direction itself that is hindering Siddhartha from finding his way?

When he allows himself to live by the river, without following or seeking a particular path, his lack of direction makes sense, and mimics the river itself. The river seems to be flowing one way, another, falling over a cliff as a waterfall, halted and meandering, unchanged by time, never beginning or ending. It is the vision of this wholeness that brings light to Siddhartha’s thinking and purpose to his life’s wandering. Enlightenment had been associated with height and a journey upwards, but Siddhartha’s searching shows that enlightenment is not ascending above the rest of the world but rather recognizing one’s equality with it. And, fittingly, the novel ends with Siddhartha face to face with his childhood friend, not above but together with the world.

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Direction and Indirection ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Direction and Indirection appears in each chapter of Siddhartha. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Direction and Indirection Quotes in Siddhartha

Below you will find the important quotes in Siddhartha related to the theme of Direction and Indirection.
Part One, Chapter 1 – The Brahmin's Son Quotes

He had begun to sense that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmins, had already imparted to him the bulk and the best of their knowledge, that they had already poured their fullness into his waiting vessel, and the vessel was not full, his mind was not contented…

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Siddhartha’s father
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

As a Brahmin's son, Siddhartha has been raised in an atmosphere of people seeking enlightenment in wisdom passed down through the community. Siddhartha has been a model student – he is very good at meditation, he is a quick learner, and he has an aura of success and charisma that makes him much admired. However, while his community assumes that he will be successful in the traditional ways they have defined for him, Siddhartha instinctively knows that the life that he has been born into is not enough.

Though he, like his community, seeks enlightenment, he is suspicious that he can attain enlightenment through received wisdom from elders who, frankly, seem not to have achieved enlightenment themselves. Siddhartha feels that he has already learned from them what they are able to offer, and to remain in his community would not continue to move him towards enlightenment. This is a first instance of the dissatisfaction that will propel Siddhartha throughout the book. This dissatisfaction is presented in the novel not as a negative emotion, but as an indication and result of Siddhartha's intuition about experiences that are not contributing to enlightenment. This quote also marks the beginning of Siddhartha's skepticism towards received wisdom, and initiates his journey to gain experiential knowledge from the world. 


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Part One, Chapter 2 – Among the Samanas Quotes

Siddhartha had a goal, a single one: to become empty – empty of thirst, empty of desire, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha, driven by his dissatisfaction with his Brahmin life, joins the Samanas, an ascetic and nomadic sect that renounces material possessions. He is attracted to the extremity of the Samana lifestyle – they wander naked, fasting and renouncing the self. To Siddhartha, this signifies a devotion to enlightenment that the Brahmins, who are comfortable with their possessions, seem to lack.

In addition, Siddhartha is attracted to the experiential nature of Samana wisdom. Instead of just hearing about enlightenment, Siddhartha wants to be asked to make sacrifices for it and to experience heightened states brought on by asceticism. His goal in joining the Samanas, as he states it to himself here, is to empty himself. He is rejecting the self, hoping to purge himself of "self," in order to experience enlightenment. His subsequent time with the Samanas will be colored by this goal, and it will lead him to valuable lessons, though just as he rejected the Brahmin's ideas about the best way to achieve enlightenment he will ultimately come to believe that the Samanas beliefs and methods are similarly lacking. 

Part Two, Chapter 6 – Among the Child People Quotes

Siddhartha replied: “Stop scolding, dear friend! Scolding has never achieved anything. If there has been a loss, then let me bear the burden. I am very content with this trip. I have met all sorts of people, a Brahmin has become my friend, children have ridden on my lap, farmers have shown me their fields. No one took me for a merchant.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Kamaswami
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha has just returned from a trip to a rice plantation. Though he found that the rice had already been sold to another merchant, Siddhartha decided to stay anyway and mingle with the people who lived there. Kamaswami scolds him for not prioritizing business and coming home immediately, but Siddhartha brushes him off. This passage shows the differences between Siddhartha's values and Kamaswami's values; Kamaswami thinks that business is of paramount importance, while Siddhartha is willing to take business losses without complaint in exchange for having good experiences with other people. Siddhartha is seeking experiences, while Kamaswami is seeking money.

This passage is important because something Siddhartha needed to learn from living in town with Kamaswami and being with Kamala was the importance of human relationships, and this is the first time that Siddhartha has expressed the value of making friends with others. This passage shows that Siddhartha is gaining the experience he needs from living in the town, and it has not yet begun to corrupt him.

At times he heard, deep in his breast, a soft and dying voice that admonished softly, lamented softly, barely audible. Then for an hour he was aware that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing all sorts of things that were merely a game, that he was cheerful, granted, and sometimes felt joy, but that a real life was flowing past him and not touching him.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

For a long time, Siddhartha has lived with Kamaswami among the "child people" in town and has felt separate from them because of his past. For a while, this separation seemed true – Siddhartha had different, more spiritual concerns from the townspeople and was not moved by their material concerns. However, after a long time of living this life as though it were a game, Siddhartha begins to understand that it is not a game – that whether or not he fully believes in what he's doing, it is actually the life he's living.

The inner voice that has guided him his whole life is faint now; he can barely hear it when it tells him that he has strayed from the real life he was meant for. The inner voice is nearly synonymous with Siddhartha's dissatisfaction, and it is generally dissatisfaction that is his best guide for when his life is not matching up with his potential. However, it seems that the petty materialism of his life as a merchant has dulled his sense of dissatisfaction dangerously, making him believe he is satisfied with something less than what he truly wants. This passage is important for the way it suggests how material comfort can blind one to the possibilities of a more fulfilling life, and because it definitively confirms that something is deeply wrong with Siddhartha's life, but Siddhartha is, at this point, unable to do anything about it. This is an important conflict for him to endure.

Part Two, Chapter 8 – By the River Quotes

With a twisted face he stared into the water, saw his face reflected, and he spat at it. In deep fatigue, he loosened his arm from the tree trunk and turned slightly in order to plunge in a sheer drop, to go under at last. Closing his eyes, he leaned toward death.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Siddhartha has definitively realized his mistake; he stayed too long in the town and allowed his inner voice to fall silent. By living for the desires of the child people while knowing that their desires were not spiritually sufficient, Siddhartha feels that he has become even worse than the child people, since they, at least, seem happy. As a result of this realization, he abandons his possessions and flees the town, but worries that this action is not enough since his voice has not come back to him and without it he has nothing to push him forward and no reason to live.

This sense is amplified by his proximity to the river, which is always moving forward and changing and adapting to the riverbed in which it runs. Siddhartha longs to be more like the river, but he fears that he has betrayed himself to the extent that his self no longer exists as it once did. The thought of this brings him to consider suicide – he hangs over the river ready to plunge himself in. He does not yet recognize that the frustration he is feeling with his missing inner voice is itself dissatisfaction, is itself the inner voice. Though his despair feels like his true condition at that moment, it is actually an indication that he is breaking out of the false satisfaction with his merchant life. Siddhartha is finally seeking out the life he is meant for, even though it is deeply painful. 

Part Two, Chapter 9 – The Ferryman Quotes

He learned incessantly from the river. Above all, it taught him how to listen, to listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha, at this point, has apprenticed himself to the ferryman, Vasudeva. The ferryman is not an official spiritual leader, but Siddhartha senses that he has important spiritual knowledge and wisdom that Siddhartha needs. Importantly, instead of trying to get this knowledge from the ferryman, Siddhartha tries to get it by learning from the river itself, which is how the ferryman came to his own spirituality. This is another instance of the importance of experiential knowledge (gained from the river) rather than received wisdom (the knowledge of the river relayed by the ferryman).

Here, Siddhartha finally seems to have found a kind of unity with nature, embodied in his seeking human wisdom in the natural world. The river, because it is a feature of nature, proves a much better teacher than any human being could be because it is never dogmatic. The river never teaches a single "right way," instead it inspires contemplation within the individual who seeks after enlightenment. In this sense, nature is the best teacher for someone like Siddhartha because all it can do is challenge and push him to learn and think for himself – it can't lead him astray. 

Part Two, Chapter 10 – The Son Quotes

“Can I part with him?” he asked softly, embarrassed. “Give me more time, dear friend! Look, I am fighting for him, I am wooing his heart, I want to capture it with love and friendly patience. Let the river speak to him too someday; he too is called.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Vasudeva, Young Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha debates the ferryman about how to handle his young son who has come to live with them. The son grew up in the town with Kamala, and has many of the values from the town that Siddhartha and the ferryman reject. The ferryman, who has learned from the river to let things be as they are, gently prods Siddhartha to allow the boy to go back to the town like he wants, but Siddhartha wants more time with the boy, rationalizing that this time could instill better values in his son. Obviously, this echoes the beginning of the book in which Siddhartha wants to abandon his own father's way of life and his father attempts to prevent him from going before finally relenting to Siddhartha's stubborn insistence.

In a sense, then, Siddhartha's experience with his son marks a cyclical reunification with one of the early trials of Siddhartha's journey to enlightenment, only this time it is inverted. Instead of breaking out from his father's way of life, Siddhartha has to now recognize the importance of allowing his son to take his own path, even if it is counter to the one Siddhartha wants for him. Furthermore, Siddhartha cannot himself instill wisdom in his son; as his own journey has taught him, knowledge has to be earned experientially. There is nothing Siddhartha can tell his son that would be as valuable as allowing him to make his own mistakes and discoveries.

He felt deep love in his heart for the runaway. It was like a wound; and he also felt that the wound was not for wallowing, that it must become a blossom and shine.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Young Siddhartha
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha does not relent and allow his son to make his own path, so his son defies him and runs away, humiliating his father in the process by stealing the ferryman's boat and money. While he and the ferryman search for his son (at the ferryman's insistence this is only to get the boat back), Siddhartha finds himself in Kamala's grove and he remembers every step of his own journey. This memory forces him to acknowledge that he cannot change his son – only his son's experiences and choices can do that. As Siddhartha learned from the river, all he can do is wait for his son's journey to play out as it will.

This realization is another step on Siddhartha's own path to enlightenment. He has never experienced the kind of love before that he feels for his son, and it made him vulnerable to the possessiveness and warped behavior that he judged in the child people. After having had this experience with his son, he can now accept the child people, and by letting his son go, he is gaining all the benefits of giving love and transcending its limitations. This is what Siddhartha means when he describes the wound of his son as one that would become a blossom. It is only this heartbreak with his son that can allow him to attain enlightenment.

Part Two, Chapter 11 – Om Quotes

“I am going into the forest, I am going into the oneness,” said Vasudeva, radiant.

Related Characters: Vasudeva (speaker), Vasudeva
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

After Siddhartha experiences his vision unity when looking in the river, Vasudeva reveals that his role in Siddhartha's life is complete. He has pointed Siddhartha to the wisdom of the river, and Siddhartha has successfully learned from it. The two no longer need one another, and Vasudeva decides to go to the forest. This parting is not sad or even ambivalent – both men have learned that, like the river, they cannot control others and they cannot control fate. Further, they know that things seem to come and go, but in reality everything is part of the same unity. Because of this understanding, Vasudeva's leaving does not feel like a parting, but rather a moment of spiritual radiance.

However, the fact Vasudeva seems to have been liberated by having passed his own knowledge to Siddhartha points to one last thing that Siddhartha needs to do. To be implicated in the chain of spiritual enlightenment, he must do what he can to steer someone else into the kinds of experiences that provide enlightenment. 

Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda Quotes

“I have found a thought, Govinda, that you will again take as a joke or as folly, but it is my best thought. This is it: The opposite of every truth is just as true!”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Govinda
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

As Vasudeva's parting foreshadowed the necessity of those who have achieved enlightenment to teach others, Govinda comes to seek out the wise ferryman (who is now Siddhartha), just as Siddhartha once sought out Vasudeva. Govinda has been following Gautama's teachings, but has not yet achieved enlightenment and is still seeking it.

Govinda, as he always has, is looking for a shortcut to enlightenment through hearing the wisdom learned by others. Siddhartha knows that the experiential truths he has learned cannot be communicated in words, so he tells Govinda this, saying that every truth is two-sided, and that speaking the truth would eliminate one of the sides. Siddhartha has learned from the river that all things are true at once because all things are the same – life is unity, it only has the illusion of being broken into discrete parts and truths because of time. He tries to steer Govinda into an understanding that Govinda's search for a single truth will always leave him empty handed because it is contrary to the nature of the universe. Instead of seeking something, Govinda must open himself to everything.

He no longer saw his friend Siddhartha’s face; instead he saw other faces, many, a long row, a streaming river of faces, hundreds, thousands, which all came and faded and yet seemed all to be there at once, which kept changing and being renewed, and yet which all were Siddhartha.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Govinda
Related Symbols: The Smile
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Govinda is about to leave the river just as confused and anxious as before. He is impressed by Siddhartha's presence, but finds his words confusing and unhelpful. Before he goes, Siddhartha kisses his friend and in this moment Govinda has a vision. It is significant that it is an act, not an explanation, that pushes Govinda into challenging his ideas about the world. It is also significant that Govinda has a vision of the river that is similar to the one Siddhartha had; he sees a river of faces that are different but still all one. In this vision he sees good and evil and many other supposed opposites unified in the river, and the unity he sees is visualized by the smile Siddhartha wears.

Siddhartha, like Vasudeva, has now helped someone else take steps towards finding unity. Like Vasudeva, this has occurred in the form of a natural vision that conjured the same peaceful smile that the enlightened wear. Govinda's vision indicates that Siddhartha has become truly enlightened.