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.
Direction and Indirection ThemeTracker
Direction and Indirection Quotes in Siddhartha
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…
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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!”
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.