Summary and Analysis Part 2: By the River


As we embark upon this sequence, we must realize that Siddhartha is now in his forties and that he has spent a little over twenty years in the city. Time rushes by in this novel very much like a current beneath the time close-ups. Plot progression seemingly takes place only when we zoom in on isolated days and nights, yet the story unfolds continually and unrelentingly. The sense of undercurrent becomes even more awesome in the sequences involving Siddhartha at the river with Vasudeva. We learn what Siddhartha is to learn: The river subsumes all time, all creation, all destruction. It is timeless and transcendent. Here, Vasudeva's prophecy of roughly twenty years earlier is fulfilled: Everything does indeed return, even Siddhartha. Vasudeva will conquer his antithesis (Kamaswami) and we are gradually prepared for Siddhartha's succeeding Vasudeva. Upon Siddhartha's initial return to the river, prior to the actual encounter with Vasudeva, he begins his self-restoration. He hears the Brahmins sacred syllable for the unity of all being — OM — as it wells up from his soul and forms a bond with the water. The transcendent OM of the river lulls Siddhartha into a trance-like sleep from which he later awakens, refreshed and face-to-face with Govinda. Siddhartha and the Buddhist monk Govinda have a talk, from which a basic revelation emerges: The cause of Siddhartha's soul sickness is an inability to love. The syllable OM had awakened this revelation within Siddhartha's soul and seeing Govinda has brought it to the surface. Siddhartha then regains his lost innocence and smiles.

With Siddhartha's spiritual restoration, already time begins to dissolve, to fall away. Large parts of this sequence are devoted to solitary reflection in which Siddhartha realizes that it is not the bird of his innermost soul that has died, but his conscious, grasping egotistical self. The process of synthesis is an agonizing process, an ordeal of sansara and self-realization, of individuation, from which resolution and equilibrium are to come forth. As Siddhartha reflects on salvation, he is also aware that his inner voice is still there. He is a newly awakened, innocent and childlike Siddhartha, endowed now with the capacity to love the flowing waters of the river. The river is the agent through which Siddhartha will plumb the depths of his consciousness — a kind of psychoanalysis, as it were.

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