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Hesse’s Siddartha: Realizing The Eternal Change

January 2012
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Siddartha has three distinct phases, which move on in a kind of metamorphosis. The first stage is the mind, the second is the body, and the third is integration. In the first stage, Siddartha seeks understanding by denying the body, and trying to master the mind. His counterpart is Govinda, who is male. The name Govinda is linked with Krishna, and literally means “cow god.” You can also understand the name to mean “cow herd,” or shepherd. The name is connected with the godhead, which is unchanging. He is the keeper.

To understand the significance more deeply, you can think of a distinction between appearance and reality. The appearance of things flows like a river, and is never twice the same. Reality is always the same. In Western Philosophy, which shares historical and linguistic roots with Hindu Philosophy, this is a central distinction. In the west, the eternal and unchanging is associated with Reason or Mind, which are both associated with masculinity. Reason, like the proposition that 2+2=4, is always the same.

In Greek philosophy, you can see the quest for the eternal expressed in Plato’s doctrine of the Forms. Further, you can look at his Allegory of The Cave. The world of illusion and change are the shadows at the back of the cave. The true world is represented out of the cave in the symbol of the Sun, which stands for masculine Reason. The Cave itself represents a kind of womb. The seeker is born, as it were, into the light of Reason. Mythologically, this is the quest for Father. As with the myth of Christ, one must be “born again.”

Remembering that there are important differences between eastern and western enlightenment, let’s look again at Siddartha’s companion. Govinda and Siddartha practice denying the body as ascetic monks, in order to know the mind, in order to know the eternal and unchanging self. They become monks. But this direction of self-denial does not work for Siddartha. He is still incomplete. So he parts with his friend, Govinda.

At this stage of the novel, he encounters a female, named Kamala, whose name is connected to Lakshmi or Durga. Laksmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Durga is the mother goddess. Kamala is the female aspect of the Self. She represents the opposite of what Govinda represents, which is the masculine aspect of the self. Both Kamala and Govinda represent aspects of Siddartha.

Kamala is at once the lover and the mother. As her name relates to Lakshmi, she represents worldly desire. Through her, Siddartha indulges into desire, instead of denying it, as he did with Govinda. You perhaps have already realized that her name Kamala is related to the name we know well in the west, Kama Sutra, which is the ancient Indian practice of enlightenment through sensuous pleasure. It is this sensuous pleasure that leads naturally to the other aspect of her name, Durga. The lover becomes the Mother.

Let’s take at some linguistic artifacts in order to drive the point home. In English, which is deeply related to the Hindu language Sanskrit, we can see the etymology which connects the word “mother” with the body. In order to get the connection, we need to look at another indo-european language, Greek. The Greek goddess Demeter is the earth goddess. We can see in her name the English word “meter,’ which is a unit for measuring physical “matter,” the earth body. “Meter” and “matter” are both words are connected to the English word “mother.” Meter, matter, mother. Mater, material, maternity, etc. In fact, in all of the Indo-European languages, we can find the old association between “matter” and “mother.” In Russian, mother is ‘mat;’ in Hindi, ‘maataa;’ in German “mutter.” In our old mythologies, Earth is Mother, and Heaven is Father. The earth is matter, and heaven is mind.

Let’s make one more quick digression before continuing on, for there is an old historical relationship between Hesse’s Germany, and Siddartha’s India. You see, the Aryans, who migrated north to England, Germany, and Russia, also migrated to India, and with them they brought their language, which evolved into the various forms of of language in the into-european language family tree. The Aryans started out in an area which approximates modern day Iran (Iran = Aryan.) And it is this history which Hitler exploited when he called the Aryan race the master race. He took from this tradition the infamous swastika, and reversed it. You can find the swastika in both Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which have aryan roots. The language, mythology, and philosophy of all the into-european languages share in the same migratory roots.

But back to Kamala. Kamala represents the ever-changing body; Govinda represents the unchanging mind. Siddartha could not find completeness as a monk with Govinda. He needed to understand his body. So he leaves Govinda and meets Kamala. Having mastered his mind, he is ready to know the body. And when he knows both mind and body, these two opposites can integrate into a whole. Siddartha can integrate male and female, the two poles of the Self. And it is thus that Siddartha conceives a child, and becomes a father. This represents a new birth of the self. But he is not finished. His realization is not complete.

And so we enter into the third and final stage of the book. Having integrated male and female, the eternal and the temporal, the mind and the body, he gets his son. He was once a son; and now he, like his father before him, has become a father. Through all the change, something has remained the same. Yet he hasn’t realized this yet. In this third stage, he must realize and apprehend this whole, and so we meet the ferryman, Vasudeva.

Vasudeva is Krishna’s father, and his name means “the one who is the form of knowledge.” Vasudeva lives by the river, which appears always to change; and through meditation on the river, at the side of Vasudeva, Siddartha comes to realize the eternal Form. Like the river, life eternally changes. Though everything has changed, nothing has changed. Ever-changing appearance is eternal reality.

In this last stage, Siddartha again meets his brother, Govinda. Govinda has not changed; yet Govinda does not recognize Siddartha, for Siddartha has changed so much.


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