Siddhartha Chapter 11: "Om"
Time continues to pass by, yet Siddhartha still misses his son. He understands the love that ordinary people feel now, and when he sees parents with their children, or a man with his wife, Siddhartha understands what they feel like. But this understanding does not dispel the pain of losing his son. He opens himself up to many people who come to be ferried across the river, the obstacle on their journey. Siddhartha is there to bridge them across this gap so that they may continue. Siddhartha knows that he is behaving foolishly, like the rest of the ordinary people, but he cannot make it go away. He is reduced to another state of humility, as he had been after staying in Samsara for so many years. Siddhartha does not share the lifestyle of these other people, yet he understands their passions and their desires in life. He is one of them.
One day, consumed by his grief, the old man begins to cross the river as he had done before, planning to go to Samsara to find his lost son again. The river laughs at him, and in gazing into the waves he sees his reflection staring back. Siddhartha is reminded of how much he looks like his own father, the Brahmin, and recalls how he had left when a young boy, never to see him again. "Had not his father suffered the same pain that he was now suffering for his son? Had not his father died long ago, alone, without having seen his son again? Did not he expect the same fate? Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid thing, this repetition, this course of events in a fateful circle?" Chapter 11, pg. 107. That is why the river laughs, because Siddhartha had already done the same thing to his own father, yet now when his own son does it to him, he feels such pain and loss. It is all so silly and pointless. Everything moves in recurring circles, and people find themselves in different roles until their lives end. Even in death, they follow a path followed by so many before. The world moves in circles.
Excited, Siddhartha finds old Vasudeva. The old ferryman has become so frail that he no longer rows the ferry. He sits in his hut weaving a basket and listens quietly to Siddhartha. Talking aloud makes Siddhartha feel stronger and more confident; he says much, explaining what the old ferryman already knows. He holds nothing back and describes every pain and sorrow he has felt, every happiness, until Vasudeva, listening intently, has a look of peace on his face. Siddhartha suddenly feels as if he is speaking to the river, flowing around his words and healing his sorrow; it is as if he is speaking to God, for the man's attention fills him with such peace and serenity. Then, "the more he realized it, the less strange did he find it; the more did he realize that everything was natural and in order, that Vasudeva had long ago, almost always been like that, only he did not quite recognize it; indeed he himself was hardly different from him. He felt he now regarded Vasudeva as the people regarded the gods and that this could not last" Chapter 11, pg. 109. Vasudeva had done nothing more than listen to Siddhartha's words and to show him how to listen to the river, and now Siddhartha sees that he is like this old wise man. With this last flurry of words to his old mentor, Siddhartha has finished understanding himself and is now ready to listen to the stories others have to share with him.
Glad, old Vasudeva walks with Siddhartha to the river and they again hear its laughing voice, laughing at the silliness and the unity of everything. Why worry about things, when it all has a place and a meaning? Siddhartha sees faces from his life reflected in the water: Kamala, Govinda, and so many others he had known. They are all within the river, and Vasudeva is in the river, too. Siddhartha sees that the river is inside of him now, as he had seen it in Vasudeva; it is his life, and it is Atman. He sees a cycle there in the water as the river evaporates into rain, which falls again to make water. Everything in the world is a cycle around him; everything is circles and does not change. The river's voices laugh and lament at all of this, at life. Siddhartha realizes the insignificance of his own silly fears and worries and how self-centered they are. They are feelings already experienced before by thousands, by everyone. Why is he so special as to be pitied for his loss?
Gazing into the water, "all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life...then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om - perfection" Chapter 11, pg. 110-11. Siddhartha surmounts this final obstacle. He has yet another awakening here, near the river. Vasudeva smiles, for he knows that Siddhartha now understands everything. Everything in life makes sense now: "From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of things" Chapter 11, pg. 111. His old Self is at last defeated as he realizes his own individual insignificance in the faces of eternity and the river. As much as he worries about his pain, the world around does not care because the river simply continues to flow.
Siddhartha reaches the highest enlightenment here and finds finally what he has sought out since the beginning of his journey. There are no words to say, and he only listens to the river and to the world around him; he is merely a part of everything else. As if his job had ended when Siddhartha reached this understanding, Vasudeva, tired, calmly declares that it is time for him to go "into the unity of things," to go off to die in the woods. He too, must face the same fate so many others have already faced. Why worry or fear? It is a part of the circle, of the cycle, a part of the river he had loved so much. Siddhartha, enlightened, watches the man walk off so peacefully, embracing death now because it is just another part of his life. There is no sorrow felt at their final parting, but instead a sense of joy, as Siddhartha had felt during the death of his beloved Kamala.