Siddhartha Chapter 8: "By the River"
Arriving again at the river he had crossed, Siddhartha stares into the water, ashamed of what he has become. He feels lost, since there is nowhere left to go. He had lived amongst the people, became a lover and a merchant, yet this path was a dead end. What shall he do now? Clutching a tree at the water's edge he decides that the only solution is to drown himself, thus putting an end to his misery. The songbird of his dream returns to memory, and he thinks the bird is his inner essence that has died. He had been pure before in his youth, but had come to live a life contradicting that, a life filled with sin and excess. All values seem to be lost, and Siddhartha realizes how arrogant he has been. All along he had ridiculed everyone else, but he has become one of them himself. Considering himself to be a failure, the old man prepares to fall down beneath the water, pausing to see his reflection staring up from the river's surface.
While seeing this reflection of himself in the water, Siddhartha utters the old word Om. Just as he had an awakening on the other side of the river before going to Samsara, he awakens again, and all thoughts of suicide cease. He realizes that these thoughts only follow the same childhood path he had followed before as the Brahmin's son and as a
He notices an older man nearby dressed in monk's robes, sleeping. Oddly, it is his old friend and shadow Govinda who had left Siddhartha's side to become a follower of Buddha. Govinda does not recognize him since Siddhartha has changed so much while he himself has remained the same, devout and faithful. Govinda explains that he was worried to see a man sleeping so close to the river and stayed to be sure that he was safe. Realizing that this is Siddhartha, Govinda criticizes him for wearing such rich clothes. Enlightened, Siddhartha is calm and attempts to explain things, although Govinda does not really understand, "The wheel of appearances revolves quickly, Govinda. Where is Siddhartha the Brahmin, where is Siddhartha the Samana, where is Siddhartha the rich man? The transitory soon changes, Govinda, You know that" Chapter 8, pg. 76. Unsure of what Siddhartha is trying to say to him, Govinda continues on his own pilgrimage to spread the Buddha's teachings. Although Govinda is confused, Siddhartha's thoughts become as clear as ever.
Now, Siddhartha truly loves Govinda and everything else in the world. His earlier inability to love is what had separated him from "ordinary people." Kamala was only another teacher when he was with her, for he did not love her. After losing his innocence, Siddhartha understands everything by realizing that he really knows nothing at all. He is going backwards, returning to the river he had crossed years before, while his thoughts recall memories from youth. "Now, he thought, that all transitory things have slipped away from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing...when I am no longer young, when my hair is fast growing gray...now I am beginning again like a child" Chapter 8, pg. 77. While Siddhartha had thought that he was progressing, the world around him, such as the sun, remains unchanged. Nothing has really changed at all, except his understanding of the world's constancy. Through this realization, Siddhartha gains wisdom. The person within who had wanted to commit suicide seems dead, as if it had happened centuries before. Siddhartha, too, is transitory in appearance, for the actual time elapsed doesn't mean anything.
Wisdom fills his mind, and he is happy for the first time in his life. After being reduced to the lowest depths, Siddhartha finds peace. He recalls the Brahmins, the Samanas, Buddha, Kamala, and Kamaswami. With them, he had been in search of one specific answer to understand the world, thinking its secret to be to destroy his physical body or to study people and mimic their behavior. But he never realized that he was one of them all along, and because of this failure, he arrogantly ignored his emotions. The low depths of sin have made him into the very person he had always disdained before. His pride and cleverness are thus destroyed, and finally, Siddhartha becomes humble. He does not judge everything now, but instead accepts it for what it is and is grateful for it; the songbird of the dream that he had thought was dead is in fact very much alive. Now the restlessness begins to disappear for good.
It was his childhood that had begun the arrogance, since his father and the Brahmins had praised Siddhartha so much that he even judged them and doubted their wisdom. The old arrogant, clever Self is invisibly drowned beneath the river's water, and it is the enlightened Siddhartha who survives. He does not regret the life he led in Samsara, for it was necessary that he sin in order to learn from his own mistakes. Everything that has happened is necessary. His distrust of others' teachings for guidance was correct, too. One must be his own teacher based upon one's own experience, "It is a good thing to experience everything oneself...As a child I learned that pleasures of the world and riches were not good. I have known it for a long time, but I have only just experienced it. Now I know it not only with my intellect, but with my ears, with my heart, with my stomach. It is a good thing that I know this" Chapter 8, pg. 80. The Buddha's teachings are wrong because they do not make one enlightened as the Buddha had been; they only transfer his knowledge to them. Siddhartha prefers to discover his own knowledge. Beneath a tree, as Buddha had been when enlightened, Siddhartha is filled with understanding because he has taught himself. Content, he sits staring at the river, thinking that it is trying to tell him something, and he wonders what he can learn from it. The river fascinates this old man.