Chapter 9: "The Ferryman" Notes from Siddhartha

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Siddhartha Chapter 9: "The Ferryman"

Siddhartha decides that he shall stay near the river since it holds secrets from which he may learn. He feels love for everything and recognizes himself as a part of it and not as an outsider. Colors are around him everywhere, just as before he had entered Samsara. Things make sense to him now. Siddhartha walks along the river and sees the ferryman standing in his boat and asks to be taken to the other side where he had come from so many years before. Instead of judging this man to be simple-minded, Siddhartha praises him and, offering his rich clothes as a gift, asks to remain there as the ferryman's assistant. The ferryman, named Vasudeva, agrees happily as Siddhartha reenters the hut he had slept in years before. He tells his entire life story. Vasudeva listens well, since this is what the river has taught him to do, replying to Siddhartha that the river is Siddhartha's friend and likes him. Siddhartha becomes excited since the two connect so well in their understanding, and he knows that he, too, shall learn to listen to the river like Vasudeva.

The two ferrymen go to sleep. Time passes and old Siddhartha grows older. The Brahmin's son learns to listen to the river, and his emotions continue to open up and embrace the world, without selfish desires. He begins to realize the importance of himself as a part of a greater whole. Siddhartha speaks to Vasudeva about another lesson the river teaches, that time does not exist. "The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth...in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future...Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man [are] only separated by shadows, not through reality...Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence" Chapter 9, pg. 87. The river is like Siddhartha himself, and the life of any person. It is unchanging and yet it is always changing within, deeper inside beneath the surface. He now belongs not to a group, such as the Samanas or Brahmins, but instead to everything.

Topic Tracking: Teacher 11
Topic Tracking: Nature 11

The voice of the river is the one word he had known since childhood that is Om, calling together the unity of all things and people at once. Siddhartha becomes more and more like the ferryman as years pass by. They both feel such contentment from the river. Travelers wishing to cross on their boat wonder about these two men since they are so mysterious. They cannot understand what Siddhartha has experienced to reach this great understanding, to fall from the highest peaks to the lowest depths before finding peace. Many simply cross the river without speaking to it as these two men do, for the travelers consider it simply to be an obstacle in their own lives, blocking the way to a destination.

News arrives eventually that the Buddha is dying, and many travelers make a pilgrimage to see him, as if paying homage to a king. Siddhartha thinks of this man lovingly, knowing how arrogant he had been in his youth when criticizing his ways. He still knows that it was correct to reject the Buddha's teachings, for he would not have experienced the world alone to reach enlightenment, as the Buddha had done. No one taught Buddha what he has learned except for the Buddha's own experience. Why study another man's knowledge forever as Govinda has chosen to do, without ever experiencing enlightenment by one's own trial and error? At the same time "a true seeker could not accept any teachings, not if he sincerely wished to find something. But he who found, could give his approval to every path, every goal; nothing separated him from all the other thousands who lived in eternity, who breathed the Divine" Chapter 9, pg. 90.

Meanwhile in Samsara, old Kamala decides to go on a pilgrimage to see the dying Buddha. She has given her grove to the Buddha's followers and has become a disciple herself. With her loss of beauty she clings to these teachings for guidance, even as her life ebbs away. Walking along the riverbank with her son, the Young Siddhartha, the boy asks to stop since he's tired and secretly complains that his mother is going to see the death of the Buddha, who he doesn't even know. Kamala is bitten by a snake near the river and runs with her son to the ferry where Siddhartha and Vasudeva are. Siddhartha is surprised to see Kamala and recognizes her at once, yet he is even more pleased to see this young boy who is his own son.

Topic Tracking: Nature 12

Kamala, who still loves Siddhartha, is dying from the snake's poison. However, she comments on how much Siddhartha looks like the Siddhartha she had first known in her grove, when he was so young, than the sinful man he became after being Kamaswami's merchant for so many years. Siddhartha's son cries because his mother is sick and goes to sleep in Vasudeva's hut. Dying, Kamala marvels at how peaceful Siddhartha looks, noticing how much his eyes have changed from how they were before. Taking her last breath, Kamala notes that Siddhartha looks peaceful and wise like the Buddha, thinking that to see this man's peaceful face before her death is the same as if she had seen that of the Buddha himself. She finds her peace and dies.

Siddhartha closes her eyes and looks at her pale face, knowing that he will one day look like that when he is dead. He is not sad because death is inevitable anyway. Even as he recognizes his own mortality, he has been given a son as young as he once had been, and he is happy. Everything is "eternity" to him, like the river, unchanging yet always changing and flowing. This is the meaning of life that he has discovered, and they are all a part of it. Vasudeva comments that Kamala has died on the same bed as his wife, and they prepare to make a funeral pyre where Vasudeva's wife was cremated. The cycle continues, as Vasudeva sees Kamala as akin to his dead wife, and Siddhartha now sees himself when young in the eyes of his son. He is filled with enlightenment and happiness. Kamala's death is simply a part of this greater cycle, just as his own death shall be. Siddhartha has found his peace.

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