Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin

Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin
Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic," Berlin

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2/14 Siddhartha

This class we are  going over Hermann Hesse's (1877-1962) novel Siddhartha (1922). The name Siddhartha come from the Sanskrit words siddha (achieved) and artha (wealth), together the name means "he who has attained his goals."  The word Aryan is also a Sanskrit word meaning "Noble." 

Sanskrit, now considered an extinct language was the ancient precursor to modern Hindi, what is even more striking is that at least since the 17th century linguists have noticed the similarities between Sanskrit, Persian, Latin and Greek for example. Today, these languages are grouped together as the "Indo-European" language family, the largest language family in the world, approximately 46% of the languages spoken today are Indo-European including: Hindi, Farsi (Persian), other Iranian languages; Germanic languages including English which is considered a Germanic language; Latin including all the Romance languages like French, Spanish, and Italian; Greek, Baltic-Slavic languages including Russian, Polish, Czech; and all of the other languages spoken in Europe including Dutch and Scandinavian, etc.

The common structures to these languages have led historical linguists to speculate on the existence of a "Proto-Indo-European" language, or a common ancestor language from which all these other languages descended from. This has led some to speculate on the existence of a "Proto-Indo-European" people who spoke this language, and this could have been the semi-mythical Aryan people, but all of this is speculative even the existence of such a language of which no historical evidence exists. The earliest evidence of Indo-European written languages date back to the Hittites in what would be Eastern Turkey today (Asia Minor) from 1650 BCE.

Different theories regarding the origin and spread of Indo-European languages have been put forward. The most commonly accepted is what is known as the "Kurgan theory." Kurgan being a derivation of a Turkic word meaning burial mound, in reference to the evidence of burial mounds found in the area.

c. 4000-1000 BCE

The earliest evidence of any human language dates back to the ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia, circa 2900 BCE, followed by the Egyptians 2700 BCE, and the Akkadian and the Eblaite languages also in Mesopotamia, from 2400 BCE, the latter two being the earliest "Semitic" languages of which the two most well-known modern examples of Semitic languages are Arabic and Hebrew. 

Semitic languages belong to the "Afro-Asiatic" language family which is the third largest language family in the world (Second is "Sino-Tibetan" which mainly comprises Chinese, there are also several other language families). Another very speculative linguistic theory tries to establish a "Proto-World" language or "global etymology" in order to establish a single common ancestor for all languages, also known as "monogenesis," however again, there is no evidence to support such a view and many linguists regard it as impossible to trace the origins of language back that far, and instead rely on a theory of "polygenesis" or multiple origins to explain the historical development of language.

The relationships between these linguistic structures suggest certain cultural similarities and the exact relations are still mysterious. However, it is not only linguistic similarities that drew people like Hesse to Eastern culture.

Hesse did extensive research into Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and practice. He was in his own words looking for a cure with his "sickness with life" (lebenskrankheit). Hesse like most other artists of his generation is influenced by Nietzsche, for example in Siddhartha's rejection of the priestly lifestyle which was also attacked by Nietzsche and who shared a similar cultural critique of modern life. Unlike Nietzsche who was hostile to all religion, Hesse draws upon the philosophy of the Upanishads (circa 1000-500 BCE) in order to cure it.  The most important belief and one that has been reproduced in various ways in Western philosophy is the belief in the oneness of the universe, between the self and the universe, this is sometimes known as "monism" (as in mono, one). In particular, a belief in "unity-in-difference" the mystical belief that underneath the differences in reality there is actually a sameness that pervades everything. Usually in these belief systems, God is immanent (or inside) meaning that God is not seen as personal entity existing outside the universe, but is inside the universe, or the universe itself. The chief difficulty has always been explaining what is the origin of difference if unity is the ultimate reality? 

The book is divided into 12 chapters, part one, four chapters (The Four Noble Truths) and part two, eight chapters (The Eight Fold Path). The narrative structure of the book follows the four stages of life in Hindu philosophy: student (brahmacharya), householder (grihastha), retiree (vanaprastha), and renunciate (sannyasa). At the same time the novel also follows the German literary tradition of Bildungsroman (literally "road story" or coming-of-age tale) that follows the moral and psychological development of the main character as they go through various stages of life. 

"Modern Book Printing," from Welcome to Germany–Land of Ideas, Berlin, 2006
Sculpture with Hesse's name and other important German writers (many we talk about or mention in class: Goethe, Brecht, Mann, Marx, Hegel, Kant, Arendt. Note also the absence of Nietzsche's name.)

The similarity between these literary styles is not entirely coincidental because philosophy is significantly influenced by similar beliefs to the ancient Indian Upanishads. The Upanishads deal with two major concepts self (atman) and the universe (Brahman), and concludes there is a fundamental unity between atman and Brahman, which upon closer analysis reveals that everything is really Brahman and the apparent difference between atman and Brahman is an illusion. The 17th century Dutch-Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) for example concluded that God and the natural world were identical, in his words, Deus Sive Natura (literally, God or Nature) and that we are all of the same "substance" God or nature that makes up the universe. 

The 19th century German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) believed that Spinoza was the "starting point for all philosophy." However, Hegel believed that Spinoza failed to account for how things begin to change and become different. If unity implies oneness, then how did multiplicity come into existence, or more than one? Or to put it another way, what is the relation between the "infinite" and the "finite?" If the infinite is everything and limitless, how could something limited, the finite, exist outside of it and still be limitless? Without explaining this, Hegel thought, Spinoza's idea that everything in nature was connected cannot withstand criticism. Spinoza like the ancient Indian mystics believed that "difference" we see in the world is an illusion (Maya) it only appears different.


Hegel instead argues that differences we perceive in the world are real, but also that the unity of the universe is real as well. The original unity develops differences in itself but this in turn gives way to a greater and more complex unity which then differentiates itself, etc, this process continues seemingly endlessly. Hegel tracks this development in the realm of consciousness, trying to determine the different stages of development that has consciousness has attained throughout history. Exploring this process in detail, Hegel believes, will reveal the ultimate direction in which consciousness is meant to take and its purpose. Expanding upon Spinoza who used the concept of "substance" to refer to the oneness of the world, Hegel says he wants to explain substance as Subject, meaning to explore the relationship of the individual's subjectivity within the substance of the reality, and thus trying to bring together the realm of thought with being or existence, and explain the connection between both.  In other words he tries to unite these two paradoxical statements together in what is referred to as the "unity-of-opposites"–this belief did not originate with Hegel but besides ancient Greek sources like Heraclitus (circa 535-475 BCE), and Renaissance figures like Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Pico Mirandola (1463-1494), this debate is also found within early medieval Indian philosophers like Shankara (c. 788-820 CE) and Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137 CE) as well as the ancient Chinese symbol for the Yin-Yang. 

Where Hegel differs from ancient philosophers is his belief that this unity-in-opposites was not a transcendent (or otherworldly) principle but something immanent (or concrete), or something empirical, something that can be known through reason. The subject is what creates and transforms the world, however this is not external to the substance, but internal since the subject is made of the same substance. However the uniqueness and singularity of the subject is also real and has substance and has to be preserved in the identity between subject and substance, this leads to perhaps Hegel's most perplexing formulation, the "identity of identity and non-identity," which is to say that things that are similar and things that are different are in fact part of the same overarching process by which the substance and subject develop, and in a way "need" each other. Eventually this leads to the realization that different subjects are also the same, being of the same substance. This means that consciousness itself is not an individualistic possession but something that is shared by virtue of which we all draw from a stored set of ideas and traditions as we develop awareness, this is clearly seen in how we internalize language. Hegel, then starts with the Spinozist idea of substance and ends calling this Geist or Spirit. Hegel believed that in his time human reason had advanced to the point where it could understand the idea of unity-in-opposites and could preserve the balance without crushing the diversity of the different, and preserving the order of unity represented in real terms by the nation-state. Understanding this is mediation, or the process by which abstract ideas take physical shape. The essence of a people is mediated through its political and social institutions and through its culture. Hegel's work then can be summarized as tracing the different mediations that ideas take throughout history. However this is usually the starting point for the Marxist critique of Hegel which we will return to, who argue he conceals the real material basis of history.

The unity of opposites plays itself out by a dialectical process going through various stages of development, usually from one extreme to another. In this regard, Hegel believed that his philosophy could account for the unity of the universe but also for the complexity and the mysterious, paradoxical aspects of nature as well. In the story, Siddhartha's development seems to go from one extreme to another: from a comfortable upper class life, to a life of ascetic self-denial, to enjoying the sensual aspects of life, etc.

Vesica Piscis, literally "fish bladder" in Latin illustrates the idea of synthesis or "unity of opposites" by showing two circles intersecting. The circles can be seen as coming together or pulling apart. The unity is illustrated by the shaded figure in the middle, this figure, known as the Aureola, also has religious significance.

 Remember that Hesse is writing in the same period the Dada artists are producing their work, and that his turn towards Eastern religion is really at the same time a rejection of Western religion and culture. This even continues on into the present: many people are interested in Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga, or practices closely associated such as veganism or vegetarianism (ironically, Hitler claimed to be a vegetarian who also abstained from smoking or drinking alcohol). To a certain extent then, this novel performs the function that all culture does to some extent–escapism. In other words, the desire to escape or forget the mundane or painful conditions of life. At the very least this requires one to immerse oneself in the reading, and so I will use extensive quotes to get at the meaning of the text and put it in context–the idea of immersion also refers to being immersed in water and you will see the water symbolism plays a key role in this story and in philosophy in general.

The gentle, paradise like conditions the author describes in the opening of the book contrasts so sharply with the actual lived conditions in Germany during this period, thus setting the tone of the whole book:

In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured into his black eyes, when playing as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father, the scholar, taught him, when the wise men talked.

Now contrast this kind of imagery with the imagery evoked by the dada artists (Otto Dix for example) and try to consider that they are both being made around the same time! But you can sense that the otherwordliness of Siddhartha's world can give the impression that this land of paradise is very far away from the actual reality of Germany in 1922.

If the character interacts with the historical Buddha, then the story would have to take place sometime between the 6th and 4th century BCE. This period of time has been referred to as the Axial Age (as in axiom, meaning basic belief, or axis, the point at which the earth turns) and is noteworthy because of the fact that many of the major figures in world history apparently were living at or near the same time. 

In other words at or around the same time Buddha walked the earth, so did Socrates in Greece, Confucius in China, Zoroaster in Persia (an alternative spelling is "Zarathustra" and is used by Nietzsche in the title of one of his most influential books Thus Spoke Zarathustra), Mahavira the founder of Jainism, the prophet Elijah in Israel, and others. Buddhism itself was originally a reform movement of the ancient Vedic religion in India, now known as Hinduism. Although Buddhism in China or Japan may be more well known in the West, originally Buddhism developed in Western India. The Buddha adopts many of the philosophical insights of the Upanishads, especially the belief that sensual world of appearance is not real. However he simplifies the beliefs even more, removing all of the polytheistic aspects of ancient India. 

Although Buddhism eventually developed into different branches and sects, originally it was an atheistic religion, the Buddha was not defied, and denied the existence of gods. The basic beliefs of Buddhism as codified in the Four Noble Truths was to end suffering by extinguishing desire, there is no belief in salvation or an afterlife. The goal of Buddhism was to reach nirvana which literally means "blown out" like as in blowing out a flame. The self represents the flame, you reach nirvana by blowing out this flame, in other words by removing all desire and self-interest.

Furthermore, the Buddhist belief in rebirth and karma actually then influenced the Vedic religion of India which adopted these beliefs. The ancient Vedic religion dates at least as far back as 1500 BCE and thus was established for about a thousand years before the Buddha came around and 1500 years before Jesus (the use of BC and AD refer to "Before Christ" and Anno Domini, "the year of the Lord." The more secular version is BCE and CE, "before the common era" and "in the common era." Either of which is still acceptable. So for example between the 6th and 4th century BCE is the same as saying 600-301 BC or BCE and roughly 600-300 years before Jesus). 

This is not to say that Hesse completely blocks out the social reality of his time and you can sense some of the familiar anger and resentment against the upper classes of German society: public officials, merchants (middle class bourgeoisie), priests, as well as common sentiment and conventions shared by the masses of people:
Govinda knew: he would not become a common Brahman, not a lazy official in charge of offerings; not a greedy merchant with magic spells; not a vain, vacuous speaker; not a mean, deceitful priest; and also not a decent, stupid sheep in the herd of the many. No, and he, Govinda, as well did not want to become one of those, not one of those tens of thousands of Brahmans.

The first part of the book deals with Siddhartha's attempts to find meaning in life. This should be a fairly familiar nihilist theme by now, as nihilism is fundamentally concerned with the question of meaning in the world. Siddhartha is a nihilist to the extent that he rejects existing value systems: the priestly caste of his father (brahman) who controlled Indian society at this time:
He had started to suspect that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmans had already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom, that they had already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was not full, the spirit was not content, the soul was not calm, the heart was not satisfied. The ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit's thirst, they did not relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent—but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? And what about the gods? Was it really Prajapati who had created the world? Was it not the Atman, He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not creations, created like me and you, subject to time, mortal? Was it therefore good, was it right, was it meaningful and the highest occupation to make offerings to the gods? For whom else were offerings to be made, who else was to be worshipped but Him, the only one, the Atman? And where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one's own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! They knew everything, the Brahmans and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much—but was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing?

Besides the brahmins, Siddhartha joins with the ascetic samanas who he joins with at first after leaving his father. After learning techniques of meditation, fasting, and other acts of self-discipline Siddhartha begins to grow tired with this lifestyle as he begins to suspect that all this self-control is unnecessary and ultimately fails to do what it is supposed to--lead to salvation:
What is meditation? What is leaving one's body? What is fasting? What is holding one's breath? It is fleeing from the self, it is a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life. The same escape, the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk. Then he won't feel his self any more, then he won't feel the pains of life any more, then he finds a short numbing of the senses. When he falls asleep over his bowl of rice-wine, he'll find the same what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape their bodies through long exercises, staying in the non-self. This is how it is, oh Govinda."

And also:
Siddhartha answered: "How old, would you think, is our oldest Samana, our venerable teacher?"
Quoth Govinda: "Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age."
And Siddhartha: "He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find."

But he does not reject meaning in total or that there is no meaning in the world, but that the traditional ways of uncovering meaning will not lead you there, and that it can only be learned through experience it cannot be taught. This sets up his experience with what is supposed to be his encounter with Buddha (where Buddhism gets its name from, also originally named Siddhartha, Siddhartha Gotama):
But let me say this one more thing: I have not doubted in you for a single moment. I have not doubted for a single moment that you are Buddha, that you have reached the goal, the highest goal towards which so many thousands of Brahmans and sons of Brahmans are on their way. You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And—thus is my thought, oh exalted one,—nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings! You will not be able to convey and say to anybody, oh venerable one, in words and through teachings what has happened to you in the hour of enlightenment! The teachings of the enlightened Buddha contain much, it teaches many to live righteously, to avoid evil. But there is one thing which these so clear, these so venerable teachings do not contain: they do not contain the mystery of what the exalted one has experienced for himself, he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is what I have thought and realized, when I have heard the teachings. This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die. But often, I'll think of this day, oh exalted one, and of this hour, when my eyes beheld a holy man.

At the end of the first part Siddhartha he rejects the conservative views of priests and monks and throws himself into the sensuous world of appearances:
He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful was the world, colourful was the world, strange and mysterious was the world! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green, the sky and the river flowed, the forest and the mountains were rigid, all of it was beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst was he, Siddhartha, the awakening one, on the path to himself. All of this, all this yellow and blue, river and forest, entered Siddhartha for the first time through the eyes, was no longer a spell of Mara, was no longer the veil of Maya, was no longer a pointless and coincidental diversity of mere appearances, despicable to the deeply thinking Brahman, who scorns diversity, who seeks unity. Blue was blue, river was river, and if also in the blue and the river, in Siddhartha, the singular and divine lived hidden, so it was still that very divinity's way and purpose, to be here yellow, here blue, there sky, there forest, and here Siddhartha. The purpose and the essential properties were not somewhere behind the things, they were in them, in everything.
Siddhartha had just met the Buddha and had decided to reject all the teachings he had learned so that he could throw himself fully into the physical world around him. Now he seeks to enjoy Beauty:
But now, his liberated eyes stayed on this side, he saw and became aware of the visible, sought to be at home in this world, did not search for the true essence, did not aim at a world beyond. Beautiful was this world, looking at it thus, without searching, thus simply, thus childlike. Beautiful were the moon and the stars, beautiful was the stream and the banks, the forest and the rocks, the goat and the gold-beetle, the flower and the butterfly. Beautiful and lovely it was, thus to walk through the world, thus childlike, thus awoken, thus open to what is near, thus without distrust. Differently the sun burnt the head, differently the shade of the forest cooled him down, differently the stream and the cistern, the pumpkin and the banana tasted. Short were the days, short the nights, every hour sped swiftly away like a sail on the sea, and under the sail was a ship full of treasures, full of joy.

Shortly after he begins to encounter women (in dreams and reality) and has a few sexual experiences leading up to going into the city for the first time, and second meeting with Kamala (which means lotus and is associated with the goddess of wealth also known as Lakshmi), who becomes his lover for many years and eventually has his child. Siddhartha characterizes his time with Kamala as a "learning experience", as he learns how to be a lover:
She beckoned him with her eyes, he tilted his head so that his face touched hers and placed his mouth on that mouth which was like a freshly cracked fig. For a long time, Kamala kissed him, and with a deep astonishment Siddhartha felt how she taught him, how wise she was, how she controlled him, rejected him, lured him, and how after this first one there was to be a long, a well ordered, well tested sequence of kisses, everyone different from the others, he was still to receive. Breathing deeply, he remained standing where he was, and was in this moment astonished like a child about the cornucopia of knowledge and things worth learning, which revealed itself before his eyes.

There is a price to be paid to be with a beautiful woman like Kamala, and she informs him that he will have to have nice things if he wants to be with her. Even despite this she is still attracted to him for his poetry. Fortunately, his skill and education can also be put to profitable use.

Relating this back to the German context for a moment, Hesse seems to be reflecting the sexual mores of bourgeois society and its attachment to materialism, but also showing the openness of this society for those who are educated. Siddhartha goes on not to become a starving poet but a rich and successful person. If this were modern times we would say Siddhartha got a "white collar" job, when he goes to work with the merchant:
"Very beautiful are your verses," exclaimed Kamala, "if I was rich, I would give you pieces of gold for them. But it will be difficult for you to earn thus much money with verses as you need. For you need a lot of money, if you want to be Kamala's friend."
"The way you're able to kiss, Kamala!" stammered Siddhartha.
"Yes, this I am able to do, therefore I do not lack clothes, shoes, bracelets, and all beautiful things. But what will become of you? Aren't you able to do anything else but thinking, fasting, making poetry?"
"I also know the sacrificial songs," said Siddhartha, "but I do not want to sing them any more. I also know magic spells, but I do not want to speak them any more. I have read the scriptures—"
"Stop," Kamala interrupted him. "You're able to read? And write?"
"Certainly, I can do this. Many people can do this."
"Most people can't. I also can't do it. It is very good that you're able to read and write, very good. You will also still find use for the magic spells."

This leads Siddhartha to go to work with Kamaswami the richest merchant in the city. He learns how to trade is done, and he learns the values and ethics of the rich but he remains detached from it, something which annoys his benefactor to no end. Kamaswami cannot stand how carefree Siddhartha is, how unconcerned he is with money, how freely he spends his time instead of focusing on business. Besides the merchant, Siddhartha seems to enjoy observing people, an experience which fills him with both love and disgust with the things he observes:
Indeed his soul was not with the trade. The business was good enough to provide him with the money for Kamala, and it earned him much more than he needed. Besides from this, Siddhartha's interest and curiosity was only concerned with the people, whose businesses, crafts, worries, pleasures, and acts of foolishness used to be as alien and distant to him as the moon. However easily he succeeded in talking to all of them, in living with all of them, in learning from all of them, he was still aware that there was something which separated him from them and this separating factor was him being a Samana. He saw mankind going through life in a childlike or animallike manner, which he loved and also despised at the same time. He saw them toiling, saw them suffering, and becoming gray for the sake of things which seemed to him to entirely unworthy of this price, for money, for little pleasures, for being slightly honoured, he saw them scolding and insulting each other, he saw them complaining about pain at which a Samana would only smile, and suffering because of deprivations which a Samana would not feel.

However as the years go by, Siddhartha begins to assume some of the qualities of these "child-like people":
Just slowly, among his growing riches, Siddhartha had assumed something of the childlike people's ways for himself, something of their childlikeness and of their fearfulness. And yet, he envied them, envied them just the more, the more similar he became to them. He envied them for the one thing that was missing from him and that they had, the importance they were able to attach to their lives, the amount of passion in their joys and fears, the fearful but sweet happiness of being constantly in love. These people were all of the time in love with themselves, with women, with their children, with honours or money, with plans or hopes. But he did not learn this from them, this out of all things, this joy of a child and this foolishness of a child; he learned from them out of all things the unpleasant ones, which he himself despised. It happened more and more often that, in the morning after having had company the night before, he stayed in bed for a long time, felt unable to think and tired. It happened that he became angry and impatient, when Kamaswami bored him with his worries. It happened that he laughed just too loud, when he lost a game of dice. His face was still smarter and more spiritual than others, but it rarely laughed, and assumed, one after another, those features which are so often found in the faces of rich people, those features of discontent, of sickliness, of ill-humour, of sloth, of a lack of love. Slowly the disease of the soul, which rich people have, grabbed hold of him.

This behavior escalates and eventually Siddhartha loses all trace of his previous spiritual enlightenment and sinks into the worst excesses of the world around him. This marks a very powerful theme which tends to characterize almost all religion and philosophy: the corrupting tendencies of the sensual world around us. Things have come full circle from the world of Beauty that Siddhartha was celebrating previously, now the sensual world around him is seen as a negative, and a poisonous influence on him. But which is more real? That the physical world is the world of sensual beauty or the physical world is corrupting and distracting? This leads him to leave the city and his lover. He wanders off into the wilderness and overcome by despair and emptiness he contemplate suicide!:
A hang bent over the bank of the river, a coconut-tree; Siddhartha leaned against its trunk with his shoulder, embraced the trunk with one arm, and looked down into the green water, which ran and ran under him, looked down and found himself to be entirely filled with the wish to let go and to drown in these waters. A frightening emptiness was reflected back at him by the water, answering to the terrible emptiness in his soul. Yes, he had reached the end. There was nothing left for him, except to annihilate himself, except to smash the failure into which he had shaped his life, to throw it away, before the feet of mockingly laughing gods. This was the great vomiting he had longed for: death, the smashing to bits of the form he hated! Let him be food for fishes, this dog Siddhartha, this lunatic, this depraved and rotten body, this weakened and abused soul! Let him be food for fishes and crocodiles, let him be chopped to bits by the daemons!

Siddhartha stops himself at the last moment and falls asleep. When he awakes he feels different and has what could be loosely called a very mystical experience with the river where he previously considered drowning himself in. He is reunited briefly with Govinda who watched over him while he was sleeping even though Govinda did not recognize him at first. Siddhartha speaks to Govinda and this leads him to "reflect" on his experiences up until then. And now you see here the purpose of reflection and now you have something to compare yourselves to when you write your own reflection papers. Reflecting is like taking stock of your experiences and trying to analyze what you have learned so far:
Wondrous indeed was my life, so he thought, wondrous detours it has taken. As I boy, I had only to do with gods and offerings. As a youth, I had only to do with asceticism, with thinking and meditation, was searching for Brahman, worshipped the eternal in the Atman. But as a young man, I followed the penitents, lived in the forest, suffered of heat and frost, learned to hunger, taught my body to become dead. Wonderfully, soon afterwards, insight came towards me in the form of the great Buddha's teachings, I felt the knowledge of the oneness of the world circling in me like my own blood. But I also had to leave Buddha and the great knowledge. I went and learned the art of love with Kamala, learned trading with Kamaswami, piled up money, wasted money, learned to love my stomach, learned to please my senses. I had to spend many years losing my spirit, to unlearn thinking again, to forget the oneness. Isn't it just as if I had turned slowly and on a long detour from a man into a child, from a thinker into a childlike person? And yet, this path has been very good; and yet, the bird in my chest has not died. But what a path has this been! I had to pass through so much stupidity, through so much vices, through so many errors, through so much disgust and disappointments and woe, just to become a child again and to be able to start over. But it was right so, my heart says "Yes" to it, my eyes smile to it. I've had to experience despair, I've had to sink down to the most foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly and awake properly again. I had to become a fool, to find Atman in me again. I had to sin, to be able to live again. Where else might my path lead me to? It is foolish, this path, it moves in loops, perhaps it is going around in a circle. Let it go as it likes, I want to to take it.

Even more than this though, Siddhartha begins to see the river of representing something else, as representing the fullness of existence, something which cannot be taught but experienced. He confides his experiences to the ferryman he encountered when he first began his journey decades ago when still a young man (remember by this point Siddhartha is middleaged). The ferryman, Vasudeva (the name of the father of Krishna), has long ago realized the kind of truth that Siddhartha is only beginning to understand, and he has learned it only by traveling on the river not through any teaching:
"Did you," so he asked him at one time, "did you too learn that secret from the river: that there is no time?"
Vasudeva's face was filled with a bright smile.
"Yes, Siddhartha," he spoke. "It is this what you mean, isn't it: that the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future?"
"This it is," said Siddhartha. "And when I had learned it, I looked at my life, and it was also a river, and the boy Siddhartha was only separated from the man Siddhartha and from the old man Siddhartha by a shadow, not by something real. Also, Siddhartha's previous births were no past, and his death and his return to Brahma was no future. Nothing was, nothing will be; everything is, everything has existence and is present."
Siddhartha spoke with ecstasy; deeply, this enlightenment had delighted him. Oh, was not all suffering time, were not all forms of tormenting oneself and being afraid time, was not everything hard, everything hostile in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as time would have been put out of existence by one's thoughts? In ecstatic delight, he had spoken, but Vasudeva smiled at him brightly and nodded in confirmation; silently he nodded, brushed his hand over Siddhartha's shoulder, turned back to his work.
And once again, when the river had just increased its flow in the rainy season and made a powerful noise, then said Siddhartha: "Isn't it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn't it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?"
"So it is," Vasudeva nodded, "all voices of the creatures are in its voice."
"And do you know," Siddhartha continued, "what word it speaks, when you succeed in hearing all of its ten thousand voices at once?"

Siddhartha learns to love the childlike people he encounters and starts to see an inner nobility to their seemingly insignificant struggles. His newfound life working on the ferry with Vasudeva seems to be good for him. He is free now from the lustful desires he felt while being in the city, but he does not live the life of a priest anymore but lives essentially with the river. This leads him to feel a sense of oneness with the world. This feeling has been described by psychologists as an "oceanic feeling"--note also the use of water imagery:
Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realisation, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness. Slowly this blossomed in him, was shining back at him from Vasudeva's old, childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, smiling, oneness.

The oneness of the world cannot be expressed in language because language cannot properly describe experience as you actually experience it, which is why it cannot be taught, which echoes what Siddhartha said in his encounter with Buddha earlier:
I'm not kidding. I'm telling you what I've found. Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and taught. This was what I, even as a young man, sometimes suspected, what has driven me away from the teachers. I have found a thought, Govinda, which you'll again regard as a joke or foolishness, but which is my best thought. It says: The opposite of every truth is just as true! That's like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with words, it's all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness. When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. It cannot be done differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. A person or an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never entirely holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this, because we are subject to deception, as if time was something real. Time is not real, Govinda, I have experienced this often and often again. And if time is not real, then the gap which seems to be between the world and the eternity, between suffering and blissfulness, between evil and good, is also a deception.

During the years he spends with Vasudeva, he is reunited with Kamala who later dies from a snakebite, and encounters his own son who later leaves him and presumably begins his own life in the city. Siddhartha attempts to find him at first but later gives up after he realizes that his son has his own journey and his own life to live. He stays with Vasudeva until he Vasudeva goes into the woods to begin the next and probably final stage of his own life. As he is leaving, Siddhartha begins to suspect that the ferryman is a god or the river itself which is speaking to him. At the end of the book, Siddhartha encounters Govinda again. The Buddha who Govinda has followed since they encountered him when they were young is dying and supposed to ending the last of his human lives. Siddhartha repeats his theory that whatever truth the Buddha has experienced can only be experienced and not be taught, and Govinda confesses that he has not come as far as Siddhartha. What seems to separate the two is that Siddhartha has lived the life of a sinner, and through this experience as well as his religious experiences he has learned and experienced the oneness of the universe:
Listen well, my dear, listen well! The sinner, which I am and which you are, is a sinner, but in times to come he will be Brahma again, he will reach the Nirvana, will be Buddha—and now see: these 'times to come' are a deception, are only a parable! The sinner is not on his way to become a Buddha, he is not in the process of developing, though our capacity for thinking does not know how else to picture these things. No, within the sinner is now and today already the future Buddha, his future is already all there, you have to worship in him, in you, in everyone the Buddha which is coming into being, the possible, the hidden Buddha. The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous, and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman. Therefore, I see whatever exists as good, death is to me like life, sin like holiness, wisdom like foolishness, everything has to be as it is, everything only requires my consent, only my willingness, my loving agreement, to be good for me, to do nothing but work for my benefit, to be unable to ever harm me. I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a part of it.—These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into my mind.

So the major themes at the end of the book seems to be that language cannot communicate the fulness of the universe which needs to be experienced and the oneness of the self with the universe which implies that time and even space are not real. The river serves as a metaphor for the universe, it is the same but paradoxically it always changing at the same time (Water also has symbolic and philosophic meaning but we won't go into that right now).  But is this just another way of putting some kind of transcendent meaning back into the world–something which nihilism is opposed to? The nihilistic response is that there is no unity between the self and the universe, that self is instead "alienated" from the universe, and that fundamentally the universe is a hostile and dangerous place, power is the only thing that matters. In the context of post-WWI Germany it can be understood why people would accept this belief, just as it is understandable that writers like Hesse would want to reject it, but are they denying reality?

Also, how do you evaluate Siddhartha's "philosophy of detachment?" Siddhartha seems reconciled with the world but he also seems to have no inclination to change it. Germany at this period of time was going through a period of tremendous instability, street fighting was common, and many groups were calling for revolution. Hesse, speaking through Siddhartha, seems to express a conservative tendency to want to preserve society as it is, and a sense of exhaustion from years of political struggle. Still Hesse seems to show some ambiguity even with Siddhartha's detachment, for example with his son, it is unclear if Siddhartha's detachment from family is an improvement. He also leaves his father never to see him again. Does detachment such as this lead to a lack of emotion in general and a reduced capacity to enter into relationships with people? Is detachment even from family a necessary part of life? On the other hand his close friendship with Govinda seems to last through decades.  

I started off by suggesting that their is a strong interest in Eastern religion and philosophy that stems from a disenchantment with Western religion, but are the causes that lead to disenchantment with Western religion also applicable to Eastern religion? Isn't it only substituting one body of myths and superstitions for another? Or is Hesse on to something more here? The issue isn't whether you go to a church or a temple or practice one thing over another, but can you have any kind of belief that suggests there is some connection or some purpose underlying the whole universe or is there nothing?

For the next few classes we will be watching a series of expressionist films. There are no required readings except for the posted lecture. 

Assignment Due 2/21: For the next assignment please choose a passage from the book that interests you.  Once you have chosen a passage please do the following and post it on your blog. 1) Write out the passage; 2) Explain the meaning of the passage; 3) Explain why this passage is important to you.


  1. I understand the “Atman” and “Brahman” refers to the universal self, each individual soul, but why is an illusion. I am a little confusing

    “The Upanishads deal with two major concepts self (atman) and the universe (Brahman), and concludes there is a fundamental unity between atman and Brahman, which upon closer analysis reveals that everything is really Brahman and the apparent difference between atman and Brahman is an illusion.”

    1. I do understand your confusion and I do know we will all have many different ideas from what we have read. I will give you my idea if it is okay with you. As I read that part of the lecture and reached the end, maybe he said it is an illusion because of what many may call truth. In the story he said truth is experience. Therefore I look at it like this, the universal self and God really in this story is about seeking what they later describe as that oceanic feeling. In my words, having a free soul. Free from confusion and other worldly nonsense that comes along with worldly wealth. In the lecture he shows that all the teachings e.g. God etc. can not be in truth but through ones experience. Then he explained what he thought and learned. E.g. There are many religions who may profess the oneness with God or something else. Many also say that by fasting, meditating, abstinence, etc as he also described, one will either meet God, reach or become one with God etc. In his reality this is all an illusion. Everyone will live and die and, the only time that really matters is the here and now. Not the past nor the future.

    2. Alba;
      This is referring to the fact that there is no distinction between nature and us. Everything is connected in one way or another. The belief in karma is an example of no distinction "Atman" and "Brahman". The negativity one puts out in the universe affect ones soul. This is also why one could be reincarnated as a tree, flower or other animal.

    3. The idea of an illusion is that one is not somewhere outside. You are in the universe where you live. You are the one who is experiencing your life, the universe experience your life. I believe that is where the nail is being hit on the head with illusion. You don't live for the world; you live in the world.

    4. Pomarmetta I love the way you have broken the text down. I also like how you stuck to explaining what you understood about what the text was saying and not your personal opinion. I also respect any and everyones personal opinion as it clearly shows how controversial life can be when sharing the universe with many, but not sharing the same exact beliefs with many. This is what leads us into situation like war. I am not really clear on all the Nihilistic themes but do understand that the idea of destroying or doing away with anyone or anything in order to gain what one believes they deserve is one. Nihilism shows no resistance to acquiring what is desired. If anyone disagrees please give me some more clarity on what Nihilism is and what are the themes it represent.

    5. I also see Alda's point of view and agree somewhat. Atman and Brahman which is self and universe. Self and universe is separate but one. Everything you experience is with self in the universe. The illusion is represented in my opinion is the idea that there is anything attainable that you can't see or experience outside the two like salvation. In other words the author is saying that salvation has to be attained in the soul between man and universe by the experiences and choices you make on the universe and there is no outside entity that will bring you to salvation. so whether you get it through self discipline or through the lust,desire of possessions, vanity,etc, you are responsible for getting it through self and universal resources.

  2. "Besides the brahmins, Siddhartha joins with the ascetic samanas who he joins with at first after leaving his father. After learning techniques of meditation, fasting, and other acts of self-discipline Siddhartha begins to grow tired with this lifestyle as he begins to suspect that all this self-control is unnecessary and ultimately fails to do what it is supposed to--lead to salvation"

    I believe having self control will lead you to salvation. Self control will empower others to become productive and disciplined. It could prevent many issues society may bring us. It is a trait that not many have, but those that do will be a step closer in achieving their goals.

    1. I disagree with you about the idea that self control leads to salvation and I think the author of the novel does too. Siddhartha did not practice self control through out his journey. He did the opposite he indulge himself in world pleasures when he was with Kamala. He needed to do these things in order to learned what he believed in. If he had not he would had always question why he was not allowed to do certain things. Just like the author I think that humans are animals that learn through experience;it is our nature. This is why even when we tell children not to do something they still do it.

    2. This is another quote that is conceptually telling the reader that what is the point of a discipline that teaches you to resist. The point is being made in the quote that resisting meaningless because you only control where you are, not the universe. Your impulse is what you are meant to experience. This is the intent of the narrator.

    3. As this is based on what we view, i want too say that the author is trying to say that self control does not lead to salvation. He drew this conclusion based off his experiences of the world and through comparing and contrasting between the experiencing things of the world and not allowing yourself the experiences of the world through self discipline techniques. So in that aspect I agree with Jasmine. As far as what leads to salvation is left up to the individual and their belief which is drawn from experiences through the world by religion, culture, universe, self,etc. This is why we are here studying all these different forms of art, as they represent someone's idea, theory of what is good/bad,right/wrong,moral/unmoral,politically correct/ not politically correct,etc.

  3. If I am correct, please feel free to comment if I have the wrong idea.
    "This means that consciousness itself is not an individualistic possession but something that is shared by virtue of which we all draw from a stored set of ideas and traditions as we develop awareness, this is clearly seen in how we internalize language."
    Consciousness is not just the simple fact of being alive which I always believed, but rather we develop consciousness as we experience and learn things in our lives. It is only when we develop an awareness of life do we gain consciousness.

    1. There is only an opinion here. Obviously, consciousness is being aware. However, in terms of this quote, I think the narrator is explaining that you must experience to know for yourself what is happening your world, which is the idea of the Nihilism regarding to resist, but to do what your true desires tell you. As far as the virtue aspect, if someone wants to do something at will, culturally, this would be highly offensively mentality. Basically, I think the meaning is that you must live in order to be conscious things.

  4. Since I see no book or books of reference to pick a quote out of, I am choosing a quote in the text of the lecture/book quote enclosed.
    “I have experienced on my body and on my soul that I needed sin very much, I needed lust, the desire for possessions, vanity, and needed the most shameful despair, in order to learn how to give up all resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to stop comparing it to some world I wished, I imagined, some kind of perfection I had made up, but to leave it as it is and to love it and to enjoy being a part of it.—These, oh Govinda, are some of the thoughts which have come into my mind.”
    This quote explained that Siddhartha became more wise and philosophical because he took it upon himself to experience the view point of a beautiful world, a lustful world, a business world, childhood of innocence world, an isolated world, distant world from his world, that all started with his own world when he was a child. He basically concludes theory of Nihilism that focuses on living and not resisting and the dada perspective in terms of a collage that he builds mentally that explains itself with the analogy of the river. He is also using the different individual with the universal world or the unity of opposites in the context of his experiences. He saw that nothing really changed. He just realized that he lived to know what live can be for him.

  5. I apologize, I am concerned that you guys are not seeing my posted work. If any of you have seen or read my responses, please let me know as I am new to this and still trying to figure it out.

    1. I see what you are writing. There seems to be confusion in what platform we are supposed to post