Now that he has felt the pain of losing his son, Siddhartha has more sympathy with the needs and desires of ordinary people. He again decides to seek his son in the town, but stops when he thinks he hears a special message from the river. He remembers when he rebelled against his own father, and realizes that his father must have suffered the same pain as he, Siddhartha, suffers now. Sorrows repeat themselves. Still suffering, he returns to the hut and tells Vasudeva of his troubles. Vasudeva, in his silent attentiveness, seems to Siddhartha like a god. They both go and sit by the river bank. Siddhartha practices his technique of listening to the river and realizes the unity of all life amidst all its diverse elements. He realizes that in the unity is perfection. His pain disappears as his Self merges with the unity. From that moment on, Siddhartha no longer fights against his destiny. He accepts everything. Vasudeva, now that he has seen his friend attain enlightenment, announces that he is leaving. He is going to live in the woods and be in the unity of all things.
The painful experience of the loss of his son is important for Siddhartha because it helps him to develop compassion for others. The necessity of compassion is an important element in Buddhist thought.
This chapter also reveals the exalted status of Vasudeva, the humble ferryman. He is himself an enlightened man ("his steps full of peace, his face glowing, his form full of light") and he helps Siddhartha gain the same experience. In Buddhist thought, enlightenment is the knowledge that takes a person "to the other shore," and this is the symbolic significance of what Vasudeva has been doing all his life-ferrying people from one side of the river to the other.
The mystical experience that Siddhartha has in this chapter is the goal to which everything else in his life has been leading. The river yields up the final truth about life. Siddhartha apprehends all human experience, whether joy or sorrow, as part of a vast unity. Individuals, with their desires and longings, are like rivers flowing to the ocean; they all reach their goal and are reborn in some other form, just as water is "reborn" as vapor and rain. When Siddhartha hears (this is a metaphor for direct experience with all aspects of his being) all these individual songs of life singing in harmony as one great whole, he knows the perfection of life. He realizes that everything is as it should be; it cannot be improved upon, and he accepts his own place in it.
This is Hesse's somewhat idiosyncratic version of what enlightenment is like-an expanded, cosmic perception of all opposites joined together in unity. It should not be automatically assumed that this is what the Buddha spoke of, or that the historical Buddha's experience of enlightenment was anything like this. There are, however, some similarities. According to Buddhist scriptural accounts of the Buddha's enlightenment, he was in these moments able to recollect all his former births, and to see with the "heavenly eye" over the entire world. The world appeared to him in perfect clarity, as if reflected in a spotless mirror. This is rather like the perfect clarity with which Siddhartha sees the world as he gazes into the river.
Like most mystical experiences, Siddhartha's is hard to comprehend with the rational intellect. The mystic will say that this level of reality cannot be conveyed by words; it must be directly experienced for oneself.
Siddhartha: Novel Summary: Part 2 - Om