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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Siddhartha Exam

By Ngonidzaishe David Mufuka


A person has a dual nature of two selves, one small self (small ‘s’) is the everyday persona that takes no effort to be installed and this self perform the more ‘humanized’ tasks like eating, and sleeping.  The other Self (big ‘S’) requires invoking since it resides deep within a person thus having a subconscious nature.  According to Morris Berman, this big Self is our, “true center, our awareness of ourselves without outside interference and it is developed by bringing the conscious and the subconscious parts of our minds into harmony,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 10).  Methods of invocation include meditation or deep thought as Siddhartha did with the Semanas (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 14).  Once this is achieved, one is able step outside one’s self and notices both selves.  Only then can the conscious and the subconscious be in harmony since both are in active play.    Noticing one’s big Self is usually temporary since the small self becomes dominant quickly again but others like the Semanas make it a goal to permanently stifle the small self in an effort to have the big Self prevalent permanently. Once that is achieved it becomes somewhat noticeable as Siddhartha saw of Gotama’s perfected habits (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 26).  The big Self needs the small self to provide a contrast in order for it to be noticeable.  As Siddhartha found out, one cannot understand the big Self without acknowledging the small self, and he realized that it was inane to try to deaden the small self, as the Semanas did because the small self needed to be understood and experienced (taught by the Sansara) in order to attain the big self more permanently and also understand it (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 36).  Accordingly, B.F. Skinner notes, “Self-knowledge is of social origin,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 40).

‘Ways to lose self’

Small self is the conscious part of the humans that is linked to the chief human natures of necessity, sentimentality, and preoccupation which in a sense is the ‘small picture’ of the world.  The small self overshadows the big Self which dwells in the subconscious.  The big Self is thought to be divine, universal, all of which are the more superior traits.  All of these also consist of the big picture of the world.  Resultantly, only those who were aware of the link between the small self and the human element and also the existence of the big self like Siddhartha and the Semanas, sought the ‘ways to lose self’.  Therefore they wanted to suppress this small self in order to reveal the big Self and obtain the divinity and wisdom of the big picture of the world.  In order to lose the self, all the elements associated with the small self of humanism such as hunger, thirst, and impatience are stifled.  This is done by not giving in to the demands of the flesh but by self denial as was practiced by the Semanas (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 14).  Examples are fasting to fight hunger and thirst, meditation invoking the big Self in order to neglect the smaller self, holding one’s breath thereby limiting one’s dependency on breathing, and discarding the element of time by developing superior patience (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 13, 17).  That is why Siddhartha boasted to Kamaswami that he could fast, wait and think.  Therefore, ways to lose self were employed in order to become more superior since one would be ‘above it all’, not trapped in the Sansara and the ways of the world.


Atman is the feeling/realization one gets whereby he/she identifies themselves as a being in a greater universe and having a part/role to play in that universal setup(which shows a relation among all things) as was shown by Siddhartha’s final feelings among the Brahmans (Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, 2).  This aspect may also be seen as recognition of one’s big Self.  Atman is in a sense ‘the big picture’ that the small self neglects and the but the big self readily identifies itself with and is linked to it as was shown by Siddhartha’s ponderings, “(Man) would meet his innermost part and would reside in the Atman,” (Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, 4). This is shown by a verse from the Upanishad which Govinda relates speaking of the meditation of Atman,

     “He who ponderingly, of purified spirit, loses himself in the meditation of Atman, unexpressable by words in his blissfulness of his heart.”(Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, 17)

Meditation is also a key to invoking the big Self so they (Atman/Self) share this same element of meditation showing their direct link.  Atman is also identified at Siddhartha’s awakening as life, the divine part, ultimate part, (Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, 36), which in a way are the characteristics also used to describe the Big Self too “He already knew how to feel Atman in the depths of his being,” (Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, 2) as ‘depths’ is close to the center that Berman described of the big Self, “This big Self is our, “true center, our awareness of ourselves without outside interference and it is developed by bringing the conscious and the subconscious parts of our minds into harmony,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 10).


It is a captivating lifestyle particularly attractive to ‘children’ (easily captivated/enticed people). It is a system where the principles of the senses, obeying their needs constantly and seeking to satisfy them are a dominant order (Humanism). Siddhartha noticed this with his son, “Was a passion (for his son), something very human, that it was Sansara,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 110) Thus Sansara engages the small self since this order of operation is the small picture of the world where pleasures of the flesh (humanism) are a high priority as it was in the big city with the childlike people.  It is addictive as Siddhartha found out in the city.  It is like a potter’s wheel in the sense that it is mesmerizing, difficult to turn away from, and it is a never-ending cycle of repetitions since one is hungry today, one eats, and hungry tomorrow one eats again and so on.  Siddhartha pondered, “Sansara a game which was perhaps enjoyable to play once, twice, ten times, but for ever and ever over again?” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 76).  It is also a fast conveyor belt to death since it keeps one enthralled till old age and death may come while one is still engaged in these worldly pleasures of satisfying the sense, “Never before had it been so strongly clear to Siddhartha how closely lust was akin to death,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 76).  Sansara is the very essence of humanism since all aspects like dreams, joy, sorrow, and thirst (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 12) are interwoven in it as Siddhartha noted, selfish parental love Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha,110), and lust with Kamala.  Sansara had a negated view as Siddhartha describes it as ‘a murky source, dark waters,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 110), though he did acknowledge its use (to attain the big self) at his awakening (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 36), as is also supported by Skinner’s standpoint, “Self knowledge is of social origin.”


Maya is a point of view whereby the world is seen as an illusion.  Siddhartha saw it as a metaphoric veil of deception, “….no longer the veil of the Maya,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 40).  This means that all the worldly elements of pleasure seeking, misfortune, suffering etc are just a distraction of some bigger aspects of the divinity which Atman senses and the big Self acknowledges.  Maya is in a sense the ‘small picture’ of the world.  The illusion comes in to keep one from the ‘bigger picture’ and the big Self.  The Maya comes in to deceive one into thinking that the worldly elements are the complete in themselves and there is nothing outside of them.  The Maya is discoverable through meditation as Siddhartha and Govinda found out through meditation that the world was Maya,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 21).  Meditation is when one manages to step outside of their selves and notice all elements at play, worldly and non worldly ones.  Siddhartha identified the illusion, “(life) all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye, it all lied it all stank, it pretended to be meaningful, joyful and beautiful,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 12).  But he later saw its worth at his Awakening, “was no longer the veil of the Maya, was no longer pointless and coincidental diversity of mere appearances,” (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 36).  Maya and the Sansara complement each other since the Sansara performs the illusion aspect by keeping one in its hold away from the more universal elements.  Both Maya and Sansara also suppress the big Self in order to keep one entangled in their worldly ways.  Maya also dwells on the concept of time by making one think that time is running out and thus one must utilize life with worldly goods before death.  Those who realized this like the Siddhartha, the Semanas, the ferryman Vasudeva all believed in a cycle where time was irrelevant and that is why they practiced superior patience as he was shown by Vasudeva’s superb listening skills (Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, 94).  The cycle is suggested by the Govinda who upon leaving Siddhartha for the last time mention that they will see each other in another incarnation.  That is an adequate example of being free of the hold of the Maya. 

 © Ngonidzaishe David Mufuka


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