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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Chapter  8: By the River

Abstract: Siddhartha questions the meaning in his life.

I. Siddhartha's (midlife) crisis: Chapter 8 is a transition between the second and third periods of his life.  (Relate his progress so far to Jung's theory of temperaments as summarized at the end of the chapter Amongst the People.)

    A. Siddhartha uses a method of self-analysis [Hesse 67, 78] as he review and assesses his life.

      1. He begins by looking at his personal history—what had made him happy, what had made him sad. This is a useful process for anyone in such a place in life as Siddhartha is.

      2. By use of an in-depth biography, one can capture the karma of one's life: the path. E.g., an extraordinarily useful exercise is to write out in detail the following dimensions of your life:







        future anticipations

      3. By doing so, does not your own path become clearer?

    B. Thoughts of suicide occur to Siddhartha: the nausea, depression, loss of purpose which often precede change. Compare his present state to his earlier crisis toward the end of his life in the chapter Om .

      1. Siddhartha was in the position of having everything to live with and nothing to live for. Nietzsche has pointed out that if we have a "why" for our life, then we can tolerate almost any "how."

      2. Compare the conversion experience in Christianity stemming from the despair of "O what a poor wretch am I."

      3. If is often said that to effect a major change in your life a deep crisis of the spirit is necessary. In this sense, it doesn't seem odd to say that despair is a necessary condition for happiness just as frustration is a necessary condition for pleasure.

II. Commentary regarding Govinda's sitting with Siddhartha:

    A. Siddhartha's pride gets him through many difficulties: he's often regarded as a star while others (including Govinda) are falling leaves.

      1. His pretense of what he will be helps to make it happen, almost as though his pretense is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.,  wrote in Mother Night, "Be careful who you pretend to be because you are who you pretend to be."

      2. Again, words seem to come before thought. Siddhartha says, "I am making a pilgrimage" [Hesse 75C].

    B. How can Siddhartha exercise such an influence over Govinda?

      1. Siddhartha denies the world of appearance and rationalizes his actions. (E.g., "I must learn to handle the boat." [84B]. Other examples of  his "saving face" [76A, 76B].

      2. Govinda doubts what Siddhartha says, but shows respect and goes on his way.  Has Govinda progressed?  (He seems not to seek understanding, but, instead, he seeks acceptance of what is.)

      3. Evaluate Siddhartha's discussion with Govinda by Freud's dictum that all reasoning is rationalization.

    C. What Siddhartha learned from Govinda on this occasion: Siddhartha's soul was sick because he could love nothing and nobody [76D].

      1. He was an ordinary person—he couldn't wait, fast, and think well.

      2. The river, like life itself, goes backwards.

      3. He was like a child--he knows nothing. I.e., his knowledge was non-propositional.

      4. You have a responsibility to the self who through difficulty made you what you are today. "The child is the father of the man."
III. His path—his life goals and hopes at this point seem to have resulted only in circles or spirals.
    A. Does the progress from thinker to ordinary person result in happiness?

    B. Siddhartha's cleverness does not come from figuring things out in advance, but from a process of engagement in living.

      1. His centering of self leads to the feeling solidly that he is to proceed rightly.

      2. Cf., the metaphor of the song bird.

    C. His place in life comes from the following complex: [Hesse 80B].

      a. intellect—thinking

      b. eyes—intuition

      c. heart—feeling, valuing

      d. stomach—sensation

    D. Too much knowledge had hindered him—the Buddha was right; he should guard against too much cleverness.

      1. He had reason, logic, insight—he could not learn because knowledge has to be proposition for him , at this time. 

      2. Yet this knowledge is rejected by nausea; "the revolt of the flesh."

    E. The River becomes an attraction in itself beyond analysis and knowledge but an intuition of the eternal now.


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