Site Map




Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Chapter  7: Samsara

Abstract: The game of Samsara  (everydayness) is characterized.

Samsara (or sometimes spelled "Sansara") is the daily round of the normal everyday world (where the triviality and repetition; the so-called "hurry-up-and-wait aspects of life are emphasized).

    A. General description:  the static or senseless cycle of everyday life. E.g., the metaphor of the potter's wheel [Hesse 61C].

      1. The attachment to things: compare life in different centuries as to what people find important. This century in the U.S., more than any other, we have become attached to gadgets: VMW, VCR, DVD, CD, PC...

      2. Samsara is usually defined as (1) the state of continual rebirths or (2) the daily round.

      3. Siddhartha sees Samsara as a game, and he's losing interest in it. On a smaller scale, job burnout is the same sort of state which happens when the specific differences of the day-to-day events do not seem to matter any more.

    B. Siddhartha begins to experience the soul-sickness of the rich.

      1. Even though Siddhartha felt different from and superior to others, the more he became like them, the more he envied them.

      2. He envied the sense of importance by which they lived their lives.

      3. His inward voice was silent.  As noted previously, the inward voice was not so much his conscience as a sense of intuition of taking charge of his life.

        a. Hesse characterizes the inward voice as seeking that which we have never had or that which we have lost.

        b. We can become self-adapting when the soul becomes vaguely aware of what is lacking, but it's not a satisfying way of life.

      4. Riches are seen as a burden. He takes up the adventure of gambling and high stakes. Note how people often seek adventure in order to forget the daily round, to avoid boredom at all costs, and to defeat the soul-sickness of Samsara.

III. Both Siddhartha and Kamala are approaching a mid-life crisis.
    A. Life is seen as limited and converging in possibilities when we do not take care of the soul.

      1. She had lost herself in Samsara as well.

      2. Compare to Freud's observation—[Hesse 65B]: "How closely related passion was to death."

        a. Compare the loss of ego in love, death, and meditation.

        b. What are the differences in ways the ego is lost according to the Daisy Theory of the human mind?

        c. Consider, for a moment,  the loss of self in accordance with alienation of misidentification where the self is identified as one of the petals of the daisy and the center disappears.

    B. With Siddhartha's nausea and dream is the death of Kamala's songbird. As he throws the bird away, he seems to throw away all that was of value to him.

      1. The dream is interpreted [Hesse 66C, 70C]: his own heart and inner voice are in danger.

      2. Siddhartha's self-analysis: a method often used in time of crisis. Another method of analysis is to prospectively write your own obituary [Hesse 67A].

        a. Examine your past in detail, your hopes, your shortcomings, and your strengths.

        b. What kinds of things make you sad? What kinds of things make you happy? The process of putting time into such thought can put new zest and direction in a life.

      3. His own life was more wretched than the Child-People. Why?

        a. He was a seeker—he sought to understand reality and self.

        b. The Child-People had faith—they knew that they could not understand; the mysteries were beyond them, but they could accept it by faith simply. (Cf., Tolstoy's characterization of the common people in his famous essay on the meaning of life from My Confession.)

        c. Perhaps here, in this regard, for these persons, ignorance is bliss—to know too much is harmful for the soul. In such cases we often seek to deceive ourselves or to elude life. 

        The Pantry theory of the human mind can help explain the contrast. Just as, however many cans of food are on a shelf, their distribution fills the available space, so likewise, however many problems we have, their number fills our consciousness.  One can is placed in the middle of the shelf; one problem becomes the center of our thoughts. The Child-People are most concerned about what is before them now—the are concerned with whatever is part of the everyday. 

        There was no room in their lives for the endless confusion of the speculative entertainment of transcendental reality. Cf., Buddha's parable of the poisoned arrow.

III. Siddhartha's conclusion: the game of Samsara is not a game worth playing—it's not a game worth losing your life for.

    A. He left without a "good-bye"—even Kamala seemed to be of no value to him now.

      1. Just as art was a decoy of life for Tolstoy, so likewise Siddhartha saw the art of love as a game, an art (a decoy), but not a reality.

      2. Siddhartha becomes a pilgrim: he now belongs to no person and no place. The ordinary trappings of life have become a burden to him.

    B. Kamala lets the bird go—just as Siddhartha has unlocked the cage of the prison of the daily round.


Amongst the People      The River

Send corrections or suggestions to
Read the disclaimer concerning this page.
03.10.04           2004 GFDL

  Introduction |  Siddhartha  |  Hinduism  |  Confucianism  |  Buddhism  |  Zen  |  Taoism