Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Explain sacredness or holiness in terms of "having no obstacles." Confucius writes in his Doctrine of the Mean, "He rectifies himself, and seeks for nothing from others, so that he has no dissatisfactions."[1] Would the presence of holiness imply that if one has no expectations, one has no hindrances? If this were so, an ordinarily supposed hindrance would simply be an unexpected present event. Is this insight the basis of Turgenev's observation, "To desire and expect nothing for oneself—and to have profound sympathy for others—is genuine holiness"?[2]

  2. Siddhartha discerns, "…I looked at my life, and it was also a river…" Develop the idea of the river being "everywhere at once" with respect to the idea that what you really are is not what you are now. As W. Somerset Maugham expresses it, "The complete life, the perfect pattern, includes old age as well as youth and maturity. The beauty of the morning and the radiance of noon are good, but it would be a very silly person who drew the curtains and turned on the light in order to shut out the tranquillity of the evening."[3]

  3. With Kamala's death, Siddhartha felt the "indestructibility of life." Can you resolve this apparent paradox? Consider this passage from the Gita:

    Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
    Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
    Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever;
    Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems![4]

  4. Hermann Hesse emphasizes in this chapter that Vasudeva learned to listen from the river. Compare Hess's description of this process with Shunryu Suzuki's:

    When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is. We put very little emphasis on right and wrong or good and bad. We just see things as they are with him, and accept them… Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion.[5]



Confucius. Doctrine of the Mean. 500 BC. Translated by James Legge.


Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev. Turgenev Letters. Edited by David Lowe. New York: Ardis, 1983.


W. Somerset Maugham. The Summing Up. Garden City, N.Y.: International Collector's Library, 1938.


The Song Celestial or Bhagavad-Gita. Translated by Sir Edwin Arnold. New York: Dover Books, 1993. Ch. 2, Sect. 20.


Shunryu Suzuki. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1970. 87-88.