Siddhartha’s River

“…I have taken thousands of people across and to all of them my river has been nothing but a hindrance on their journey. They have travelled for money, business, to weddings and on pilgrimages; the river has been in their way and the ferryman [I, Vasudeva] was there to take them quickly across the obstacle. However, amongst the thousands there have been a few, four or five, to whom the river was not an obstacle. They have heard its voice and listened to it, and the river has become holy to them, as it has to me.”

Siddhartha once asked him [Vasudeva], Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?”

…”Yes, Siddhartha,” he said. “Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future?”

“That is it,” said Siddhartha, “and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha’s previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.

…Was then not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time?

Sharing passages, today, from Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha — an interpretation of the early life of the Buddha.

Hesse, Hermann. “The Ferryman.” Siddhartha. Cutchogue, New York: Buccaneer, n.d. N. pag. Print.


2 thoughts on “Siddhartha’s River

  1. A. O. Peer

    Reminds me of the chorus to the song Ol’ Man River. Perhaps, you should look those up. Then, perhaps, you should research when it was written in relation to when Siddhartha was written.


    1. River Elles

      “You and me, we sweat and strain
      Body all achin’ and wracked with pain
      Tote that barge, lift that bale
      Get a little drunk and you land in jail

      But I get weary and sick of tryin’
      ‘Cause I’m tired of livin’ but I’m scared of dyin’
      That ol’ man river, he just keeps rollin’ along.” (Kern and Hammerstein II)

      Is this what you had in mind? “Old Man River” is a song from the 1927 musical “Show Boat”, and it actually premiered just 5 years after “Siddhartha” was published. The musical’s story had much to do with racism in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, based on Edna Ferber’s novel.

      An African American (a laborer on the show boat) sings “Old Man River”. His song represents the adversity he faces– the fact that he’s probably never fully compensated for what he does. But, “life goes on.” It has to. He continues to work, as the river keeps rolling along.
      The character in “Siddhartha” expresses something related, yes. In his youth, his middle age, and his old age, regardless of the goings on, the river will be, and is, the same. It’s always rolling, always at the same steady pace. It doesn’t keep time, all it knows is the present.

      I can agree that there’s a connection, here. I think both rivers are meant to show that life carries on, whether you want it to or not. You can never stop a river’s movement, nor can you paddle ahead, or pine for any past or future time. Really, your only choice is to try and emulate those rivers; to live life as it comes.

      Whether the song was inspired by “Siddhartha,” I still don’t know. I can certainly agree that it’s possible! Its also possible that rivers are just quite good representatives of time’s constant passing 🙂 I’d be curious to know how popular/well-read/circulated “Siddhartha” was, in 1927. Today it’s well-known and well-read, but was it, then?

      Do you have any additional thoughts? Have you interpreted these any differently than I did? I’m curious to know. Thank you for your comment!


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