What Does Siddhartha Learn From The River
In Siddhartha, what does Siddhartha ultimately learn from the river?
Siddhartha leaves the city and all the riches he has acquired behind. He walks through the forest and stops by the river, where he ponders over his life. He feels goalless, without any real thing to seek or look forward to. He is disgusted by the miserable and shameful life he has lived through the years and yearns to commit suicide.
Instead, he falls into a deep sleep and wakes up a very happy man. He decides to live near the river to learn from it. He is hosted by the ferryman Vasudeva, to whom he tells the story of how he found contentment after a deep sleep by the riverside. According to Vasudeva, Siddhartha has learned that it is “good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek depth”. Earlier on, while seated by the riverside, Siddhartha had observed that the river always moved happily downhill. This means that one can move to a lower status, yet derive more satisfaction in life. He has learned from the river how to “listen, to pay close attention, with a quiet heart, without judgment or opinion." He has learned that “the river is everywhere at once." The life of a person can be likened to the flow of a river, so that the different phases such as childhood, adulthood, and old age are all one, rather than disparate features of the person. He has learned that “the river has many voices," and when it speaks in all of its voices at once, it says the words of the Holy Om.
Ultimately, Siddhartha learns that “all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all good and bad” are what the world is made up of. All of these things make up the music of life. He learns that in order to achieve Om, the perfection; a person has to detach himself from only listening to a single voice, among the many voices of life, one must learn to listen to all of the voices at once. This means that one accepts his fate as it is, delighting in a knowledge that is “not opposed by any will,” a knowledge that agrees with the flow of life.
Siddhartha has many teachers that he learns from on his journey towards Enlightenment, but ultimately, it is the river that teaches him the final lesson that he needs to learn in order to attain his goal. As Siddhartha listens to the river at Vasudeva's urging he realises that the river symbolically represents life itself as is shown through the sounds that Siddhartha hears emerging from the river, representing the sound of all of creation. In this river, Siddhartha learns that all of creation is absorbed into one harmonious whole. Note how the text presents Siddhartha after this epiphany:
From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with the conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrending himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.
Siddhartha therefore learns that he is one life that is part of a united whole and that part of Enlightenment consists in the act of surrender. This is shown by Siddhartha's acceptance of his destiny and his surrendering of his conflicting desires. Ultimately, he learns to surrender himself to the flow of the stream and to accept what his destiny has for him.
The river teaches Siddhartha how to listen. In the river, Siddhartha, now an old man, hears his own father and son, and they flow together; he hears Kamala and Govinda, and all of them flow into one another and over each other, all becoming the river, all making up the river's voice. Siddhartha becomes "Nothing but listener now," and he can't distinguish between the many voices in the river anymore. The more he listens, he hears that the happy and the sad, the raging and the hurting, are all one: "everything was one, everything was interwoven and intricately knotted, a thousandfold." He hears everything, altogether, and this sound is the world in its perfect unity. He hears "OM: perfection." Once the river teaches Siddhartha to listen, to hear OM, his pain joins with it, and he stops struggling with his fate and he stops suffering. At this point, now that Siddhartha has achieved enlightenment and an understanding of OM, his friend Vasudeva leaves him.