Hermann Karl Hesse was born in 1877, even when he was a little boy, he had an amazing mind, as his Mother Marie puts it in a letter to her husband… “The little fellow has a life in him, an unbelievable strength, a powerful will, and, for his four years of age, a truly astonishing mind. How can he express all that?” (Hesse). As a child he was seriously depressed, his grandfather introduced him to his library and this is where his fascination of reading began. Later in his life, he worked at a bookshop and studied, Theology, Philiogly and Law. Many years later, he became a writer and decided to visit Sri Lanka and Indonesia and as said by ‘The New Yorker’, ‘the physical experience… was to depress him. Any spiritual or religious inspiration that he was looking for eluded him” (Kirsch 1). This sparked the novel, Siddhartha to be written by him and then in 1946 he received the Nobel Prize in literature. He received many of his ideas from Buddist and Hindu philosophies, but, he speaks of his parents and their religion, “their Christianity, one not preached but lived, was the strongest of the powers that shaped and moulded me’. (Hesse 42). This led him to write the novel Siddhartha, a novel about one’s quest to enlightenment and the different choices within it.
There are many ways different ways shown to reach enlightenment, Hesse shows in the novel that every person has a different way to reach enlightenment, Siddhartha’s was having to leave everything behind. Not just his material possessions, but his family, friends and loved ones, he had to lose his Id and pride to finally reach enlightenment. According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he should’ve already been self-actualized, he had every box checked off in it, “people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on” (Maslow 74). But, he still was not enlightened, I believe this is because every person has a different path to Nirvana, this is what Hesse demonstrates in this novel. This presses the question, Siddhartha slowly loses touch with his inner voice while experiencing the sensual and material world. Could have Siddhartha attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara?” Was the sensual and material world an essential component to his obtaining enlightenment, or was it an unnecessary detour? Siddhartha himself believed that living in the sensual world so such a long time was a distraction and was completely useless, I believe it was essential to his reaching Nirvana. Although many may think that Siddhartha could have attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara”, I believe that he couldn’t have obtained enlightenment without it, because he needed to suffer to learn, without it he most likely wouldn’t have become something as simple as a ferryman because of his Id, He needed to learn unconditional love.
One argument made to refute this, would be that the dream pulled him out of his “Samsara” and caused him to leave everything again and continue on his journey. The dream was in a sense, a wake up call, a reminder that he is not actively continuing on his quest to enlightenment. A great example of this would be The Collective Unconscious, by Carl Jung, he explains… “The dreamer’s individual unconscious is communicating with the dreamer alone and
is selecting symbols for its purpose that have meaning to the dreamer and to nobody else” (13). This quote proves that Siddhartha’s unconscious dream was necessary on his goal, in the sensual world. While on the other hand, his conscious state is actively striving towards his goal of enlightenment, even though “Samsara”, he is still working towards self-actualization, it is just covered in “submerged and covered in dust”. (Hesse 61). His unconcious remembered and created a dream for him to interpret and put into action, causing him to start actively pursuing his goal, instead of going around in circles.
The Id is a stage of the ego, it is the caustic and destructive unconscious that makes irrational decisions, it is better explained by this quote from Sean Mcleod, a psychology tutor and researcher for The University of Manchester, Division of Neuroscience & Experimental Psychology and psychology lecturer for ten years.… “The id is the impulsive and unconscious part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to basic urges, needs, and desires. The personality of the newborn child is all id and only later does it develop an ego and super-ego. The id remains infantile in its function throughout a person’s life and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind.” (Mcleod 1).
To begin with, Siddhartha’s Id has always kept him away from his goal. During his time as a Samana, he was doubtful of his leader and if this method of reaching enlightenment even worked. The doubt he experienced was a result of his Id, in fact he even mocks the whole idea as shown in this quote from the text…
“I have asked the devote Samanas, year after year. Perhaps, oh Govindia, it had been just as well, had been just as smart and just as profitable, if I had asked the hornbill-bird or the chimpanzee. It took me a long time and am not finished learning this yet, oh Govinda: that there is nothing to be learned!
As explained in the quote, he does not even know if the Samana way works or if it does not, yet he still mocks it and compares it to learning from an animal. It is again extremely apparent when he falls into Samsara, his Id takes over for an extremely long time and he falls into a deep depression and feels hopeless, as he has given up all of his good values and his true goal. This leads him to the river, where he tries to take his own life, little does he know that this is all planned in his quest to enlightenment. While at the river, he gets on a ferry and sees Vasadeva, the Ferryman, he notices his energy and decides to become one like him. Before he can lose his Id and become enlightened he must let go of his son, Siddhartha has become completely Id-driven with his son around, like the ‘childlike people’ of “Samara” who suffer and become a fool for that love; he knows that this is “Samsara” and will only lead him into a terrible place. Finally, once his son runs away he is completely free from every tie to self and can listen to the river as explained in this quote,
“He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now finished learning to listen… And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.” (Hesse 87).
Siddhartha’s Ego finally starts becoming headstrong and overcoming his Id, allowing him to take control of his own life, not letting his unconcious take control, this is where his son comes in and his ego becomes too powerful; not allowing him to let go. It is explained in this analogy from Sigmund Froud, “the analogy of the id being a horse while the ego is the rider. The ego is ‘like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.” (Freud 15), Once he finally finds the correct balance of Id, Ego and super-ego, he becomes enlightened. It seems that Siddhartha’s Id caused him to fall into “Samsara”, but this was the key to his Enlightenment, because he wouldn’t have had a son without “Samsara” and therefore wouldn’t understand unconditional love, leading on to the next point.
Unconditional love is defined as “love without any limitations or conditions”, this is something Siddhartha does not understand until near the end of his life. During Siddhartha’s early years of his life, he was naive and never really understood the true meaning of unconditional love, although he had experienced it from his father. His father showed that he loved him by letting him leave to become a Samana, and he also experienced it from Govinda, yet he still saw these as inessential and as a hindrance to his quest. He had always considered love innessential to his goal, because it was a “worldly sensation” that the child-like people experience. Unknowingly, this “worldly sensation” would play an important role in him reaching
enlightenment. When Siddhartha meets Kamala he asks her to teach him love, Siddhartha wants her to teach him love for his own selfish reason which is not unconditional love, he believes that love was purely sexual and nothing more than that. Kamala states that she will teach him love for a fee, this is not unconditional love but quite the opposite. Siddhartha finally unconditionally loves someone after he escapes “Samsara”, He loves his son, so much so that he does not want to let go of him. Siddhartha does not realize that his son needs to leave on the same journey that he did, his son feels pitied and trapped. Siddhartha does not want to let go of his son, because he does not want him to experience “Samsara” he cares for him so much, once Siddhartha finally lets go of his son, he is no longer bound and he is finally free, as explained in this quote… ‘Siddhartha began to realize that no happiness and peace had come to him with his son, only sorrow and trouble. But he loved him and preferred the sorrow and trouble of his love rather than happiness and pleasure without the boy.’ (Hesse 118). He loved the boy, unconditionally, no matter if his son hated him, he loved him. This taught him true unconditional love, Siddhartha has achieved his goal because he is not distracted by anything or anyone, he understands the balance, and love, the ninth path. So, “Samsara” brought Siddhartha a son, in turn teaching him unconditional love and allowing him to achieve his goal of Self-Actualization.
Finally, Siddhartha needed to feel the pain of “Samsara”, so he could learn. In a sense, Siddhartha was a baby in the world, he did not know much, he did not have many experiences. He hadn’t really lived his life, he had everything handed to him, and as nothing but just a series of learning opportunities and experience. It is not possible that a person knows all about life when he has not experienced it. If Siddhartha had not experienced “Samsara”, he would have never learned how it felt to be trapped in depression and suicidal thoughts. Him going through “Samsara” is essentially the same thing as disciplining a child, He did not know why it was bad, until he felt the repercussions of it. Without “Samsara” he most likely would not have been so reckless to have a child, he became like one of the “child-like” people and brought a son into the world he lived in, and began loving him unconditionally. Without “Samsara” he most likely would have never had a child because he believed that all relationships were distractions toward his goal.