Summary: Om

Siddhartha meditates for many days on the loss of his son. His pain and sadness are great. One day, Siddhartha looks into the river, and as the water laughs at him for letting the wound burn so deeply, he realizes that life has an inevitable flow, just like a river. When Siddhartha was a boy, he left his own father despite great protestations. Now his own son has left him. Because of this doubled perspective, Siddhartha sympathizes with his father and his son at the same time. He understands that some sorrows in life cannot be prevented and will pass from generation to generation throughout time. Siddhartha feels a new sense of peace. That night he tells Vasudeva all he has felt, and Vasudeva seems to absorb all of his sorrows. Siddhartha realizes that Vasudeva is as enlightened as the Buddha, and that he seems like a god.

The old ferryman invites him to listen more closely to the river. As they sit on the bank, all the images of his life dance before him. He hears voices of joy and sorrow, good and evil, laughter and mourning. But he does not let himself be caught up by any single voice and hears only the single word Om. Sitting beside Vasudeva at the river, Siddhartha realizes that his Self is a part of the great perfection that is all of the voices in the world speaking together. Siddhartha no longer doubts his place in the world or second-guesses his actions. His face now reflects the same divine understanding that he first noticed on Vasudeva’s face when he met him. In this hour Siddhartha stops battling his fate, and his eyes glow with the serenity of knowledge. When Vasudeva sees this, he says that he has been waiting for this moment, and he departs to the forest, leaving Siddhartha as the ferryman.

Analysis: Om

In order to achieve enlightenment, Siddhartha must give up what he loves. Siddhartha’s difficulty with giving up his son suggests that love is the toughest challenge Siddhartha has faced during his quest and that Siddhartha is actually no different than anyone who has experienced love. Losing his son is difficult for Siddhartha, but what he experiences now as a father is the same as what he experienced years before as a son. When he sees a reflection of himself in the river, a reflection of his father is superimposed upon it, as though his father is subject to the same trial Siddhartha is presently undergoing. He sees a vision of the self in both past and future. His son acts in the way he himself had acted, and he will follow a path of his own choosing in the same way Siddhartha did. Similarly, Siddhartha is acting just as his father did so many years ago, trying to keep his son at home, despite his own wisdom. These similarities, which persist despite all that Siddhartha has learned, suggest that the present moment truly does contain all of time. The present moment contains a concentration of experiences that would take several lifetimes to undergo. Siddhartha knows not only that he himself is always the same despite the changes in his life but also that he is the same as all others in the world.

In “Om,” suffering acts as a humanizing force for Siddhartha. Through suffering, Siddhartha finds unity among his roles as father, traveler, and son, as well as unity between the past and future. In the past, Siddhartha has looked scornfully at people in the mortal world, but at this moment his suffering allows him to see his unity with the world. He no longer stands above and is no better than anyone else. His suffering has shown him that he is like them, and only in realizing his similarities with the rest of the world can he achieve the compassion necessary for true enlightenment. Vasudeva and Siddhartha have both experienced human suffering, and just as Vasudeva returns to the divine, so too will Siddhartha one day. Both have overcome their suffering in order to achieve enlightenment.

Vasudeva’s profession as a ferryman, one who guides a person from one side of the river to the other, fits well with his status as spiritual guide. If one side of the river represents enlightenment, and the other side represents the life as it was lived before enlightenment, then Vasudeva helps to convey people to their final destination. However, people must first reach the river of their own accord and know that they seek to reach the other bank. He does not tell people where they must go but helps those who are ready to complete the journey. When Siddhartha achieves enlightenment, Vasudeva leaves him, and Siddhartha inherits the position Vasudeva previously held. In this way, a level of equality is demonstrated between Vasudeva and Siddhartha. Although Vasudeva is often described in divine terms, he does not maintain the power relationship that would typically exist between student and teacher, or between the divine and the mortal. When he departs, Siddhartha is his equal. He has guided Siddhartha to his final destination and can now depart, unlike a teacher who would have to stay behind to continue teaching others.

No longer knowing whether time existed, whether this display had lasted a second or a hundred years, whether there was a Siddhartha, or a Gotama, a Self and others, wounded deeply by a divine arrow which gave him pleasure, deeply enchanted and exalted, Govinda stood yet a while bending over Siddhartha’s peaceful face which he had just kissed, which had just been the stage of all present and future forms.

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