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Throughout history there have been countless numbers of teachers: artisans, craftsmen, ideologist, to name a few. They have all master some skill, gained some wisdom, or comprehended an idea. These teachers have achieved knowledge which allows them to excel and to be above and beyond regular people. Knowledge is something everyone strives for, and many desire. To achieve knowledge, one must have an eye-opening experience, and epiphany that leads to the increase of one’s intellect and skill set. In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the main character, Siddhartha, goes in an almost never ending quest to achieve knowledge. Throughout this journey, Siddhartha encounters many teachers, whom which he learns a great deal, but fails to attain that knowledge he achieves for. However, each and every single one of them teaches him something which ultimately contribute to his final achievement of knowledge. As Siddhartha mentioned to his good friend Govinda:
"You know, my friend, that even as a young man, when we lived with the ascetics in the forest, I came to distrust doctrines and teachers and to turn my back to them. I am still of the same turn of mind, although I have, since that time, had many teachers. A beautiful courtesan was my teacher for a long time, and a rich merchant and a dice player. On one occasion, one of the Buddha’s wandering monks was my teacher. He halted in his pilgrimage to sit beside me when I fell asleep in the forest. I also learned something from him and I am grateful to him, very grateful. But most of all, I have learned from this river and from my predecessor, Vasudeva. He was a simple man; he was not a thinker, but he realized the essential as well as Gotama, he was a holy man, a saint" (141).
The role of teachers in Hesse’s exceptional work of fiction is to aid in the achievement of the ultimate knowledge, while not taking the pupil directly there, instead giving him the skill set necessary to achieve what the student, in this case Siddhartha, feels is that ultimate knowledge.
Siddhartha throughout his journey encounters many teachers, but before he set on exploring the world for knowledge, he was the son of Brahmin in an Indian town. Siddhartha was always admired by the people of his town; he always excelled at everything, and was a fine writer and great reader.
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The next chapter of Siddhartha’s life is marked by his earthly experiences of regular people from which Siddhartha draws knowledge, which will ultimately lead to his own enlightenment. In the second stage of his life the young Brahmin founds himself without a single thing to eat or a place to sleep in, but thanks to his ability to fast and wait, he manages to live by without trouble. Siddhartha then arrives to a new town, where he encounters a new teacher; however, this time it is not a spiritual leader, but instead a beautiful courtesan, who instructs him the art of love. The courtesan’s name is Kamala, a woman desired by many and respected by all. She finds the young Siddhartha interesting and attractive, and introduces him into the world of lust and business. A businessman named Kamaswami, who by Kamala’s recommendation teaches Siddhartha the art of business. Siddhartha being so dexterous manages to master both in no time. His teachers introduce him to the world of Samsara, the world of earthly passions and carnal desire. He encounters himself in a world which stands against everything he strived for early in his life, the world of spirituality, the world of Nirvana. He becomes an expert lover, a successful businessman, a compulsive gambler, and a drunk. He learned to know the struggle of regular people, and experience the same things they did, something he once laughed at in his years as a Samana. He did this for many years, until one night a realization came to him, this part of his life had to end. Samsara had taken over his life and there little left from his days of spiritual searching. Once again, even though he had learned a lot from his teachers and experiences, Siddhartha had not achieved the knowledge he wanted. Ultimately he decides to close this part of his life as well. He leaves everything he owns, and his lover Kamala behind him, and moves own to search for enlightenment.
Lastly, on the last step of his journey, Siddhartha encounters his last teacher, who finally gives him the skills necessary to rich enlightenment. Siddhartha founds himself lost in the woods after living Kamala and all his riches. A monk takes care of him while he sleeps in the woods; this monk is his childhood friend Govinda. When Siddhartha awakes the two have a little chat, and then part ways. The now old businessman encounters a ferryman, who he befriended in the past and asks him to be his apprentice. The Ferryman teaches Siddhartha about the magnificence of the river. Siddhartha studies the river under the supervision of Vasudeva, the ferryman; one day Siddhartha has the revelation, that “eureka!!” moment he has been waiting for. He realizes the river, water, animals, people; everything is a part of a cycle. Life is a cycle, everything is one, and one is everything. He has finally realized that Samsara and Nirvana are one, he has finally become enlighten. Vasudeva also realizes that Siddhartha has achieved what he had desired all of his life, and steps down as Siddhartha’s teacher. Siddhartha was finally at peace. Vasudeva had given him the tools, supervised his search, and ultimately Siddhartha following his own path gained the ultimate knowledge and completed his journey.
The river is very important in this last part. It symbolizes the cycle of life, the ultimate teaching that everything is correlated. The ferryman is the guide to the river, the guide through the cycle of life. When Siddhartha finally understood the message of the river he became enlighten, a ferryman, a guide in the cycle of life. All throughout his life he searched for this ultimate truth of everything being one and one being everything. He had many teachers through his journey; all of them played an equally important role in his illumination. They all taught him something which helped him finally achieve Buddha status. Throughout the book, Hesse utilizes everyone who Siddhartha encounters as a teacher. None of them was able to take him directly to the ultimate knowledge. But they all influenced Siddhartha’s decision making in his path to enlightenment, where he, himself became a guide, a teacher. Ultimately relating to the message that life is a cycle and everyone is part of it and influences it in different ways through actions.