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The River and the Mind/Body Dichotomy in Siddhartha
In Herman Hesse's work Siddhartha, the primary physical symbol of division is the river. One side of the river represents "geist", or a realm concerned with the spiritual world. The second side represents "natur", the natural world where the flesh is engorged with pleasure and earthly satisfaction. Siddhartha begins on the spiritual side of the river. He is in training to become an excellent Brahmin like his father, much is expected of this intelligent and attractive young man. Yet Siddhartha feels a rumbling in his body and mind. His soul is not satisfied with the answers that he has received about problems in life. He feels the need to live his home in order to find these answers. He is willing to sacrifice security for insecurity and danger. His travels renew and strengthen his spirit.
The structure of the story is centered around the apparatus of "iterative-durative time", a technique in which the author follows a loose linear chronlogy, with each part covering approximately twenty years, while only about one or two of those years are described in any detail. The effect easily lulls the reader into a perception of the passing time.
He first spends time with a roving band of asceitics, forest-dwelling nomads that prefer to live a life of extreme sacrifice and self-denial. Siddhartha masters their art and goals, but shortly decides to move on after only a few years. He is not able to find his quest for salvation and understanding on such a path. Throughout his journey, his friend Govinda stays by his side. He decides to leave the town with him, come with him and practice with the ascetics, and then agrees to leave with him to seek out the Illustrious One, Gotama. Siddhartha does not find the answers to his spiritual queries here either, and decides to move on again. This time Govinda, his "shadow", decides to stay and make a niche for himself. Siddhartha strikes out on his own, crossing the center symbol of the river with the help of the boatman Vasudeva. After crossing the river he encounters an Indian woman who encourages him and allows him to kiss her nipple. His experience with the "natur" world has begun, his experiences of the sense being heightened and readied for a sensual deluge.
He remains on the sensual side of the river for twenty years and in that time impregnates his seductive teacher and partner Kamala.
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The now aging Siddhartha makes his life with Govinda the boatman. His life has finally come to the point where he had always been seeking to find himself. He is at the middle of the spiritual and natural world. A true synthesis is the key to his sense of peace.
The river and Siddhartha's perception of the harsh discordance between the spirit and natural self eventually culminate in realizing the importance of both. His life on the river, his constant journeying from one bank to the other, largely represent this realization and his discovery about life. This work can help teacher any young, idealistic, searching spirit about life and the necessity of synergy in one's philosophical and practical thought about life.