“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” (Frankl). Life consists of happiness and sadness, success and failure, good fortune and tragedy, all of which contributes to understanding the meaning of life. Often difficulties in life are the most enlightening and illuminating experiences of self-discovery.
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Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, developed a theory that illustrates the human response to the difficulty of loss. Known as the Kubler-Ross Model, people who deal with grief go through a cycle of stages that fall into five groups. According to Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are categorized as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
In Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, the stages of grief depict Siddhartha’s journey towards enlightenment as evident by Siddhartha experiencing times of denial of self and possessions, moments of depression and despair, and ultimately achieving acceptance.
Denial, the first stage of grief, is visible throughout Siddhartha’s journey as seen by the rejection of self and possessions. Siddhartha decides to leave the comforts of home to follow the Samanas. Siddhartha asks his father, “With your permission, my father. I have come to tell you that it is my wish to leave your house tomorrow and join the ascetics.
I must become a Samana.” (Hesse 9). For Siddhartha asks for his father’s blessing to leave his house, to study a different path, and to live a more austere life. By requesting to follow the Samanas, Siddhartha is denying his father’s wishes and in a sense rejecting his religious upbringing. Furthermore, when Siddhartha and Govinda start their journey with the Samanas, they give away their clothes and participate in fasting. The narrator states, “Siddhartha saw a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of want, empty of dream, empty of joy and sorrow.” (Hesse 13).
To live a life as a Samana, Siddhartha and Govinda must seek spirituality through denial of possessions and emotions. Siddhartha deprives himself not only of luxuries in life but of all necessities, only consuming the bare minimum to survive. Moreover, Siddhartha the merchant lives a comfortable life in the city with Kamala but leaves it all behind as the narrator explains, “The very same hour that night, Siddhartha left his garden, left the city, and never returned.” (Hesse 72). Even though Siddhartha has access to food and conveniences, he realizes his life is still empty and his spirit is hungry. Siddhartha leaves behind his wealth, and like his past teachers, leaves Kamala too, denying yet again another path towards self-discovery. Denial is a key component throughout Siddhartha’s Journey as he rejects teachings, possessions, and sustenance.
Furthermore, Siddhartha experiences another stage of grief as he encounters occasions of depression and despair during his journey. As a new member of the Samanas, Siddhartha travels through a town observing citizens going about their daily business and thinks to himself, ¦all gave the illusion of meaning and happiness and beauty, and all of it was just putrefaction that no one would admit to. Bitter was the taste of the world. Life was a torment.” (Hesse 12-13). Siddhartha’s depression manifests itself as hostility towards the town’s people and shows his distaste for their ordinary lives. He believes their happiness and beauty is not reality, but it is a fantasy that will eventually rot. Moreover, after Govinda’s second departing, Siddhartha realizes his life is losing meaning as the narrator states, “He noticed only that the bright and certain inner voice that once had awoken within him and accompanied him unceasingly in his days of glory had fallen silent. The world had captured him” (Hesse 67).
Siddhartha’s life revolves around money and gambling that suffocates his spiritual life. He no longer can hear his inner voice as the material world consumes him and has lost his attachment to life. Additionally, Siddhartha’s life is in a destructive cycle as the narrator observes, ¦fled further, seeking to escape in more gambling, seeking to numb himself with sensuality and wine, and then hurled himself back into the grind of hoarding and acquisition.” (Hesse 68). Siddhartha is a successful merchant who gambles away his money to show his defiance for wealth. Siddhartha’s addiction to playing dice is a toxic cycle that wears him down both physically and spiritually.
Lastly, in a moment of despair after leaving his life with Kamala, alone and down by the river’s edge Siddhartha, ¦he released his arm from around the tree trunk and rotated his body a little so as to let himself fall vertically, sink at last into the depths. With closed eyes, he sank toward death.” (Hesse 74). Hopelessness overcame Siddhartha and he thought the only way to find peace is to die. As he prepared to drown himself, he totally let’s go of his life. Similar to Kubler-Ross’ stages of depression, Siddhartha, experiences despair and hopelessness.
Finally, the most important reason the stages of grief are applicable to Siddhartha’s journey is his achievement of acceptance. Down by the river Siddhartha awakens from a deep sleep after he speaks the word Om, for the first time he has a new awareness about life. Siddhartha reminiscing about his past thinks to himself, “I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the most foolish of all thoughts, the thought of suicide, to be able to experience grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep well and awaken well.” (Hesse 81). Siddhartha realizes the difficulties and suffering he went through are necessary to achieve a greater understanding of life. Siddhartha comes to the conclusion in order for him to experience grace and Om he must also have experience the lesser side of foolishness and suicide. In addition, Siddhartha masters the art of listening.
The narrator says, “And when Siddhartha listened attentively to his river, to this thousand-voiced songheard all of them, heard the whole, the oneness-then the great song of the thousand voices consisted only of a single word: Om, perfection.” (Hesse 114). At this moment Siddhartha enlightenment. All the voices join together as one and Siddhartha encounters oneness with the world. Consequently, Siddhartha shares with Govinda what he learns from his enlightenment.
Siddhartha says, “I am saying what I have found. One can pass on knowledge but not wisdom. One can find wisdom, one can live it, one can be supported by it, one can work wonders with it, but one cannot speak it or teach it.” (Hesse 119). Siddhartha figures out that inner wisdom cannot be learned or studied. In fact, following other teachings or studying can get in the way of obtaining wisdom. comes from one’s experiences rather than being passed on as knowledge. Siddhartha has always had wisdom but ultimately found that he must create his own path and look within to obtain enlightenment. The final stage of the Kubler-Ross model, acceptance is evident in Siddhartha’s journey as he found a new awareness, thus a new life.
Restate Thesis: The process of Siddhartha’s journey toward enlightenment mirrors Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ cycle of grief, specifically the stages of denial, depression, and acceptance.
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