Wisdom of the Ferryman

I just finished reading the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. In a nutshell it is a story about Buddhism. I’ve never learned much about eastern philosophy, which is unfortunate because I am of the opinion that it is very enlightening in ways that western philosophy isn’t.

In western thought we try to give meaning to things, to understand it all. We speak of morals, and freedom as if they are tangible parts of our body. My limited experience with eastern philosophy gives me the impression that their approach isn’t so much about defining life as it understanding it. That it flows freely & naturally and that we are only left to define by our own terms and ways.

Siddhartha was a pretty good read. A bit corny in a way but it gets the message across for a short book. There is one particular scene in the book that was truly outstanding to me. A brief explanation will help to understand the section I have selected. Siddhartha is our main character and was traveled through the world. He was basically a priests son who went into a minimalist monk style life before becoming a businessman and learning love before returning to the river he once crossed where he worked with a ferryman he met. Years later the woman he learned love from died nearby and he cares for their son(who he never knew of). However his son is resistant to Siddhartha’s kindness and sort of holiness and wants to return to the city of Samsara.

Siddhartha contemplates his situation. He loves his son and wants to care for him and does so with only love, but his son is bitter and angry at him. He cannot be angry at his son, but cannot control him. This is what the ferryman says to him;

The ferryman smiled again. He touched Siddhartha’s arm gently and said: “Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to it, laugh about it! Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them? Can you then protect your son from Samsara? How? Through instruction, through prayers, through exhortation? My dear friend, have you forgotten that instructive story about Siddhartha, the Brahmin’s son, which you once told me here? Who protected Siddhartha the Samana from Samsara, from sin, greed and folly? Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Which father, which teacher, could prevent him from living his own life, from soiling himself with life, from loading himself with sin, from swallowing the bitter drink himself, from finding his own path? Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path? Perhaps your little son, because you would like to see him spared sorrow and pain and disillusionment? But if you were to die ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest.”

This passage stood out to me for its message. We are only what we are. We are not the result of others accomplishments, or failures. Our fathers accomplishments mean little for us. You can sacrifice for another person, try to help them, share knowledge and wisdom with them, but if they do not accept it it is only their doing. You can offer to help people, but you can’t make them take your help or advice.

I think this applies a lot to politics and also the manosphere. All the advice and experience of the wisest and most accomplished people is only useful to any who accepts it and applies it.

Sure there are people who give the wrong advice, but the same idea applies to bad advice & knowledge as it does to good ones. Those who accept bad ideas will see bad results. You can spend an inordinate amount of time stating a case to someone, but if they continue to reject it you will just be wasting your breath even if it’s true. At a certain point you simply have to let people go and find out for themselves.

We can scream at the top of our lungs for as long as possible about economics, health, and single moms but if they aren’t willing to listen it seems pointless. Except it still has a point. By planting the seeds of an idea in someones head you can help them by allowing them to realize their errors, potentially much sooner than they would have. We all have to learn everything on our own, but we can get to our goals quicker with a coach or even a stranger to guide us.

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About Moose

I am who I am

Posted on January 5, 2013, in Problems to Ponder, The Life of Man and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Interesting synopsis, Odin.
    I think we’re all the product of our individual experiences, and experience is the best teacher (but of course we’re all still on the journey now…knowledge is a journey, not a destination).

  2. ‘from swallowing the bitter drink himself’…kind of like taking the pill yourself.

    • Yes, that is exactly it. You can do as much as you can for someone but they still have to make their own decisions.

      • What do you think makes someone realize things need to change vs others that just last in their illusion?

      • They just get to that point I guess. There’s no generic way for it to happen. People are all different and will have different thoughts and reactions to things. Some will see a need to change or improve, and some will deny it or find other things to blame.

  3. Sounds like a book worth reading.

    Sadly it is true that we, no matter how wise we may be, cannot save anyone from themselves or the world.

    But as you said, we can plant the seeds.

    • Thanks for the comments Dr. Illusion. It is a book worth a read. It’s only about 125 pages if I remember correct. There are better stories and examples of fiction, but I think its meant as a book meant to sort of summarize some concepts of Buddhism for the reader.

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