Literature Study GuidesSiddharthaPart 2 The Ferryman Summary

Siddhartha | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Siddhartha Study Guide." Course Hero. 24 Feb. 2018. Web. 18 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2018, February 24). Siddhartha Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)



Course Hero. "Siddhartha Study Guide." February 24, 2018. Accessed November 18, 2018.


Course Hero, "Siddhartha Study Guide," February 24, 2018, accessed November 18, 2018,

Siddhartha | Part 2, The Ferryman | Summary



Siddhartha decides to seek out the ferryman because his inner voice tells him to remain by the river he loves and learn from it. The river reveals its first secret quickly: though the water constantly flows, it is still always there. "It was always the same and yet every moment it was new," Siddhartha reflects, without quite understanding how this could be. He is now painfully hungry, and sets off to find the ferryman, who does not recognize the rich merchant before him when he sees Siddhartha for the first time. The ferryman takes Siddhartha across the river. Along the way Siddhartha offers Vasudeva his fine clothes as payment, since he has no money. Then the ferryman does finally does recognize Siddhartha, from when he was a Samana, almost 20 years ago, and the ferryman reintroduces himself as Vasudeva. Siddhartha asks to become Vasudeva's apprentice, and the ferryman invites him to stay the night. They talk for hours, Vasudeva listening with careful attention to Siddhartha's life story, especially his recent experience by the river.

"It is as I thought," says the man, "the river has spoken to you," and he invites Siddhartha to stay and live with him. Vasudeva speaks of the lessons the river can teach: of listening well, of seeking the depths, and of some mysterious "other thing, too." He cannot reveal what it is, saying only that he himself has learned "to listen and be devout; otherwise [he has] learned nothing." He explains that the river is holy to him, and to a handful of others who have "heard its voice and listened to it."

Siddhartha picks up the ferrying trade, always learning from the river, too. He learns to listen "with a still heart, with a waiting open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions." He also discovers from the river that time does not exist—for the river is in all places at once, in the present moment. He sees now that his life, too, has been like a river, with "Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man ... only separated by shadows." The discovery delights him, for sorrows, difficulties, fear, and evil only happen "in time." If there is no time, then there can be no such ills. Siddhartha also hears many voices in the river, which Vasudeva says are "the voices of all living creatures." Blended together, these voices transform into the sound of Om. Siddhartha becomes radiantly happy over time, and the two men grow to be like brothers. Some travelers even call them "two wise men, magicians or holy men," though to others, they seem only like odd, friendly, perhaps senile old men.

Word spreads that the Buddha is seriously ill, and pilgrims arrive in droves to visit Gotama, "the savior of an age," on his deathbed. Among the pilgrims is Kamala, who had long ago retired and gifted her garden to Gotama's monks. She travels with her son, a "sulky and tearful" boy who cares nothing for Gotama and who isn't enjoying this "weary, miserable pilgrimage."

When they stop to rest near the ferry, a snake bites Kamala, and she collapses. Vasudeva rushes her to his home, and Siddhartha recognizes her immediately, also knowing that the boy must be his son. He recites a prayer to calm the sobbing boy, who drifts off to sleep. The former lovers look into each other's eyes and Kamala finds the peace she had sought from the Buddha there with Siddhartha instead. Her life ebbs away, and he gazes at her once beautiful face, now lined with age, remembering their wonderful time together.

Siddhartha feels "the indestructibleness of every life" with her passing, and "the eternity of every moment." Siddhartha stays awake all night, contemplating his life and listening to the river, which fills him with "thoughts of unity." Though he suffers at Kamala's loss, he rejoices in gaining his son and feels "richer and happier" than ever. Vasudeva helps him build a funeral pyre for Kamala as the boy sleeps.


The lessons the river teaches Siddhartha touch on the theme of cycles in life, with continual rebirth and renewal marking the juncture between various stages. Om again becomes important to Siddhartha as the common denominator in his spiritual path; it is the sound he hears when the voices of the river join together as one.

Siddhartha's life is very simple now, with no striving or seeking, but only honest, reasonable work and openness to the lessons the river has to teach. It is this style of living that helps him grow radiantly happy, and this happiness is a sign that he is on the right path. Vasudeva is the perfect mentor and model for Siddhartha to follow. He leads by example rather than through teachings, and never sets himself up as a guru who offers teachings. He gently points Siddhartha in the direction of personal discovery (through listening to the river and reflection) rather than trying to teach what he himself has learned. He asks leading questions to stir Siddhartha's thoughts, and he confirms the truths Siddhartha learns on his own—only after Siddhartha has figured them out. Vasudeva knows the wisdom he possesses can't be conveyed through words but must be experienced directly. This is the same observation Siddhartha once made of Gotama when he remarked that the Buddha could not articulate his method of "rising above the world."

Another cycle of life ends with the death of Kamala, and a new one begins as Siddhartha becomes a parent to his unknown son. Kamala's arrival virtually on Siddhartha's doorstep seems once again like fate, rather than coincidence (just as Govinda previously arrived at a critical juncture to watch over Siddhartha in his sleep). As Kamala was once Siddhartha's teacher in the pleasures of sexual love, so their sulky son will be his teacher in the agonies of familial love. Siddhartha is portrayed in Kamala's death scene as more Buddha-like than ever, with Kamala looking into his eyes and finding the peace she had hoped to find from Gotama. Siddhartha is growing toward enlightenment just as Gotama's life is drawing to a close. The wheel of life continues to turn, with Siddhartha at the heights (new joy in his son) and Gotama in the depths (facing death). From his high vantage point atop the wheel, Siddhartha can see "the indestructibleness of every life," a lesson he can, with luck, retain for the trials ahead for him.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Siddhartha? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!