Siddhartha: Archetypal Themes of Healthy Psychological Adolescent Development

Adolescence emerges from an array of bio-psychosocial factors. While puberty occurs during adolescence, social factors also place increased pressure on children to become more oriented to adult capacities. It is common for adolescents to question the lessons they were taught during early childhood life; cognitively, independent thought comes online in conjunction with the physiological maturation that allows the adolescent to become psychologically and physiologically more adult-like. The transition that occurs during adolescence provides an individual with an initial glimpse of the woman or man the child will one day become. While ego development constitutes the goal of early childhood development, middle childhood through early adult development focuses on learning one’s cultural industries, developing an intact identity from which to relate with the world, learning socially acceptable moral edicts and values, and learning to initiate and maintain intimate relationships.

Siddhartha’s family lineage cast a shadow upon the waters he navigated during his lifetime. Siddhartha was a prince, but was aloof to the material nature of the world that surrounded him. Siddhartha stood up to the dreams his father and mother had for his personal development in order to pursue the life of an ascetic. While Siddhartha could have run away to begin his journey, Hesse (2002) showed how Siddhartha confronted his father with personal indignation.

Siddhartha’s indignation towards his father indicates an Oedipal theme. The Oedipal theme is also evident when Siddhartha’s father told him to kiss his mother goodbye and inform her of his plans. The Oedipal dynamics presented in Hesse’s story are brief, but show that Siddhartha never developed an appropriate relationship with his parents; the inability to relate to others formed the etiology of the shadow material Siddhartha needed to work in order to individuate.

During childhood, Siddhartha showed inability to love anyone but himself. As an adolescent, Siddhartha gave up all remnants of material that linked him to the brahmin caste. Like Narcissus, Siddhartha saw the beauty of an entity that remained out of his sight. He strove towards his destiny blind of the beauty that surrounded his awaiting psyche. While Siddhartha learned lessons from his father, mother, and the wisest of brahmins during childhood, as an adolescent he needed to learn how to work in conjunction with others to pursue the highest goal of all: To Realize Self.

Siddhartha’s pessimistic viewpoint was jaded by personal contempt, and it affected his ability to see the world’s innate beauty. Siddhartha sensed that something greater than his ego existed. He sought this state of being with the same resolve that a hunter pursues prey. Siddhartha was a falcon, intent on attaining a realized state of Self at the expense of showing complete disregard to others and the natural beauty of the Earth that surrounded him. Siddhartha viewed life as a game to play and conquer, not to live. Siddhartha was a hero who sought to push through his shadow to pursue a goal rather than sit with the material that made him discontent in the first place. For Siddhartha, relationships were a means to an end, an unavoidable aspect of life that he had to engage to learn the lessons he needed to pursue his goal. Siddhartha was a hero, whom sought to escape the drunkenness of existence.

Adolescence is a transitional period of development in which Self-efficacious behaviors continue from childhood. However, adolescence differs from childhood development in that self-efficacious behavior transitions from the perspective of learning how to master one’s environment to learning how to work in conjunction with environmental stimuli to assure success in daily tasks (Bong, 2009). Siddhartha mastered the lessons of the brahmin caste during his early childhood; however, he questioned the validity of the lessons he learned as promoting a false sense of hope that was based on intellectual discourse, rather than providing a path of practice to attain Self or the Union of ATMAN with BRAHMAN.

True, many versus in the holy books—the Upanishads… spoke of this inmost and ultimate essence… These verses contained marvelous wisdom—everything in them is the knowledge of the wisest of the wise formulated in magical words… No, the immensity of knowledge that lay preserved there… should not be underestimated. But where were the brahmins, the priests, the sages, or the ascetics who had succeeded not only in knowing this most profound knowledge intellectually but also in living it? Where were the adepts who had learned the knack of bringing indwelling in the atman out of the realm of sleep into that of wakefulness, who had made it a part of every aspect of life, both word and deed. (Hesse, 2002, p. 7)

An adolescent learns cultural industry by questioning childhood lessons to learn increasingly adult ways of existence. The adolescent literally teeters on the brink between childhood naiveté and adulthood responsibility. Youth is apparent during this developmental stage because no real life experience exists. Children can breed discontent with their prior lessons because they do not have knowledge of the particular nuances that are common to the cultural industry base. Siddhartha was discontent with the lessons taught to him, which had led to an ascetic quest for Self-knowledge through disavowal of everything he had become. “On the evening of the same day, they caught up with the ascetics, those gaunt shramanas, and offered to join them and attend them faithfully. They were accepted” (Hesse, 2002, p. 14).

Siddhartha sought independence by abandoning his family lineage. In an interesting turn, he chose the life of an ascetic, a person defined by his or her austere existence of Self-abnegation. This life is antagonistic to the life of luxury Siddhartha experienced as a child. This also presents a paradox within the story. The rich boy became a pauper, and the man who sought his true nature turned farthest from the concept he sought. Siddhartha sought to rid himself of the ego, but in turn became possessed by its qualities.

Taught by the eldest shramana, Siddhartha practiced self-abnegation, practiced meditative absorption… Siddhartha learned a great deal from the shramanas, learned many pathways beyond the self. He followed the path of self-extinction by means of pain, by means of suffering intentionally and overcoming the pain, the hunger, the thirst, the fatigue. He followed the path of self-extinction by means of meditation, allowing the senses to empty themselves of all representations… A thousand times he left his ego behind; for hours and days at a time he dwelled in nonego [sic]. But even if the methods he followed lead beyond ego, in the end they lead back to ego… Whether by sunshine or moonlight, in shadow or in rain, once again Siddhartha and ego appeared, and once again he felt the torment of the cycle of existence forced upon him. (Hesse, 2002, pp. 16-17)

Siddhartha sought to rid himself of the ego, which he believed would lead to Atman. However, Edinger (1972) pointed out that the ego is a natural representation of Self because it does “god’s creative work in its effort to realize itself through the way of individuation” (p. 156). Ego is consciousness that perceives itself as separate from the environment. Siddhartha is so self-focused and aloof to the environment that he showed indifference to all sentient beings that showed him love at this time in the story.

Buddhists temple in Saddar cave near Hpa-an in Myanmar

The ego’s position differs from Self, which is a transcendent concept that exists both within and outside of the individual psyche. The paradox between ego and Self, within and without, represents the crux that assuming a monistic form of consciousness entails. If there is no sense of “I,” then do I really exist within the context of what I perceive. Siddhartha showed that he could only gain moments of clarity by entering a state of meditative absorption that allowed him to escape his sense of I, the ego; however, to enter this state indefinitely would suggest a primitive state of existence in which the sense of I and other are abnegated to open a path towards higher states of consciousness.

Siddhartha sought Atman by denying his ego its rightful place within his emergent adolescent psyche. Practicing self-abnegation and assuming austere practices of Self-denial do not constitute the means by which Siddhartha ascertained an individuated sense of Self; in fact, the only accomplishment Siddhartha gained during this developmental sequence was to become comfortable enough within his ego to believe that he could challenge the elder shramana in his own spell casting abilities. Siddhartha underwent an ego possession through the personae he created during his years as an ascetic. By attempting to rid himself of ego, the ego ultimately possessed the the young ascetic through guiding him along a divergent path from self. The mercurial nature of the Trickster fooled Siddhartha by leading him to believe he could abolish the very entity that ultimately promotes Self-development. While Siddhartha learned to perform goal-directed activities and utilized the lessons his personae taught him, he remained primarily caught within his practice of Self-abnegation during this period of development. This caused him to completely turn his back on all teachings.

What I have learned up to now from the shramanas, O Govinda, I could have learned faster and more simply. I could have learned it, my friend, in any tavern in the whore’s quarter, from the teamsters and dice players… What is meditative absorption? What is leaving the body? What is holding the breath? These are a flight from the ego, a brief escape from the torment of being an ego, a short term deadening of the pain and absurdity of life. This same escape, this same momentary deadening, is achieved by the ox driver in an inn when he drinks a bowl of rice wine or fermented coconut milk. Then he no longer feels his self, then he no longer feels the pains of life—he achieves momentary numbness. (Hesse, 2002, pp. 18-19)

As an adolescent, Siddhartha denied the tenets of religious dogma to formulate his personal meaning for life. Siddhartha developed an adult psyche from which he began to formulate moral commandment and prohibitions common to the archetypal father. However, by seeking to transcend ego, Siddhartha cemented its fruition by developing the persona of an indifferent ascetic. Siddhartha found his identity, and was ready to sit as an adult amongst initiated men. While he dawned the loincloth of an ascetic, Siddhartha became another spiritual practitioner that was possessed by the spiritual dogma he practiced instead of undergoing his true path. Siddhartha became like his father, until his psyche eventually allowed him to run from the lessons that promoted this stage of development. The protagonist developed a complex consciousness (Johnson, 1993) that was capable of formulating its own set of moral commandments and prohibitions from which it could sustain survival.

Adolescence and young adult-life presents many challenges that manifest within the body, mind, and soul. Siddhartha attempted to become an adult through meditative absorption that nearly brought him to the verge of death.

Siddhartha gave his robe to a poor brahmin he met on the road. Now he wore only a loincloth and an unstitched, earth colored shawl. He ate only once a day and never cooked food. He fasted for fifteen days. He fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh fell away from his cheeks and thighs. Fevered dreams flashed from his dilated eyes, the nails grew long on his shriveled fingers, and from his chin grew a dry, scruffy beard. His eyes became hard as iron when he encountered women. His lip curled with contempt when he walked through a town among well-dressed people. He saw merchants bargaining, princes going off to the hunt, grief-stricken people mourning their dead, prostitutes offering their bodies, doctors working over the sick, lovers making love, mothers nursing their babies—and none of it was worth of his glance. It was all a lie, it all stank, it was all putrid with lies. Everything pretended to meaning and happiness and beauty, but it was all only putrescence and decay. The taste of the world was bitter. Life was pain. (Hesse, 2002, pp. 14-15)

Siddhartha’s withering body provides one example of the extreme practices some cultures undertake to break the male child of his boyhood psychology. Boyhood psychology must die in order for the boy to become a man. Siddhartha’s childhood dies with his wish to become empty of ego. In the case of Jungian theory, boyhood psychology must deintegrate so that an adult masculine psychology can reintegrate into the overall schemata of the psyche (Fordham, 1969, 1993). Siddhartha’s childhood psychology had to give way to his emergent adult identity. However, Siddhartha also made the mistake of starting over by ignoring the lessons taught by the elders within his community. Moore and Gillette (1990) showed that mature masculine psychology supersedes mature boyhood psychology, and not by the destruction of one’s personal history of childhood.

It is enormously difficult for a human being to develop to full potential. The struggle with the infantile within us exerts a tremendous “gravitational” pull against achieving that full adult potential. Nevertheless, we need to fight gravity by dint of hard labor and to build the pyramids of first boyhood and then manhood that constitute the core structures of our masculine Selves. The ancient Maya seldom destroyed earlier structures of their cities’ pasts. Like them, we do not want to demolish the pyramids of boyhood, for they were and will always remain generators of power and gateways to energy resources from our primordial past. (Moore & Gillette, 1990, p. 43)

Siddhartha sought Atman at the expense of destroying the gateways created by his past childhood lessons. He found indolence in everything he saw because he refused to listen to the elders of his society that traveled in a path divergent from his. Siddhartha’s ego was a culmination of the knowledge his father imparted onto him combined with the knowledge he ascertained from the teachings of the ascetics. Even though he saw hatred, indolence, and pain, others that inhabited the earth during Siddhartha’s time could also see the hardships of life that surround any living being. Siddhartha was not special in his cause; he was only more determined to find the underlying essence that drives life. To do this, Siddhartha pursued a bohemian lifestyle that disavowed any knowledge base of the past. Siddhartha had become a worthy man of a spiritual nature, powerful in his practice of Self-abnegation, but did not feel the true power that his life’s lessons provided him. He had yet to realize Atman; however, in his quest to abolish his ego, he became a man in his own right.

Siddhartha used the shramanas to learn a life path that would allow him to develop an adult perspective.

This same day Siddhartha announced to the eldest shramana his decision to leave him. He announced this to the elder with politeness and humility befitting a pupil and disciple. But the shramana got angry that both youths intended to leave him; he raised his voice and used coarse language… Taking up his stance right in front of the shramana and concentrating his mind, he captured the old man’s gaze in his own, spellbound him, rendering him mute and will-less… So the old man bowed several times, made the gestures of giving his blessing, and haltingly uttered a pious formula wishing them well on their journey. (Hesse, 2002, pp. 26-27)

The student mastered the lessons taught by the teacher and then utilized those lessons to gain superiority over the thoughts of another individual. The circle of life assures that individuals individuals lucky enough to realize its full potential will grow old, and in their deteriorating physiological and psychological capacity it is assured that the younger generation will fill the void left behind as the successive generation dies. Siddhartha stood up to the power of his elders, mastered the lessons of the shramanas, and attained the elder’s blessing to pursue life on his own. However, one teacher remained for Siddhartha to meet. Siddhartha needed to meet the “One” who achieved the goal he sought.

Buddha Hand

References

Bong, M. (2009). Age-related differences in achievement goal differentiation. Journal of Education Psychology, 101(4), 879-896. doi:10.1037/a0015945

Edinger, E. F. (1972) Ego and archetype. Boston, MA: Shambhala.

Fordham, F. (1969). Some views on individuation. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 14 (1), 1-12.

Fordham, M. (1993). Notes for the formation of a model of infant development. The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 38(1), 5-12.

Hesse, H. (2002). Siddhartha: A new translation with an introduction by Paul W. Morris. (C. S. Kohn, Trans.) Boston, MA: Shambhala. (Original work published 1922)

Johnson, R. (1993). Transformation: Understanding the three levels of masculine consciousness. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.

Moore, R., & Gillette, D. (1990). King, warrior, magician, lover: Rediscovering the archetypes of the mature masculine. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.

 

 

 

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