An psychoanalysis of Siddhartha’s middle-life development and the plight to achieve personal aspirations
As I began the process of recollecting the reveries of middle-life and my associations to it, I realized that I had undergone a shift within my thought process. While I have primarily focused on my past in the reverie sections up to this point, I now find myself assuming a position in which I look at the present and the dreams I have about the future.
The developmental sequence Siddhartha underwent is similar to the developmental sequence many people will undergo during their bio-psychological maturation process. Hesse’s (2002) story speaks to a majority of individuals because it focuses on collective human themes. While Siddhartha is the protagonist in the novel, and Nirvana is the antagonist that drives Siddhartha to individuate, every person acts as the protagonist of his or her own individuated storyline, while life and time pushes this process forward as the primary antagonist. Even though the setting of Siddhartha occurred over 2500 years prior, the themes underlying this story continue to speak to the public in modern times.
The quest to find one’s personal ontology represents a collective plight that is particularly human. Ontology finds its foundation in the collective knowledge-base of the past. Ontological knowledge exists at both a personal and collective level; the quest to make meaning within one’s life also lies at the foundation of the inquisitive nature human beings have about making meaning of environmental events. Therefore, the quest for ontological meaning also forms the foundation of the research process. While the re-collection of reveries allows a person to grow through a process of remembering the past, the ability to dream the future forward also represents a key component of the developmental journey. As humans, we dream about our future while we hold onto the memories of the past. We must tend to those dream reveries in order perpetuate our future development. We perpetuate this future development through a process of correcting current problems as a means to gain understanding of their link to past mistakes; when Siddhartha entered young adult-life, he saw the world from a different perspective than the disdain he felt during adolescence. However, the complexes he developed during his childhood continued despite the knowledge he attained as an initiated adult, lover, and merchant.
As an adult, Siddhartha shed his wild persona in order to engage in a mutual relationship. He shed this persona because his goal to attain physical pleasures from a woman required Siddhartha to acquire a degree of social acceptance. Kamala resisted Siddhartha’s initial advances of love because he did not present as a suitable mate; Siddhartha simply could not provide her with the material possessions she desired. This drives the life duties of “lieben und arbeiten” that Freud viewed as being the primary goals associated with adult-life (Erikson, 1963, p. 265).
As a young adult, I acquired a wild nature. I placed a great deal of energy into producing an identity that polarized me as being a “badass.” I grew my hair long, wore facial hair, dressed as a biker, and acted within the confines of this persona to socially relate with others I thought were tough. I did not care for other individuals; I only cared for myself as I sought to satiate the growing needs of my persona. While I was working to support myself during young adult-life, I continued to learn from the various personae I developed during this time. Young adult-life provided me the means by which I learned to develop a protective character that I now use in my interactions with my family. By becoming the “badass,” I developed polarities common to the warrior archetype, which I now utilize to protect my family from the dangers of the world. I developed a superego from which I could house the polarities of moral commandment and prohibition, needed to begin assuming the more nurturing nature I feel as my anima construct comes online through the relationship I have with my wife and children. From this perspective, I can see that the person I have become as a husband and father is very different from the person I was as a young adult. While I thought I had given up the wild ways of my adolescence and young adult development, I now see that these character traits have been assumed in the current development of my personality as a husband and father.
Young adult-life consists of learning a skill set in order to attain a suitable profession; middle adult-life consists of putting these skills into action to support one’s self, family, and the social structures common to the adult world. As I near the end of my formal education, I realize that I will also face the same task of putting to use the skills I have learned during my formal education to support my growing family and the social structures in which I was born. In the story, Siddhartha learned to generate wealth by becoming a merchant; I learned to develop wealth through the process of helping others along their journey from a psychological perspective.
Hesse (2002) explored the drudgery that occurs when a person chooses a career that does not fit with their personal aspirations in the chapter entitled “Among the Child People.” In this chapter, Kamaswami conducted a job interview with Siddhartha, who held his own with his future employer by answering the questions in a manner that was consistent with keeping his personal sense of self, while at the same time proving his worth to his future partner. While material success represented a point of divergence from the path of the shramanas, the mistress that Siddhartha wished to learn love from required material goods in order to teach him the lessons of love he sought.
In life, some of the most basic character skills are highly desired by employers. Patience, the ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to reason are among a few traits that greatly enable a person to adapt to their work setting. Siddhartha informed his future business partner, “I can think, I can wait, I can fast,” to which his partner asked “and what is that good for” (Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 68)
It is an excellent thing, my lord. When a person has nothing to eat, then fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for example, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, then today he would have to take on just any work at all, if not with you, then anywhere, because hunger would force him to it. But Siddhartha can calmly wait, he knows no impatience, no state of need; he can withstand a siege of hunger for a long time and laugh too. That, my lord, is what fasting is good for.Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp. 68-69
Siddhartha shows that the most basic character skill can be of great importance to the needs an employer may have. In turn, simple character traits prompt individuation to unfold by allowing a person to utilize the skills he or she developed to assure personal and collective profit. Patience is a virtue. The above example shows that patience is an invaluable trait when one must wait for that which they wish to attain. Siddhartha’s patience would become profitable for the merchant, who at first disavowed its importance. Siddhartha gained employment by impressing his future employer with a set of character traits and the academic skills of reading and writing. This allowed Siddhartha to attain his aim by acquiring the material goods needed to partake in Kamala’s loving arts.
While material success is feasible for many individuals during middle adult-life, it remains imperative to keep one’s sense of self while partaking in the daily experiences associated with adult-life. Adult-life can sometimes become tedious. The experience of making and squandering wealth seduced Siddhartha during his middle adult-years. Siddhartha began to partake in generative practices that engorged his ego with power, control, and material entities he used to satiate the growing needs of his mate; Siddhartha’s pursuit of pleasure came at the expense of pursuing Self-knowledge. However, this remains a paradox because Siddhartha had to experience sexuality to realize that his soul was capable of relating to another individual. Siddhartha’s sense of Self remained at odds with the inflation of his ego during middle-life. However, the pull of the Self remained within as he pursued life’s simple pleasures. This became most evident in the chapter, “Samsara.”
For a long time Siddhartha lived the worldly life, the life of pleasure, without ever becoming a part of it. His senses, which he had mortified in his fervent shramana years, had reawakened. He had tasted wealth, pleasure, and power. Nevertheless, in his heart he long remained a shramana. Clever Kamala had been accurate in this. It was still the art of thinking, waiting, and fasting that guided his life. Worldly people, the child people, remained alien to him and he to them. The sublime, brilliant wakefulness he had once known – in the prime of his youth, in the days following Gotama’s discourse, following the separation from Govinda – that taut expectancy, that proud independence beyond learning and doctrine, that adaptable readiness to hear the divine voice in his own heart, had gradually become a memory, something transient. Remote and faint ran the sacred spring to which he had once been near, which had once run within himself. True, much that he had learned from the shramanas, from Gotama, from his father the brahmin, remained within him for a long time – moderation in life, pleasure in thought, the habit of meditation, intimate knowledge of the self, of the eternal self that is neither body nor consciousness. Much of that had remained in him, but one after the other those things had sunk from view and become covered with dust. Like a potter’s wheel, which once set in motion continues to turn for a long time, only slowly losing momentum and winding down, in Siddhartha’s soul the wheel of asceticism, the wheel of thinking, the wheel of discrimination… was still turning, but slowly and haltingly, and was close to stopping.
Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp. 79-80
Adults seek to satisfy their psychological and physiological needs. Adults continue to develop new passions by which they find gratification and meaning for their emerging life. While issues such as addiction to substances, work, or any pleasurable experience can stand at odds to individuated development, these activities also allow the individual to partake in a life path they choose; in life, the individual must ultimately pursue that which he or she will one day become.
A person cannot experience sin without ever having committed sin. Jung also supported this notion in his understanding of the psychological importance complexes have on prompting the psyche to individuate. The daemons and gods we once projected upon outside sources in polytheistic religions have now become the daemons and Gods that make up the archetypes of our individual and collective psyche. This is most apparent in Hillman’s (1989) archetypal psychology. Siddhartha’s soul began to stagnate as he actively pursued material goods at the expense of his primary calling in life. He denied the presence of the daemons and gods that drove his quest to individuate. However, the paradoxical nature of life called Siddhartha back to his soul’s original purpose.
Work and raising children are a critical component of adult development. While Hesse (2002) wrote that Siddhartha and Kamala had a son, the role the son had in the story was reflective. Siddhartha did not raise his son until he was an elder. While Siddhartha became aware of his son’s existence during elder adult-life, the knowledge of having a son provided Siddhartha the means to establish non-narcissistic love.
My adult-life changed the minute my first son was born. I now look at my children’s development from the reflective perspective of a father who has already undergone the developmental sequences he will now undergo. The process of reflection underlies the generational values I will pass onto my children. A person must learn from their mistakes in order to pass that knowledge onto the next generation. A person becomes conscious of social values in order to teach those values to the next generation. Life is relational by nature; older adults can reflect on the values they underwent by teaching these same values to the following generation.
From a personal perspective, I have lived a life consumed by chasing material goods during my early adult years. I thought at times that money could buy happiness, success equaled power and a firmer sense of self, and I lived by the adage that “the person who dies with the most toys dies the happiest.” I also freely engaged various aspects of my shadow relentlessly, enjoying a hedonistic existence. As I look back on the events that made up my early adult-years, I cannot help but reflect on the naivety of the perspective I assumed during my adolescent and early adult life. While adolescence and early adult-life established the shadow that now operates in my life, my current perspective allows me to reflect on the sins and mistakes I made in the past to help me know where I will go in the future.
From the perspective of a father, I hope that my children will not make the same mistakes I made in the past. I also hope that they do not face the horrors that humanity can inflict upon one another that I have seen during my lifetime. While I understand this goal to be somewhat unrealistic, I can also take comfort in knowing that we will grow together. I will be there for them with the knowledge I have accumulated over the years of living my life in order to help them establish a firm foundation from which they can live their life. I will grow as a person while I help them grow as people. While I cannot shield my children from the events of life, I can be there for them to help them make sense of their emergent worlds.
I realize that every day of adult-life presents me with new challenges. While I cannot foretell whether these events promote individuated development, I can take solace in the idea that Siddhartha eventually realized himself as an individuated being despite the numerous life diversions he underwent to realize who he was becoming. I guess the world’s greatest sinners can become saintly through the process of striving to be one with God. While infancy through young adult-life presents the individual with a future perspective, middle-life presents the individual with a change of perspective. This change of perspective occurs because middle-age is at the zenith of life; this period is a time when the ability to reflect on that which has been is equal in length to one’s ability to dream life forward.
Middle adult-life presents a person with many challenges and pleasures that are out of reach for the younger generation. Personality and financial security provides many with the stability needed to pass on social values to the next generation. Middle adult development allows a person to learn through the process of watching their children learn of the world from their own perspective. Raising a child allows the adult to relive many experiences common to their childhood, which in turn helps them to heal the psychological wounds common to every childhood. While the process of reflection, generating, and making sense of one’s life consumes most of middle adult-life; the final stage of development represents a process in which reflection becomes the key component of living.
My adult-life consists of taking part in my children’s life. This allows me the ability to reflect upon the journey I had as a child through the eyes of my son. I also can now experience the journey of being what I hope is perceived as being a good father. My warrior mentality never left me. It transitioned into the role of a protective father. I no longer need to fight the battles my ego had me partake in to quench my personal grandiosity; now, I now fight to raise my children as a loving and kind people, capable of traversing the adversities of life. I now find myself confronting the shadows of my youth. I have also felt the pull of the anima during this developmental phase of my life. However, the pull of the anima I feel now is slightly different from the sexual longing I felt towards this archetype during adolescence and young adult-life. I now feel that I can nurture another individual’s growth. I can be a warrior, lover, and king, a protector and nurturer, a wild-man, husband, and father all within the same person. This is similar to the journey Siddhartha undertook when he developed the ability to love unconditionally and nurture another individual.
Erikson, E. (1963). Childhood and society (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.
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)
Hillman, J. (1989). A blue fire: Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore in collaboration with the author. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.