Herman Hesse's Siddhartha has many different themes, but one of the most central would be the idea of oneness. Being at peace with oneself and at peace with the surroundings is something that all humans fundamentally strive for. This is shown throughout the book by the various uses of the word "Om". Om is the word of oneness, and of inner peace and concentration. In the beginning of the book, Siddhartha uses the word to meditate, which is fairly meaningless to him. Yes, it is important for his education, and yes, he does learn from his frequent bouts of self-reflection, but it is something he does because he is told to and something he does by rote. The same is true when he goes with the Samanas. He follows the rituals, reduces everything about himself so that he may find his true, inner self. But he realizes that that is not the path to finding oneness. When he breaks away from doctrine, he discovers the path and the passion for true enlightenment, but he he does not use the word Om, just the basic principle. And then after he is mired down in pleasures, basal instincts, worldly pleasures that should mean nothing and kill his spirit, the word Om brings him back. He wants to be enlightened. And when he follows his own path, he is. Siddhartha does get help along the way, but in the end he was the one that decided to be enlightened and he was the one that brought it all about. He was enlightened by the river, by the word Om, by oneness and perfection. In the book, Om represents the path to and the success of personal enlightenment. It shows how even if someone is stuck in Sansara, going around and around the circle with seemingly no way out, Om can be the path to being enlightened. And then if this person listens, Om will be all around them, helping them and showing them the way.
In his childhood, Siddhartha was quite good at his studies. He was looked at as one of the best Brahmins in the village. He was excellent at meditation and getting in touch with his inner self. "When the usual time for the meditation exercise had passed, Govinda arose...Siddhartha gave no answer...Thus he sat, cloaked in samadhi, thinking Om, his soul an arrow on its way to Brahman" (Hesse 8). Siddhartha hadn't really given a lot of thought to oneness at this point. He was simply using Om as a tool to propel him further in his life and better himself however he could. That is not how Om is meant to work. It can be a helpful tool, but that should not be all it is. Maybe Siddhartha realizes this too, through using it, because he decides to go to the Samanas and be taught their ways of enlightenment and doctrine. But they do not help him find the true path, they only help him destroy himself. "'We find consolations, we find numbness, we learn skills with which to deceive ourselves. But the essential, the Path of Paths, we do not find'" (Hesse 17). Siddhartha realizes that finding Om within himself might be easier if he finds it outside of himself. Om is what helps him on his way to great realizations, but at this point he is so separated from himself that he cannot find enlightenment through the Samana ways. Since separation is all they teach, Om will not help him. If he breaks his Self, then no true Self can be achieved. His Self cannot become what it needs to be if there is none of it left. And when Siddhartha leaves the Samana and the Buddha and all doctrines behind to follow his own soul, he feels Om all around him. But he also leaves Om behind. He decides that he needs absolutely none of the old doctrine, even that which is helpful. "I am no longer who I was...What would I do at home with my father, study? Sacrifice? Practice samadhi? All these things are over now; they no longer lie along my path" (Hesse 36). Unfortunately, this decision to leave all of these things behind is what causes Siddhartha to fall into the hole of material desires and resorting to things such as gambling to find satisfaction. Siddhartha loses touch of Om, because he gives up everything related to doctrine. Using what one is given, even if it means listening to a teacher, can only help. If someone is given something that could potentially help them, it's not a good idea to throw it away on principle.
Here Siddhartha loses the path of finding himself. He has a goal, he is continuously searching and trying to achieve. But he loses himself along the way to this goal, as can happen. "'Anyone can reach his goals if he can think, if he can wait, if he can fast'" (Hesse 54). Unless those goals happen to be enlightenment. Already Siddhartha has forgotten that he left the Samanas because their tricks were not useful for finding himself. And yet that is all he uses to get what he wants. In life, people tend to be hypocritical. They say that they are renouncing something, for it has brought them nothing but ill, and yet they keep returning to it, keep going back to what they know even though it is terrible. Siddhartha is doing that. He knows that thinking and waiting and fasting are Samana traits, he knows that they will not bring him enlightenment. But he uses them to get to his new goal, which will supposedly help him learn the ways of the world and help him find Om. But he is pushing himself further and further away from true oneness with everything he does that is not his own path. And thus, Siddhartha loses himself. "Property, ownership, and riches had captured him in the end. No longer were they just games to him, trifles; they had become chains and burdens" (Hesse 67). Siddhartha has lost sight of Om a very long time ago. He has fallen to the very thing he had been hoping to avoid; feeling that material desires are all that matter. He used to think himself above everyone else, but as time went on that stopped. Om is about feeling at one with everything, feeling equal and happy. But by feeling superior, by getting meaningless things to prove his superiority, Siddhartha lost what it meant to be at peace. So he wants to die. But one thing saves him. "...from distant reaches of his soul, from bygone realms of his weary life, a sound fluttered...And the moment the sound Om touched Siddhartha's ear, his slumbering spirit suddenly awoke and recognized the foolishness of his actions" (Hesse 75). The foolishness of committing suicide when there is still so much life left to be lived, so much more that Siddhartha has yet to learn. Om helped Siddhartha realize what he needed again. He needed to find himself. He had been lost amongst the transitory bits and pieces of what other people cared about and the trifles of the rich. Siddhartha needed help, and he needed to learn from somebody again. So he turns to the river and the ferryman to teach him Om.
Now that Siddhartha has been saved from himself, he can seek help. Since he almost killed himself in the river, he started listening to it and almost talking to it like it was another person. "'It knows everything, the river, and one can learn everything from it" (Hesse 89). The ferryman has learned much from the river. He has learned how to listen. Until now, Siddhartha had no idea how to listen. By putting himself before all else, he had neglected a very important ability, and that is listening. Being a good listener is the most important thing a person can be, for if one doesn't listen, they can never gain anything from another person. If people never listen hard, take into themselves what the other person is saying, then they will not be happy. If they cannot listen to others, they cannot be one with them. Siddhartha figures this out, sitting there with the ferryman. He has learned to listen, to laugh, to lose, to love. "And when Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this thousand-voiced song, when he listened neither for the sorrow nor the laughter, when he did not attach his soul to any one voice and enter into it with his own ego but rather heard all of them, heard the whole, the oneness - then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of only a single word: Om, perfection" (Hesse 114). Siddhartha has received the river's wisdom and has found true oneness. By listening to the whole, by allowing his life to take him where it needed to go, he has found oneness. He needed to go through so much before he could find his true place among everything else, and he did that not by losing himself but by allowing himself to become everything. Realizing that it is okay to feel sorrow, joy, lust, lethargy, and all of the emotions at once is what makes humans human is what pushed Siddhartha towards enlightenment. He realized the true meaning of life, and he is enlightened by it. And before he dies, he gets the chance to share it with someone. Govinda, the devout, ever following the doctrine set before him, arrives at the ferry to meet the wise ferryman. Siddhartha shows him the way of his enlightenment. "He [Govinda] no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha; instead he saw other faces, many of them, a long series, a flowing river of faces, by the hundreds, by the thousands, all of them coming and fading away, and yet all of them appearing to be there at once, all of them constantly changing, being renewed, and all of them at the same time Siddhartha" (Hesse 125). The use of the word river is important imagery here. It shows how Siddhartha, and perhaps his past lives or just the ones around him that he has accepted, are all there together, flowing in a river of faces, of feelings. The river is nothing but a river, but it is saying that everyone is a river. Everyone has all the lives around them to accept and listen to, to bring into themselves and allow to become a part of them.
Om is a powerful concept. Finding something as simple as a sound that could help someone achieve eternal enlightenment, Nirvana, the one true goal, is simply fascinating. More people should want that, but people tend to brush off such simple things, thinking that the universe has to be complicated. Siddhartha's journey, as guided by the word Om, does nothing else but prove that Om is all that one needs. To be at peace with the world, to find the one true self, is to be perfect. Om is about oneness and perfection. Siddhartha managed to find that, despite straying from the path. His childhood brought him close to enlightenment, filled him with ideas to lead him towards the ultimate goal. When he was a young adult, he began to leave the path by losing himself in an effort to discover his true self. Then he became an adult, obsessed with transitory, worldly things. He had truly lost sight of where he was meant to go, but he pushed on anyway. Om saved him. Om brought him back to life, reignited his spirit, showed him that what had happened was meant to be. He had to commit foolish sins, forget all that he had learned about becoming perfect, just so that he could start over as a child and learn everything again his own way. Finding his own way was the only way that could work for him to truly achieve enlightenment. That everything in life is the way it is meant to be, that a person is able to completely start over, and that finding their own path is a person's only hope of actually achieving enlightenment are all good takeaways. But that is all still so complicated. Perfection, having oneness with the world, that is all that matters. And all that can be conveyed with only two letters. Om.