Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Clap if You Believe in Ferrymen
This coveted job requires six interviews, a designer suit, and your dad’s golf buddy putting a good word. Okay, so we're lying about that.
Being the ferryman requires a desire for enlightenment. Because crossing the river suggests progression toward enlightenment, the ferryman holds an important position in aiding travelers:
Vasudeva rose. "It is late," he said, "let's go to sleep. I can't tell you that other thing, oh friend. You'll learn it, or perhaps you know it already. See, I'm no learned man, I have no special skill in speaking, I also have no special skill in thinking. All I'm able to do is to listen and to be godly, I have learned nothing else. If I was able to say and teach it, I might be a wise man, but like this I am only a ferryman, and it is my task to ferry people across the river. I have transported many, thousands; and to all of them, my river has been nothing but an obstacle on their travels. They traveled to seek money and business, and for weddings, and on pilgrimages, and the river was obstructing their path, and the ferryman's job was to get them quickly across that obstacle. But for some among thousands, a few, four or five, the river has stopped being an obstacle, they have heard its voice, they have listened to it, and the river has become sacred to them, as it has become sacred to me. Let's rest now, Siddhartha." (9.29)
Once Vasudeva passes into Nirvana, Siddhartha takes on the job of ferrying passengers. Shortly thereafter, he literally ferries Govinda across the river and symbolically ferries him to enlightenment.