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Analysis: The Brahmin's Son

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Analysis: The Brahmin's Son

Despite his solid spiritual upbringing among the Brahmins, Siddhartha still seeks the meaning of life, and he embarks on a quest to find enlightenment. Brahmins are members of the highest of the four interdependent groups, called castes, that make up Hindu society. Members of the Brahmin caste were originally priests with the primary duty of mediating with and praying to gods, and they were respected for their intellect and their knowledge of the Vedas, the sacred Hindu religious texts. In "The Brahmin's Son," Siddhartha meditates on the syllable Om, which represents perfection and unity. Om suggests the holy power that animates everything within and around us. This power does not have form or substance, but it is the source of everything that was, is, and will be. For Siddhartha, finding perfect fulfillment on earth requires understanding Om and gaining unity with it. Siddhartha understands what Om means, but he has not yet merged with it, and has therefore not reached enlightenment. Siddhartha's quest is a quest for true understanding of Om, and his quest will lead him far from home and through several paths of wisdom before he can reach his spiritual goal.

Hesse modeled Siddhartha on the Buddha, and the lives of the two figures are similar in many ways. Siddhartha's name itself is the first suggestion of the link between Siddhartha and the Buddha, for the historical Buddha, Gotama Sakyamuni, also bore the given name Siddhartha. In Siddhartha, Siddhartha's life parallels the little that is known of the Buddha's history. Buddha's life was formed around three seminal events: the departure from his father's house, the wasted and frustrating years torn between the pursuit of worldly desires and a life of extreme asceticism, and, finally, the determination of the Middle Path as the only road to enlightenment. Siddhartha also follows this course throughout the novel. He leaves his father, explores several kinds of spiritual teachings, and eventually achieves enlightenment. In this way, Siddhartha resembles the original Buddha, both seeker and sage.

The divisions of Siddhartha correspond to the Buddha's doctrine. The first four chapters evoke the Four Noble Truths, which are the Buddha's basic teachings and concern the necessity of suffering in life, and the next eight chapters evoke the Eightfold Path, which details how to end the suffering described in the Four Noble Truths. Buddha's First Noble Truth, that life means suffering, is revealed to Siddhartha while he is still a son of the Brahmins, living in his father's house. Ritual and formula govern Siddhartha's father's world. Life in this world revolves around sacrifices and offerings made at certain times and the performance of established duties that everyone, even Siddhartha's father, must take part in. The father's world, then, is fixed in the moment and regulated according to certain accepted guidelines. Nothing will change from one day to the next. Siddhartha's father's request at the end of this chapter that Siddhartha return home to teach his father if he is successful is an admission that Siddhartha is right, that the gods are only objects of veneration and not living companions. The people in this world suffer from a way of life that was forced on them, and their strict rituals and schedules stand between them and the reality they seek.

He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being. But although the paths took him away from Self, in the end they always led back to it.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary: With the Samanas

Siddhartha and Govinda begin wandering with the Samanas. They quickly adopt the ways of their new teachers, dressing in rags and taking only the barest sustenance necessary to preserve life. Soon, Siddhartha and Govinda adopt the starved and beaten appearance shared by the other Samanas. The philosophy behind the Samanas' way of life is the belief that true enlightenment comes when the Self is destroyed or completely negated. They direct their ascetic practices towards this central goal. Once Siddhartha has joined the Samanas, his only goal is to become empty of everything, including wishes, dreams, joy, and passion. Siddhartha reasons that after he has destroyed every impulse in his heart, his innermost being will surely awaken.

Siddhartha embraces these new practices and teachings and quickly adjusts to the way of the Samanas because of the patience and discipline he had learned while studying Hinduism with his father. He soon learns how to be free of the traditional trappings of life, losing his desire for property, clothing, sexuality, and all sustenance except that required to live. His goal is to find enlightenment by eliminating his Self, and he is able to successfully renounce the pleasures of the world and the desires of the Self. He becomes a protйgй of the eldest Samana, but the deepest secret remains hidden, and Siddhartha eventually realizes that destroying the will is not the answer. While both Siddhartha and Govinda enjoy substantial spiritual advancement during their time with the Samanas, Siddhartha doubts that this way of life will provide him with the ultimate spiritual Nirvana he seeks. The path of self-denial does not provide a permanent solution for him. He shares his misgivings with Govinda, arguing that the eldest of the Samanas is sixty years old and still has not attained enlightenment, and that the Samanas have been no more successful than the Brahmins Siddhartha and Govinda left behind. Govinda disagrees and points out the considerable spiritual progress they have both made. Though Govinda's counterarguments do not sway Siddhartha, they both

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