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Siddhartha - the Brahmins Son

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Part One: Siddhartha

The Brahmins Son

Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin (a Hindu Priest), and his best friend, Govinda, have grown up learning the ways of the Brahmins. Everyone in their village loves Siddhartha. But although he brings joy to everyone's life, Siddhartha feels little joy himself. He is troubled by restless dreams and begins to wonder if he has learned all that his father and the other Brahmins can teach him. As Hesse says, "...they had already poured the sum total of their knowledge into his waiting vessel; and the vessel was not full, his intellect was not satisfied, his soul was not at peace, his heart was not still" (5).

Siddhartha is dissatisfied with the Brahmans because despite their knowledge, the Brahmins are seekers still, performing the same exercises again and again in order to reach their goal‹Nirvana: the peace of oneness with Atman the Divine within‹without ever finding it. But if Atman is within, then oneness with it must proceed by focusing on the world within. As Siddhartha says, "One must find the source within one's Self, one must possess it. Everythig else was seeking‹a detour, error" (7). It is Siddhartha's search for this new path that leads him to the ascetic Samanas.

When Siddhartha announces his intention to join the Samanas, his father becomes very upset and forbids Siddhartha's departure. In respectful defiance, Siddhartha does not move. His frustrated father leaves him, gazing out of his window periodically to see if Siddhartha has left. The obstinate youth, though, remains motionless. Night passes. In the morning, Siddhartha's father returns to his intransigent son and realizes that while Siddhartha's body remains is present, his mind had already departed. Siddhartha's father acquiesces to his son's wishes and allows him to leave, reminded him that he is welcome back should he find disillusionment with the Samanas. Govinda joins Siddhartha as they disappear into the forest in search of the Samanas.

With the Samanas

As Samanas, Siddhartha and Govinda relinquish all their possessions and dedicate themselves to meditation, fasting, and other methods of mortification. As a result of this, the normal human world becomes anathema to Siddhartha. It is all illusory and destined to decay, leaving those who treasure it in great pain. With the Samanas, "Siddhartha had one goal‹to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure, and sorrow‹to let the Self die" (14). His path to self-negation was through physical pain, pain he endured until he no longer felt it as pain. When pain is gone, the Self fades into oblivion and peace is attained. But while pain became a memory for Siddhartha, peace did not come.

After having been with the Samanas for some time, Siddhartha expresses concern that he is no closer to his goal than he was before joining the Samanas. Govinda replies that while they have grown in spirit, they still have much to learn. In response, Siddhartha derisively comparesthe Samanas' life to that of a drunkard, a series of temporary respites from the pains of existence. Ultimately, Siddhartha reasons, one cannot really learn anything from teachers or the doctrines they espouse. As Siddhartha tells Govinda, "There is, my friend, only a knowledge‹that is everywhere, that is Ataman, that is in me and you and every creature, and I am beginning to believe that this knowledge has no worse enemy than the man of knowledge, than learning" (19). Siddhartha is unsettled by the implications of his thoughts but feels certain that the Samanas have nothing for to teach him. For this reason, Siddhartha declares that he will leave the Samanas soon.

Three years after joining the Samanas, Siddhartha and Govinda hear intriguing rumors of a great man, Goatama, the Buddha, who, having attained enlightenment, teaches others the way to peace. Govinda is immediately entranced by this tale and tells Siddhartha of his intent to seek out Goatama. Siddhartha, surprised by Govinda's uncharacteristic initiative, wishes his friend well. Govinda, though, wishes Siddhartha to seek the Buddha with him. Siddhartha expresses his doubt that anything new can be learned from this man, but surrenders to Govinda's enthusiasm and agrees to go. The leaders of the Samanas scolds Siddhartha and Govinda for their departure. Siddhartha then demonstrates his mastery of the Samana ways by hypnotizing the old master.


Siddhartha and Govinda travel to Savathi, where they discover that the Buddha is staying in Jetavana, in the garden of Anathapindika. Arriving in Jetavana, Siddhartha recognizes Goatama immediately despite his nondescript dress: "he wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step...spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, unfading light, an invulnerable peace."(28). And while Siddhartha is not terribly interested in what the Buddha has to say, he is completely taken with the Buddha's demeanor.

The two men hear Gotama's sermon, after which Govinda announces his intention to join in Goatama's discipleship. Siddhartha commends Govinda for his decision, but says that he will not join up. Govinda asks Siddhartha what fault he finds in the Buddha's program that makes him resist pledging his allegiance. Siddhartha says that he finds no fault; he just does not want to join. The next day Govinda takes his monk's robe and bids Siddhartha a sad farewell.

As Siddhartha is leaving, he runs into Goatama in the woods and questions the Buddha about his teachings. Siddhartha compliments the theoretical coherence of Gotama's worldview, the ultimate unity of creation and the incessant chain of causes and effects, but remarks that Goatama's doctrine of salvation, the transcendence of causation, calls into question the consistency of his position. Goatama responds by saying that he goal of his teaching is not "to explain the world to those who are thirsty for knowledge. It's goal is quite different; its goal is salvation from suffering. That is what Goatama teaches, nothing else" (33). Siddhartha, afraid that he has offended the Buddha, reiterates his confidence in the Buddha's holiness, but expresses his doubt that any teaching can ever provide the learner with the experience of Nirvana. And while Gotama's path may be appropriate for some, Siddhartha says that he must take his own path, lest self-deception overtake him and he admit to Nirvana before having actually attained it. The Buddha admonishes Siddhartha to beware his own cleverness then wishes him well on his path.





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