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Siddhartha: Learning of the World

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Siddhartha must first concede his comfortable life as a Brahmin to begin his journey to spiritual enlightenment. Initially, Siddhartha lived a life of tranquility; surrounded by family, friends, and people who greatly respected him. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, Siddhartha cannot overcome a latent dissatisfaction and eventual realization that there is nothing more for him to achieve in such a protected life. “Among the wise men that he knew and whose teachings he enjoyed, there was not one who had entirely reached it…the eternal thirst.” (8) This is a critical moment in Siddhartha’s life, and serves as the catalyst for his journey to self-enlightenment. 

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After realizing this, Siddhartha and his friend, Govinda, depart from their town to join a group of Samanas and practice asceticism. Despite three years of self-denial & discipline, Siddhartha is still unsatisfied. “I suffer thirst, Govinda, and on this long Samana path my thirst has not grown less.” (18) The two depart again, much to the chagrin of the Samanas, and make their way to Savathi with the intention of hearing the teachings of Gotama, the Buddha who has apparently attained Nirvana. Despite Govinda’s enrapturement with Gotama’s teachings, Siddhartha struggles with the notion of the unity of all things. He leaves Gotama and Govinda and crosses the river into the city, taking the next step in his journey towards understanding.

Siddhartha comes to the conclusion that he must renounce his desperation for enlightenment so that he may spend time learning of the world and by extension his role in it. He concludes that following the scriptures and wisdom of others is what is causing his latent dissatisfaction and if he is to have any hope of satiating that regret he must create his own path. Through Kamaswami he learns how to impress and sell, and over the years becomes a very affluent & wealthy man. Through Kamala, he learns the ways of love and the two develop a close bond centered on their separation from the ordinary person’s sense of love. “I am like you. 

You cannot love either, otherwise how could you practice love as an art? Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can—that’s their secret.” (73) As the years go on however, Siddhartha embraces this ordinary lifestyle which at first felt so alien to him. He indulges in drink and food, dancing, sex, and gambling. “Gradually, along with his growing riches, Siddhartha himself acquired some of the characteristics of the ordinary people, some of their childishness and some of their anxiety.” (77) For nearly 20 years he roils in this lifestyle until a dream comes to him, again serving as a catalyst for the next step in his journey. He comes to the realization that the path he has fallen upon has not led him to the enlightenment as he once sought and has only placed him in a spiral of dissatisfaction. Again he departs, now with a sickened heart.

The last stretch of his journey leads him to the brink of desolation and soon to the humbling understanding of the nature of his heart and the need for continuing self-reflection. “He was full of ennui, full of misery, full of death; there was nothing left in the world that could attract him, that could give him pleasure and solace.” (87) Siddhartha believes that he has come to the end of his life as he stands on the river bank but is calmed by the sound of Om and falls into a slumber. When he awakens, he is met by his old friend Govinda who explains that he was watching over Siddhartha to ensure no harm befell him. 

As the two discuss how their lives have transformed them, Siddhartha admits that he has become neither a wealthy man or an ascetic one. This musing of his path draws him to the ferryman, Vasudeva, who Siddhartha decides to follow. “Siddhartha stayed with the ferryman…He was pleased with everything that he did and learned and the days and months passed by quickly. But he learned more from the river than Vasudeva could ever teach him.” (106) After the death of Kamala, Siddhartha is compelled to try and raise his son despite only recently learning of him. 

However, an affluent life in the city has spoiled his son and Siddhartha is unable to find the means to disciple and teach him. His son runs away and a confused Siddhartha is reminded by Vasudeva that he is now on the path of self-discovery. Siddhartha is struck by a sudden empathy for both his son and his own father, realizing the cyclical nature of the path of self-discovery. Vasudeva sees the realization on Siddhartha’s face and appoints him the ferryman, stating that now they are equal. Some time later, Govinda’s continued search for enlightenment brings him back to the river. Through Siddhartha’s presence, Govinda is overcome with a sense of calmness and he understands that true enlightenment cannot be taught. 

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