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Siddhartha Notes & Analysis

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Siddhartha Plot Summary

Siddhartha grows up with his friend Govinda in a small village in India. They are taught to believe in ancient Hindu teachings by Siddhartha's father, yet the young man becomes restless and decides to go out and explore the world to find answers to his questions. The ancient Hindu teachings seem silly to him, and according to Siddhartha, they offer inadequate explanations of the ways of the world. Govinda leaves the village with him for different reasons; he admires Siddhartha's intelligence and hopes that he shall become successful by staying with him, as his "shadow," following him wherever he goes. They both lead lives as wandering Samanas, self-exiles of society living in self-denial. They suppress all bodily desires by fasting, breathing control, and living in poverty; only the natural world is embraced as truth, and meditation is practiced regularly. After three years, Siddhartha grows weary of this life, too, and decides to accompany Govinda to visit the Buddha in Savathi. Govinda becomes a disciple of Buddha while Siddhartha continues his journey alone, still wishing to understand the world for himself since all teachings have failed to accomplish this, including the ancient beliefs of the Hindus and this new religion of Buddha. However, Siddhartha wishes to have the enlightenment that Buddha has attained by listening to the voice of his Self instead of denying it.

It is lust that afflicts him first when he meets the beautiful Kamala in the town of Samsara. But in order to be his lover, she requires him obtain shoes, clothes, and money to buy her presents. Siddhartha becomes a merchant, accrues wealth and learns much about lovemaking from this beautiful woman. Over time, the desires of his body rage out of control; he gambles, drinks wine heavily, and becomes greedy. He remains in Samsara for many years, until, struck by his mortality, he notices how old he has become. Realizing his folly and how many years have been lost, Siddhartha simply walks away from Samsara, never to return to his riches or to Kamala. She is left pregnant with his unborn son. Ashamed at his wickedness, Siddhartha contemplates suicide near a river but stops after seeing his reflection in the water and being reminded of his innocent childhood. Falling asleep after this depression, he awakens to see Govinda nearby, who has remained Buddha's disciple all this time and has not changed at all. Siddhartha has changed so much that Govinda doesn't even recognize him and is disgusted to see his rich clothes. Govinda leaves; Siddhartha decides to remain near the river and live with the ferryman, Vasudeva.

Only after living a life of self-denial and then experiencing sins for himself does Siddhartha finally find wisdom about the world. Vasudeva teaches him how to listen to the quiet sounds of the river, endlessly flowing, and he realizes that the world is simply a recurring cycle. Nothing really changes at all. His selfish ego destroyed, Siddhartha realizes the unimportance of one self alone since his life is a part of the greater unity of things that is "Om." Later Kamala dies after bringing his son, Young Siddhartha, to him. The young boy despises his father's gentleness and his boring life near the river, for he has not experienced the world. After his son returns to Samsara, Siddhartha is heartbroken that Young Siddhartha must endure the same trials of sin and depression that he himself has already overcome. Realizing that he cannot shelter anyone from the world and that each must find his own path towards understanding, Siddhartha heals. He had as a young boy fled from his own Brahmin father and never returned; why should it be so bad now when his son leaves him? It is a part of the world's cycle.

Vasudeva goes into the forest, into the "oneness", and leaves Siddhartha to row the ferry himself. After a few years, old Govinda appears again, wishing to learn from Siddhartha's wisdom. Govinda has remained unchanged, a devout disciple of Buddha, for he has not experienced the world like Siddhartha. Siddhartha's smile and face have finally become much like that of the Buddha, although he had never been Buddha's disciple. Govinda is stunned at Siddhartha's transformation but remains confused as to how he has achieved enlightenment. Govinda has been devout, faithful, and subservient while Siddhartha led a life of sin before coming to peace. These two old men meet there at the river's edge; one has progressed and found meaning in life, and the other has spent life stagnating, by blindly following the teachings of another rather than teaching himself by trial and error. It is personal experience, not age, which teaches wisdom.

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