Chapter 1: "The Brahmin's Son" Notes from Siddhartha

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Siddhartha Chapter 1: "The Brahmin's Son"

In a riverside village of India, Siddhartha was raised by his father, the Brahmin. Siddhartha's best friend, Govinda, follows him from day to day, and the two sometimes go off on their own together and meditate beneath the trees, reciting the word Om. As Siddhartha grows older he is admired for his inquisitive mind, openly debating with the village elders about the world and the meaning of life. His father envisages him becoming a Brahmin like himself, teaching the people the ways of the universe, while his mother is proud that she has brought such a handsome man into the world. The village daughters' hearts, too, are excited when he passes by in the street because of his handsome figure. Govinda admires Siddhartha for the beauty of his body, mind, and spirit. Thinking Siddhartha to be destined for greatness, Govinda hopes to follow him closely, thus rising into greatness behind him, like a shadow. Rather than being independent and pursuing his own destiny, Govinda simply wishes to share that of another.

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Despite everyone's great hopes, Siddhartha becomes restless with the ways of the people in the village and his father's teachings. His mind is filled with further questions about what he has been taught, for he "had begun to feel that the love of his father and mother, and also the love of his friend Govinda, would not always make him happy, give him peace, satisfy and suffice him. He had begun to suspect that his worthy father and his other teachers, the wise Brahmins, had already passed on to him the bulk and best of their wisdom . . . [but] his soul was not at peace" Chapter 1, pg. 3. Siddhartha strives to better understand the innermost essence of Self, which is called Atman, and its relation to the rest of the world. However, the knowledge he has been given already does not explain this. He ponders the origins of the world and his place in it, the nature of what the gods spoke of in the Rig-Veda and Upanishads, and where exactly is the thing he calls Atman, if it is not within his physical body.

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Siddhartha finds hypocrisy in much of what he has learned, especially since the words and verses the Brahmins base their beliefs upon were written such a long time ago. There is nothing they practice in the present that reveals an encounter with or recogniton of Atman in themselves. They only pass on knowledge that others in the past have learned for themselves. These burning thoughts haunt him continually, until Siddhartha realizes that his father, too, like the rest of the Brahmins, remains merely a seeker of knowledge; whereas their preaching helps them to better understand the quest for knowledge, they all remain restless and in search of answers. None of them has found Atman. Siddhartha continues to wonder, "Was Atman then not within him? Was not then the source within his own heart? One must find the source within one's own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking - a detour, error" Chapter 1, pg. 5. The young man sees seeking for answers as a waste of time, since the answer is something that he already has inside of him. The task becomes how exactly he can learn to recognize this and possess it.

Govinda accompanies Siddhartha for a session of meditation in a grove of trees, yet when Govinda stops after the normal meditation time has ended, his friend remains lost deeply in a trance, trying to understand and recognize Atman within himself. Siddhartha thinks only of Om to focus his thoughts, to connect to Brahman, the creator god. He remains restless until one day three Samanas walk through the village, begging for food and dressed in rags. Their humility and new outlook upon life appeals to Siddhartha, who decides to leave and join them the next day. Govinda hears this news and is fearful that the Brahmin will be angry about Siddhartha's decision to leave. But he also knows that wherever Siddhartha goes, he shall follow as his shadow, rising with Siddhartha into greatness. The Brahmin's son remains calm and does not worry about his father, vowing simply that he will leave the next day to become a Samana.

Siddhartha tells his father about this decision, yet he becomes very angry at his son and tries to ignore his request to leave. Siddhartha simply stands waiting, silently, until his father grants permission. All night long Siddhartha continues to wait in the same spot, unmoving, causing his father to awaken continually throughout the night, unsettled. Shortly before dawn, the Brahmin grants his permission. He reluctantly agrees that Siddhartha can join the Samanas and leave the village, requesting only that he return one day to share what he has learned. Siddhartha says farewell, and, as the sun begins to rise and he begins his journey to become a Samana, Govinda, too, arises from the last hut in the town and follows behind his friend, as his shadow. The two friends walk together into the forest.

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