Chapter 12: "Govinda" Notes from Siddhartha

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Siddhartha Chapter 12: "Govinda"

Time passes by. Siddhartha is the only ferryman now since Vasudeva has died. One day his childhood friend Govinda, still restless and wandering, is in the old garden of Kamala during his pilgrimage and hears rumor that there is a wise man near the river. Although not aware of it, this wise man is Siddhartha. Going there, he sees the old man and asks to be taken across the river. Govinda wants to hear his knowledge of the world. Siddhartha speaks with great wisdom, explaining the flaw of a seeker's life, "When someone is seeking...it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything...because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal" Chapter 12, pg. 113. Govinda is confused by these words as he had been when they had met near the river after Siddhartha had contemplated suicide. He still does not understand because he has not experienced the world, remaining a follower of Buddha while Siddhartha changed so much.

Govinda recognizes this old man to be his childhood friend, Siddhartha, and is stunned again that he has changed so much. They talk a great deal, and Govinda is a guest in Siddhartha's hut that night, as Siddhartha himself had stayed with Vasudeva before entering Samsara for the first time. Now it is his hut, and Govinda is the guest, sleeping in Vasudeva's old bed. The next day Govinda asks about his knowledge, so that he may understand the world like Siddhartha; Govinda remains, even now, the shadow, merely following behind the progress of others rather than progressing himself. Siddhartha explains his distrust of teachings and doctrines, since they do not make one enlightened. They do not open one's mind or emotions as experience does; they do not make one become a part of the world and the unity of things. Govinda still analyzes the world from the outlook of an outsider and a student. "Wisdom is not communicable," Siddhartha tells him again, for it is something that must be learned for oneself by trial and error. Govinda's world has remained closed and limited, while Siddhartha has come to embrace everything and every path one's life may take.

Buddha should not be placed upon a pedestal and worshipped, for anyone may potentially become as enlightened as he was. That is a part of Om, a part of the unity of things. Buddha created a one-sided world of illusion in Samsara and truth in Nirvana, the highest level of consciousness one may achieve. This is not accurate, for the world is everything, the good and the bad. Time does not exist as a progression, moving forward; instead it is like a river flowing eternally, as people cross from role to role in their lives. Siddhartha was the Brahmin's son and later became a father himself, and lost his son. He was a Samana, fearing the townspeople and their lives of sin; later he became a sinner. He was taught not to love, and yet he loved his son, the world, and Kamala. The cycle of learning by experience continues. Siddhartha overturns Buddha's doctrine that one should never love anything, for the Buddha loved the world dearly. Govinda continues to listen attentively, hardly understanding these words. They are the both old men, yet their paths have taken them into widely different directions.

Time is nothing because nothing really changes. By not being arrogant and judging the world, Siddhartha found peace, and through this he has dispelled his Self. Govinda continues to judge things. He has never chosen his own path but has instead merely followed behind the footsteps of others. Siddhartha continues, "Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good - death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me...I needed lust [and] to strive for property...to learn not to resist them" Chapter 12, pg. 116. Lust and greed had always been fearful things, for he had never experienced them himself. He had once resisted women and the life in Samsara because he was taught to fear them; after he lived it, he learned much, and aversion was no longer an obstacle for him on his journey.

Raising a stone, Siddhartha explains that he loves the stone because it may become a plant or an animal as it grinds into dirt and changes. The rock is like a person, capable of becoming anything, for it is a part of Om. Govinda has always been a part of Om, too; he only needs to recognize it after he stops searching for something finite, for a tangible goal. The answer is all around him "in the unity of things." Govinda remains confused. Next, Siddhartha expresses his dislike of words themselves; words are the root of teachings, yet words cannot convey an experience. Govinda disagrees, declaring that the word "Nirvana" is a state of being that one attains. Siddhartha replies that "Nirvana" itself is merely a word; it describes an experience that the word itself cannot convey. Words, like time, are an illusion created by people wishing to teach and educate others, but they lose the meaning of experience itself, of emotions and feelings, such as depression or love. Siddhartha explains that love is the most important thing to have in the world, to love a person, a place, and the world. Everything should be embraced for what it is.

Topic Tracking: Nature 16

Govinda still does not understand. He remains a restless shadow, destined to follow behind others who experience the world while he stagnates. Before rising to leave, Govinda realizes that, despite his own confusion, Siddhartha appears to be as enlightened as the Buddha had been. He is still curious how he has reached this state of being, asking one last time to hear what knowledge Siddhartha can give him to make him understand since his "path is often hard and dark." The old ferryman only asks that Govinda kiss him on the forehead. Obeying, a great love fills him. Staring into Siddhartha's wrinkled face he sees a river, as Siddhartha had seen upon the face of Vasudeva, flowing with thousands of faces merging together and separating. "He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry. He saw the face of a murderer, saw him plunge a knife into the body of a man; at the same moment he saw this criminal kneeling down, bound, and his head cut off by an executioner. He saw the naked bodies of men and women in postures and transports of passionate love. He saw corpses stretched out, still, cold, empty" Chapter 12, pg. 121.

Govinda's vision flows across Siddhartha's face and grows larger and larger until "He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating, destroying each other and become newly born. Each one of them was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that was transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another" Chapter 12, pg. 121. Govinda sees what Siddhartha understands about the world's cycle; Siddhartha's teachings are transformed from words into a vision. Words cannot explain Om, since "wisdom is not communicable," as Siddhartha had once said. Instead, he shows what he has come to learn about the world. Govinda finally feels emotion and a sense of being within, rather than a need to analyze the external world. He loves his old friend Siddhartha, for he has become like the Buddha.

Topic Tracking: Self 14

Siddhartha's face is unchanged now, as it had been, and the vision of enlightenment ends for Govinda. He bows down, paying homage to him as he had paid homage to the Buddha. Siddhartha remains unmoving, smiling, while Govinda cries out of happiness. Siddhartha's smile reminded him of his own life and all that he had experienced and loved before. Govinda does not deny that he loves and embraces it. His questions have stopped. Now, at the end of their lives, when these two childhood friends are very old, Siddhartha and Govinda, the Self and the shadow, are joined together in peace. They once again flow together into one, into the unity of things that is Om. They are both rivers, the world is a river, always changing yet unchanging.

But Govinda does not recognize the potential in himself to become like Siddhartha or Buddha. He is still a shadow, worshipping Siddhartha for his holiness. Siddhartha merely smiles, for there is nothing he can do. One must learn to enlighten and teach oneself. He smiles at what Govinda still cannot understand, knowing that Govinda is a part of everything too yet unable to recognize this. Instead, Govinda worships Siddhartha's understanding and grace. These two contrast each other: the one who experienced the world and the other who simply studied it. It is not age but experience that gives wisdom. Even at the end of his life, Govinda has seen what Siddhartha sees and remains a silent, subservient shadow, paying homage to Siddhartha as if he were a king. Govinda has not found enlightenment and never will, because it is too late.

Topic Tracking: Teacher 14

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