“I have come,” said Govinda.
Govinda expresses his solidarity with Siddhartha, who leaves home to go live with the Shramanas, a group of ascetics and holy men. Govinda feels frightened by the idea of leaving the village, but he knows he must follow Siddhartha, his best friend.
How could it be possible then, among so many learned men, among so many Brahmins, among so many austere and venerable shramanas, among so many seeking, so many inwardly devoted, so many holy men, that no one should find the ways of ways?
Govinda feels incredulous when Siddhartha asserts that even the Shramanas, a wandering group of ascetic holy men, cannot show them the path to enlightenment. Govinda can’t believe that Siddhartha could say something so blasphemous, considering the extremity of the Shramanas’ religious practices. Unlike Siddhartha, Govinda does not question the value of his elders’ teachings.
Govinda was delighted, and filled with joy he cried out: “Well then, we have reached our goal and our road is at an end!”
When Govinda reaches the city of Savatthi where Gautama the Buddha lives, he believes that he has reached the end of his journey. Govinda feels overjoyed that he and Siddhartha have been welcomed into the city and enchanted by the idea that they will learn from the Buddha himself. Govinda possesses a steadfast faith in revered and prominent holy teachers.
“You are Siddhartha!” Govinda exclaimed loudly. “Now I recognize you and no longer grasp how I could fail to do so immediately. Welcome, Siddhartha, I feel great joy seeing you again.”
After many years apart, Govinda meets Siddhartha on a river bank. Govinda has spent the years as a disciple of Gautama, while Siddhartha has lived a hedonistic life in the city indulging all of his desires. Here, Govinda doesn’t recognize Siddhartha at first, which serves as a testament to the vastly divergent lives they’ve led since they separated.
“You are on a pilgrimage,” Govinda stated. “But few go on a pilgrimage in such clothing, few in such shoes, few with such hair. Never have I, who for many years have been on a pilgrimage, met such a pilgrim.”
When Govinda meets Siddhartha on the river bank, Siddhartha appears unrecognizable. Siddhartha wears fine clothing and a fashionable hairstyle. When last they were together, they were both starved and half-naked Shramanas in Gautama’s garden. Govinda’s disbelief that Siddhartha could have been a true pilgrim of enlightenment wearing such clothing demonstrates Govinda’s belief in prescribed rules. In order to find enlightenment, Govinda believes one must look and act the part.
“Certainly I am old,” said Govinda, “but I have not stopped seeking. Never will I stop seeking, this seems to be my calling. You, too, it seems to me, have been a seeker.”
When Govinda meets Siddhartha for a second time at the river, he recognizes a kindred spirit and takes Siddhartha for a seeker, just like himself. At heart, both Govinda and Siddhartha share a dedication to a journey to find enlightenment. Unbeknownst to Govinda who continues to search, Siddhartha has found enlightenment.
Before I continue on my way, Siddhartha, permit me one more question. Do you have a doctrine? Do you have a creed, or a Veda, which you follow, that helps you live and act correctly?
Govinda has realized that Siddhartha has attained nirvana and has come to the end of his journey. Eager to learn what Siddhartha knows, Govinda asks Siddhartha what doctrines he followed to achieve this monumental goal. Govinda still believes enlightenment can only be achieved by following prescribed methods and doctrines even though he has spent many years following them without success.
Govinda said: “But what you call ‘things,’ are they something real, something essential? Is this not the illusion of Maya, only image and semblance? Your stone, your tree, your river—are these objects real things then?”
Govinda questions Siddhartha’s newfound faith in “things.” To Govinda, Siddhartha’s claim that the river taught him what he knows about enlightenment goes against Gautama’s teachings to regard the things of the world as illusory and a distraction. In believing a faith in perceived reality will mislead the seeker, Govinda’s reasoning appears sound, but he misses the point. Siddhartha does not worship the things themselves, but rather he attends to the essence of enlightenment that streams through them.
“This I comprehend,” said Govinda. “But even this the Exalted One has identified as deception. He demands benevolence, protection, compassion, tolerance, but not love; he forbade us to shackle our hearts with love for the earthly.”
Govinda rejects Siddhartha’s ethic to love the world. To have “love” for the things of the world goes against the teachings of Gautama, who warns that identifying with the earthly leads to forming attachments that bring suffering. Relying on Buddhist thought, Govinda misunderstands Siddhartha in this moment, still unable to grasp the deeper wisdom Siddhartha tries to express about the divine unity of the world.
“Siddhartha,” he said, “we are old men now. I can hardly believe we will see each other again in this form. I see, beloved friend, that you have found peace. I admit that I have not found it.”
When they meet at the river for a final time, Govinda sees from Siddhartha’s beaming face that Siddhartha has achieved enlightenment. With some regret, Govinda acknowledges that he has not been as successful as his friend. As Govinda has accumulated a great deal of knowledge over the years, his methods haven’t been completely unsuccessful. Yet Govinda doesn’t possess the wisdom of self-reliance that his friend Siddhartha has.