But he does not take from those others what is theirs and give them nothing in return: he gives them his wares.
Kamaswami argues to Siddhartha that while a Shramana and merchant might both live off the property of others, a merchant gives something in return. Kamaswami earns his money as a businessman and bases his worldview in the material world of commerce and trade. Siddhartha’s world of ascetism, knowledge, and wisdom seems foreign to him.
But permit me to ask: if you have no possessions, what then can you give?
Kamaswami asks Siddhartha what he can give to the world since he has no possessions. Kamaswami’s question, while philosophical, serves a practical purpose. Siddhartha must identify what assets he can offer to him as an employee in terms of skills and character.
And what use is it? For example fasting—what is it good for?
Kamaswami asks Siddhartha to explain how he can offer fasting as a useful skill in commerce. The puzzled Kamaswami asks why knowing how to live without food helps others. He wonders what commodity fasting produces to trade or sell. Such questions reveal that Kamaswami thinks in terms of practicality. He has mastered the material world and feels comfortable there.
He always seems only to play at business, it never gets into his blood, it never rules him, he never fears failure, losses never bother him.
Kamaswami makes this observation about Siddhartha’s curious detachment from his work as a businessman. Kamaswami becomes both puzzled and intrigued by Siddhartha’s example, which extends beyond the limits of Kamaswami’s mind to comprehend. Kamaswami can teach Siddhartha how to make money, but Siddhartha can’t teach Kamaswami how to think. Siddhartha explains that intelligence doesn’t enter into it. Kamaswami doesn’t have the inner refuge that allows people to feel at peace no matter what their circumstances.
“How nice all this is,” Kamaswami admitted reluctantly, “but I should like to say, the fact is you are nevertheless a tradesman! Or did you make the journey for your own pleasure alone?”
When Siddhartha goes on a failed business trip to buy rice, Kamaswami becomes greatly annoyed. Kamaswami can’t understand why Siddhartha stayed for several days to socialize with the townspeople who sold their rice to another buyer. Kamaswami’s and Siddhartha’s disparate world views often lead them to an impasse of understanding.