With your permission, Father. I have come to tell you that I wish tomorrow to depart your house and go to the ascetics. It is my wish to become a shramana.
Siddhartha asks his father permission to leave and join the Shramanas, a wandering group of ascetic holy men. Out of loyalty and respect to his father, a respected Brahmin, Siddhartha asks permission to leave, though he has already made up his mind. Siddhartha will leave with or without his father’s permission.
What I have learned up to this day with the shramanas, this, o Govinda, I could have learned more quickly and more simply: In any tavern in a brothel district, my friend, among men who haul freight and play at dice I could have learned it.
Siddhartha explains to Govinda that the Shramanas have only taught him the art of losing the self, which a man can do by distracting himself in the world through drinking, games, and sex. Siddhartha has become disillusioned with the Shramanas and outgrown their teachings. The Shramanas have only taught Siddhartha how to conquer time for extended periods, not in an eternal way.
Do you think, o Govinda, we are on the right path now? Are we actually approaching knowledge? Are we actually approaching deliverance? Or are we not perhaps going in a circle—we who were contemplating escaping the cycle.
After spending some time with the Shramanas, Siddhartha begins to have misgivings about their teachings. Here, Siddhartha asks Govinda if their work at eliminating the self and all of the self’s impulses and desires amounts in the end to just one big cycle of desire and negation. Siddhartha has grown dissatisfied with yet another path to enlightenment.
He has robbed me, the Buddha, Siddhartha thought, and yet he has given me a greater gift . . . he has given me the gift of Siddhartha, my self.
After speaking with Gautama the Buddha, Siddhartha realizes that he cannot reach enlightenment through following another’s teachings—he must go alone. Gautama has helped Siddhartha crystallize this very important insight about his path and direction. Siddhartha knows that this truth also means he must leave Govinda behind, which saddens him greatly.
That I know nothing of myself, that Siddhartha has remained so alien and unknown to me, this comes from a cause, from one single cause: I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing myself!
As Siddhartha leaves Gautama’s grove, he experiences a powerful moment of self-realization. Siddhartha recognizes that in trying to destroy his “I” in order to discover Atman, he has lost himself. The search for enlightenment has led him farther away from himself and caused his present anxiety. Siddhartha realizes he must understand and accept his own essence.
When someone reads a text whose meaning he wants to comprehend, he does not despise the signs and letters, calling them deceptive, contingent, and worthless husks, but rather he reads them, he studies and loves them, letter by letter.
In his awakening, Siddhartha realizes a very important truth: The world of appearances might be deceptive, but such a place still holds importance as the carrier of meaning. While one must not mistake the messenger for the message itself, calling the messenger worthless impedes reception, for only the world of appearances conveys the essence of Atman.
If a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the most prudent course. If, for example, Siddhartha had not learned how to fast, today he would have had to accept some kind of—any kind of—employment, whether with you or somewhere else, because hunger would have driven him to it.
At his job interview with Kamaswami, Siddhartha explains the skills he brings. Kamaswami questions the usefulness of what Siddhartha learned from the Shramanas in the world of business, focusing on fasting. Siddhartha explains that the art of fasting has taught him how to control his mind and function with a clear head, an extremely valuable asset in the business world.
From you I learned the price of a basket of fish and how much interest one can demand when one lends money. This is your science. From you, dear Kamaswami, I have not learned how to think; you should rather learn that from me.
After Kamaswami becomes angry with Siddhartha for wasting his time on a botched trip to buy a crop of rice, he lectures Siddhartha about the value of money and business, which Siddhartha scoffs at. In response to Kamaswami’s lecture, Siddhartha tells Kamaswami that he might know the science of business, but he doesn’t know how to think, a far more important skill. Such an exchange demonstrates Siddhartha’s mastery over the material world.
Siddhartha laughed amiably. “A ferryman, yes. Many people, Govinda, must go through a lot of changes, must wear all sorts of robes, I am one of them, dear friend.”
When Govinda and Siddhartha meet at the river for a second time, Govinda feels surprised to see Siddhartha now works as a ferryman. The last time they met, Siddhartha worked as a merchant. Govinda remains confused by Siddhartha’s many lives, considering them all deviations from the path of a true pilgrim. Siddhartha merely laughs off Govinda’s misgivings, explaining that many people experiment to discover their identities on their paths.
One can convey knowledge but not wisdom. One can find wisdom, one can live it, one can be borne by it, one can work wonders with it, but one can neither speak it nor teach it.
Siddhartha shares this truth with Govinda, who can’t believe what he hears: No one can teach wisdom and any attempts by a sage to do so amount to folly. Govinda has spent his life following others’ teachings on wisdom. Govinda struggles to understand or accept Siddhartha’s repudiation of authority, as such an approach embodies the singular difference between Govinda and Siddhartha and reveals why their paths diverged.