The divisions of Siddhartha correspond to the Buddha’s doctrine. The first four chapters evoke the Four Noble Truths, which are the Buddha’s basic teachings and concern the necessity of suffering in life, and the next eight chapters evoke the Eightfold Path, which details how to end the suffering described in the Four Noble Truths. Buddha’s First Noble Truth, that life means suffering, is revealed to Siddhartha while he is still a son of the Brahmins, living in his father’s house. Ritual and formula govern Siddhartha’s father’s world. Life in this world revolves around sacrifices and offerings made at certain times and the performance of established duties that everyone, even Siddhartha’s father, must take part in. The father’s world, then, is fixed in the moment and regulated according to certain accepted guidelines. Nothing will change from one day to the next. Siddhartha’s father’s request at the end of this chapter that Siddhartha return home to teach his father if he is successful is an admission that Siddhartha is right, that the gods are only objects of veneration and not living companions. The people in this world suffer from a way of life that was forced on them, and their strict rituals and schedules stand between them and the reality they seek.
He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being. But although the paths took him away from Self, in the end they always led back to it.
Siddhartha and Govinda begin wandering with the Samanas. They quickly adopt the ways of their new teachers, dressing in rags and taking only the barest sustenance necessary to preserve life. Soon, Siddhartha and Govinda adopt the starved and beaten appearance shared by the other Samanas. The philosophy behind the Samanas’ way of life is the belief that true enlightenment comes when the Self is destroyed or completely negated. They direct their ascetic practices towards this central goal. Once Siddhartha has joined the Samanas, his only goal is to become empty of everything, including wishes, dreams, joy, and passion. Siddhartha reasons that after he has destroyed every impulse in his heart, his innermost being will surely awaken.
Siddhartha embraces these new practices and teachings and quickly adjusts to the way of the Samanas because of the patience and discipline he had learned while studying Hinduism with his father. He soon learns how to be free of the traditional trappings of life, losing his desire for property, clothing, sexuality, and all sustenance except that required to live. His goal is to find enlightenment by eliminating his Self, and he is able to successfully renounce the pleasures of the world and the desires of the Self. He becomes a protégé of the eldest Samana, but the deepest secret remains hidden, and Siddhartha eventually realizes that destroying the will is not the answer. While both Siddhartha and Govinda enjoy substantial spiritual advancement during their time with the Samanas, Siddhartha doubts that this way of life will provide him with the ultimate spiritual Nirvana he seeks. The path of self-denial does not provide a permanent solution for him. He shares his misgivings with Govinda, arguing that the eldest of the Samanas is sixty years old and still has not attained enlightenment, and that the Samanas have been no more successful than the Brahmins Siddhartha and Govinda left behind. Govinda disagrees and points out the considerable spiritual progress they have both made. Though Govinda’s counterarguments do not sway Siddhartha, they both remain with the Samanas.
After Siddhartha and Govinda have been with the Samanas for three years, a rumor reaches them that an enlightened one, Gotama the Buddha, has appeared, someone who has overcome the suffering of the world and has brought his chain of karma, or rebirth, to an end. Some are skeptical of these reports, including the senior Samanas, but the news excites Siddhartha and Govinda. Govinda yearns to follow this new master, and Siddhartha agrees they should seek him out, although he has lost faith in teachers. Siddhartha uses Gotama as a means of finally extricating Govinda from the sway of the Samanas. The two friends resolve to find Gotama and follow him. The Samana elder is angry when Siddhartha announces their departure, but Siddhartha hypnotizes the Samana with his gaze, utterly silencing him. The old man silently backs away and blesses him. As Siddhartha and Govinda leave together for Gotama’s camp, Govinda observes that Siddhartha’s mesmerizing gaze proves he has attained a spirituality higher than that of the highest Samana.
Siddhartha hopes the Samanas’ asceticism will help him break free of the cycle of time that was so binding in his father’s world, but asceticism succeeds only in revealing the second of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: The cause of suffering is the craving for something that can never be satisfied. The Samanas believe that enlightenment can be found only through the denial of flesh and worldly desires. Siddhartha tries to escape from time, to become a void, and in so doing create an empty space that only the unified power of the universe will be able to fill. Hard as Siddhartha tries to escape from himself and his reality, however, he always returns to a Self that is restricted by time, and he realizes that asceticism will not bring salvation. He cannot escape the problem of time just because he wills himself to. His attempts to escape from suffering lead only to further suffering, and the denial of time roots him even more firmly in the cycle of time. He has learned that timelessness cannot be found apart from the Self, rendering the Samanas’ teaching useless for him.
The Samanas’ teachings aim to enable the seeker of knowledge to escape the physical world, but Siddhartha discovers that true enlightenment cannot come from ignoring the world around him. He explains to Govinda that what the Samanas do is no different from what a drunkard does: They escape the Self temporarily. Just as the drunkard continues to suffer and does not find enlightenment even though he continually escapes the body, the Samanas are trapped on a path that offers temporary escape from suffering but does not lead to enlightenment. As soon as the Samanas cease their spiritual practices, the real world comes rushing back, and whatever enlightenment has been achieved dissipates. Since Siddhartha is searching for a permanent answer, he cannot follow the Samanas. He understands that true enlightenment can come only when the approach used to reach it takes into account the world itself.