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Hermann Hesse

Part One

Summary Part One

The confrontation between Siddhartha and the elder Samana suggests that enlightenment cannot come from teachers but must be realized within, a fact Siddhartha will discover repeatedly on his quest. Siddhartha leaves the Hinduism of his father because of its flaws, just as he leaves the teachings of the Samanas because they do not lead him to enlightenment. Siddhartha encounters resistance when he tries to leave both his father and the Samanas, but in both cases he leaves with their blessings, which suggests that these elders are in error and that Siddhartha’s path is justified. Teachers may not be able to give Siddhartha enlightenment, but they do, in their own ways, set him on a path that will help him find enlightenment for himself. Although Siddhartha looked to both instructors for knowledge of enlightenment, both fail to give him what he needs, and Siddhartha realizes that these paths will not lead him to the enlightenment he seeks.

Despite the flaws Siddhartha finds with the Samanas’ teachings, his interaction with them is essential to his quest for enlightenment, since through them he realizes that enlightenment must not discount the physical world. Siddhartha’s Brahmin upbringing led him to search for an enlightenment based purely in spiritual knowledge, specifically the idea of a universal force,Om. With the Samanas, Siddhartha experiences his most purely spiritual existence to date, but his failure to achieve enlightenment suggests to him that enlightenment cannot be a purely spiritual. The material world consistently intrudes, and Siddhartha must take it into account as he continues his search. Though the Samanas’ path does not lead to the enlightenment Siddhartha seeks, it does lead to an essential revelation that enables him to eventually find enlightenment. Without the Samanas, Siddhartha may have continued in his purely spiritual pursuits, perpetually removing himself from the physical world and failing to reach his goal. Though the Samanas don’t lead him to enlightenment, they help him eliminate the purely spiritual path, thereby leading him closer to finding a path to success.

The mesmerizing gaze Siddhartha gives the Samana elder is never explained in the text, but the fact that Siddhartha apparently has a certain power over the Samana suggests that he is already spiritually superior. Not only did the Samanas not lead Siddhartha to enlightenment, but Siddhartha is closer to it than they are, even if neither he nor the Samanas realize it yet. Siddhartha’s gaze renders the Samana speechless, which facilitates Siddhartha’s departure. Just as he steadfastly waited in his father’s room when he wanted to leave the Brahmins, he gazes steadily here to obtain his goal. This gaze seems magical, but it also suggests something very real and human: Siddhartha’s astonishing strength of will and unwavering determination to reach enlightenment.

[T]here is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced—he alone among hundreds of thousands.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Summary: Gotama

Siddhartha and Govinda journey to the camp of Gotama’s followers, and the followers welcome them as spiritual pilgrims. Gotama makes a deep impression on Siddhartha and Govinda. He seems to radiate pure enlightenment. His teachings include Buddhism’s Eightfold Path, the Fourfold Way, and other aspects of Buddhism, as well as many practices similar to those of the Samanas. Siddhartha and Govinda dedicate themselves to these teachings. Govinda quickly resolves to give himself over completely to the lifestyle Gotama prescribes. However, while Govinda is completely swayed by Gotama and decides to join his followers permanently, Siddhartha has doubts and finds he has trouble completely accepting some of Gotama’s teachings.

The next morning, when Siddhartha unexpectedly meets Gotama in the grove, he boldly speaks to him about his doctrine, praising his victory in finding the unbroken chain of being, of cause and effect. For Siddhartha, however, the unity is imperfect. The message cannot contain for Siddhartha, or for others, the secret of what Gotama himself has experienced. Siddhartha also points out a contradiction to Gotama: How can one embrace the unity of all things, as Gotama asks, if they are also told to overcome the physical world?

Gotama responds that his goal is not to give a perfect mathematical understanding of the universe, but to achieve freedom from suffering. Siddhartha responds that while Gotama himself has achieved Nirvana, he did it on his own, without a teacher. Siddhartha implicitly questions the efficacy of the approach prescribed by Gotama to his followers. Gotama admits that Siddhartha may technically have a point but also notes that Siddhartha can put forward no spiritual guidance superior to his own. Gotama asks if, according to Siddhartha’s reasoning, his legions of followers would not be better off pursuing a life of pleasure in the city. Siddhartha leaves his meeting with Gotama unconvinced that Gotama’s way of life is right for him. Sadly, he also leaves Govinda behind and begins a search for a way to find the meaning of life that is not dependent on religious instruction.

Analysis: Gotama

Although Siddhartha has been looking for someone to show him the path to enlightenment, his meeting with Gotama convinces him that no formula for salvation or enlightenment can exist. Just as the Hindus and Samanas that Siddhartha left behind preached a specific route to enlightenment, Gotama similarly teaches a set of rules. His rules, like those of the Hindus and Samanas, speak of renunciation as a means of escaping suffering. However, Siddhartha has already realized during his time with the Samanas that he cannot reach enlightenment by rejecting the world of the Self and the world of the body. He cannot believe in Nirvana if it means separation from life’s suffering. By leaving Gotama, Siddhartha rejects the prescribed formula for reaching enlightenment that this religion offers. Siddhartha realizes that all religions offer specific formulas for reaching enlightenment, just as all teachers offer knowledge couched in terms of their own experiences, and so he cannot rely on any individual religion or teacher in his search for enlightenment.

Neither Gotama nor any other guide can teach enlightenment because wisdom must be learned through experience, and it cannot be communicated through words. Gotama’s lectures communicate knowledge about enlightenment and what causes suffering, but the listener cannot translate this knowledge into actual enlightenment. The knowledge leads to greater understanding, but words themselves cannot substitute for experience, and their meaning depends on usage and interpretation. Though Gotama speaks of enlightenment, his efforts can enable a follower only to realize that the possibility of enlightenment exists—he cannot provide enlightenment itself. The follower must experience the revelation for himself or herself, which in a way renders a teacher useless: the process of reaching enlightenment is internal. Siddhartha knows this already, so he cannot become one of Gotama’s followers.

Govinda remains behind in order to follow Gotama, and although Siddhartha is saddened by his departure, he also understands that he must seek enlightenment alone. Because formulas for enlightenment do not exist, and teachers cannot pass enlightenment on to their students, Siddhartha must seek enlightenment by searching his own soul alone. Gotama has followers, but he has already achieved enlightenment and can endure distractions. Siddhartha, however, has not yet achieved enlightenment and is distracted by Govinda’s presence. He will be unable to achieve enlightenment as long as Govinda remains with him, so he lets Govinda go. Only when Govinda leaves is Siddhartha free to truly test himself in the manner necessary to bring about enlightenment.

Summary: Awakening

When Siddhartha leaves the grove, he is done with teachers and teaching. He wants to know himself, learn from himself, and understand himself. He feels as though he is seeing the world, puzzling and magical, for the first time. He realizes he is in the middle of the world and that he is not enlightened, but that he can awaken while learning more about himself. Siddhartha is suddenly infused with a powerful certainty in his own powers of self-realization. He feels he has truly become a man. He believes his path to Nirvana will not come from following another person’s prescriptive lifestyle. Instead, Siddhartha feels sure that his path to enlightenment will come from within himself. Thus resolved, his new task will be to discover how to find this enlightenment. His first impulse is to return home to his father, but then he realizes that his home is part of the past. He suddenly knows he is completely alone, and a shudder runs through him.

Analysis: Awakening

In “Awakening,” Siddhartha fully understands that discovery and enlightenment must come through the world of the here and now. Siddhartha suddenly sees the world’s beauty and realizes that meaning is everywhere. Here, in the midst of what exists within him and around him, Siddhartha must discover who and what he is. He calls this discovery a rebirth, one of several rebirths he will undergo during his quest. This rebirth signifies the death of what he was and his ignorance of what he will become. He knows he cannot return to his father because he will not gain any more wisdom from the past. He is also aware that he does not know where he’ll end up. In a way, this moment exists independently of the rest of time: briefly, Siddhartha has no remembered past and no discernible future. This moment in the present marks more than a transition, however, because it offers Siddhartha a glimpse of the sum of all individual instants in time. Although Siddhartha barely realizes it, this supreme awareness brings him close to the unity he seeks.

“Awakening” encapsulates the revelation Siddhartha has learned from his experiences in the preceding chapters: Enlightenment cannot be reached by relying on teachers or by ignoring the world. This chapter marks the end of one phase of Siddhartha’s quest. The next part of his quest must take him away from the spiritual world and into the material world. Although Siddhartha had considered the freedoms and limitations of the spiritual and material worlds in earlier chapters, he contemplates them more fully here. Since these thoughts end Part One, and since Siddhartha has an actual moment of enlightenment in the middle of the chapter, we can assume that these considerations prompt Siddhartha’s greater understanding of self. “Awakening” gathers the import of the first few chapters, crystallizes them within Siddhartha’s mind, and shows how they act as catalyst for revelation, prompting Siddhartha to move forward into the material world. He can no longer ignore the material world. His imminent investigation of the material world, and the knowledge he’ll gain from this investigation, will be just as important as the knowledge he has gained thus far from his association with teachers and religion.

The conclusion to “Awakening” suggests that Siddhartha’s upcoming investigation into the material world is a continuation of a correct path toward enlightenment. Siddhartha knows what he seeks and is aware of when he moves toward it or remains static in one stage of development. Although he feels a moment of despair about his solitude, he continues with renewed vigor. The lessons he has learned are clear in his mind, he sees the world in its beauty, and he is energized to move forward. Although he does not have a clear sense of how he’ll achieve his enlightenment, he is confident that he will find his way through his own direction. The heightened moment of lyricism in the middle of the chapter seemingly bolsters Siddhartha’s confidence. Through this lyrical writing, Hesse conveys to the reader that Siddhartha’s optimism is correct, and that the next steps will bring him closer to his goal.