Summary: Amongst the People

Kamaswami agrees to receive Siddhartha in his home, but he is suspicious about what Siddhartha can do for him. Siddhartha follows Kamala’s advice and does not beg for work but, instead, acts in a manner that requires Kamaswami to treat him respectfully. Kamaswami quizzes Siddhartha about his desire to become a businessman, not expecting much. When Siddhartha answers honestly, and shows that he can read and write, Kamaswami is impressed and offers to take Siddhartha as a protégé. Siddhartha lives in Kamaswami’s house and works with him as a merchant. Siddhartha handles the business world with relative ease, but he does not emotionally attach himself to the results of his ventures, laughing off failure as easily as he laughs at his success. Disturbed by this flippant attitude, Kamaswami tries to motivate Siddhartha by giving him a small percentage of the gains from each transaction. Yet business remains only a game for Siddhartha, and nothing Kamaswami does can make him take business affairs more seriously. Kamaswami suggests that he try giving himself over to the pleasures wealth can bring, but still Siddhartha does not change his perspective. His life as a Samana showed him that many people live in a childish, animalistic way, suffering over things that have little real meaning, such as money, pleasure, and honor. Siddhartha rejects this sort of suffering.

Kamala, on the other hand, opens Siddhartha to the world of love, which excites him far more than the merchant life Kamaswami offers. Siddhartha works hard with Kamaswami in order to afford the gifts and clothes necessary to court Kamala, but he feels he learns far more important lessons from her than from Kamaswami. He learns much about the physical act of love, but also about patience and self-respect. He notes that she understands him better than do Govinda or Kamaswami, because she, unlike Kamaswami, can always retreat from the material world and be herself. Her life seems to have purpose and meaning and in this way seems similar to the life of Gotama himself.

Though they share great intimacy and a feeling of connection, Siddhartha and Kamala are not in love. For Kamala, sex is a part of her work as a courtesan, and her instruction of Siddhartha is undertaken primarily for financial gain. Similarly, Siddhartha is interested in his relationship with Kamala only because it provides him deeper insights into the world of love that might better enable him to achieve enlightenment. Though Siddhartha is the best lover Kamala has ever had, Kamala and Siddhartha realize that people like themselves cannot truly love.

Analysis: Amongst the People

Siddhartha’s decision to exploit the senses, instead of denying them, draws him into the world of time and average people. This world is linked to the Hindu god Kama, the god of desires, who is represented in the names of those closest to him during this period: Kamala and Kamaswami. From these worldly people, Siddhartha learns much that is useful in the world of time, including how to live happily in the moment and induce it to yield its fruits, as well as how to use the present to produce a desired consequence in the future. Yet at the same time, and almost without his knowing it, Siddhartha’s life in the world of Kama brings him the first of those virtues appropriate to a seeker of enlightenment. From Kamala he learns part of the Eightfold Path considered “right attitude,” which indicates that the correct way to approach an experience is to completely surrender the Self while keeping the purpose steadily in mind. In addition, from Kamaswami he learns the concept of “right aspiration,” which indicates that working for an immediate gain yields no real profit. Kamaswami actually exemplifies the opposite of this concept, and his failure enables Siddhartha to realize that only a voluntary investment can give a worthwhile return.

An encounter between an innocent pilgrim and the modern world is one of Hesse’s favorite literary devices. When Siddhartha meets Kamaswami, Siddhartha’s innocence highlights the hypocrisy and spiritual poverty of his new world, which involves materialism and commerce, two aspects of modernity. During Siddhartha’s initial job interview with Kamaswami, Siddhartha’s answers to the questions are both honest and backhanded. When Kamaswami asks Siddhartha how he managed to live with so few possessions, Siddhartha says he has never really thought about what he lacked or how he should live. This response is a slap in Kamaswami’s face, since Siddhartha is actually pointing out the poverty in Kamaswami’s value system. Kamaswami initially intends to criticize Siddhartha by pointing out his lack of practical experience, but Siddhartha responds by calling into question the very criteria that determine whether some experiences are more practical than others. Siddhartha’s lack of desire for material possessions is not the weakness Kamaswami might think. Instead, Siddhartha shows it as an asset in the business world. If one does not fear success or failure, one can act more aggressively.

Kamala is a master instructor of the truths of the material world, just as Gotama was a master instructor of the truths of the spiritual world. Kamala has an ability to find “stillness and sanctuary” within herself. She can steel herself against the outward flow of the world by retreating into this stillness. This ability is rare, and Siddhartha notices that the people immersed in the material world are trapped within it and cannot see beyond the small triumphs and tribulations of their lives. Similarly, Gotama can transcend the spiritual world he discusses. Just as Kamala can teach the truths of the world of love yet maintain enough distance from these truths to avoid being controlled by them, Gotama understands that the truths he communicates are not the entirety of knowledge. By contrast, the Brahmins and Samanas are able to see things only in terms of the spiritual knowledge they preach. Alternative approaches to knowledge threaten them, and they reject the alternatives without truly considering them. Just as Gotama is able to see past the words he speaks and to see the connection between moments in the world, Kamala is able to sense a unique spiritual dimension in the realm of love. In this way, Kamala, though not enlightened, is as important an instructor of knowledge for Siddhartha as Gotama was.