Summary: Samsara

In Kamaswami’s employ, Siddhartha becomes wealthy and enjoys Kamala’s intimate company. He lives this way for many years, becoming more and more successful at business. At first, while business is all a game, he feels superior to those who pursue worldly pleasures and riches. Gradually, however, he, too, falls under the spell of possessions. He looks and acts like a wealthy merchant, wearing the finest clothes, eating rich food, entertaining dancers, and gambling, but he finds that the spiritual voice within him has died. Even his continued relationship with Kamala brings him little peace.

Some twenty years after his arrival, he notices that Kamala’s face has wrinkles and his own hair has traces of gray. Siddhartha begins to have dreams that suggest the time may have come to move on. In one dream, he recalls a conversation with Kamala in which she expresses interest in Gotama, but Siddhartha dissuades her from seeking him out. In another dream, he finds the rare songbird Kamala keeps in a cage has died. He throws it out into the street, as though he discards all that is good and of value in his life. When he wakes up, he feels death in his heart. The inner voice that had prompted him to become a Samana, to turn away from the Buddha, and to face the unknown has been silent for a long time.

Distraught over these dreams, Siddhartha retreats to a pleasure garden to meditate. He considers his life in the city. The life he has made by apprenticing himself to Kamaswami seems only a diversion from his path to enlightenment. His nights of drinking, dancing, and eating have yielded a pleasant oblivion but have produced nothing. His relationship with Kamala has given him pleasure and taught him much about love, but it cannot continue forever if he aims to achieve enlightenment. He realizes that he has been playing at the game of Samsara, the cyclical path of normal life in which one lives, suffers, and dies. While it is important for him to have played this game, he does not need to keep playing it forever. He leaves the city in despair, without informing anyone of his departure. When Kamala learns of his disappearance, she frees her songbird from its golden cage. From this day on, Kamala accepts no more lovers, and she discovers she is pregnant with Siddhartha’s child.

Analysis: Samsara

Siddhartha has learned that asceticism is a dead end in his search for enlightenment, and he now learns that the same holds true for sensory indulgence—neither path, alone, leads to enlightenment, and the mastery of either asceticism or sensuality inevitably results in enslavement. Siddhartha has mastered almost everything he has attempted to do: He was a model son of the Brahmins and a skilled ascetic among the Samanas, and he is now mastering the art of love and desire. However, perfection leaves little room for variety or spontaneity, and Siddhartha discovers that he has become a slave to the very thing he has mastered, with no possible relief from the cycle of predictable events. Even his experiences with Kamala fit into this unending pattern. He is devoted to Kamala, but he is also bored. He must seek pleasure over and over again to keep boredom from returning, which leads only to more boredom. As the years accumulate, Siddhartha understands that the cycle of the senses revolves slowly but inevitably around the fixed point of death. Siddhartha had to immerse himself in the material world to learn all that it offered, but this sort of immersion ultimately traps most people, preventing them from ever achieving enlightenment. Siddhartha has to leave this world to escape the same fate.

Kamala rightly observes that Siddhartha initially sees the city with the eyes of a Samana, but Siddhartha’s loss of spiritual detachment is inevitable. Siddhartha himself observes that his superior, distant feelings eventually disappear as he spends more time in the city. Such feelings can continue to exist only if he can maintain his distance from the material world and act as an impartial observer, but the more Siddhartha masters the material world, the more he becomes a part of it. He becomes almost equal to Kamaswami in business, and he becomes the greatest lover Kamala has ever had. In both cases, he becomes as good as his teachers, effectively becoming just like his teachers, which anchors him in the material world. He is no longer a thin, naked Samana but a wealthy, well-clothed, and well-fed merchant. The only aspects of his spiritual roots that remain are those isolated within his mind. As he gains material power, his spiritual power declines, until Siddhartha can no longer hear his inner voice. His spiritual roots are now a memory. Love and the material world have dragged Siddhartha away from the spiritual enlightenment he seeks.

Siddhartha’s dream about the dead songbird suggests what could happen if Siddhartha continues on his current path, and it helps Siddhartha decide to leave the city. Kamala’s actual release of the songbird upon Siddhartha’s departure suggests that Siddhartha has experienced an awakening. When Siddhartha disappears, Kamaswami searches for him, thinking bandits have captured him, but Kamala shows no surprise—she has expected Siddhartha to leave. She releases the songbird as soon as she hears the news, clearly linking Siddhartha and the bird. The bird dies in Siddhartha’s dream, and its death brings Siddhartha a feeling of complete spiritual emptiness. In the real world, the bird is freed, which suggests that Siddhartha has avoided the spiritual death foretold in the dream and has awakened from his slumber in the material world. Kamala is also on the verge of an awakening: after she releases the bird, she decides to take no more lovers. She changes her life in the wake of Siddhartha’s departure, and her pregnancy indicates a radical change that parallels the change Siddhartha will undergo next.