Study Guide


Siddhartha is a Brahmin’s son. He grows up with his friend Govinda. Handsome, intelligent, and graceful, he is loved by everyone—his parents, friends, society, and especially Govinda. At an early age, he listens to the teachings of his learned father, masters the required Brahminical texts, performs all prescribed religious rites, and practices the art of meditation. Govinda admires his friend’s superior intellect, strong determination, and high vocation. He knows that Siddhartha will be a great man someday, and he wants to be his friend and follower.

Siddhartha himself is, however, not happy. His soul is restless. Dissatisfied with what the scriptures tell him, he wants to experience knowledge himself. An inward voice compels him to leave the idyllic peace and harmony of his father’s home and join the Samanas, a sect of ascetics who live a life of rigorous austerity in the forests. Govinda follows him like his shadow.

While living with the Samanas, Siddhartha learns many ways of losing the self. He learns how to mortify his flesh, to kill his senses, to suppress his ego, and to dwell at will in the bodies of dead birds and animals. He soon realizes that this flight from the self is only a temporary escape, not a permanent release from the life cycle. Still athirst for self-knowledge, he decides to leave the Samanas and goes with Govinda in search of Gotama Buddha.

Siddhartha meets Gotama Buddha in the Jetavana grove. He immediately recognizes that the Buddha attained the peace of Nirvana, which he is still seeking. He listens to Gotama’s sermon on suffering, the cause of suffering, and the release from suffering through the Eightfold Path. He is impressed by Gotama’s enlightened presence, but he is not convinced by his teachings. He concludes that, in order to find Nirvana, one must experience what the Buddha experienced. He therefore resolves to conquer his self, like the Buddha. Govinda becomes a follower of the Buddha, leaving Siddhartha to wander alone on his solitary path to self-conquest.

Carrying an indelible impression of Buddha’s personal example in his mind, Siddhartha turns to himself and says, “I will learn from myself, be my own pupil; I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha.” With this resolution, he experiences a new awakening and a sense of aloneness, for he decides to continue his quest alone and never to look back.

With this awakening, the world of appearance becomes palpable and real; it is no longer the veil of illusion that conceals the truth. Like a newborn child, he looks at the world with great wonder and curiosity. During the night, as he sleeps in a ferryman’s hut beside the river, he has a strange dream in which he embraces and kisses Govinda, but Govinda turns into a woman. For the first time he feels the stirrings of sexual awakening.

He leaves the river and reaches a large town, where he falls in love with a famous courtesan, Kamala. Kamala tells him that he can gain her love only after he earns wealth, power, and prestige, and to help him acquire these things she introduces him to a rich merchant, Kamaswami. With Kamaswami as his instructor in acquiring wealth and Kamala as his teacher in the art of love, Siddhartha begins to live in excess and surrenders himself to the world of senses, immersing every cell of his being into desire and carnal pleasure.

One night Siddhartha has a dream that Kamala’s rare songbird dies in its golden cage and that he takes it out and throws it away on the road. Suddenly, he feels sad, as if he threw away the most valuable thing in his life. The next day, he leaves Kamala and his life of sensual experience and disappears into the forest.

During his wanderings through the forest, he comes back to the river and yearns to be submerged in death. As he is about to commit suicide, suddenly he hears the holy sound “Om” coming from the depths of his inner being and he recognizes the folly of his action. The holy sound awakens his slumbering soul,...

(The entire page is 1,116 words.)

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