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siddhartha�s dream seeds

Siddhartha�s dream seeds

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

O) Links to Optional Readings

I) On Hermann Hesse

II) On the Buddha

III) Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism

IV) Outline of Text

VII) Textual Analysis

VIII) Further Thematic Explorations into the Text

O) Links to Optional Readings:

I) On Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

II) On the Buddha (ca. 563-483 bce)

The Buddha is also known as Siddhartha (“he who achieves his aim”), Gotama, or Siddhartha Gotama. Buddha, is the “Enlightened One,” the Indian founder of Buddhism born in the lands of ancient India (modern day Nepal) to a royal family in a garden beneath a sal tree (native to that region). Most accounts say that his mother died shortly after his birth; some say that either his father or an ascetic divined that he would grow to be either a great king or great spiritual leader. They say his father so desired him to be a great king that he lavished the

III) Introduction to Hinduism and Buddhism

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha

The Brahmin’s Son (pp.3-12

With the Samanas (pp.13-24

Amongst the People (pp.63-73

By the River (pp.87-100

The Son (pp.117-127

Siddhartha: Brahmin’s son, made everyone happy but was not himself happy, at young age engaged in debates with wise men (associates of father) and contemplated, meditated on Om and Atman, had dreams and was restless, discontent (p.3 ff.).

Is Siddhartha the Buddha? On p.20, 25-36 Govinda and Siddhartha first talk about and then meet and Siddhartha talks to the Buddha. So, Siddhartha cannot be the Buddha, right? He must merely be a fellow promising soul looking for enlightenment, like the Buddha. Or, is he modeled after the Buddha, modeling the universality of the search? Who earns more respect, Siddhartha or Gotama? Are they the same person in two characters?

Govinda: Brahmin’s son, friend of Siddhartha’s, loved Siddhartha (p.3ff).

Siddhartha’s father: Brahmin, very happy because of son, wants son to be a priest (pp.3-4).

Siddhartha’s mother: Very proud of son (pp.3-4 ff.).

Brahmin’s daughters: Loved Siddhartha (p.4)

Samanas: Ascetics, solitary, strange, hostile, lean jackals in the world of man (p.9)

Gotama: The Buddha, The Perfect One, the Illustrious (pp. 20, 25).

Ferryman: Lives by the river in a straw hut, takes Siddhartha across the river for no fee, tells him how much he has learned from the river, and how he knows Siddhartha will be back (p.48). He does return, and learns the ferry man’s name is Vasudeva, moves in with him, learns much from him, and eventually takes over his post (pp.101 ff.).

Kamala: A beautiful courtesan, wealthy, owned house and grove, friend and lover of Siddhartha (p.52).

Kamaswami: A wealthy merchant who hires Siddhartha (p.59).

Brahmin: highest level of Indian caste system, priests and scholars (3).

Ablutions: ritual washings, cleansing, purification (3).

Om: (Aum) Hindu symbol (& intonation) representing Brahman; the symbol can communicate more about the manifest and unmanifest aspects of Brahman than one could through words, reason, pictures, etc. Om is considered all pervasive throughout life and connected intimately to breath. It is also considered the ‘eternal syllable’ and used in spiritual/meditative rituals (3).

Atman: human spirit (soul), Self. In Hinduism, Atman is equated with the true self, the spiritual essence of the individual and that which ties the one to all that is, esp. to Brahman. Oppositely, in Buddhism, it afflicts us by the tying us to the illusions of the world and the sorrows of samsara (3).

“Vessel”: the self as a vessel, re: Confucius, Lao Tzu (compare to p14, “empty”) (5).

Upanishads of Sama-Veda: Sruti (“what is heard,” the revealed texts), philosophic (pp.6-7).

Chandogya-Upanishads: Sruti (“what is heard,” the revealed texts), philosophic (8).

Satya: Sanskrit for “truth,” “The word satya (Truth) is derived from Sat which means ‘being.’ Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth …. and where there is Truth, there is also is knowledge which is true .… Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge” (“Gandhi’s Views On Truth: Truth (Meaning of Truth),” available

Banyan Tree: in ficus genus, a fig who grows over another tree (or structure), sending roots down to ground, can become very large, considered sacred some places (8).

Brahman: the supreme spirit; infinite yet imminent, eternal and transcendent; indescribable (8).

Samanas: Wandering monks / ascetics (9).

VII) Textual Analysis

The Brahmin’s Son pp.3-12 (using Rosner’s translation)

The first two pages (pp.3-4) of the novel give us a glorious portrait of Siddhartha as a beautiful young man who had parents joyful with him and proud of him, a dear friend who loved him, and the attentions of all the young daughters in the area. Of an upper-crust background, he was quite advanced; as a very young man he was engaging in debates with his father and his wise compatriots and was gifted in contemplation and meditation.

Then on page 5: “That was how everybody loved Siddhartha. He delighted and made everybody happy. But Siddhartha himself was not happy.” Amidst privilege and accomplishment, Siddhartha felt the “seeds of discontent” grow within him. This deep existential discontent made him feel like a vessel, set to receive wisdom from the adults around him, they could not fill him, satisfy his intellect, soul, and heart (5). This angst prompted religious questioning: “Did the sacrifices give happiness? And what about the gods? …” (6). He was deeply inspired by the religious texts, but not the wisdom of the elders and the practice of the rituals; he could not feel peace, achieve an enlightened feeling.

He had an insatiable thirst (7). If he had to conduct purification rituals, “Was atman then not within him? Was not then the source within his own heart? One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was a seeking—a detour, error” (7). His thirst was his sorrow (8). He wanted to reach the heavenly world; none had reached it (8).

One day he sees a group of Samanas in town; they are wandering ascetics (9). He describes them as solitary, strange, hostile, lean jackals in the world of man. He decides that evening that he will join them. He tells Govinda. He tells his father, who forbids him. Siddhartha responds by not moving, saying he is waiting; he stands there all night long. In the morning, his father realizes that the boy has already left in spirit; he tells him to go. He says, return if you find enlightenment and teach it to me; return if you become disillusioned and we will offer sacrifices together again. Siddhartha leaves; Govinda joins him (12).

With the Samanas pp.13-24

The Samanas accept them; they give away their clothes, eat uncooked food only once daily, fasted, become thin, gnarled, and deeply contemptuous to the ‘normal,’ everyday worlds/people they encounter.

Compare this to the Eidetic Reduction / Epoché: the process of suspending knowledge becomes his very bodily process of suspending the ‘biases’ of life.

“His glance became icy … his lips curled with contempt …. All were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain” (13-4). Consider the question of pessimism versus optimism—is this a pessimistic view of self and life, or is the method optimistic because it offers hope beyond the reality of life?

“Siddhartha had one single goal—to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow—to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought—that was his goal. When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self—the great secret!” (14).

Is this saying there is a single source of human nature? The Self? Suffering? Great Secret? Are there collective traits of human nature? Desires? Illusions of sense, happiness, and beauty? Suffering and sorrow? Is there Self beyond the human, beyond human nature—the Buddhist annata , or no self. What is the relation between the no self and the self? Does an individual share in it by virtue of being a self, or is it the obliteration of the self and realization of something universal? Is it a transcendence that is immanent in a self, or something wholly transcendent beyond selves?

With the Samanas, Siddhartha learned to withstand great physical and mental trials; he learned how to slip from body and enter the souls of other creatures, gaining a brief respite from the cycles of life, death, rebirth (from Samsara ) (14-6).

But twice he asks Govinda for his evaluation of their lessons (16, 18); Govinda is far more certain of their path than Siddhartha: “What I have so far learned from the Samanas, I could have learned more quickly and easily in every inn in a prostitute’s quarter, amongst the carriers and dice players” (16), meaning that what he has learned is a temporary respite like one offered by love or play or drunkenness; he has not learned enlightenment ( Moksha / Nirvana release from Samsara ).

But, he is starting to awaken to an idea of enlightenment being beyond learning : “I have spent a long time and have not yet finished, in order to learn this, Govinda: that one can learn nothing” (19) and “… I am beginning to believe that this knowledge [of Atman] has no worse enemy than the man of knowledge, than learning” (19). Note how this is the Buddha’s reproach to Siddhartha as well (35).

Shortly thereafter, Govinda asks if perhaps they should seek out Gotama, the Buddha, one who had become enlightened (22). They had heard rumors of him; an ascetic who gave it up for a “middle path” and offered hope throughout India to with his teachings (20-22).

Siddhartha agreed they should go, but so that he may be led out of the woods and away from the Samanas. He demonstrated his superior skill upon leaving, hypnotizing the lead ascetic to Govinda’s amazement; he tells his friend: “if you had stayed there, you would have soon learned how to walk on water” to which Siddhartha replied, “I have no desire to walk on water” (22-4).

Govinda and Siddhartha find the town of Savathi, which holds the grove Jetavana, which has been given to the Buddha for him to speak to his followers. They are overwhelmed with the crowds of people there. Nevertheless, they recognize the Buddha amidst the masses, he is set apart by his peacefulness, with which he “… seemed to be smiling gently inwardly” (27), while every part of his body “… spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflected a continuous quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace” (27-8). The Buddha’s bearing deeply impressed both; “Never had Siddhartha esteemed a man so much, never had he loved a man so much” (28).

They hear him speak the following day on the “four main points,” i.e., the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. At the end, Govinda stood to devote himself to the Buddha, and joined his ranks. Siddhartha did not. He wishes his friend the most genuine encouragement, even as he cannot say directly what holds him back from joining, too. After bidding Govinda farewell, Siddhartha roams about and finds himself before the Buddha, asking permission to speak to him. He explains the clarity and truth of his teachings, but that there is one gap—with the doctrine of being able to rise above the world, the perfect, logical explanation of the world falls apart. Gotama warns Siddhartha about the trickery that can be had in knowledge and logic, and to not rely too heavily on being clever. Siddhartha then explains more clearly that what he wants is what the Buddha cannot teach—the Buddha himself has reached enlightenment, and the secret of what he experienced cannot be expressed. Siddhartha wants to achieve this experience; he cannot learn it from teachers, but must go seek it himself.

“The Buddha has robbed me, thought Siddhartha. He has robbed me, yet he has given me something of greater value. He has robbed me of my friend, who believed in me and who now believes in him; he was my shadow and is now Gotama’s shadow. But he has given to me Siddhartha, myself” (36).

Siddhartha remembers what he told to the Buddha: that the Buddha’s experience—his wisdom and his secret—was incomprehensible and inexpressible—it could not be taught—that he experienced enlightenment, and, thus, Siddhartha must do the same, he must embark upon experiencing it (47). Thus, part two begins with his setting off to gain experience. He enters the world: “Siddhartha learned something new on every step of his path …” (45). He exclaims that “… the world was transformed and he was enthralled” (45). And, yet, “All this, colored and in a thousand different forms, had always been there” (45), and that “All this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; though his mind he was aware of moon and stars” (46).

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Think about phenomenology’s insight about the different attitudes through which we turn to the world: the Natural Attitude and the Phenomenological Attitude (see §VIII, below, and see *here* for more on phenomenology). Siddhartha had embodied the ascetic attitude previously as his natural attitude—“His glance became icy … his lips curled with contempt …. All were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain” (13-4)—and now, after meeting the Buddha, he had experienced a break, much like the epoché, that shifted him into the phenomenological attitude, wherein he turned bias-free eyes to the world. Phenomenology reveals that meaning is made in the cooperation between the subject turning to the world and the world turning to the subject. Thus, when he notes “… the world was transformed and he was enthralled,” there has been no physical change in the world, but the meaning of it, for him, had been transformed (45).

In his earlier attitude, he saw the appearances of the world as an illusive veil—the Indian notion of the veil of Maya , or of delusion (this receives much attention in Western philosophy, too, for instance, in Nietzsche and Schopenhauer); now, he no longer sought what was behind it, but sought to experience it. His experience of the world is also very comparable to the idea given by the idea of the Conditioned Genesis or Dependent Arising (described above).

Maya: The definition and etymology of Maya prove challenging. Maya typically designates something that is “illusion,” but it is also used frequently in Pali and Sanskrit to mean “wisdom,” for example, in early Vedas, it was “knowledge of the vital air.” In Sanskrit, it is thought that the etymological origins of the term “maya” are ma , “not,” plus ya , “that,” hence, it is that which is “not that.” It is also used to designate the powers of the gods, especially the power of Varuna, who is commonly associated with death and other spiritual realms. As Varuna became more and more associated with evil spirits, the term took on the meaning of being the powers demons lose to Varuna. Finally, the term is also associated with sleep. Despite this ambiguity of definitions, Maya is commonly thought to be illusion, and is particularly dangerous because it is the illusion we may mistakenly take to be reality. Hence, the expression of the “ veil of maya ” designates the appearance of reality that is not really reality. The philosophical interest we should take in this is the challenge of discerning whether, if “reality” is mere illusion, do we try to look behind the veil to see real reality, or do we try to see through the appearance of reality to see that there is no real? If we seek behind it, is it the veil of illusion that obscures the unity of Atman and Brahman? Is it, then, what we must see through to achieve Moksha, or liberation? Or, if there is no real, than what does this do to the idea of liberation?

This new perspective—which he describes as “ childlike ”—allowed him a realization about the nature of the self. “He had known for a long time that his Self was Atman, of the same eternal nature as Brahman, but he had never really found his Self, because he wanted to trap it in the net of thoughts” (47). He realizes anew that his body is not his self, nor are his senses his self, nor is his thought alone his self. Compare this perspective to Descartes’ Meditations , one of the texts most responsible in the Western tradition for codifying mind/body dualism (see *here* for more on Descartes). Siddhartha is not rejecting the body as lesser than self, but seeking to listen to ‘both voices.’

He also raises here the strong idea of being led by an inward voice . This will be his guide. “Why did Gotama once sit down beneath the bo tree in his greatest hour when he received enlightment” (48)? It was his inner voice that commanded him. Obedience to this voice is the only necessity, he decides.

Inner Voice: Think about the richness of this idea—he speaks of the Buddha’s “voice in his own heart” that guided him to enlightenment, later, about his own inner voice telling him “no,” to not sleep with the woman he meets outside of town, and the “soft” inner voice that reminded him, complaining, about his later lifestyle (see pp.48, 50, and 71). On the one hand, a voice can command, on the other, it can dissuade—think about Socrates’ “inner sign” that only tells him when to not do something ( Apology ). Is this voice indicative of an essential nature, a cohesive self? Or, is the voice conscience, one perhaps conscious only of experiences and goals? Also think about how much “voices” surface in religious literature—gods speaking to humans, demons tempting us, etc.

Siddhartha then sleeps under a roof provided by a Ferryman—the first roof under which he has slept in about three years. He dreams of Govinda and of a sensual encoun ter. (Here, we might wonder, is Siddhartha’s mission now to experience “self” or “love,” and is there a difference?) In the morning, he asks the Ferryman to take him across the river. The Ferryman remarks about how much one can learn fro m a river: all things come back to it (note the affinity to the idea of samsara). He does not expect payment from Siddhartha, not yet, but says one day Siddhartha will bring something back to him (note the affinity to the idea of karma). Siddhartha finds himself loving all people, loving their kindness: “All are grateful, although they themselves deserve thanks. All are subservient, all wish to be my friend, to obey and to think little. People are children” (49). This may sound a bit conceited at first, but consider the naivety of Siddhartha’s new perspective and also how the naivety of children as both a benefit and as one interpretation of reality—if we all are like children believing in the reality of the everyday.

He approaches an attractive woman, asks her where is the town. He considers making love to her, but his inner voice tells him not to: “Then all the magic disappeared from the young woman’s smiling face; he saw nothing but the ardent glance of a passionate young woman” (50). Siddhartha is experiencing the many illusions in life, and seeing them, by command of his voice, also as what they are: illusions. Would we interpret this scene like many others as one of temptation and resistance, or, is it simply an experience that he goes through, without any element of being a test? Afterwards, he goes on towards town.

At the gates of the town, outside of a beautiful grove, he sees Kamala , a beautiful courtesan (51). He servants’ eyes reflect to him that he is still a Samana. Finding out who she is, he then befriends the barber’s assistant and, early the next morning, he goes into town and cuts his beard, oils his hair, bathes (52–notice, here, how his “transformation” is physical, while his more meaningful transformation, on p.42, was only one of perspective). The next day, he goes back to the grove and has a servant announce him as a Brahmin’s son; he meets her, she recognizes him as the ascetic. Note the telling insight this offers us about this woman. He thanks her for her beauty and tells her he wants her to be his teacher and teach him about love.

She laughs, but her laughter is not a dismissal, thus, Kamala begins her lessons about what he must do to become her student. The tasks of being well dressed, having money, and bringing presents seems to him simple compared to the many other arduous tasks he has learned. He asks if she fears him–no, she has no fear of him, no fear that he will harm her because, she explains, knowledge, piety, and power for the depth of thought cannot be taken from one by force; her love is also something that cannot be had by force. Interestingly, this is precisely one of the ways that Augustine defines virtues: that which cannot be taken against one’s will (see *here* for more on Augustine’s use of the definition in On Free Choice of the Will –also, note the further similarity that, for both, learning is always and only of the good). Siddhartha then asks her advice as to how he should do this, reporting that he can think, wait, and fast. Adding a skill of composing poetry, he exchanges a poem for her kiss—which stuns him with all that it taught him (57).

Kamala advises him to go see the wealthy merchant Kamaswami for work, but warns him that she would be displeased if he were subservient and not his equal (59).

After his meeting, while he begged for a rice cake, he then felt a surge of pride : he is no longer a Samana, thus he should not beg for food (58). He gives the food to a dog and goes without. Note this interesting transformation —typically, we see pride leading to arrogance: a sin; is experience with sin something he is after, or, is perhaps all experience bound up with and indistinguishable from sin’s possibility?

His closing remarks to her about how he is—like a stone cutting through water in the most direct path, naturally, without bestirring himself—is a quintessential expression of the Buddhist action done without troubling desires or suffering (60).

Notice this first of three key analogies for human types/paths–first, a stone cutting through water (60), then a leaf drifting aimlessly through the air (72), and a star following a steady orbit (72). What does Siddhartha’s path look like?

Amongst the Peoplepp.63-73

Through her introduction, he goes to work with the merchant Kamaswami (63). His surprise at a Brahmin coming to seek work with a merchant reminds us of the Indian caste system—a hierarchical division of society into the top Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriya (warriors, landowners), Vaishya (merchants), Shudra (laborers), and the lowest Harijan (those outside the caste systems, or “untouchables”). He tells Kamaswami much of what he told Kamala about his skills being thinking, waiting, and fasting (see pp.57, 59, and 64), and then argues and demonstrates the utility of these, convincing the merchant to give him both shelter and work.

Note the dialogue between Kamaswami and Siddhartha at their first meeting concerning service and needs. There is an interesting echo here to the discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro when they are trying to define “piety,” and are sussing through care like that a horse breeder gives to horses or service like a slave gives to a master (see Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro , esp. definitions four and five, see *here*)

Eventually, Siddhartha becomes privy to the important matters of Kamaswami’s business, rich, and the lover and friend of Kamala. However, he is not a good merchant, in that he has no passion for it, he plays it like a game with rules, learns minor details from it, just uses it so as to afford his association with Kamala and as a opportunity to experience life. He feels neither the passion nor the anxiety that a businessperson feels.

Consider, so far, who/what has been identified as his teacher ? First, he learned from his father and the Brahmins, then from the Samana in the woods, next, from the Buddha, then the hint of learning from the river (although it is the ferryman who admits this first), then from Kamala, and finally, from Kamaswami. These diverse teachers offer diverse lessons and serve as teachers in different degrees. However, is there not, throughout, a striking, changing interrelation of reason and experience being exercised in each educational encounter? What is this dialectic between experience and reason; is Siddhartha doing a ricochet between the two; are they truly opposites, or are they more intimately similar, etc.?

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He was fascinated by the people; he loved them, was amazed and baffled by their troubles, and was a bit repulsed by them, being so concerned with things that deserve little to no concern (70). “And many people came to him—many to trade with him, many to deceive him, many to listen to him, many to elicit his sympathy, many to listen to his advice. He gave advice, he sympathized, he gave presents, he allowed himself to be cheated a little, and he occupied his thoughts with all this game and the passion with which all men play it as much as he had previously occupied his thoughts with the gods and Brahman” (70-1).

“At times he heard within him a soft, gentle voice , which reminded him quietly, complained quietly, so that he could hardly hear it. Then he suddenly saw clearly that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing many things that were only a game, that he was quite cheerful and sometimes experienced pleasure, but that real life was flowing past him and did not touch him” (71).

He was an on-looker (71). An outsider to this world.

He learned the most from Kamala, who came to understand him better than even Govinda had once; she was more like him, he admitted. Their similarity was “a stillness and sanctuary” within, something inside to which each could retreat, which he said few have but that all could. This was not a result of cleverness. “Most people, Kamala, are like a falling lead that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path” (71-2)— this will compare nicely to Attar’s Conference of the Birds .

But, then they identify another similarity: their mutual impossibility of love . Kamala tells him, one day she will have a child by him, but that she realizes he has never ceased being the Samana. Both are detached from love; neither has their heart in that at which they excel. Siddhartha concurs: “I am like you. You cannot love either, otherwise how could you practice love as an art? Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can—that is their secret” (73). (On love, cf. 94.)

Years go by; Siddhartha is slowly drawn in by the world and captured. He becomes rich, chained down by his wealth instead of mocking it. Starts to feel some of the pleasures and anxieties that normal people do, but not to the same depths, so still envies their capacity to feel. He gets the displeasures of worldly attachment (75-9).

Becomes addicted to dice playing / gambling; thrills in the generation of anxiety; then begins to be hooked to it, no longer giving to the poor, worry-less if he lost, harder and meaner (79-80).

His change sickened him, yet he fled from it. It gave him nausea, which he fled by turning back to the world again. “Then a dream once reminded him” (80). Kamala asked him to tell her about the Buddha, wished she could join them. Then he saw the fine wrinkles on her face, the coming of age and the tolls of life, he himself had gray hairs, felt old and sickly. That night he had a dream:

He dreamt of Kamala’s small songbird, that it had died and that he had plucked it from the cage and tossed it out in the road. He awoke with deep sadness, feeling that he lived life in a worthless manner (82). He went out to his pleasure garden and sat beneath a mango tree. He felt himself dying. He reviewed his life.

If he sees himself as the bird, trapped in a cage, wasting his life, what is this cage? Is it the world of these illusions, the everyday full of desires and sufferings? But, he has repeatedly shown that he is not prey to these as others are, nor can even fully understand the anxieties others have. Is it merely, then, his inattention to further pursuits? His lack of finding a true self? What traps him?

His only happiness had been when he had a goal; when he was driven for something. All these years had been without drive, purpose. He saw that this game of living like others was just the game of samsara. It can be enjoyable, but is not meant to be played continually. He knew the game was over (84). He said goodbye to them all; he left that night (85).

Kamaswami looked for him, but Kamala knew that he had left. She had felt it, and had always expected it. She let her songbird fly away. She refused all further visitors and soon discovered herself pregnant with his child (85).

By the Riverpp.87-100

Ferrymanpp.101-115(Olesh: The Ferryman pp.68-77)

The Sonpp.117-127(Olesh: The Son pp.78-85)

While previous chapters have revealed Siddhartha’s development of attachments and entanglement with the temporal things that can distract one and keep one from the truth of Moksha, this chapter reveals a far stronger, more difficult attachment—a father’s love for his son.

Ompp.129-137(Olesh: Om pp.86-91)

Govindapp.139-152(Olesh: Govinda pp.92-100)

VIII) Further Thematic Explorations into the Text

Let us look in Siddhartha at several attempts to cease and to awaken life and compare this illustration of the Buddhist notion (Conditioned Genesis) with two contemporary Western theories (Phenomenology and Existentialism):

Siddhartha joins the Samanas: cease

“Siddhartha gave his clothes to a poor Brahmin on the road and only retained his loincloth and earth-colored unstitched cloak. He only ate once a day and never cooked food. He fasted fourteen days. He fasted twenty-eight days. The flesh disappeared from his legs and cheeks. Strange dreams were reflected in his enlarged eyes. The nails grew long on his thin fingers and a dry, bristly beard appeared on his chin. His glance became icy when he encountered women; his lips curled with contempt when he passed through a town of well-dressed people. … All were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain” (13-4).

Siddhartha and Govinda give away their possessions and previous beliefs, radically transforming themselves to be able to see that life is suffering.

This act of giving everything (physical and mental) away is like a radical employment of the Eidetic Reduction and Epoché from Phenomenology . Husserl’s process of suspending our previous, biasing knowledge becomes Siddhartha’s very bodily process of suspending the ‘biases’ of life.

What is the ignorance they are giving up? The ignorance that sparks the wiling and consciousness that ultimately spark desires that make us cling to this illusionary Self. The ignorance that tells humans to eat, sleep, go to school, get married, get a job … the ignorance that compels us to take the illusion of the self as real and place all of our value in it, eliminating our chance at salvation from samsara.

This charts the process of giving up ignorance to give up the arising of life itself.

“Siddhartha had one single goal—to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow—to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought—that was his goal. When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self—the great secret!” (14).

But… Siddhartha instead finds that: “What I have so far learned from the Samanas, I could have learned more quickly and easily in every inn in a prostitute’s quarter, amongst the carriers and dice players” (16), meaning that what he has learned is a temporary respite like one offered by love or play or drunkenness; he has not learned enlightenment ( Moksha or Nirvana , a release from Samsara ).

Siddhartha leaves behind the Samanas, Buddha, and Govinda: awakens

“Slowly the thinker went on his way and asked himself: What is it that you wanted to learn from teachings and teachers, and although they taught you much, what was it they could not teach you? And he thought: It was the Self, the character and nature of which I wished to learn. I wanted to rid myself of the Self, to conquer it, but I could not conquer it, I could only deceive it, could not fly from it, could only hide from it” (38).

“I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself. I was seeking Brahman, Atman, I wished to destroy myself, to get away from myself, in order to find in the unknown innermost, the nucleus of all things, Atman, Life, the Divine, the Absolute. But by doing so, I lost myself on the way” (38).

“… I will no longer try to escape from Siddhartha. I will no longer devote my thoughts to Atman and the sorrows of the world. I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins. I will no longer study Yoga-Veda, Atharva-Veda, or asceticism, or any other teachings. I will learn from myself, be my own pupil; I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha” (39).

Siddhartha leaves the Samanas since he received only temporary respite from the Self.

Siddhartha leaves the Buddha and Govinda because he realizes that what he wants cannot be taught; what he wants defies expression, verbalization, and communication ( cf. 33-4, 47)

He must be his own teacher; what he has not been taught, he thinks is the Self (38). He fled from the self; he does not know the self.

“When anyone reads anything which he wishes to study, he does not despise the letters and punctuation marks, and call them illusion, chance and worthless shells, but he reads them, he studies and loves them, letter by letter” (40).

Thus, Siddhartha will not despise that which he wishes to know, his Self, but study it, love it.

And, thus, we can say that Siddhartha is awakening to life: he will embrace this “ignorance” of the Self, let it condition volition and consciousness and senses and perceptions and desires … “Siddhartha learned something new on every step of his path …” (45).

This awakening parallels the heart of the Western doctrine of Existentialism : born out of phenomenology, existentialism is a 20 th c. Continental philosophical and literary school of thought that rejects the idea of a pre-given, essential nature of the self in order to reveal that our “existence precedes essence,” which means that we are thrown into the world, into existence, without any predetermined value or fate and thus we bear a responsibility (which causes us deep anxiety, angst , something similar to the deep unease Siddhartha felt at the beginning of the book) to make ourselves, define ourselves as meaningful in the face of the absurdity of truth.

Siddhartha has come to see the illusion of the Self with the Samanas: how hunger and expectations are not essential to humanity, that all of those biases are relative and can be overcome, at least temporarily. In the face of this knowledge of the illusory nature of reality and life, he still has not found true peace, enlightenment.

Thus, in the face of this illusion of the Self, he still finds himself a Self; he does not know this self and yet knows that there is no true self, but that he must make this Self by coming to know it (47).

He enters the world. He sleeps under a roof provided by a Ferryman. He dreams of Govinda and of love. He approaches an attractive woman. He considers making love to her. He sees Kamala, a beautiful courtesan. He cuts his beard, oils his hair, bathes. He meets her, kisses her. He goes to work with the merchant Kamaswami. He becomes rich and the lover and friend of Kamala.

“All this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; though his mind he was aware of moon and stars” (46).

Siddhartha leaves behind the world and Kamala: ceases

In the section “Samsara” (pp.75-85), Siddhartha “awakens” from his arising of life and realizes, through a dream about the death of Kamala’s songbird (82), that the voice within him had died. His attachment to the world had killed it (75-9); and he realized the game that he had been playing, the game of samsara, was over (85).

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“He was deeply entangled in Samsara; he had drawn nausea and death to him from all sides, like a sponge that absorbs water until it is full. He was full of ennui, full of misery, full of death; there was nothing left in the world that could attract him, that could give him pleasure and solace” (87).

“He wished passionately for oblivion …” (87). He found himself before the river where he had stayed and crossed over with the ferryman before coming into town and his pursuit of the Self.

Themes and associated pages (using Rosner’s translation):

47, strive only after what his voice tells him

50, tells him not to sleep with first woman

71, voice getting quiet

78, voice silent

107-8, many voices of river

134-6, many voices of river, united

5, dreams and restless thoughts, seeds discontent

48, Govinda to woman, drink milk of everything from breast

82, 85, 87, songbird dies (98-9, bird inside)

49, people are children

70-1, people childish, loved and despised this, play, childish daily lives

96-99, became a child by involvement in world

106-7, no such thing, river

143, no time, potential/actual

41-2, last shudder of birth pains

114, life in the face of death

14, goal to get rid of self

17, meditation is mere escape from self

38, teachers could not teach self

40-41, alone (no home, background, shared lang)

136, self merge with unity

Knowledge & Incommunicability of Wisdom:

16, ascetics could not teach full ridding of self

19, learning is enemy of man

22, little faith in words,

28, Gotama embodied knowledge

32-40: thought vs. teachings, 33; communicate via words, but not the expereince, 34; guard against cleverness, 35; thinking, 37; study is to love, 40

47, Buddha’s wisdom incommunicable

60, learning from self or kamala

99, knowledge hindered him

126-7, goal or emptiness

131, wisdom, oneness (detachment)

136, Siddhartha’s enlightenment? river, as blurring

140, seeker–goal or no goal

141, no doctrines

142, wisdom incommunicable, knowledge can be communicated

143-4, time, exists good, necessary, love

145, words do not express it

146, do not love words

149-51, Govinda’s enlightenment?

Relativity of Truth:

33, Gotama warns Siddhartha vs. opin., words

143, 145, 146, 147, words distort

3-5, everybody loved young Siddhartha

28, Siddhartha loves Gotama

40, study is to love

73, Siddhartha and Kamala cannot love

77, others had power to love, envied this

94, reawakened to love

146-7, key of Siddhartha’s thoughts is love, Buddha forbade earthly love,

Who Is The Buddha?

The Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama, was born around 567 B.C.E., in a small kingdom just below the Himalayan foothills. His father was a chief of the Shakya clan. It is said that twelve years before his birth the brahmins prophesied that he would become either a universal monarch or a great sage. To prevent him from becoming an ascetic, his father kept him within the confines of the palace. Gautama grew up in princely luxury, shielded from the outside world, entertained by dancing girls, instructed by brahmins, and trained in archery, swordsmanship, wrestling, swimming, and running. When he came of age he married Gopa, who gave birth to a son. He had, as we might say today, everything.

And yet, it was not enough. Something—something as persistent as his own shadow—drew him into the world beyond the castle walls. There, in the streets of Kapilavastu, he encountered three simple things: a sick man, an old man, and a corpse being carried to the burning grounds. Nothing in his life of ease had prepared him for this experience. When his charioteer told him that all beings are subject to sickness, old age, and death, he could not rest.

As he returned to the palace, he passed a wandering ascetic walking peacefully along the road, wearing the robe and carrying the single bowl of a sadhu. He then resolved to leave the palace in search of the answer to the problem of suffering. After bidding his wife and child a silent farewell without waking them, he rode to the edge of the forest. There, he cut his long hair with his sword and exchanged his fine clothes for the simple robes of an ascetic.

Finding Liberation

With these actions Siddhartha Gautama joined a whole class of men who had dropped out of Indian society to find liberation. There were a variety of methods and teachers, and Gautama investigated many—atheists, materialists, idealists, and dialecticians. The deep forest and the teeming marketplace were alive with the sounds of thousands of arguments and opinions, unlike in our time.

Gautama finally settled down to work with two teachers. From Arada Kalama, who had three hundred disciples, he learned how to discipline his mind to enter the sphere of nothingness. But even though Arada Kalama asked him to remain and teach as an equal, he recognized that this was not liberation, and left. Next Siddhartha learned how to enter the concentration of mind which is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness from Udraka Ramaputra. But neither was this liberation and Siddhartha left his second teacher.

For six years Siddhartha along with five companions practiced austerities and concentration. He drove himself mercilessly, eating only a single grain of rice a day, pitting mind against body. His ribs stuck through his wasted flesh and he seemed more dead than alive.

The Middle Path

His five companions left him after he made the decision to take more substantial food and to abandon asceticism. Then, Siddhartha entered a village in search of food. There, a woman named Sujata offered him a dish of milk and a separate vessel of honey. His strength returned, Siddhartha washed himself in the Nairanjana River, and then set off to the Bodhi tree. He spread a mat of kusha grass underneath, crossed his legs and sat.

He sat, having listened to all the teachers, studied all the sacred texts and tried all the methods. Now there was nothing to rely on, no one to turn to, nowhere to go. He sat solid and unmoving and determined as a mountain, until finally, after six days, his eye opened on the rising morning star, so it is said, and he realized that what he had been looking for had never been lost, neither to him nor to anyone else. Therefore there was nothing to attain, and no longer any struggle to attain it.

“Wonder of wonders,” he is reported to have said, “this very enlightenment is the nature of all beings, and yet they are unhappy for lack of it.” So it was that Siddhartha Gautama woke up at the age of thirty-five, and became the Buddha, the Awakened One, known as Shakyamuni, the sage of the Shakyas.

For seven weeks he enjoyed the freedom and tranquillity of liberation. At first he had no inclination to speak about his realization. He felt would be too difficult for most people to understand. But when, according to legend, Brahma, chief of the three thousand worlds, requested that the Awakened One teach, since there were those “whose eyes were only a little clouded over,” the Buddha agreed.

The First Noble Truth

Shakyamuni’s two former teachers, Udraka and Arada Kalama, had both died only a few days earlier, and so he sought the five ascetics who had left him. When they saw him approaching the Deer Park in Benares they decided to ignore him, since he had broken his vows. Yet they found something so radiant about his presence that they rose, prepared a seat, bathed his feet and listened as the Buddha turned the wheel of the dharma, the teachings, for the first time.

The First Noble Truth of the Buddha stated that all life, all existence, is characterized by duhkha. The Sanskrit word meaning suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness. Even moments of happiness have a way of turning into pain when we hold onto them, or, once they have passed into memory, they twist the present as the mind makes an inevitable, hopeless attempt to recreate the past. The teaching of the Buddha is based on direct insight into the nature of existence. Ir is a radical critique of wishful thinking and the myriad tactics of escapism—whether through political utopianism, psychological therapeutics, simple hedonism, or (and it is this which primarily distinguishes Buddhism from most of the world’s religions) the theistic salvation of mysticism.

Suffering is true

Duhkha is Noble, and it is true. It is a foundation, a stepping stone, to be comprehended fully, not to be escaped from or explained. The experience of duhkha, of the working of one’s mind, leads to the Second Noble Truth, the origin of suffering, traditionally described as craving, thirsting for pleasure, but also and more fundamentally a thirst for continued existence, as well as nonexistence. Examination of the nature of this thirst leads to the heart of the Second Noble Truth, the idea of the “self,” or “I,” with all its desires, hopes, and fears, and it is only when this self is comprehended and seen to be insubstantial that the Third Noble Truth, the cessation of suffering, is realized.

The first sangha

The five ascetics who listened to the Buddha ‘s first discourse in the Deer Park became the nucleus of a community, a sangha, of men (women were to enter later) who followed the way the Buddha had described in his Fourth Noble Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path. These bhikshus, or monks, lived simply, owning a bowl, a robe, a needle, a water strainer, and a razor, since they shaved their heads as a sign of having left home. They traveled around northeastern India, practicing meditation alone or in small groups, begging for their meals.

The Buddha’s teaching, however, was not only for the monastic community. Shakyamuni had instructed them to bring it to all: “Go ye, O bhikshus, for the gain of the many, the welfare of the many, in compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men.”

For the next forty-nine years Shakyamuni walked through the villages and towns of India, speaking in the vernacular, using common figures of speech that everyone could understand. He taught a villager to practice mindfulness while drawing water from a well, and when a distraught mother asked him to heal the dead child she carried in her arms, he did not perform a miracle, but instead instructed her to bring him a mustard seed from a house where no one had ever died. She returned from her search without the seed, but with the knowledge that death is universal.

Death and Impermanence

As the Buddha’s fame spread, kings and other wealthy patrons donated parks and gardens for retreats. The Buddha accepted these, but he continued to live as he had ever since his twenty-ninth year: as a wandering sadhu, begging his own meal, spending his days in meditation. Only now there was one difference. Almost every day, after his noon meal, the Buddha taught. None of these discourses, or the questions and answers that followed, were recorded during the Buddha’s lifetime.

The Buddha died in the town of Kushinagara, at the age of eighty, having eaten a meal of pork or mushrooms. Some of the assembled monks were despondent, but the Buddha, lying on his side, with his head resting on his right hand, reminded them that everything is impermanent, and advised them to take refuge in themselves and the dharma—the teaching. He asked for questions a last time. There were none. Then he spoke his final words: “Now then, bhikshus, I address you: all compound things are subject to decay; strive diligently.”

The first rainy season after the Buddha’s parinirvana, it is said that five hundred elders gathered at a mountain cave near Rajagriha, where they held the First Council. Ananda, who had been the Buddha’s attendant, repeated all the discourses, or sutras, he had heard, and Upali recited the two hundred fifty monastic rules, the Vinaya, while Mahakashyapa recited the Abhidharma, the compendium of Buddhist psychology and metaphysics. These three collections, which were written on palm leaves a few centuries later and known as the Tripitaka (literally “three baskets”), became the basis for all subsequent versions of the Buddhist canon.

Adapted from How the Swans Came to the Lake (Shambhala Publications).