Siddhartha By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Part 1: Gotama

Summary

In this sequence, Siddhartha goes with Govinda to hear the teachings of Buddha, and Govinda remains with Buddha to become his disciple. Siddhartha, however, feels that everyone must find his own way to salvation and, hence, does not remain. The "Gotama" sequence begins with Buddha's taking alms in the town of Savathi and his abiding in the Jetavana grove.

Reference is made to a specific night when a lady tells Siddhartha and Govinda that they may sleep among the pilgrims. By daybreak, the town is swarming with the followers of Gotama Buddha, and Siddhartha and Govinda see him for the first time. Despite his commonplace appearance and traditional yellow monk's garb, he stands out because he radiates inner peace. It is during this day that we learn of Siddhartha's affinity to Buddha and his complete love for him for possessing truth, knowledge, and peace. However, we learn that despite his attraction toward Buddha, Siddhartha is adamant in his disinterest in teachings.

That evening, Buddha preaches before the crowd that there is salvation from pain and suffering for those who follow the prescribed course of Buddhism — that is, the Four Noble Truths — of which the fourth involves the taking of the Eightfold Path. Govinda volunteers to join the Buddhist pilgrims and hopes that Siddhartha will also join. Siddhartha, however, declines, and the impending separation of the two boyhood friends brings tears to their eyes. After their fraternal embrace and Govinda's taking the monk's habit, Siddhartha wanders through the grove and meets Gotama. They engage in a deep conversation in which Siddhartha extols Gotama's doctrine of understanding the world as a complete, unbroken, eternal chain, linked together by cause and effect. It is in this conversation that Siddhartha points out that the doctrine of salvation is neither shown nor proven. Gotama concedes the flaw in logic but asserts that his message is not for the intellectually curious, but that he seeks only to teach salvation. Siddhartha again voices the central idea of the novel: He reminds the Buddha that the process of enlightenment which he underwent is unteachable, that there is no way of communicating first-hand experience to disciples. One can find the secret of self-realization only by going one's own way. Siddhartha, speaking only for himself and not for the other pilgrims, tells of his resolve to leave all doctrines and all teachers behind and to reach his goal alone. As they part, the smile of the Buddha remains in Siddhartha's mind, and he associates it with a man who has conquered his self. And even though Siddhartha feels that he has lost his friend Govinda to Buddha, he feels that he has gained something from Buddha — the inspiration of direct, firsthand contact with the Illustrious One, which further strengthens his resolve to conquer self. Yet Siddhartha again rejects formal doctrine for the same reason as before: Enlightenment defies structured doctrine and transcends the teaching process.

The formal doctrine of Buddhist salvation is briefly as follows: It includes a system of which the keys are alluded to in the text — that is, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths include (1) the existence of pain, (2) pain's cause being desire or attachment, (3) the possibility of enduring pain by suppressing desire, and (4) the Eightfold Path to salvation. This path involves right faith, right life, right language, right purpose, right practice, right effort, right thinking, and right meditation. The link between this system and salvation lies in a "chain of causation," which is based on the cause-effect relationship between desire and pain. The root cause of pain is birth (which arises from desire), for the consequence of birth is exposure to time, illness, and death. Birth is but one point in the transmigration of souls inherent in the life cycle.

Of the important motifs of the novel, the one which is introduced in the "Gotama" sequence is that of the smile. It is evoked from self-realization and will appear again in the final section of the novel

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