Siddhartha By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Part 1: With the Samanas

Summary

It is in this sequence that Siddhartha and Govinda attempt to gain salvation through asceticism. Using as a premise the ascetic idea that the sensual world is transitory and illusory, Siddhartha attempts to void his self and thus void with it all the torments of the senses. He resolves that if he can let the self die, then something deeper than the self will surface — that is, Being. Siddhartha, however, finds the process of trying to void the self a vicious circle because even though the ascetic meditation of which the aim is emptying the self involves the assuming of different forms, it inevitably leads him back to self again. All the paths leading away from self eventually lead back to it and are particularly tormenting because, like the life cycle, they are imbued with a sense of time. Thus Siddhartha regards this as just another form of escapism, in this case through self-denial, just as drinking is escapism through self-indulgence. Even though Govinda states that he is still learning, Siddhartha asserts that he himself is far from knowledge and wisdom.

After the imperceptible passage of three years with the Samanas, Siddhartha resolves to leave them. Not only does Siddhartha again object to discipleship and assert the impossibility of learning things second-hand, he asserts that learning impedes knowledge. Govinda is, of course, troubled by Siddhartha's lecture. At this point, we learn of the arrival of Gotama Buddha, who has conquered sorrow and brought the cycle of rebirth to a standstill. He has attained Nirvana; he remembers former lives and will never return to the cycle. Govinda enjoins Siddhartha to go and hear the teachings of Buddha. Siddhartha is amazed that Govinda (heretofore always Siddhartha's shadow) is initiating a course of action, and since Siddhartha desires to go, they both decide to leave the Samanas. Here we have another time expansion, a kind of enlargement of a particular day when a specific allusion is made to "the same day," and Siddhartha draws the angry Samana teacher into the same hypnotic spell that the teacher himself had taught.

Important in this section is the fact that living among the ascetics dissatisfies Siddhartha for the same reason that Brahmism never really satisfied his father. As the rules and rituals of the Brahmin priests did not provide knowledge through experience, likewise the Samana rules and ascetic observances do not either. Instead, they are merely a kind of escapism. Supremely important is the fact of Gotama Buddha's having attained Nirvana, transcending and suspending the transmigratory life cycle and the agony of time.

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