Siddhartha By Hermann Hesse Summary and Analysis Part 2: Govinda

Summary

As this sequence begins, Govinda has arrived to cross the river, meeting Siddhartha, who is now an old man. Siddhartha's eyes smile as did Vasudeva's many years earlier. A superlative dialogue between them follows in which Siddhartha declares that in order to find one's goal, one must be free. The goal, Nirvana, is so elusive as to defy formulation, and too much seeking on the conscious level can make fulfillment impossible. Govinda knows that Siddhartha has found his own way and realizes that he did it without the formal system of Buddhist doctrine. As the Buddha tried long ago, Siddhartha now tries to express how he found his way, but verbalization cannot create or invoke the intuitive, transcendent experience for Govinda. As Siddhartha invites Govinda to stay with him in his hut for the night, we come to another close-up time sequence.

On the following morning, after Govinda asks Siddhartha about any doctrine which he might have, Siddhartha tries to explain how he attained inner peace from Vasudeva and the river rather than from teachers. He then draws the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, remarking that wisdom cannot be imparted from one man to another. Knowledge may be acquired from teachers, but wisdom must come from direct experience. Siddhartha then offers his thoughts on truth, suggesting that if an attempt is made at putting truth into words, something is always inherently missing. Verbalization eliminates that other side of a truth which defies verbalization. All that is thought and expressed verbally is, in fact, only a half-truth. Also, in every truth which is complete, not only does the truth which appears exist, but its antithesis also inherently exists.

This section reveals that not only Samana life left its mark on Siddhartha, but that his brief contact with the Buddha left its mark also. Buddhist doctrine is predicated on the antithetical elements of Nirvana and sansara; all truth possesses these two opposites — the truth side and the illusion side, all things being imbued with salvation and suffering. The speech concludes in a final excursus on time: If time is not real, then the line between this world and eternity is also not real. Siddhartha uses the example of a stone and suggests that because it is but one part of the whole cycle of life and thereby has transmigratory potential, it is consequently not just a stone but at once God and Buddha. We come back to the idea that all things return — that the stone has been all else and we again become all else.

Words, however, are not endowed with transmigratory potential. Thoughts, which are also mere verbalizations, are not so endowed either. After once again extolling Vasudeva, Siddhartha concludes his discourse by declaring that love is the most important thing in the world. We can sense that he feels that Gotama Buddha also embraced love — despite his verbalizations to the contrary, and Siddhartha projects this contradiction as just cause for being distrustful of words. He extols Gotama, but Govinda admits that he still has not found peace. Govinda has a sudden, transcendent, verbally inexpressible experience in the awesome presence of Siddhartha, much like that which Siddhartha had in the presence of Vasudeva years earlier.

When Siddhartha summons Govinda to kiss him on the forehead, Govinda feels as if he is touching eternity, a kind of mystical transference from Siddhartha, and he sees in Siddhartha's beatific smile a continuous stream of thousands of faces much like those Siddhartha saw many years earlier in the river. Like Siddhartha, Govinda attains Nirvana, reaching the depths of the ancestral soul of man, the Jungian collective unconscious.

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