Hermann Hesse
Contributed by Sharen Felty

Siddhartha and Govinda make their way to the camp of Gotama’s followers. The followers recognize them as spiritual pilgrims and welcome them. Siddhartha and Govinda are deeply impressed by Gotama. Pure enlightenment seems to radiate from his being. His teachings include Buddhism’s Fourfold Way, Eightfold Path, and other parts of the religion, in addition to numerous practices similar to those seem among the Samanas. Siddhartha and Govinda dedicate themselves to Gotama’s teachings. Govinda promptly decides to give himself entirely over to the lifestyle prescribed by their new teacher. He decides to stay with Gotama forever. However, Siddhartha has some doubts and discovers that he has difficulty with complete acceptance of Gotama’s teachings. Siddhartha unexpectedly sees Gotama in the grove the following morning. He speaks to him boldly about his teachings. He praises the achievement of discovering the unbroken chain of being and of cause and effect. However, Siddhartha feels that the unity is imperfect. The message is unable to offer for Siddhartha or others the secret of what has been experienced by Gotama himself. Siddhartha also makes note of a contradiction: How is it possible to embrace the unity of all things, as Gotama requires, if one is also instructed to overcome the physical world.

Gotama explains that he does not have the goal of providing perfect mathematical comprehension of the universe but rather to help people find freedom from suffering. Siddhartha replies that while it’s true that Gotama himself has found Nirvana, he did it by himself, with no assistance from a teacher. Siddhartha is implicitly calling into question the efficacy of the approach that Gotama is prescribing to his followers. Admitting that Siddhartha may technically be right in some regards, Gotama points out that Siddhartha is unable to provide spiritual guidance superior to that which he provides. Gotama asks him whether Siddhartha is saying it would be better if his followers went off to the city for a life of pleasure. Siddhartha departs from this meeting still unconvinced that the way of life Gotama is prescribing is right for him. Govinda wants to stay with Gotama, so Siddhartha leaves by himself. He embarks on a search to find a way to achieve knowledge of the meaning of life without being dependent on religious instruction.


Siddhartha has been searching for a teacher who can show him the path to enlightenment. However, his meeting with Gotama leads him to believe that there is no formula for enlightenment or salvation. Similar to how the Hindus and Samanas preached a specific path to enlightenment and Siddhartha left these groups behind, Gotama provides teachings that Siddhartha ultimately rejects. Gotama’s rules are similar to those of both the Hindus and Samanas in that they focus entirely on renunciation as the way to escape suffering. However, Siddhartha has already recognized during the time he spent with the Samanas that he is unable to find enlightenment through rejection of the Self and the world in which the body exists. His belief in Nirvana cannot exist if it requires separation from the suffering of life. With his decision to leave Gotama, Siddhartha shows his rejection of his prescribed formula for achieving enlightenment. Siddhartha recognizes that every religion provides specific formulas for the achievement of enlightenment in the same way that every teacher provides knowledge that comes from the context of his own experiences. This is why Siddhartha cannot rely on any one individual teacher or religion in his own quest for enlightenment.

Wisdom can be learned only through experience. This is why there is no one guide who can teach enlightenment. Words are inadequate in communicating it. Gotama’s teachings communicate information about enlightenment and the causes of suffering, but listeners are unable to translate this into actual enlightenment in their own lives. While the knowledge helps one reach a deeper understanding, words by themselves can never stand in the place of experience. Also, the meaning of words is dependent on usage and interpretation. While Gotama talks of enlightenment, his efforts are only able to let a follower realize that the potential enlightenment exists. The teacher cannot provide enlightenment to his followers himself. Each person must experience enlightenment for himself or herself, and in this way a teacher is made useless. Achieving enlightenment is an internal process. Siddhartha already understands this. That is why he cannot remain one of Gotama’s followers.

Govinda opts to stay behind and continue following Gotama. While Siddhartha feels sad about having to leave his friend behind, he also knows that he needs to find enlightenment alone. It is because formulas for reaching enlightenment do not exist that teachers simply cannot give enlightenment to their students. Siddhartha’s search for enlightenment must be done by searching his own soul by itself. Gotama has already found enlightenment. That is why he can endure the distraction of having followers. Siddhartha knows that he will be unable to reach enlightenment if Govinda stays with him. This is why he is content to let Govinda go. It is only when Siddhartha is alone that he has the freedom to test himself in the way needed to reach enlightenment.

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