Hermann Hesse
Contributed by Sharen Felty

Govinda comes back to the river to search for enlightenment. He has heard talk of a wise man who lives there. However, when he gets there, he fails to recognize Siddhartha. When Govinda requests advice from him, Siddhartha, smiling, tells him that he is searching too diligently and that his goal has possessed him. He addresses him by his name. Govinda is as surprised at this point as he was when he didn’t recognize Siddhartha at the river years earlier. Govinda is still following Gotama but he has not achieved the type of enlightenment that Siddhartha is now radiating. So he requests that Siddhartha teach him everything that he knows.

Govinda remains for the night at Siddhartha’s hut. Siddhartha provides advice that summarizes his wisdom. He tells Govinda, though, that it is impossible to teach his wisdom. He explains that wisdom cannot be taught because of the limitations of verbal explanations. They are incapable of communicating enlightenment in its entirety. While knowledge can be passed along, individuals are required to find their own wisdom. Siddhartha says that one attempts to teach it, as was done by the Buddha, one needs to categorize or divide the world into Samsara and Nirvana, into sorrow and salvation, into disappointment and truth. Siddhartha knows that every truth has an opposite truth. No one person is every completely saintly or completely sinful. If it seems like someone is one of these things, it is only a deception related to the illusion that time is real. The world can never be seen as incomplete or trying to become complete. It is already complete at every moment. The dying carry eternal life, babies carry death, and grace carries sin. Siddhartha declares that he only wishes to love the world as it has been, as it will be, and as it is. He wants to see all creates with reverence, admiration, and love.

Govinda asks whether there could be some additional advice that he might find helpful. He explains that since he is very old, he is worried he has very little time to find enlightenment. Siddhartha instructs Govinda to kiss him on his forehead. Govinda does this. When he does, he sees the timeless flow of images and forces that make their way before his eyes. This is exactly as Siddhartha has been able to envision them in the river. There are tears streaming from Govinda’s eyes. He bows before Siddhartha. The latter’s smile is exactly that of the enlightened Buddha. Siddhartha and Govinda have both found the enlightenment they started to seek in the days of their youth.


The Buddhist concept of “right rapture” is represented in this chapter. We see an enlightened one who feels joy in his enlightenment yet dismisses the glory of the knowledge he has by explaining that full communication is an impossibility. While Siddhartha is unable to fully explain enlightenment to Govinda, the latter perceives his face as a vision of truth. There is a similar illumination of the face of the enlightened, whether it is Vasudeva, Gotama, or Siddhartha. When Govinda looks at Siddhartha, he perceives thousands of faces. While these continually change, they remain Siddhartha’s face. As Govinda looks at this face, he comes to  understand, just like Kamala did, that it has an appearance no different from Gotama’s. Therefore, the goal that Siddhartha has successfully met for himself, the destruction of time, is clear to Govinda in the look of an enlightened person. Govinda has sought enlightenment without having full knowledge of what the implication of his search are. He has now found wisdom. There is now no distinction between the seeker and sage. There is no difference between Gotama and Siddhartha. There is no potential for disunity in the enlightened one who has found his path to the wisdom found on the other shore.

The mentoring relationship we see between Siddhartha and Vasudeva indicate that although it is impossible for the way to enlightenment to be taught, seekers can still enjoy guidance. At the conclusion of the novel, it is presumed that Siddhartha will continue as the ferryman that Vesudeva once was. Siddhartha’s son has his name. This indicates that he may one day follow in  his father’s footsteps. In his life as a ferryman, Siddhartha will travel back and forth between the worlds that river divides and unites symbolically. This suggests that life’s polarities will always be there. Similar to Vasudeva, Siddhartha Siddhartha will be use of use to everyone who traverses the water. He will provide his passengers with the chance to listen to the message of the river, although few will perceive it. Siddhartha will give guidance to those who need it, but he will not impose his wisdom on those who do not want to hear it. Govinda approaches Siddhartha in his search for a solid explanation of how enlightenment is achieved. As always, however, words aren’t sufficient. Yet Siddhartha is able to communicate his knowledge without words by way of a kiss. Siddhartha gives Govinda guidance to help him understand the knowledge that Siddhartha possesses. It is in this way that Govinda reaches the enlightenment that he would never have been able to achieve if Siddhartha had tried to teach him rather than guide him.

The attempt that Siddhartha makes to explain enlightenment calls attention to a fundamental distinction in how various teachers and groups see Nirvana. Siddhartha states that while teachers such as the Samanas and Gotama say that Nirvana is a state that may be reached in a single day, it is actually occurring all around us. Every man can be a sinner and every man can a saint. Everything in the world provides the potential for perfection and Nirvana. A sinner cold be on the path to the state of sainthood and a gambler might evolve so that he will one day become a Buddha. It is because of this that every person is sacred. Siddhartha also indicates that there is a sacred quality to all things. He shows Govinda a stone. When he does this, eh wishes to communicate that even humble objects are sacred. The stone that Siddhartha shows to Govinda may become soil one day. This indicates that it could eventually transform into a plant or an animal or even a man or a Buddha. It is because of this that Siddhartha reasons that all things are sacred and has wonderful potential. Instead of being just a single state that a person reaches, enlightenment is a state that one already obtains even when they are seeking it.

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