Hermann Hesse
Contributed by Sharen Felty

Siddhartha becomes wealthy during the time he is employed by Kamaswami. He enjoys the intimate company of Kamala. He lives in this manner for a period of many years, gaining more and more success in business. Initially, while he sees business as a game, he feels a sense of superiority to those who seek worldly riches and pleasures. However, he gradually falls under the same spell. He starts acting and looking like a wealthy merchant. He eats rich food, wears the finest garments, and gambles. The spiritual voice he has always had within him is dead. He is unable to find peace even in his relationship with Kamala.

Twenty years have passed. He sees traces of gray in his hair and there are wrinkles on Kamala’s face. Siddhartha starts to have dreams that indicate it is likely now time for him to move on. In one of his dreams, he remembers a conversation he had with Kamala in which she expressed some interest in Gotama. Siddhartha dissuades her from looking for the teacher. In a different dream, he sees that the rare songbird Kamala keeps in a cage is dead. He flings it into the street, as though he throws away everything that is good and has value in his life. He feels death in his heart when he awakens. He finds that the inner voice that has been quiet for too long.

These dreams cause distress for Siddhartha. He goes into a pleasure garden and tries to meditate. H thinks about his life in the city. This is the life he created by being an apprentice to Kasawami. It now seems like a mere diversion from this path on the way to enlightenment. The evenings of eating, dancing, and drinking gave him only a pleasant sense of oblivion, nothing more. It’s true that his time with Kamala has given him pleasure and taught him lessons about love, it cannot go on forever if he wants to reach enlightenment. He recognizes that he has been playing the game of Samsara. Samsara is the cyclical path of life in which the individual lives, suffers, and dies. While he needed to play the game, he does not have to play it forever. He departs from the city in despair, not telling anyone he is leaving. When Kamala finds out that he has gone, she lets her songbird free from the golden cage. Kamala does not take any more lovers from the day forward. She soon finds that she is pregnant with Siddhartha’s child.


Siddhartha now knows that neither asceticism nor sensory indulgence alone can be the path to enlightenment. Mastery of one or the other always leads to enslavement. Siddhartha has been able to master almost everything he has tried to do. He was a model Brahmin son and then a devoted ascetic among the Samanas. He then learned the arts of desire and love. However, there is little room for spontaneity or variety in perfection. He finds that he has been rendered a salve to the very realm that he has mastered. In that state, there is no possibility of relief from the cycle of predictable events. Even his time with Kamala now fits into this relentless pattern. While he is devoted to Kamala, he also feels bored. He finds himself compelled to look for pleasure over and over again in order to prevent the boredom from coming back. As the years go by, he comes to understand that the cycle of the senses turns slowly but it is inevitable in its path around a fixed point: death. He needed to immerse himself in the material world in order to learn what he needed to from it, but this kind of immersion will ultimately trap most people. It prevents them from ever being able to achieve enlightenment. Siddhartha finds he must leave in order to escape this fate.

Kamala is correct in her observation that Siddhartha initially saw the city through the eyes of a Sama. However, his loss of spiritual attachment inevitably occurs. Siddhartha realizes that he more time he spends in the city, the more his superior and distant feelings disappear. These feelings are able to continue to exist only if he is able to keep up his distance from the world of material things and act as an impartial observer would. However, the more Siddhartha masters the material world, the more strongly he is rendered a part of it. He ends up almost Kamaswami’s equal in business and he is the greatest lover of Kamala’s life. In both these cases, we see that he has become as proficient as his teachers. In fact, he has gone to the extent of becoming just like them, and this anchors him too firmly in the material world. He is not a thin and naked Samana anymore but a wealthy, well-fed, and well-clothed merchant. The only parts of his spiritual roots that still exist are isolated in his own mind. With his increase in material power, his spiritual power weakens. This continues until he is no longer able to hear his inner voice. His roots in the spiritual world now seem a memory. The material world and love have pulled him away from the spiritual enlightenment he seeks. The dream Siddhartha has about the dead songbird indicates what his fate could be if he continues on the current path. This helps him make his decision to leave the city. Kamala’s decision to release the songbird when she realizes he is gone suggests that what Siddhartha has experienced is an awakening. Upon Siddhartha’s disappearance, Kamaswami looks for him, fearing that bandits may have taken him. Kamala is not surprised, though. She had expected that he would leave. She lets the songbird go as soon as she hears that Siddhartha has gone. This creates a clear link between Siddhartha and the bird. In Siddhartha’s dream, the bird dies and its death causes him to experience a terrible spiritual emptiness. The bird is freed in the real world. This suggests that Siddhartha has successfully avoided spiritual death and has woken up from his time of slumber in the material world. Kamala also seems to be ready for such an awakening. Once she has released the bird, she decides that she will have no more lovers. She alters her life after Siddhartha leaves. The fact that she is pregnant suggests a radical change that stands in parallel to the alterations that Siddhartha will experience next.

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