Siddhartha is driven to extremes by his desire for spiritual enlightenment and understanding. While he embraces the extremes of physicality in this novel, the initial spark of desire comes from within him. Siddhartha’s initial project is to negate the Self. The Samanas, and to some extent Gotama the Buddha, preach this negation as the catalyst for enlightenment. They claim that one can negate the Self through the mollification of the senses and the elimination of desire. While desire can be mental and physical, the senses are decidedly rooted in physicality. When people describe Siddhartha as looking “like a Samana,” the effects of this sensual negation are what they see. Siddhartha pursues the opposite sensual extreme during his life with Kamala. He enjoys sex with Kamala, as well as food, dancing, and drinking. Siddhartha does not attempt to find a balance between this new world and the ascetic world he left behind. Though sex and drinking are new to him, he does not attempt to negotiate a level of comfort or moderation. His goal is to attain Nirvana through excess. However, excess, like fasting, fails to provide the desired effect. When Siddhartha eventually does attain Nirvana, he does not do so through a sensual extreme. Rather, he has learned to find a balance in his life by the river. His physicality reflects his sense of peace, but he does not radiate the effects of a physical extreme. Instead, he exudes the peace he initially noticed in Vasudeva’s eyes many years ago. 2. Discuss the ways Siddhartha attempts to attain spiritual enlightenment. Which approaches are successful? Which ones are not successful, and which ones have limited effectiveness? How does Siddhartha progress from one approach to the other? When Siddhartha leaves his boyhood village, he is armed only with the desire to understand himself and reach enlightenment. He has no concrete, long-term plan for himself other than to seek spiritual fulfillment, and he follows many different paths to reach his goal. Siddhartha employs a kind of process of elimination as he tries one tactic after another. Although his journey is a spiritual one, in many cases Siddhartha uses an almost mathematical calculation to decide how to proceed. When he decides to move from one way of life to another, his choice is always decidedly analytical. Siddhartha initially leaves his father the Brahmin for a life among the Samanas. Although his father is a religious leader, Nirvana has never been his stated goal. The Samanas, in contrast, explicitly seek the spiritually transcendent. Soon, Gotama the Buddha tempts Siddhartha to leave the Samanas because Gotama has attained Nirvana. Siddhartha reasons that the Samanas cannot be as effective as Gotama if they have never found enlightenment. Siddhartha eventually leaves Gotama as well. He concludes that although Gotama has attained Nirvana, his teachings will not necessarily lead others to it. Siddhartha’s subsequent indulgences in the city may seem haphazard, but they are prompted by a meticulous application of the process of elimination. Siddhartha does not want to deny himself any physical experience. When he lies in the pleasure garden and resolves to leave the city, he is prompted to do so by his dream of Kamala’s bird. This dream allows him to understand the emptiness of city life. When Siddhartha begins to live alongside Vasudeva, he realizes that Nirvana cannot be taught. Rather, Siddhartha intends to follow in the steps of the ferryman and learn to read the river for himself. 3.
Consider Siddhartha’s relationship with Govinda. How are they similar, and how are they different? What are the narrative functions of Govinda’s reappearance throughout the novel? How does their relationship impact the novel’s ending?
Govinda is Siddhartha’s childhood friend and becomes his partner as a spiritual pilgrim. He serves a variety of functions in the novel, both to further the plot and to reveal aspects of Siddhartha we might not...
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