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Translated to English in the 150’s Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha appeals to American youth for its honest depiction of the desire for self-realization. Through the character Siddhartha, Hesse shows the developmental journey of a man as he struggles with the question of identity. The story follows him through three major phases of maturity mental, physical and finally, ultimate enlightenment. Siddhartha, however, was not able to mature on his own. The characters around him influenced his development through each phase. By examining the affects of the characters Govinda, Kamala and Vasudeva had on Siddhartha, the three stages of his life become clear.

In the first phase of his life, Siddhartha and Govinda are inseparable. To two leave behind the comforts of home and begin a quest to find mental knowledge. Siddhartha often becomes restless because he is not able to find a teacher that can answer his questions. In his youth, Siddhartha is occupied with learning the sacred teachings of the Brahmins. After learning all that he could, Siddhartha was not content, “his intellect was not satisfied” (). Govinda follows Siddhartha as he joins a group of Semanas in order to find the knowledge the Brahmins were unable to teach him. “Siddhartha learned a great deal from the Semanas; he learned many ways of losing the Self”(1). Studying with the Semanas, Govinda and Siddhartha learn to ignore physical needs and concentrate on meditation in order to survive harsh conditions with little food. Siddhartha, however, began to realize the same thing he had after studying with the Brahmins; there was nothing left for him to learn. Hearing reports of Gotama the Buddha, a man of great knowledge, the two set out to find this new teacher. After listening to his teachings, Govinda swears his allegiance to the Buddha but, realizing that he cannot attain knowledge though a teacher, Siddhartha continues his journey on his own.

In this first stage Siddhartha attempts to seek out the answers that will satisfy his mind. Govinda continues to live his life as a perpetual seeker. Unlike Siddhartha who ventures out alone, Govinda follows teachers and take the path they direct him on. By exchanging one leader for another, Govinda learns nothing of his own self but instead tries to learn another man’s wisdom. Choosing the path of Gotama, Govinda spends his life concentrating on meditation and ignoring the physical world. As they grown older, Siddhartha and Govinda cross paths on various occasions. Each time, however, Govinda fails to recognize Siddhartha because he is unable to comprehend the physical differences in his friend. Siddhartha however, realized that in order to attain wisdom he couldn’t come by it second hand. When the two friends meet again as old men Govinda has still not found the answers he was seeking. Siddhartha explains to him that, “knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom” (115).

No longer following specific teachings, Siddhartha enters into his second phase of development. He leaves behind the practices of self-denial he has learned and begins to see and experience the physical wonders of the world. Siddhartha becomes a lover to the beautiful courtesan, Kamala, and from her he learns physical pleasure. Kamala casts aside the realms of the mind. She takes pride in material possessions and from her Siddhartha acquires a taste for the finer side of life. When Siddhartha first presents himself to her she announces that in order for her to take him as a lover “he must have clothes, fine clothes, and shoes, fine shoes, and plenty of money in his purse and presents for Kamala” (45). At Kamala’s request, Siddhartha develops into a wealthy businessman. During his frequent visits to Kalama, Siddhartha realized that “here with Kamala lay the value and meaning of his present life” (54). After several years of living with Kamala, Siddhartha began to deaden. “Slowly the soul sickness of the rich crept over him” (6). Focusing his life on money, possessions and sex Siddhartha realized he had nothing meaningful to live for. He became heavy with “weariness from continuing along a path which had no joyous goal” (65). Knowing that he had to find a substantial purpose, Siddhartha left Kamala and all the fruitless possessions he acquired for her.

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Leaving the city behind him, Siddhartha was once again able to find his inner voice and came to the realization that in order to appreciate the teachings of his youth he had to experience udder despair. Meeting the ferryman Vasudeva, Siddhartha became his apprentice and learn from the river. While telling Vasudeva the story of his life, “Siddhartha felt how wonderful it was to have such a listener who could be absorbed in another person’s life” (85). Following the life style of Vasudeva, Siddhartha learns how to listen “with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions” (87). By learning how to listen, Siddhartha was able to reflect on his life in the same manner. It is during his time with Vasudeva that Siddhartha is able to reach is ultimate enlightenment. It is from his time at the river that Siddhartha learns about the unity of all things. He learns that “every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death with in them, all dying people�eternal life”(116). Under the influence of Vasudeva, Siddhartha is able to find the wisdom he had been searching for.

The characters Govinda, Kamala and Vasudeva play and equal role in Siddhartha’s quest for self-realization. Siddhartha is able to seek his own path by leaving Gotama. Under the influence of Kamala and Vasudeva, he is able to find the experience and reflection he needed to find wisdom. Through these characters Hesse touches the major lessons of the story. Without them, Siddhartha would not have been able to learn that wisdom cannot be communicated, the value of personal experience or the unity which binds the world.

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. New York New Directions, 151.

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