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Gotama in Siddhartha

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

When Siddhartha meets Gotama the Buddha, he recognizes immediately that Gotama is enlightened, yet he rejects Gotama as a teacher. In this lesson, we will find out more about Gotama in 'Siddhartha' by Hermann Hesse.

Rumors Circulate about Gotama

What would indicate to you that you really connected to a higher power? Siddhartha feels unsatisfied with his religious experiences because he thinks he should not need constant renewal. After Siddhartha leaves home, he lives in self-denial for many years with a group of ascetics called the Samanas. An ascetic is a person who abstains from all pleasures for spiritual reasons. Just as Siddhartha is beginning to feel discontent with the Samanas, he begins to hear rumors of an enlightened Buddha named Gotama. According to the rumors, '… he had overcome the suffering of the world in himself and had halted the cycle of rebirths.' According to legend, Gotama reached Nirvana without ever having cycled back again. Nirvana is a condition of transcendence over the pain and suffering of the world. Siddhartha's vision of enlightenment is to never cycle back. Let's find out more about Gotama the Buddha from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

Govinda Wants to Hear Gotama

Govinda, Siddhartha's childhood friend, becomes interested in learning more about Gotama the Buddha. According to legend, '…he was said to wander through the land, teaching, surrounded by disciples, without possession, without home, without a wife, in the yellow cloak of an ascetic, but with a cheerful brow, a man of bliss, and Brahmins and princes would bow down before him and would become his students.'

The eldest of the Samanas did not think very highly of Gotama because at one point, he was an ascetic, but turned away into a life of worldly pleasures. When Govinda learns that Gotama is nearby, Govinda begs Siddhartha to go with him to hear the Buddha speak. By this point, Siddhartha is starting to figure out that he doesn't really believe that spiritual teachers will lead him to enlightenment, but he agrees to go with Govinda to listen to Gotama.

Siddhartha Agrees that Gotama is Enlightened

Siddhartha tells the elder of the Samanas that they are leaving, then Govinda and Siddhartha begin to search for Gotama. When Siddhartha and Govida first see Gotama, they know it is him. The narrator explains, '… the two Samanas recognised him solely by the perfection of his calm, by the quietness of his appearance, in which there was no searching, no desire, no imitation, no effort to be seen, only light and peace.'

Despite Siddhartha's doubts about teachers, Siddhartha recognizes that there is something different about this man. The narrator describes Siddhartha's first impression, 'This man was holy. Never before, Siddhartha had venerated a person so much, never before he had loved a person as much as this one.'

Siddhartha Chooses Not to Follow Gotama

When Gotama the Buddha addresses the crowd, he sticks to the usual teachings, but afterward, many listeners, including Govinda, step forward to promise to join Gotama. Siddhartha encourages Govinda to move forward and follow the path he has selected, but Siddhartha does not join Gotama. The next day, Siddhartha sees Gotama and explains to him the reason he will not follow.

Siddhartha explains to Gotama that he believes that Gotama is enlightened, but that he did not receive his enlightenment through the teachings of others. In the same way, Siddhartha needs to find his own way to enlightenment. Gotama's parting words are, 'You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!'

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