Literature Study GuidesSiddharthaPart 2 Govinda Summary

Siddhartha | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha | Part 2, Govinda | Summary



While resting in the grove that was once Kamala's, Govinda hears of a wise ferryman nearby and decides to seek him out. Though Govinda is a well-respected, dutiful monk, his heart is still restless "and his seeking [is] unsatisfied." Once again he does not recognize Siddhartha; he asks the ferryman to tell him about his own path as a seeker. Siddhartha replies that a person may "seek too much," for in seeking one thing, "he only sees the thing that he is seeking." Such a person can miss blessings right under his nose, always seeking but never finding what is already there. "Seeking means: to have a goal," he explains, "but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal." Govinda doesn't quite understand, so Siddhartha reminds him of the sleeping man he once guarded by the river there. Govinda then realizes the ferryman is Siddhartha, and they spend the night talking about life.

The next morning before departing, Govinda asks if Siddhartha has "a doctrine, belief, or knowledge which you uphold, which helps you to live and do right?" His friend replies that he has never trusted doctrines or become any teacher's devotee, yet he has still had many teachers in his life. He has learned lessons from Kamala, Kamaswami, and even Govinda himself, who once watched over him as he slept. But most of all, he has learned from the river and from Vasudeva, who was "not a thinker, but he realized the essential as well as Gotama."

When Govinda presses Siddhartha for any concrete "knowledge" he can pass on, Siddhartha replies, "Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom." A wise man's wisdom "always sounds foolish," he says, offering one example: "in every truth the opposite is equally true." Any statement of truth is one-sided in nature, he explains, and this does not reflect the actual unity of all things. Teachers, of course, must use this type of division or opposites to explain the world, yet the division itself is an illusion.

Siddhartha further states, "Time is not real," and so there is no division between "this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil." A person's future already exists in their present state, just as "the potential Buddha already exists in the sinner." Each thing contains its opposite: the newborn will someday die, while the dying man will move on to eternal life. All things in existence are good and necessary, for they are part of the whole that is perfection. Siddhartha explains that on his own path, for example, he had to experience lust, greed, and despair "in order to learn not to resist them." He had to "learn to love the world" as it is, rather than comparing it to some unreal ideal. "To love it and be glad to belong to it" is the thing. He then picks up a stone and notes how it may someday become dirt, which may then "become plant, animal or man." Whatever its state, the stone is still worthy of love and respect.

He clarifies that all things can be loved, "but one cannot love words" or thoughts for there is no substance to them. He suggests that "too many words" may be preventing Govinda from finding peace. Even "Samsara and Nirvana are only words," unimportant to Siddhartha as contrasted to things. Govinda then asks if things are even real: "Is it not only the illusion of Maya (pretense or deceit), only image and appearance?" Siddhartha responds that if things are an illusion, then he too is an illusion, "and so they are always of the same nature as myself." This is why things (and living beings) are worthy of love and esteem. To Siddhartha, nothing is more important than love, and people should strive to "regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect." Govinda counters that the Buddha "forbade us to bind ourselves to earthly love," and Siddhartha admits this seems to contradict his own view. However, the contradiction is one of language only—of words—for Gotama's deeds prove he loved humanity deeply. Why else would he devote his long life to helping and teaching others?

Govinda thanks Siddhartha for his thoughts and prepares to leave, but inwardly, he thinks his friend sounds rather crazy. Still, he recognizes Siddhartha as a holy man in his manner and bearing, his radiance, peace, and gentleness. He bows in respect and friendship, and asks earnestly, "Tell me one more word ... something I can understand," something he can use in his own search for peace. He is anxious and full of longing to end the suffering of his continual search. Siddhartha urges Govinda to lean forward and kiss him on the forehead, and though surprised, Govinda does so. In that moment he sees thousands of faces at once: people and animals "helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other." Each face is but a temporary expression of life, and "only time stood between one face and another." The faces do not die, but only change forms, and are reborn. Above all of these forms is the "mask of ... Siddhartha's smiling face," which unites them. His smile is the same as the Buddha's, and a tearful Govinda bows to him once more, overwhelmed by a lifetime's worth of love.


Kamala's former grove once again takes center stage as a place of transitions. It is where Siddhartha first sees the beautiful courtesan and his life's course diverges toward wealth and vice. It is also the place Siddhartha meditates in after his son runs away, where he reviews his own life and realizes the boy must go his own way. Now, Govinda rests there as a way station, the final stop on his pilgrimage to enlightenment, which awaits him just down the river. His decision to seek out the ferryman seems once more like the hand of fate rather than coincidence. As happened previously, Govinda does not recognize Siddhartha even though he is right before his eyes. He "only sees the thing that he is seeking," never expecting that the wise man he seeks might come in the unexpected form of his old friend.

When Govinda presses Siddhartha for some doctrine to follow, Siddhartha's response contradicts even Govinda's ideas of how wisdom is transmitted and acquired. Govinda flounders in the sea of words, not able to understand the wisdom offered. The first hurdle is the idea that "time is not real," an advanced concept that can be difficult to grasp and even more difficult to accept as real. The next staggering idea is the paradox of existence: that each thing contains its opposite. Consider the following question: How can something that is light also contain darkness? The answer lies in the mind's conception of light and dark; a person can't full explain what light is without comparing it to its opposite, darkness. Thus, the concept of light carries the concept of darkness within it, and vice versa. The pair defines each other, and one could not exist without the other. Some examples of this paradox that are suggested in the story are Samsara and Nirvana (or "suffering and bliss"), illusion and truth, and good and evil.

Govinda grapples with the concept of illusion, or Maya. He has been taught that the physical body and world are temporary—illusory and unreal. And in one way, this is true: things come and go as if they had never existed, as time passes. In another way, though, it is a false conception, since objects and people contain matter that exists physically in the present time. Govinda no doubt considers himself to be real, and Siddhartha capitalizes on this belief as he continues his explanation. Siddhartha points out that if objects are illusions, then so is he, and by extension, so is Govinda. It really doesn't matter either way in Siddhartha's belief system. Whether real or illusion, people exist in the same state as the things around them. They are all part of the unity, and therefore deserving of love and esteem.

Govinda is further stumped by this call for love since the Buddha has forbidden his followers "to bind [themselves] to earthly love." In this concept, Govinda's understanding is lacking, and the key to understanding may be the word "bind." Buddhists practice "nonattachment," in which it's permissible to love, but one must also accept that the loved person or thing is not permanent. Being "nonattached" implies that one is can and does accept this reality, so that when a loved one is lost, needless suffering can be avoided. The "nonattached" person still feels the emotions fully (such as love or grief), but they also accept reality as it is and choose to release the suffering that reality brings. (This is, in part, what Gotama is referring to when he says he teaches "salvation from suffering.")

Siddhartha's own view on what matters in life has changed drastically since he was a young man. As a Brahmin's son, the quest to know the Self was "the only important thing." Now, the most important thing is to love the world "and be glad to belong to it." There is a clear shift in his thinking from self-absorption (seeking the Self) to recognizing and living within the unity (belonging to and loving the world). This shift has at last allowed him to reach enlightenment.

Govinda is so lost in thought and doubts he may not be able to make the leap of faith required to reach Siddhartha's level of understanding. Fortunately, Siddhartha understands that this wisdom can't be taken in through thought alone. It can only be absorbed through direct experience. He urges Govinda to kiss him, and in establishing this contact, Siddhartha is able to share his own visions and understanding with Govinda wordlessly. This offers Govinda the spiritual "level up" he has been seeking, for once he experiences this unity, the knowledge of it is his forever. And it is Siddhartha's final immersion into the world of other people: from a beginning in which he kept his true thoughts to himself and looked dismissively at other people, he now opens up himself completely to Govinda, until Govinda can experience unity through him.

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