Literature Study GuidesSiddharthaPart 2 Samsara Summary

Siddhartha | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha | Part 2, Samsara | Summary



Siddhartha spends many years living the comfortable life of a merchant, though at first "he remain[s] a Samana in his heart." Although his senses have been reawakened to the world, he still feels apart from it, and "the ordinary people, [are] still alien to him." He has become rich, owns a house and garden, and has servants, and, although people like him, his only close friend is Kamala. He has long forgotten the sense of awakening he felt after meeting Gotama, the Buddha, though Siddhartha still half remembers his old life of moderation, meditation, and contemplation of the Self. His soul becomes heavy, and it begins to slow down like a potter's wheel that spins but eventually comes to a halt. Though his soul goes to sleep, his senses "become more awakened," from having "learned a great deal, experienced a great deal." Meanwhile, he has taken up gambling, drinking, eating meat (a problematic, although not usually forbidden, practice in most Asian religions) and rich foods, and dallying with women. He has "stopped being a Samana in his heart."

Siddhartha's lifelong sense of superiority over others has begun to diminish. He finds himself acting more like "the ordinary people," with childishness and anxiety now a part of his mentality. However, he still doesn't have the "depth of their pleasures and sorrows, the anxious but sweet happiness of their continual power to love," and for this, Siddhartha envies them. Their love for their own lives is something he cannot emulate. Over time the laughter fades from his life, and he becomes bored, listless, and discontented. Even his guiding inner voice has been silenced, since "the world had caught him." His possessions have become "a chain and a burden," and Siddhartha loathes himself and his riches. His gambling has skyrocketed into high-stakes, addictive madness, and only gambling makes him happy now. He no longer gives to the poor. He squeezes his debtors and dreams of money, burying his "disillusionment and nausea" in more gambling, women, and wine.

One night Kamala asks him about Gotama, the Buddha, suggesting wistfully that she might one day become his follower. They make love, and Siddhartha realizes "how closely related passion was to death." He notices how they have both aged, and thoughts of death creep into his mind. He departs to spend the evening with women and wine and then tries to sleep, but nausea overtakes him and he vomits. He drifts off at daybreak, and dreams of the songbird Kamala keeps locked in a golden cage—it "was dead and lay stiff on the floor." As he throws the bird out of the house, he feels "as if he had thrown away ... all that was good and of value in himself." He awakens weighed down by sadness, seeing his life as "worthless and senseless," and he goes to sit in his garden.

In his garden, he contemplates the past happiness of his boyhood with the Brahmins, of his time with the Samanas, of his experience with the Buddha. Always, he felt an inner calling to a path he should follow, but now there is no such path in his heart. For years, he had had no "lofty goal," no thirst for knowledge, no satisfaction from his seemingly pleasurable life. He is trapped in "[t]his game ... called Samsara," and knows he can no longer continue his life as it is. He sees how foolish the concept of ownership is, and in his heart he releases his possessions. He says goodbye to no one, simply leaving town. While Kamaswami searches for him, Kamala does not, for "had she not always expected it?" She rejoices in the memory of their last rapturous lovemaking, and then releases the songbird and closes her house to visitors forever. Soon, she discovers she is pregnant with Siddhartha's child.


Siddhartha swings from one extreme to another in his life, first as an ascetic Samana and now as a hedonistic man of the world. These extremes are far from the "Middle Path" of moderation he will eventually discover, but for now, he lacks balance in his approach to life. It is an all-or-nothing affair, and he continually tops himself by sinking lower and lower into vice. He reaches the point of nausea with his life, literally vomiting from his own excessive consumption. He is slowly poisoning his body and soul, and can no longer deny he is doing so. He is aware that his inner voice has gone silent, a sign that he is no longer on a spiritual path in life. His dream reinforces this notion, with the songbird serving as a symbol of his own soul. In the dream the bird has died within its gilded cage, just as Siddhartha's soul has been smothered by his empty life of riches. He feels he is caught in Samsara, a concept belonging to several Asian religions, in which life repeats itself in a cycle of death and rebirth.

Recognizing he is trapped in this cycle, Siddhartha now knows he is not making spiritual progress and will have to make a change. In his usual extreme way, he simply cuts ties and walks away from his life without a word of explanation to anyone. While his actions may imply a spiritual purity or absoluteness, they cause stress for Kamaswami, who searches for him, and heartbreak for Kamala, even though she knew his departure was inevitable. In the same way Siddhartha leaves his father and his friend Govinda behind, he shows no consideration for others or remorse for his actions now. It could be argued that, in living this way, he ignores the fact that the pain he creates will return to him through the law of karma. This pain would come to him through the unborn son Kamala carries in her womb. A more generous interpretation of Siddhartha is that he needs to make a "clean break" to avoid getting sucked back into the tempting cycle of misery. Either way, he is only human, with his own flaws and foibles, and he still has room to grow and improve.

The theme of love is revisited in this chapter, in particular as a path to touching divinity. Siddhartha and Kamala share a last session of intense lovemaking, and it strikes Siddhartha "how closely related passion [is] to death." Many believe the soul returns to or joins with the divine upon death. A similar belief exists regarding sexual intercourse—that it can help the mind transcend the body and join with the divine. In this way passion may indeed be like death, for the Self is forgotten momentarily, and there is only the divine. Their lovemaking is indeed rapturous; like the Christian Rapture in which souls are called to heaven, Siddhartha and Kamala reach a state of divine ecstasy through making love.

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