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WITH THE SAMANAS
Siddhartha gives away his fine clothes, keeping only a loincloth and a rough cloak. He learns to fast and to endure heat, cold, hunger, and pain. He masters the control of his breathing and heartbeat. He learns to slip out of the consciousness of himself into other creatures, experiencing the life cycle in which the soul migrates endlessly from one life form into another. His goal is to become empty of the Self and so reach the secret of pure Being.
Holy men of India are celebrated for their ability to mentally control even unconscious bodily functions like bleeding and burning. Some of these effects have been accomplished in the West through use of hypnosis.
Disappointingly, Siddhartha always finds himself returning to consciousness of the Self. Govinda praises him for learning the exercises so quickly. But Siddhartha tells him that anyone can achieve the same results with wine and a prostitute at a tavern. The oldest Samana has been practicing the exercises for years and has still not achieved bliss.
Amid rumors of a great teacher, Gotama Buddha, the two youths decide to go and hear him. Their old Samana teacher scolds them for leaving, but Siddhartha subdues him with an exercise of hypnotic power, and they leave. What do you think of this demonstration by Siddhartha? Some readers find it an arrogant display of power at the expense of an old man's dignity. Do you think that Siddhartha, with all his gifts, may be guilty of conceit? Are there other instances of this in his behavior?
The Buddha is one of many monks in identical yellow robes, but Siddhartha
knows him at once for the holy man. The two youths listen to the Buddha's
teaching, and Govinda decides to stay and join the Buddha's followers.
Since Siddhartha will not do this, the friends part.
Siddhartha meets the Buddha walking in the grove and engages him in discussion. Siddhartha singles out a flaw in the Buddha's teaching: that by following his path, others can also achieve the same release from the pain of life. Siddhartha contends that the Buddha reached bliss not through teaching but alone and in his own way. Siddhartha believes that wisdom cannot be taught-that it can only be achieved by experience. That is why he will not stay as one of the Buddha's followers. Friendly and courteous, the Buddha dismisses him with a warning against being too clever.
Would you add this incident of lecturing the Buddha to the display of hypnotic power in the previous chapter? Siddhartha's gifts certainly do not include humility! And what do you think of the Buddha's warning to Siddhartha not to be too clever? Is it possible that this arrogant argument from a youthful debater has dented the great teacher's serenity? How valid do you think Siddhartha's argument is?
Siddhartha walks on, having lost his friend Govinda but with a greater awareness of himself. He is no longer a youth, but a man. He has left behind the greatest of all teachers, Gotama Buddha, and so he has given up all teachers. He has tried in every way to lose or escape or conquer the Self. Now he realizes that the one thing he knows least is himself.
This realization is an awakening to a new life. He sees for the first time the beauty of the natural world, which his Brahmin teachers taught him to ignore because it was Maya, illusion. Now he sees that if he wishes to know the meaning of the world-and of himself-he must learn the meaning of these shapes and colors in the world of nature.
Then a chilling realization comes over him. He is no longer a Brahmin or a Samana-or a member of any community. He had thought to go home again, but now he knows that all ties, including those to his home and family, are cut. For the first time in his life he is alone. This is the last pang of his awakening. He walks on, no longer looking back.
You can interpret this chapter as Siddhartha's transition from childhood to adulthood, from dependence on parents and teachers-whether in obedience or rebellion-to the independence of maturity. Could you describe this experience in terms of a youth of today making the same transition? Siddhartha may have been seventeen years old when he left home. After spending three years with the Samanas, he is now about twenty. At what age do you think Americans today reach this threshold of independence? Does everyone reach it?