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CHAPTER 2: With the Samanas
In the evening, both Siddhartha and Govinda catch up with the Samanas and join them. Instructed by the eldest of the Samanas, they practice tremendous self-denial and meditation. They travel the same path and make the same endeavors, but seldom speak. One day Govinda tells Siddhartha that he will be a great Samana, a holy man. Siddhartha, however, is uncertain; he doubts whether they have really progressed in the search for truth in the company of the Samanas. He questions whether they are gaining knowledge and approaching salvation; sometimes he feels they are just going in circles, rather than escaping the cycle. Siddhartha then discovers that even the eldest Samana has not attained Nirvana. He begins to think he will not stay with the Samanas for long.
After the two young men have spent nearly three years in the company of the Samanas, they hear that someone called Gotama has been preaching; he has become known as the Illustrious One and the Buddha. Supposedly, he has brought sorrow to its knees and has reached Nirvana. Siddhartha is surprised that Govinda has decided to go and listen to Buddha's teachings, yet he feels stifled by the life of the Samanas as well. He decides he must join Govinda in his search. Siddhartha informs the eldest Samana of his decision to leave. The Samana is annoyed and scolds him. Finally, however, the Samana Guru gives his blessings for the journey to both of them, but only after Siddhartha has hypnotized him into it. Siddhartha and Govinda thank him and depart.
The scene now shifts to the forest where Siddhartha and Govinda live
with the Samanas, the ascetic sect that believes in total self- denial.
The Samanas believe that through the suppression of sensual and transitory
desires, the self is negated and Nirvana can be achieved. When he arrives
in the forest, Siddhartha begins to fast and increases the period of the
fast gradually but intensely. Eating only once a day, he continues to
fast for 14 days and later for 28 days. He suffers the sun's rays, rain,
and cold so intensely that his body becomes almost sensationless. He tries
to free himself of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure, and sorrow in order
to let the old self die. He believes that when the heart is emptied and
the self conquered and dead, the innermost being will emerge, bringing
peace and pure thought. He attempts to become one with everything around
him and feels no different from the animals or even corpses. He, however,
regains his individual self with his own yearnings and thirst. He again
feels and suffers the torment of the onerous life cycle, Samsara.
Siddhartha is shown to be very different from Govinda. Govinda is extremely simple and accepting; by contrast, Siddhartha is haunted by doubts and questions. He wonders whether he and Govinda have really progressed after joining the Samanas. Even though they have been practicing denial of material conditions, it seems that they have not advanced spiritually; ego is still evident in both of them. Siddhartha doubts that he is gaining knowledge or approaching Nirvana; he feels he is just going in circles. Govinda, however, is confident that they are not going in circles, but making progress. Siddhartha finally judges this life of self- denial as escapism, no different from the escapism of heavy drinking or licentious behavior.
A distinction is made once again in this chapter between learning and awareness. Siddhartha has questioned many Brahmins regarding the holy Vedas, but feels he has learned nothing. He yearns to know more, especially about Atman, or awareness, which is present in everybody. He says that there is no greater enemy to Atman than the so-called learned man.
The key event of this chapter is the introduction of Gotama Buddha, the Illustrious One, who has attained Nirvana by transcending the cycle of rebirth. Although Siddhartha is somewhat dubious about the Buddha's preachings, he is also curious. He is amazed that Govinda has decided to go and hear Buddha; Siddhartha quickly decides to join him.