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CHAPTER 7: Samsara
Siddhartha has always lived in the world without really belonging to it. He is different from ordinary people. His life is directed by the art of thinking, waiting, and fasting. Although his senses, which were deadened during the Samana years, are now being awakened, he still he remains a Samana at heart, despite tasting riches, power, and passion.
Years pass by. Siddhartha has a comfortable home and servants. He has learned to transact business affairs, exercise power over people, amuse himself with women, wear fine clothes, command servants, and bathe in sweet smelling waters. He has learned to eat delicacies and drink wine, which makes him lazy and forgetful. He has learned to play dice and chess and watch dancers. He is carried in a sedan chair and sleeps on a soft bed.
People like Siddhartha and they come to him when they need advice or money. He still feels superior to other people and looks down upon them with disdain. He even regards Kamaswami mockingly when the latter is upset with his business affairs; he is bored with the tales of the merchant's woes and worries. As a result of his attitude, a sense of weariness comes over Siddhartha; it is a malaise often found among the rich. He is caught in the world of pleasure and idleness, trapped by his property, possessions, and wealth. He is worn out by his senseless cycle of life, and his face assumes the expressions of discontent, displeasure, and lovelessness. Siddhartha has become an old and sick man before his time.
Siddhartha has a dream in which he is with Kamala in her pleasure garden. She asks him about Gotama and says that one day she will give the Buddha her garden and take refuge in his teachings. For the moment, she entices Siddhartha to passion in the dream. Then it becomes strangely clear to him how closely related passion is to death. He sees himself lying beside Kamala and notices wrinkles on her face. He is fearful of old age and death even though he is barely forty. As the dream comes to a close, he sighs, takes leave of the aged Kamala, and feels miserable and fearful.
Siddhartha's feelings in his dream are the same ones he has in life. To drive them away, he spends the night at his house with dancers and wine. When he goes to bed, he is still tired, agitated, and full of despair; he cannot sleep because he is so miserable. He wants to free himself from his senseless pleasures and habits. Finally, he dozes off to sleep and dreams of the rare songbird which Kamala has caged. The bird, which usually sings in the morning, becomes mute. When Siddhartha looks into the cage, he finds it is dead. He takes the bird and throws it on the road. Then he feels horrified over his action; his heart aches as though he has thrown away a valuable part of himself.
When he wakes up, Siddhartha is overwhelmed by a feeling of great sadness. It seems to him that he is spending his life in a senseless manner. Siddhartha goes to his garden and sits under a tree, contemplating the horror and death in his heart. A voice within him admonishes him to go forward, to leave behind Samsara, the world of material things. Siddhartha knows that the sensual game is over; he cannot play it any longer.
Without a word, Siddhartha leaves the garden and the town and never returns. Kamaswami tries to find him but does not succeed. He is afraid that Siddhartha has fallen into the hands of bandits. Kamala, however, is not surprised at his disappearance. She has always expected it. When she learns about Siddhartha's absence, she frees the rare songbird, which she has kept in the golden cage, and watches as it flies away. From that day forward, she receives no more visitors. After some time, Kamala realizes she is carrying Siddhartha's child.
The word "Samsara" means the world in which one experiences the passing of time through the cycle of birth and death. Characterized by illusion, despair, and spiritual malaise, it is the opposite of the Buddhist state of Nirvana. Siddhartha now lives in a Samsara world surrounded by material possessions and people; but he feels he is superior to the other people who exist with him in this world and does not feel connected to it. Unfortunately, he cannot deflect the passage of time which emanates from this material world; as a result, he becomes old, despairing, and aware of his own mortality.
The passage of time reflected in this short chapter is extraordinary. Siddhartha goes from being a young man to one who is middle-aged. In the process, he gradually becomes like the people he once despised. He sees himself turning into another Kamaswami, who is discontent and sickly. He also thinks about his own aging and death. In a dream, he lies beside Kamala and notices that she has wrinkles to match his gray hair. In another dream, Siddhartha sees the symbolic death of his soul. When he wakes up, he feels that something within him has died. When he hears interior voices telling him to move on beyond the Samsara, he departs the city, leaving Kamala, Kamaswami, and the material life behind.
Kamala has always known that Siddhartha would some day go away, for she understood that he was not truly of her world. As if to keep him from leaving, she kept the caged song bird, a symbol of Siddhartha, who has been caged in a world of wealth and glamour which is alien to his true nature. When he frees himself from the falseness of his life, Kamala similarly frees the songbird. It is ironic that when she is forced to let go of Siddhartha, she really has a part of him forever, for she is carrying his child. She gives up the profession of a courtesan, never sees another visitor, and in her limited way denounces materialism and the life of the senses.