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THE NOVEL

THE PLOT

Siddhartha, a beautiful youth of princely birth, has studied the teachings and rituals of the Hindu religion. His father, a devout member of the priestly Brahmin caste, expects his son to become a teacher, priest, and princely Brahmin like himself. But Siddhartha is not satisfied with this life-style, and after besting his father in a clash of wills he leaves home to join the Samanas. These are wandering religious men who seek release from the cycle of life by meditation and the practice of asceticism, or extreme self-denial. His boyhood friend Govinda goes with him.

After three years with the Samanas in the forest, Siddhartha decides that theirs is not the way to understanding either. He and Govinda go to Gotama (or Gautama) Buddha, a famous holy man who is preaching nearby. Siddhartha converses with the Buddha, who smiles as one who has achieved the bliss of escape from life's desires and its sufferings. Although deeply impressed, Siddhartha decides to go on and find his own way. The two friends part when Govinda chooses to join the Buddha's monks.

Siddhartha realizes that he has now cast off all ties with family and friends, all reliance on teachers and teachings, and must begin life anew like one newly born. For the first time, he experiences the natural world in all its beauty.

He sleeps in a ferryman's hut and crosses the river. He approaches Kamala, a beautiful courtesan who will teach him the arts of love if he comes richly dressed and bearing gifts. To win Kamala, Siddhartha enters the business world of the merchant Kamaswami. He becomes rich and powerful, but as the years pass he is entrapped in the world of material things. He is so sickened that he finally abandons his wealth and possessions-and Kamala-and leaves the city.


On the riverbank again, he comes close to committing suicide. He falls into a deep sleep, and awakens to find Govinda, in his monk's garb, watching over him. They part a second time, Govinda to continue on his Buddhist way, Siddhartha to recross the river. Siddhartha finds Vasudeva, the gentle ferryman of his previous crossing, and remains as his helper, living simply and learning what the river teaches.

Kamala arrives on a pilgrimage to Gotama Buddha, who is dying. With her is Siddhartha's son, born after Siddhartha left her. Kamala is bitten by a snake and dies, and the boy, now eleven, remains.

Siddhartha now experiences what he never felt before: love and the pain of love for his son. The boy is angry, rebellious, scornful of his father's menial calling and simple way of life, and he runs away. Siddhartha follows him, but turns back as Vasudeva urges him to do.

By the river again, Siddhartha learns from the flowing water the ultimate wisdoms: that time does not exist, that all things in the world are part of a single unity, and that the way to peace is through love. Vasudeva leaves him, disappearing into the forest. Govinda at last comes by again, to discover in the aged Siddhartha a smiling, radiant, holy man.

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