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GOVINDA

In this last chapter the story focuses on Govinda. Through all these years as a Buddhist monk, Govinda has followed strictly the Buddha's rules, yet he is still restless and seeking. He has heard of an old ferryman who is thought to be a sage, and he now aims his wandering course toward the river.

He asks the old ferryman what doctrine or belief he follows. Again, as when he had watched over Siddhartha sleeping some twenty years before, Govinda does not recognize his boyhood friend. Siddhartha at last reveals his identity.

Siddhartha answers Govinda's question at length. He has no doctrine or teaching. He mistrusts words and even the thoughts that they express. He mistrusts any statement of a so-called truth, because it can express only half of the whole, while the whole embraces its opposite. The saint exists within the sinner. If a stone and a tree are illusion, then Siddhartha is also illusion. He and they are of the same nature, and so he loves them.

When Siddhartha speaks of love, Govinda objects. The Buddha forbade his followers to bind themselves with earthly love. But Siddhartha holds that Gotama Buddha did indeed know love, that he loved humanity enough to devote his entire life to teaching and helping people. The Buddha's words are less important than his deeds, says Siddhartha.

Govinda is ready to leave. He finds Siddhartha's ideas strange, even crazy, compared with the straightforward teachings of the Buddha. But everything about Siddhartha seems holy-as holy as the Buddha had been in his lifetime. He asks Siddhartha to tell him something he can understand, something that will help him on his way, which is often hard and dark.

Instead of giving Govinda more words, Siddhartha asks Govinda to kiss him on the forehead. Puzzled, Govinda obeys. Then Govinda has the strange experience of seeing all kinds of human beings in all conditions and relationships pass before his eyes, seemingly behind the transparent film of Siddhartha's serene, smiling face. Deeply moved and in tears, Govinda recognizes that Siddhartha's smile has reminded him of everything that he has ever loved and valued in his life.


Here the novel ends, after setting out in this last chapter a wealth of ideas to consider. As Govinda says, some of what Siddhartha tells him seems crazy. It is not orderly and logical like the Buddha's teaching-in other words, it is not a product of the intellect, but of feeling. Govinda has faithfully followed the Buddha's teaching since his youth, and as an old man he is still suffering, still seeking. But Siddhartha has found what he sought. What has he found?

First, notice what Siddhartha has rejected. He has rejected words, thinking, the formulation of "truths," because none of these expresses the whole of what is real. In this he has rejected dogma.

He accepts the deeds, the life, the look and gesture of a person-what we might call the body language-as meaningful, rather than what the person says. Does this interpretation make sense to you? How do you judge the feelings, perhaps also the character, of a person? Do you take a person's meaning only from what he or she says?

Siddhartha accepts as real the physical world and the world of feelings and emotions, rather than the world of intellect and theory. Knowledge can be taught, he says, but not wisdom.

He rejects any superiority of one individual over others. All are worthy of admiration, respect, and love.

Love of the world and of people, says Siddhartha, is the most important of all. The peace of understanding comes from accepting the realization that one is not separate or superior or different, but part of the world of people and of life.

NOTE: LOVE

None of the Eastern religions teaches love. Christianity emphasizes love-man's love of God, God's love for his creatures, and the love of people for each other. Siddhartha tries to reconcile love with Buddhism by seeing it enacted in the Buddha's life, although forbidden in his teaching. Does this convince you? Can you make a case for or against Siddhartha's claim? Maybe Buddhism and Christianity describe different kinds of love. Hesse acknowledged that his eighteen-month block before writing the last part of Siddhartha vanished when he decided that Siddhartha would reach his goal by way of love. He made this clear in a 1930 essay, in which he wrote: "My Siddhartha glorifies love, and not some form of intellectual awareness. This, together with the book's rejection of dogma and central concern with the experience of unity, could be taken as a return to Christianity...."

What do you make of these conclusions? The novel tells you that they have brought peace and even saintliness to Siddhartha. Perhaps they have brought peace to Govinda as well in this last encounter with his boyhood friend.

Would you agree with Siddhartha and reject all formulas and logical rules for living a life of spiritual satisfaction? Would you trust feeling over thinking, and if so, how far would you rely on feeling and in what kinds of situations? Siddhartha distinguishes between knowledge and wisdom. Granting that knowledge is gained from teaching and books, what is the source of wisdom?

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