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Siddhartha: Novel Summary: Part 2 - Govinda

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Govinda has heard talk of the wise old ferryman, and goes to see him. Siddhartha takes him across the river, but as happened the last time they met, Govinda does not recognize his old friend until Siddhartha reveals his identity. Govinda stays the night in Siddhartha's hut. Govinda asks Siddhartha whether he follows any teachings or doctrine. Siddhartha replies that wisdom, unlike knowledge, is not communicable. He explains that life should not be divided into the opposites of good and evil but accepted in its totality as an expression of perfection. Everything is good and necessary, death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. He sees infinite value in everything in creation, even a stone. He still distrusts teachings and words. He is no longer concerned, as Govinda still is, about whether the things in the world are real or illusory. The important thing, Siddhartha says, is that he should love them. Love is the most important thing in the world. Govinda replies that the Buddha did not preach love, because love would binds a person to earth rather than ensuring his salvation. Siddhartha admits there seems to be a contradiction between his own beliefs and the teachings of the Buddha, but he says the apparent contradiction is an illusion. He regards the Buddha as a great man who expressed great love for humanity. As Govinda prepares to leave, he thinks that Siddhartha is a strange man with strange thoughts. And yet he also acknowledges that Siddhartha radiates a purity and peace that he has encountered in no man other than the Buddha. He asks Siddhartha to give him something that will help him on his spiritual quest. Siddhartha asks him to kiss him on the forehead. As he does this, Govinda receives an experience of the unity of life in the midst of all its diversity. He sees all forms of life changing and being reborn, but he sees no death. He sees Siddhartha's smiling face as a smile of unity that somehow embraces all the changing forms. This smile of Siddhartha is exactly like the smile Govinda had perceived a hundred times in the smile of the Buddha. This is Govinda's moment of enlightenment. He bows low to Siddhartha, whose smile reminds him of everything he had ever loved in his life.
In this final chapter, Siddhartha tries to give an explanation in words to Govinda of his experience of enlightenment that was described in the previous chapter. This explanation acts as both a reprise of Siddhartha's experience and a prelude to Govinda's, since Govinda's moment of awakening is essentially the same as Siddhartha's. The significance of repeating it through Govinda is that Siddhartha is now able not only to experience this exalted perception of life for himself but to pass it on to others.
This chapter reinforces the recurring theme of the book, that merely following the doctrines of a teacher is not going to get a person enlightened. Govinda has spent all his life as a spiritual seeker, and although he is respected by the other monks, he has not found what he needs. Siddhartha has succeeded by going his own way, listening to his heart, and finally learning how to listen to and be aware of the totality of life. It is true that he was helped by Vasudeva, but the ferryman, with his few words and no doctrine, was a very different kind of spiritual teacher than Gotama the Buddha.
The final emphasis is on the smile on the face of Siddhartha, which is indistinguishable from the smile of the Buddha. The Buddha is often depicted with a quiet, serene smile on his face. People read into this smile a variety of things: it is seen as a promise that salvation is possible, or as evidence that the ultimate reality of life, underlying the pain, is bliss, or simply as a smile of compassion. Hesse interprets it as the "smile of unity over the flowing forms," which is in keeping with his view of enlightenment as the experience of unity amidst the infinite diversity of life.


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