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With the Samanas. Feraco Search for Human Potential 12 October 2010. The First Extreme. The first extreme: Life as a Samana

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With the samanas

With the Samanas


Search for Human Potential

12 October 2010

The first extreme
The First Extreme

  • The first extreme: Life as a Samana

  • Siddhartha’s first experience with life outside his home is reminiscent of Gotama’s impression of the rest of the world – those first glimpses of pain, depravation, and struggle

  • The difference is that Gotama was moved, while Siddhartha claims that “all were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain.”

  • Purity is his goal – but should we chase perfection?

  • Aren’t we just guaranteed to suffer?

Down towards the healing
Down Towards the Healing

  • In order to chase it, Siddhartha suffers intensely; sometimes the cure is worse than the disease

  • Siddhartha’s body decays – graphically – over the course of three years as he tries to shatter the Self

    • He saves everything – even his breath

    • Trying to suffocate the Self in order to reach the truth behind it

  • He has the right idea – looking behind the veil – mixed in with a whole lot of wrong

  • A lot of what happens in the second chapter follows that pattern – hints of what should be happening drowning in seas of misdirection

Hopping bodies
Hopping Bodies

  • The moment where his soul is basically bopping from body to body is another example

    • “And Siddhartha’s soul returned, died, decayed, turned into dust, experienced the troubled course of the life cycle. He waited with new thirst like a hunter at a chasm where the life cycle ends, where there is an end to causes, where painless eternity begins. He killed his senses, he killed his memory, he slipped out of his Self in a thousand different forms. He was animal, carcass, stone, wood, water, and each time he reawakened. The sun or moon shone, he was again Self, swung into the life cycle, felt thirst, conquered thirst, felt new thirst…Although Siddhartha fled from the Self a thousand times, dwelt in nothing, dwelt in animal and stone, the return was inevitable; the hour was inevitable when he would again find himself, in sunshine or in moonlight, in shadow or in rain, and was again Self and Siddhartha, again felt the torment of the onerous life cycle.”

  • These visions represent the Samsara cycle Siddhartha’s still trapped in – and he doesn’t quite seem to see it, at least not at first

    • There’s a dim understanding of unity at work here in his attempts at escape, but he’s so caught up in himself and his “onerous life cycle” that he doesn’t consciously understand what’s happening to him

Temporary escape
Temporary Escape

  • We see on the chapter’s second page that he’s being instructed by the eldest Samana – wasn’t it only a few paragraphs ago that Siddhartha was all anti-teacher?

  • But we soon see him questioning the Samanas’ methods and teachings, just as he challenged the elders in his village, bemoaning the temporary nature of his escape (remember this)

  • Once again, no one seems to know the way to reach what Siddhartha seeks; remember, he distrusts teachers because they haven’t achieved what they’re trying to teach others

Remote and lost
Remote and Lost

  • When Govinda defends the Samanas’ methods, he and Siddhartha begin discussing the futility of their search in terms of intoxication

  • “You speak thus, my friend, and yet you know that Siddhartha is no driver of oxen and a Samana is no drunkard. The drinker does indeed find escape, he does indeed find a short respite and rest, but he returns from the illusion and finds everything as it was before. He has not grown wiser, he has not gained knowledge, he has not climbed any higher.”

  • “I do not know. I have never been a drunkard. But that I, Siddhartha, only find a short respite in my exercises and meditation, and am as remote from wisdom, from salvation, as a child in the womb, that, Govinda, I do know.”

Intoxication too easy
Intoxication = Too Easy

  • Intoxication here is an easy metaphor

  • It is the willing surrender of control to corruption, a substitution of poison for experience, an inherently empty, sad, and self-destructive pursuit

  • It is one of the ultimate expressions of desire’s relationship to suffering specifically because there is nothing to gain but false escape

    • It is too easy

  • This, in turn, is one of the reasons why Hesse shows Siddhartha drinking so heavily in the “Samsara” chapter; he poisons himself because he leads a poisoned life

  • “We find consolations, we learn tricks with which we deceive ourselves, but the essential thing – the way – we do not find.”

Style vs life
Style vs. Life

  • He’s getting faster – it took about eighteen years to flee the Brahmins, and only three to ditch the Samanas

  • If the forest is about stagnation – a kind of self-inflicted torment – the Samanas’ lifestyle is about another kind entirely

  • The idea is that human life is filled with desire, and therefore causes suffering

  • If one burns away one’s own humanity – becomes uncivilized, denies the body what it wants, etc. – one could, in theory, look beyond the blindness caused by living as a Self

  • Piercing the veil – moving through Maya and into Satyam

Style vs life part ii
Style vs. Life, Part II

  • The Samanas’ approach is particularly flawed because it contains a fundamental contradiction

  • In order to continue existence as a Samana, one must violate its credos daily

  • One must stop asceticism in order to eat at some point, to sleep at others

  • The clear implication is that life is not compatible with the Samana way – a big hint that their outlook could be a mistake, or at least that they’re going about things incorrectly

Take control
Take Control

  • “What remains from all that seems holy to us? What remains? What is preserved?”

  • The Samanas’ principles of asceticism – compared unfavorably to the “drunkard’s” actions – only prove that one cannot flee the unavoidable

  • It’s important to take control, not to simply hide

  • At one point, Siddhartha wonders aloud whether he’s still “trapped in the cycle”

Spiraling out
Spiraling Out

  • “Well, Govinda, are we on the right road? Are we gaining knowledge? Are we approaching salvation? Or are we perhaps going in circles – we who thought to escape from the cycle?”

  • “We have learned much, Siddhartha. There still remains much to learn. We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”

  • They’re definitely spiraling – but they’re heading downwards, not upwards

  • Every day spent on the wrong path is a day further removed from enlightenment (although it must be pointed out that these experiences, futile as they may seem, do prove critical to Siddhartha’s eventual success)

The world was sick
The World Was Sick

  • Gotama’s introduction phrased in terms of plagues and cures – an interesting choice, given his real personal history.

  • “The world was sick, life was difficult and here there seemed new hope, here there seemed to be a message, comforting, mild, full of fine promises.”

  • Foreshadowing: “He had heard that this alleged Buddha had formerly been an ascetic and had lived in the woods, had then turned to high living and the pleasures of the world, and he held no brief for this Gotama.”


  • Govinda, always easily distracted by the prospect of something better, grows eager to meet Gotama after hearing from those who have witnessed him work

  • When Siddhartha mocks him for straying from the Samanas’ path so readily, Govinda says he’s merely curious about the teacher

  • Everything goes in cycles: Siddhartha believes he has “already tasted the best fruit” of Gotama’s teachings, but he’s also aware that he’s started stagnating again in the Samanas’ world

  • Once again, a leader is displeased with Siddhartha’s intended departure, and Siddhartha simply defeats him (through the strength of his will and desire, ironically enough)

My generation
My Generation

  • The elders themselves may be unable to give Siddhartha what he wants or needs – but it’s important to remember that he doesn’t want to be given anything

  • Whether he’s aware of it or not, their influences help guide him along the course he’s taken

  • Knowledge can be passed from one source to another, but wisdom cannot – it must be generated from within in order to be pure and genuine

  • If you simply want to hear someone tell you the truth – don’t want to look for it yourself – you’re Govinda

  • Now we’re off to see the Wizard…the Wonderful Wizard of Om


  • Symbols: The Gaze (Siddhartha’s staredown with the Eldest Samana)

  • Shell: 2

  • Characters: Govinda and the Eldest Samana

    • Mental State: Confusion and wandering; reaffirms resistance to doctrine

Breakdown part ii
Breakdown, Part II

  • Themes:

    • Generational Division

      • Elder Samana traps himself

    • Suffering

      • Self-inflicted while trying to avoid it

    • Searching

      • Groping for the correct course

    • Enlightenment

      • Losing sight of what matters

    • Cycles

      • Siddhartha vs. an Elder/Govinda follows

Breakdown part iii
Breakdown, Part III

  • Themes:

    • Poverty

      • Monetary/spiritual

    • Transformation

      • Degenerating at an accelerated rate

    • Excess

      • Too harsh, too fast

    • Relationships

      • Siddhartha + Elders/Govinda

    • Independence

      • Govinda, Gotama, and the Samanas

    • Defiance

      • Siddhartha vs. the Elder Samana