Teachers are important figures in everyone’s life: they prepare for future events teaching lessons and giving suggestions. The book Siddhartha, written by the German author Herman Hesse, shows a perfect example of education and understanding given by different types of instructors. The protagonist, Siddhartha, is the son of a Brahmin, and he has an assured future as a religious figure. He is unhappy and unsatisfied in the beginning of the novel: he can’t find the right answer to his questions. He distrusts teachers, because they didn’t teach him the life lessons he wanted. He doesn’t think his actual life can lead him to nirvana, the maximum status of joy and understanding of the self. The following quote proves this statement: “Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself; he had started to feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother, and also the love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever, would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy him.” (Hesse 5).
He decides to embark in a journey to reach enlightenment, and during this spiritual path he learns some life lessons through persons considered nontraditional teachers, people who influenced his life, and taught him indirectly, such as Govinda, Kamala and Kamaswami. The first instructor that Siddhartha acquires knowledge from is Govinda, one of the most influential characters in the novel: Siddhartha’s best friend, companion and disciple. He is unlikely to be a teacher, mostly because of his follower behavior, but despite the reader’s opinion of him in the beginning, he reveals himself as one of the most important nontraditional teachers. The main feature of Govinda is the fact that he doesn’t choose his own path, he always is a follower. Hesse emphasizes Govinda’s status by defining him as a shadow: “Govinda wanted to follow him as a friend, his companion, his servant, his lance bearer, his shadow” (4-5). Initially he assists Siddhartha in his quest for enlightenment, but when he encounters another master, Buddha (an enlightened person with a group of followers), he decides to apply his philosophy and to become one of his disciples.
This character is really important for Siddhartha, because, in the moment of his friend’s worst depression, the climax of his journey, he saves him. A clear evidence of this fact is the following quote: “I saw you lying and sleeping in a place where is dangerous to sleep. Therefore I sought to wake you up oh sir” (67). This shows how Govinda cares about his friend and takes the role of a nontraditional teacher. Another quote that proves the fact that Govinda has a savior role is the following one: “Once, O worthy one, many years ago, you came to this river and found a man sleeping there. You sat beside him to guard him while he slept, but you did not recognize the sleeping man, Govinda” (95). The main teaching he taught to Siddhartha is that he has to find his own path; he has to embark on his own journey to reach the understanding of the self. This character will remain important even in the end of the story, because the novel finishes with his words, meaning that Siddhartha has become a teacher, the figure he distrusted. The second influent person in the protagonist’s is Kamala: she is an attractive courtesan that makes the protagonist fall in love with her.
Before Siddhartha met Kamala all he knew was “thinking, waiting, and fasting”(46). The main character meets her during a period on his life where he tries to focus on material things; he tries to find a different way to understand the self. Kamala represents Siddhartha’s entering into the world of greed and lust. She is considered a teacher because she teaches him some important life lessons; she shows him the best of what the material world has to offer. This quote proves her status as a teacher: “If it doesn’t displease you, Kamala, I would like to ask you to be my friend and teacher, for I know nothing yet of that art which you have mastered in the highest degree” (50). Kamala makes Siddhartha realize that the material world isn’t enough to satisfy him, it isn’t the right choice for his path and the right way to reach nirvana.
He learned from her that he could not expect to receive love unless he gave it first. She taught him the the value and the meaning of the life in which he was living and the moments he had spent with her are considered good. She instructs Siddhartha in the art of physical love: In addition to being Siddhartha’s lover, Kamala helps him to leave his ascetic life as a Samana behind. When he met her, he had some ideas and principles of his previous ascetic group, in fact he was a simple “Samana from the forest”(45). Siddhartha, thanks to the beautiful courtesan, understands what love is, and after some time they give birth to a son.
Her teachings include also exterior aspect and clothes: “I am beginning to learn from you. I already learned something yesterday. Already got rid of my beard, I have combed and oiled my hair. There is not much more that is lacking, most excellent lady: fine clothes, fine shoes and money in my purse” (54). Her goal is to educate him about sex and human passions. Although Siddhartha becomes disillusioned in the end, because of the emptiness of his life in the material world, he cites Kamala as one of his primary teachers on his journey to find nirvana.
The third important teacher is Siddhartha’s journey is Kamaswami, an older businessman who represents an instructive figure mainly because he teaches him the art of business. The protagonist, referred by Kamala, puts himself in the old man’s hands. Under his guidance, Siddhartha successfully enters into the society of city-dwellers: “When Kamaswami came to him to complain about his troubles or to take him to task over some business deal, he would listen with good humor and interest, marveling over him, trying to understand him. He would allow him to think he was right to the extent that he seemed to require and then would move on to the next person who sought his attention” (75). Kamaswami tries to teach Siddhartha about business life. He shows him the “accounts, the goods and warehouses” (65).
While Siddhartha is working for him, he realizes that business doesn’t satisfy him, it doesn’t create any interest; more particularly, it does” not stir his heart” (66). Another quote that proves the statement is “His heart was not indeed in business” (69). Material things do not interest Siddhartha, in fact he hears a voice inside him, telling him that business and money are a game: “Kamaswami conducted his business with care and often with passion, but Siddhartha regarded it all as a game” (66). The old man, as a wealthy merchant, has qualities that Siddhartha refuses as a Samana. The businessman is obsessed with wealth, so there is a noticeable contrast between them. The life lesson he learns from Kamaswami is that material things create unhappiness. He realizes that money and business are not important: they are just temporary things.
During his journey, Siddhartha learns some life lessons from different teachers like Govinda, Kamala and Kamaswami. All these instructive figures contribute to his accomplishment, contribute to the achievement of enlightenment and were indispensable to his spiritual mutation. Throughout Siddhartha condemns and left his teachers, in the end he becomes one. For his whole journey he is the one who learns, and all his past experience leads him to become the one who teaches. Thanks to those teachers, he finally finds what he has been looking for, after all the sacrifices he did and all the difficulties he has been through.
Courtney from Study Moose
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