Siddhartha and Govinda both begin their journeys searching after the same goal, to find themselves and attain nirvana. They travel many of the same paths but each thinks differently in their situations. But while Siddhartha eventually reaches Nirvana, Govinda does not because he never learns to absorb what is around him and learn from life like Siddhartha does but mistakenly tries to find peace through other peoples lives.
Even from the beginning you can see distinct differences in the mind set between Siddhartha and Gotma, one as a thinker and one as a follower. Siddhartha had grown uneasy in his state as a Brahman’s son. The riches of his lifestyle babied him too much and blocked him from the real world. He wanted to go off on his own and experience and find himself. Siddhartha is a Scientific thinker, his brain is always wanting and explanation and continues to ask questions and at this point his maturing mind is starting to doubt the Brahman and Hindu ways.
The repetitious ways of the daily prayers and rituals seemed an unreal way to finding nirvana. Something that never changes cannot lead higher, it always stays at the same level. So when a group of samanas passes through town he joined their lead, wanting to experience their lives and to learn from them. Everyone was shocked at his decision; Govinda knew not what to say, and Siddhartha’s father became enraged at first thought, but later admits something very important to Siddhartha.
“You will go to the forest and be a samana. If you find salvation in the forest, come and teach me salvation. If you find disappointment, then come back and let us once more sacrifice to the gods together.”
His father has never reached the goal he has sought after his whole life, even now as an old man, and he understands that Siddhartha must leave for himself. The next morning Siddhartha leaves early and finds his friend, Govinda, waiting to go with him. This is the first true sign of Govinda’s misconception of how to find himself. Govinda only goes because his friend thinks it will be good. He did not think over in his mind and decide if it was truly right for him.
So they wandered and learned from the samanas. Siddhartha had learned self-denial and meditation but started to doubt if they were progressing anywhere in their search for salvation. The Samana teachings were nothing more than trickery, magic and self- control all of which can be taught. None of these qualities would lead even a step towards salvation because you are never learning something new; it is purely a way to keep your mind occupied and content. He even compares drunkenness to the samana teachings. It is just another escape, a way to leave yourself and forget all life’s pains. Even their samsara leader had never attained nirvana so how would they ever get there either following him.
Word comes of a great man, Gotma, who had reached nirvana. Surprising to Siddhartha, Govinda decides to seek out the illustrious one. Although Siddhartha has his doubts he is curious and travels with Govinda to listen to the Buddha. After hearing the teachings of the Buddha the simple and accepting Gotma immediately joins as his disciple. But Siddhartha comes to a realization here. He knows that the Buddha has reached nirvana but sees the difference between teaching and experience. The teachings of the Buddha were not for him, they were for the suffering, the weak, a comfort zone which numbs people from the harsh realities and allows them to live in a false contentment. Even the Buddha himself knows this; he is just trying to help the masses that are not as clever as Siddhartha.
Siddhartha now sees that experience is the only way to gain knowledge and goes out into the world to try it all.
For many years of his life after he tries many new lives. From Kamala, a young courtesan, he learns about Physical love. He learns to become a merchant and indulge in the pleasures of a wealthy life. He lived on many years like this and grows old and worn but finds it is all a false happiness. After everything he obtained he is still discontent. The women, clothes, wine; all do nothing for the mind. He abandons it all and runs away into the forest and falls asleep beside the river, wishing to die. Here he meets Govinda again for the first time since he had joined the Buddha. And Siddhartha saw that Govinda had not changed. Govinda was still blindly following in Buddha’s steps, doing the rituals and living under his ways.
Vasuedeva the ferryman is very important to developing Siddhartha. He never tries to teach Siddhartha but hints at where to look. Vasudeva says that it seems as though the river has spoken to him and suggests that he stay with him beside the water. It is through Vasudeva that he realizes the symbolism of the river to life. Life is always flowing, changing but always there and continuing on. Even later on when Siddhartha gains and loses his son he again sees the cycle of life in the river. In grief for his loss he cries into the river and catches a glimpse of his reflection.
In it he sees himself, his father, and his young son. Siddhartha sees the pain that his father must have felt when he left as a boy is the same as when his own son ran away. Although he tried otherwise, the same trials and pains he left behind are recurring again and again. He finally sees the true cycle of life. Siddhartha comes to realize that the whole world, everything, is one. We are born of our mothers, live our lives and eventually die, then decompose in the dirt. Trees grow up from the dirt and produce fruit, which is eaten by man and animals alike. The air we breathe is recycled and breathed back in by plants. Everything is made of the same particles that have been around since the beginning of time. The world is constantly changing: destroying, creating, and reforming every molecule into something new. So we are a part of that, apart of everything.
Rebirth is made within yourself and what you choose to change. Siddhartha experienced many lifestyles all of which he learned from and his decisions to move forward and change was his renewal. And in the end he comes to see that you must let go of your self and your needs completely and love and appreciate everything because it is all one.
Govinda appears once more when he asks the ferryman, now Siddhartha, to take him across the river. Once Govinda realizes it is Siddhartha he presses him to know too how to Nirvana. Siddhartha tries to explain that you cannot search for nirvana it must come to you. Nirvana is not one thing but everything you experience in life and if you are trying only to find nirvana everything around you will be missed and wisdom and understanding cannot be found. But even after Siddhartha’s speech Govinda did not understand, he still could not comprehend what Siddhartha was trying to convey.
Nirvana cannot be reached only through writings and other teachings. These things can lead you down the path but it can bring you only so far because it is all feelings and discoveries that others have achieved through their own life. Writings can only convey part of the message because you cannot produce in words your experience and have another understand every aspect of the way you felt. That is how your mind dealt and reacted to that situation. Can you tell someone exactly how good jamoca almond fudge ice cream is? They can tell you how it tasted to them, but can they interpret the exact sense it will have on your tongue?
Can you truly understand how much you would like it unless you have tasted some yourself? Some may think it’s too strong, some may not like almonds, some might like vanilla better, and everyone will have their own opinion and slight difference. Life is the same way. Govinda never reached his goal because his whole life he was searching in others lives. First he followed Siddhartha with the Samanas then leaves the samanas by his own choice, only to follow another. And in the end he comes back to Siddhartha with one last desperate plea to try and understand. He never learned anything about himself because he was blinded by the belief that someone else could show him how. Everyone must decide for himself or herself what they do with their life, for following only leads you down another minds path away from your own awakening.