Siddhartha is brought up in a beautiful riverside home, the son of a Brahmin, and lives a spiritual life with his friend Govinda, performing holy offerings and conversing with the sages, the wise men, learning their philosophies. Siddhartha has already attained a high level of skill at all these things, and can meditate very well. He speaks the word ‘om’ already, a word that encompasses the whole universe and promotes clarity. His gifts bring joy to his mother and father, and his good breeding also attracts the attention of the girls in the town.
The narrator begins by describing Siddhartha’s surroundings and life as a kind of ultimate existence, full of love and good fortune. He is set apart immediately as our protagonist, and we wonder what it is that has made him rise so much ahead of his peers in spiritual practices. Since, this is the very beginning of the story, and everything seems so perfect, we wonder where conflict will emerge.
But Siddhartha’s most loyal love comes from Govinda, who admires all of his qualities and his high calling in life. Govinda knows that Siddhartha will be an important man, no trickster or follower like a lot of spiritual leaders - he will one day become a god. And Govinda aims to follow Siddhartha’s path and be his shadow.
The trust that Govinda has in Siddhartha’s high calling means that Siddhartha’s gifts are clear to see. It seems like they are already decided, and Govinda’s willingness to spend his life as a follower of another shows that his are somewhat predetermined too.
But despite all the love that he sees in the hearts of others, Siddhartha does not bring happiness to himself. He goes about his daily offerings and meditations with a restless mind, full of dreams and thoughts and Siddhartha begins to believe that the love and knowledge of those around him, even of his teachers, will not sustain him. He feels that he is a vessel and even with the whole of the Brahmins knowledge poured into it, it is not full.
Despite all his gifts, dissatisfaction plagues Siddhartha, more so than his peers. A connection is established here between a high calling and discontentment, and suggests that Siddhartha of all people must seek harder or further afield for his fulfillment. This section corresponds to the first noble truth laid out in the story of the Buddha, describing the arrival of dissatisfaction.
Siddhartha begins to question the offerings and the gods that he has been taught to accept blindly. He questions the act of sacrifice. Who are they sacrificing to? And what and where is Atman, what they call god and the true self? If the Brahmins, who were supposed to know everything, could not show him the right path to these answers, then perhaps there were other paths.
The Gods and Beings that are taught in the Brahma teaching appear as just names to Siddhartha, who has never experienced their meaning. The search for physical locations and definitions of these concepts invites a deeper understanding. Knowledge can never be wisdom until it is experienced.
Siddhartha knows, from insightful, inspiring verses written by Brahmins that they are in possession of true knowledge, but this knowledge seems to only exist in theory – no Brahmin seems to be living the life that they preach. He thinks about his father, a wise, venerable man, but even he does not live with peace in his heart. Everyone is seeking and thirsting. Atman is elusive to everybody. He thinks of a verse that says that one should “enter the celestial world” every day, but Siddhartha knows that he and the Brahmins never quite touch this ideal state.
Words and thoughts had seemed to lead to higher knowledge, but now the path that had always been presented to Siddhartha, that had promised to lead to his enlightenment, seems dim and even a dead end. The celestial world sounds like a heightened state of awareness, above worldly concerns, but if theories and philosophies are not approaching these heights, perhaps one has to experience the world in a different, more physical way.
Siddhartha meditates with Govinda and recites a verse about the soul being an arrow and the ‘om’ a bow. Siddhartha meditates deeply and does not awaken when the time of contemplation ends. He remembers a group of samanas, nomadic ascetics, that had wandered through the town once. Their naked, silent wandering tells Siddhartha of their deep devotion and he announces to Govinda that he will become one of them.
The nakedness and silence of the ascetics attracts Siddhartha because it seems to offer the shedding of the Brahmin wordiness, and also the wandering nature of the samana path attracts his wandering spirit. It seems to be the nomadic side of the samanas that draws him in rather than their philosophy.
Govinda, realizing that this is the moment when Siddhartha’s path will separate from his, worriedly asks him whether his father will allow the decision. Siddhartha becomes aware of Govinda’s fear, but tells him they should not waste words about it. Siddhartha goes to his father, the Brahmin, and asks that he may leave his house the very next day and become a samana. His father is silent for a long time, then he admits that he is hurt by Siddhartha’s words, but does not believe in speaking angrily, so tells his son not to speak to him of the matter again. He leaves his son without another word.
The attachments of friendship and paternal love threaten to keep Siddhartha tied to the path of his ancestors and peers. Despite his talent and will setting him apart, Siddhartha must get permission and must confide in his loyal friend. The bonds of love can be restrictive. Siddhartha’s gifts have meant that he has received a lot of admiration and attachment, but it seems to be his destiny to go into the next stage alone.
Siddhartha’s father is troubled and restless that night and gets out of bed, but sees Siddhartha out of the window, standing motionless. Every hour, the Brahmin gets up and sees his son in the same position. He is filled with sadness. As the night comes to an end, he asks Siddhartha why he waits, but Siddhartha tells his father that he already knows the answer, and tells him that he will wait for as long as it takes. When his father questions his obedience, Siddhartha says he always has and always will do as his father wishes.
The bond of fatherhood and care for his son’s spirit creates a stalemate in the Brahmin’s heart. Siddhartha’s display seems like both the willfulness of a child in a temper and a show of strength and will of a future sage. It is interesting how close these two identities come throughout the course of Siddhartha’s story.
Standing for so many hours has made Siddhartha’s body shake, but his resolve is strong and the Brahmin knows that his son is no longer his to hold on to. He tells Siddhartha to go and join the samanas, and to come back if he does not find the truth he is after. Weak from the night’s protest, Siddhartha bids farewell to his mother and leaves the town. He is pleased when his shadow, Govinda, catches up with him, devoted enough to follow him into his new life as a wanderer.
The moment that Siddhartha finds opposition in his childhood home, where he has always been treated with love and admiration, he begins to show more of himself, more determination and strength. It is as if he needed to find struggle, in order to show what he is capable of, which is already a defiance of physical pain that a samana would be proud of.