The next day, Siddhartha meets Kamaswami in his big house. Kamaswami asks Siddhartha why he has left scholarship and philosophy for service. Has he fallen on hard times? Siddhartha says that he has never experienced hard times, because he has been living as a samana, and when hardship is voluntary, it is not real hardship. They debate about whose property Siddhartha has been living on without any of his own. Kamaswami wonders what Siddhartha can offer, if he has no property. Siddhartha replies that he can give what he has, which is fasting, thinking and waiting.
The difference between Kamaswami and Siddhartha is extreme, even though they banter and exchange logic like a pair of philosophers or businessmen, we can tell that their ambitions are opposite. Siddhartha’s argument aims for clarity and peacefulness and Kamaswami’s discussion of property is tied to actual possessions and their value.
This doesn’t seem like much to Kamaswami, but Siddhartha explains that from fasting, he has learned to laugh at and rise above hunger. This makes more sense to Kamaswami. He tests Siddhartha’s reading and writing skills. Siddhartha writes Kamaswami a message – “Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better.” The merchant is impressed and invites Siddhartha into his home, and showers him with rich things. Siddhartha remembers Kamala’s words and treats the merchant as a peer and does not submit to him or take the riches too seriously.
Kamaswami is in a position to test and approve of Siddhartha, a position of authority. But Siddhartha’s wit shows him to be the real leader, and we see the potential for the merchant to learn a lot from Siddhartha’s wisdom. Siddhartha has been told to treat Kamaswami as a peer, but the lesson that he writes in Kamaswami’s writing test is unashamedly condescending.
Soon Siddhartha is helping the merchant with his transactions, but he is focused on his pursuit of love with Kamala, and visits her every day, now able to present her with the gifts she requested. She teaches him how to make love, give and receive pleasure and be patient with a woman, and this becomes the purpose of his life, not the business activity of Kamaswami’s house.
Siddhartha is really fitting in to town life, but though he is going through the motions in business, his approach to love is not like a regular townsperson – he treats Kamala like a goddess and takes his lessons very seriously, as if love is the new Buddha.
Though Siddhartha is a peer in Kamaswami’s house and seems to have a lucky touch with business transactions, the merchant senses that Siddhartha is not putting his all into business and is never bothered by losses. The merchant’s friend advises him to test Siddhartha by making him deal with his own wages. But Siddhartha remains indifferent to profit or loss.
Siddhartha has become one of the merchants and now handles money and transactions, but remains distant, even when his own personal funds are at stake, showing that there is something of the samana ascetic still pulling Siddhartha away from a life of pleasure.
Siddhartha goes to make a transaction at a rice plantation, but misses the opportunity and spends the trip getting to know the rice workers and the local area. When Kamaswami scolds him for losing money, Siddhartha claims to have not wasted anything, that his experiences with the people at the rice fields have been very valuable. Kamaswami says that he should have been traveling on business, but Siddhartha insists he will always travel for pleasure, and with the pleasure he had with the community there, he will feel the rewards long after, and be invited back. He tells the merchant that he can send him away at any time, if he is unsatisfied but until then they should not waste their time with angry words.
Siddhartha’s almost willful disobedience of Kamaswami’s instructions presents him with greater value in the experiences he gains than the monetary profit. Natural things, human connections, and learning about the world are vastly more vital to Siddhartha than they are to Kamaswami, and Siddhartha’s comments after missing the rice plantation business deal shows how important they are in the path to spiritual enlightenment. His distance from Kamaswami and lack of shame show how far above the concerns of business Siddhartha is, and are reminiscent of the Buddha’s distanced serenity earlier.
Siddhartha continues to confuse and anger Kamaswami. He refuses to eat Kamaswami’s bread, never sympathizes with Kamaswami’s frustration over business, and when Kamaswami reminds him that he is dependent on the merchant for everything he has learned in business, Siddhartha belittles him, saying that Kamaswami has only taught him prices and interest rates and Kamaswami has more to learn from him.
Two kinds of knowledge clash in Siddhartha and Kamaswami’s relationship. Siddhartha obviously still believes in higher knowledge, wisdom gained from life’s experience, whereas the merchant’s profit-driven knowledge reduces real things like fish and other produce to sums.
As much as Kamaswami is dissatisfied by Siddhartha, Siddhartha also does not find any joy in business. He loves the lives of the people they transact with, but he feels separated from them by his past and his samana knowledge. He sees the people as childlike and watches them suffer from things that would hardly touch a samana.
Though Siddhartha wanted to escape from the suppression of physical nourishment that the samana’s promote, he finds the opposite situation equally frustrating. Between the two perspectives of how to relate to the natural world, Siddhartha’s sense of self is much less clear.
Siddhartha invites every kind of company into the house, treating rich tradesmen and poor peddlers exactly the same. He listens to Kamaswami’s worries, but treats the whole thing like a game, sympathizing and cheating and trading just the right amount to keep ahead of this game. Soon, the game has become his life, just as the teachings of Brahma had become it. Every so often a sad inner voice calls to him, and he realizes how he is playing a game and real life seems to be passing him or existing elsewhere. When he hears this voice, he wishes that he might participate wholeheartedly in the childlike pursuits of the town’s people.
The sound of Siddhartha’s inner voice, which had been so clear and full of life, guiding him on his path, now is sad and weak, showing that the merchant life is draining his spirit and leaving him in a worse off position than he was following the teachings of the ascetics. He seems to be following the transactions of business less than whole-heartedly but even though it is described as a game, the rules and rituals of business affect him deeply. Before he came to town he had been treating life as a serious thing; now it is just a game.
But Siddhartha keeps learning the art of love from Kamala, and her friendship warms him. She seems more akin to him than Govinda. Siddhartha one day tries to explain this kinship to Kamala. He tells her that she has an essential self much like he does. It is not about cleverness, he insists, it is about an inner sanctuary. Some people are like falling leaves and some are like stars with fixed paths, like the great Gautama. Kamala senses that Siddhartha is thinking of the samana life again.
Sometimes it takes seeing the virtues of others for Siddhartha to see them in himself again. Just as the experience of the Buddha’s qualities inspired him to follow his own path to enlightenment, his friendship with Kamala brings out his individuality again and his holy path is illuminated.
They play love games – fighting and tricking each other in a battle-like display. Kamala admits that Siddhartha is the best lover she has known and that she wishes to have his child one day. But she knows that he remains something of a samana and does not love like other men do. Siddhartha thinks that may be true, but that she is the same way. It is only the child people that love completely.
Another stage of Siddhartha’s journey is coming to fruition. Just as he mastered the samana skills of fasting and thinking, Siddhartha soon becomes the best lover that Kamala has had. Part of his special talent is for love, as well as for contemplation and the traditional holy pursuits, showing that love is an important factor in Siddhartha’s goal.