Gotama the Buddha
Gotama the Buddha is a great spiritual teacher who travels around the country
instructing his followers how to find salvation. Spiritual seekers go on pilgrimages
to see him, and rumors of his sanctity and wisdom spread throughout the land.
He is sometimes referred to as the Illustrious One. As Samanas, Siddhartha and
Govinda go to see the Buddha, and listen to him preach about the path that leads
to a release from suffering. The Buddha has a stillness and peacefulness about
him, and Govinda immediately becomes his disciple. Siddhartha is more
skeptical, however, and decides to seek his own path of salvation.
Govinda is Siddhartha's devoted boyhood friend. Govinda is a follower, not a
leader. He follows Siddhartha when his friend joins the Samanas, but the two
part company when Govinda becomes a disciple of the Buddha. Govinda is an
ideal disciple, since he enjoys having a teacher and a doctrine to assist him in his
spiritual quest. In this respect he is the opposite of Siddhartha. Govinda meets
Siddhartha twice more, many years later. The first occasion is near the river, just
after Siddhartha has abandoned his worldly life. The last time the two men meet
is when they are both old. Govinda is still a follower of the Buddha, but he has
not attained enlightenment. His moment of illumination comes when Siddhartha
kisses him on the forehead, and he experiences the unchanging unity at the
heart of all changing phenomena.
Kamala is a beautiful courtesan who teaches Siddhartha the art of love. She
arranges for Siddhartha to gain employment with Kamaswami, and as Siddhartha
begins to earn money, he brings her the many expensive gifts she expects.
Kamala eventually grows tired of her way of life and becomes a follower of the
Buddha. She dies of a snake bite while on a pilgrimage to see the great teacher.
Siddhartha cares for her in her last moments, and as she gazes on his face, she
Kamaswami is a rich merchant who takes Siddhartha into his service. He quickly
learns to trust Siddhartha, and he gives him much responsibility in his business.
Siddhartha is the son of a learned Brahmin. As a youth, he excels in every way.
He is handsome and intelligent, and a great future is predicted for him.
Siddhartha also has a highly developed spiritual longing. But he soon becomes
disillusioned with the teachings of the Brahmins, which seem to him to lack the
ability to give direct experience of the divine. Anxious to try a new approach, he
becomes a Samana, a wandering ascetic. He also has a meeting with Gotama
the Buddha. But once more he becomes impatient with teachers and established
ways of seeking spiritual fulfilment. He ceases to be an ascetic and gets involved
in worldly life. He has a long relationship with Kamala, a beautiful courtesan, and
he becomes rich through his employment in the business of the merchant,
Kamaswami. But after many years Siddhartha tires of his lifestyle, and abandons
it all to once more seek spiritual enlightenment. He becomes an apprentice to
Vasudeva the ferryman, whose quiet wisdom helps him to understand and
experience the unity of all life amidst its great diversity. After staying for many
years with Vasudeva, Siddhartha attains enlightenment.
Siddhartha's father is a learned Brahmin, a quiet and noble man. He disapproves
of his son's desire to become a Samana, but accedes to Siddhartha's wishes
when he sees he can do nothing to alter them.
Siddhartha's son is the child Siddhartha fathers with Kamala. When Kamala dies
of a snake bite, the eleven-year-old boy lives with Siddhartha and Vasudeva in
their humble hut by the river. But having been used to a life of luxury, the boy is
unhappy living with his father. He is restless and becomes rude and
unmanageable, despite Siddhartha's best efforts to win him over. Eventually the
boy runs away. Siddhartha goes looking for him but does not find him.
Vasudeva is the ferryman who conveys the young Siddhartha across the river for
his first visit to the town where Kamala lives. Siddhartha likes him because he is
friendly. Many years later, when Siddhartha abandons his worldly life, he meets
Vasudeva again and becomes his apprentice. Vasudeva is a man of few words
but great wisdom. It is he who encourages Siddhartha to listen to the river, that
is, to develop his understanding of timelessness and unity. It is Vasudeva who
gives Siddhartha sound advice about letting his restless son go his own way.
Siddhartha appreciates Vasudeva's wisdom and after many years reveres him
almost as a god. Vasudeva patiently waits for the moment of Siddhartha's
enlightenment, after which he leaves his hut and goes to live in the woods.