Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Siddhartha and Govinda discover through meditation that the world is Maya. Why do they think the world is illusion? What do you think is the source of the recognition that, in the words of the British posmodernist Angela Carter, "Is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody."[1]

  2. Beyond appearance and illusion is reality. What is the reality these holy men seek?

  3. Characterize Nirvana. What is Nirvana and what could it mean for it to be sought?

  4. Is conquering self by becoming empty of all thought, will, and desire, a "nay-saying" attitude toward life? Aristotle writes that such isolation is unnatural to man:

    The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all…[2]

    Discuss whether you think Siddhartha's quest is egocentrically antisocial.

  5. Discuss whether Siddhartha's vanity prevents his ability to learn about himself. He says, "It took me a long time and I am not finished learning this yet, oh Govinda; that there is nothing to be learned! There is indeed no such thing, so I believe, as what we refer to as 'learning.'"

    Thomas Szasz notes that learning impacts the ego:

    Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily; and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.[3]



Angela Carter. Nights at the Circus London: Chatto & Windus, 1984.


Aristotle. Politica. Translated by David Ross. In Richard McKeon, ed. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, 1970. Book I, Ch. 2, 26-32.


Thomas Szasz. The Second Sin. New York: Anchor Press, 1973.