What is the lesson the characters learn in Siddhartha?
The various people that populate the pages of this classic seem to present different ways of pursuing Nirvana and therefore, the lesson that they teach us as readers is how to pursue enlightenment correctly. If we compare the key characters of Siddhartha and Govinda, we can see that they come to act as foils for each other in this respect. Although both seek Nirvana as directly as possible in the beginning, Siddhartha comes to abandon the Buddhist tradition that Govinda ascribes to so strictly and relies more on intuition. Note what Siddhartha says as he abandons strict Buddhist teaching and beliefs on how enlightenment can be gained:
[T]here is one thing that this clear, worthy instruction does not contain; it does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced--he alone among hundreds of thousands. That is what I thought and realized when I heard your teachings. That is why I am going on my way--not to seek another doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone--or die.
What we learn from the various characters of the novel is therefore that the best way to achieve enlightenment is counter-intuitively, to try not to achieve it. Siddhartha begins to reject the ideas of others about how enlightenment can be achieved and begins to look inside himself to seek inspiration and guidance for his search. This is one of the most powerful lessons that we can learn from this novel and the characters: enlightenment is not a location to be travelled to but a process of self-discovery that begins within ourselves.