Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.©
Hesse's Siddhartha is a bildungsroman, a novel that centers on the
development and maturation of the main character. The novel, written in
German, was first published in Berlin in 1922 by the publishing house of
action takes place in northern India in the sixth and fifth centuries BC.
Scenes in which the title character, Siddhartha, meets the historical figure
Siddhartha Gautama (563?-483? BC), known to history as the Buddha, take
place in a grove near the town of Sravasti, identified in the novel by
its Sanskrit-language name, Savathi. (This study guide uses the
preferred spelling of that name, Savatthi). The town is in the present-day
Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, below the Nepal border.
Hesse tells the story in omniscient third-person point of view, enabling
the narrator to reveal the thoughts of the characters.
Indian who seeks spiritual enlightenment. He first lives for a while as
a Hindu ascetic. Failing to make progress, he travels to see the Buddha,
who has achieved spiritual perfection, to hear what he has to say. But
he discovers that he cannot achieve what he is looking for by following
the teachings of another. Rather, he believes he is better able to make
progress independently, without formal lessons. He next samples the pleasures
of materialism, which only degrades him. Finally, he again leads a simple
life but this time progresses. In Sanskrit, the name Siddhartha
means he who has achieved self-realization.
Father of Siddhartha:
Brahmin scholar who instructs Siddhartha in the tenets of Hinduism.
Mother of Siddhartha:
Woman who takes great pride in her son and sings to him.
Govinda: Best friend
of Siddhartha. He accompanies Siddhartha on his quest but decides to remain
with the Buddha. In Hinduism, Govinda is another name for the god
with whom Siddhartha and Govinda live for a time in hopes of learning the
way to enlightenment.
The Buddha: Siddhartha
Gautama (or Gotama), founder of Buddhism. Siddhartha
meets him in a grove near the city of Savatthi.
(prostitute with wealthy clients). After Siddhartha prospers as a businessman,
he becomes her favorite client. Her name appears to be derived from Kamadeva,
the name of the Hindu god of love.
merchant who hires Siddhartha. The name Kamaswami appears to be
derived from the Sanskrit words kama, meaning desire or distraction,
and swami, meaning master or owner. His name thus indicates that
he represents a distraction that postpones Siddhartha's progress toward
ferryman who helps Siddhartha toward enlightenment. In Hinduism, Vasudeva
is the family name of Krishna, an important god
who is the incarnation of Vishnu, one of the three major gods who make
up the Hindu trinity.
Spoiled son of Siddhartha and Kamala.
of the Buddha.
Old Woman of Savatthi:
Woman who gives Siddhartha and Govinda food and tells them where to find
Woman Washing Clothes:
Young woman Siddhartha meets after giving up his life as a Samana. Although
he is attracted to her, he rejects her advances after a voice inside him
tells him to move on.
Young Man From Magadha:
Person who informs Govinda of the whereabouts of the Buddha.
merchant who provides land for Buddha and his followers.
whom Siddhartha encounters on his way into a city after he decides to pursue
a worldly life. He tells Siddhartha the name (Kamala) of the woman in the
Man whom Siddhartha encounters and befriends in the city where Kamala lives.
He gives Siddhartha a shave and haircut, then anoints him with fragrant
loves young Siddhartha, who is handsome, respectful, quick to learn. His
father, a Brahmin, teaches him the ways of Hinduism, and his mother sings
to him. The maidens of the town hold him in the highest favor. When the
wise men gather for discussions, Siddhartha is there to take part. He already
knows how to meditate using the sacred word Om.
Even more, he can feel the presence of the Atman, the universal soul, within
him. His bearing, his decorum, his gentle voice, his surpassing intelligence,
and his dark and inquiring eyes endear him to all. His best friend, Govinda,
knows that Siddhartha is special, and he is always at Siddhartha's side
to serve him and learn from him.
Siddhartha himself is restless. Even though he enjoys the abundant love
of his parents and everyone else around him, even though his father and
the wise old Brahmins of the town impart to him the best of all that they
know, even though he practices Hindu rituals and reads the Hindu scriptures,
there is an emptiness in part of his soul. And he begins to question what
he has learned.
Was it really Prajapati
who had created the world? Was it not the Atman,
He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not creations,
created like me and you, subject to time, mortal? Was it therefore
good, was it right, was it meaningful and the highest occupation to make
offerings to the gods? For whom else were offerings to be made, who
else was to be worshipped but Him, the only one, the Atman? And where
was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart
beat, where else but in one's own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible
part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this
innermost part, this ultimate part?
day he and Govinda sit under a Banyan tree to practice meditating. But
after the time arrives for their evening ablutions,
he remains lost in thought—hardly breathing—as he thinks the holy word,
and his soul tries to drink in understanding. Shortly thereafter, three
they are called—pass through the town. They are thin and worn and dusty,
“almost naked, scorched by the sun, surrounded by loneliness. . . strangers
and lank jackals in the realm of humans.” That evening, Siddhartha informs
Govinda that he will join them. Govinda, surprised, realizes Siddhartha
has made his decision to go his own way in the world. And, of course, wherever
Siddhartha goes, Govinda will go.
When Siddhartha tells his
father of his plans, his father becomes angry and refuses permission. Upset,
his father cannot sleep. Several times he goes outside in the darkness
to think and notices that Siddhartha remains in the spot where he had informed
his father of his decision. Hours pass. Still Siddhartha does not move.
At dawn, his father relents, and Siddhartha leaves with Govinda.
along, they catch up with the Samanas, who accept both young men. Siddhartha
gives away his clothes, keeping only a loincloth. In time, he grows thin
from fasting and becomes bitter about life. It is then that he decides
that he must empty himself of desire and longing—of all feeling—so that
he dies to himself and gives birth to the inmost part of his being. He
learns to endure extreme heat, cold, and thirst. When he brushes against
thorns, his skin bleeds, but he remains rigid until the pain subsides.
He trains himself to calm his heartbeat, and he learns to empty his mind
of memories so that he is—at least for a time—a non-self. Eventually, the
self returns again and, with it, the human feelings and sensations that
he has been trying to escape. Then he repeats the process, hoping eventually
to achieve a permanent state of selflessness. Govinda does what Siddhartha
does, and together they evaluate their progress. On occasion, they beg
for food for themselves and for the other Samanas.
Siddhartha is not satisfied. He observes that even an ox-cart driver who
drinks rice wine after a day's work can escape from the world of the senses.
He also notes that the oldest of the Samanas is sixty and has not yet achieved
the fullness of enlightenment, which enables a person to overcome suffering
and end the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth, life, death, and so on.
(Hindus call this cycle samsara.) That Samana will go on searching for
full enlightenment but never find it. Siddhartha says the same will happen
to him unless he ceases learning in the conventional Hindu way and instead
pursues a different path.
after living with the Samanas for three years, Siddhartha and Govinda strike
out again. Siddhartha tells his friend of a rumor he heard about a man
named Gotama who had achieved what Siddhartha seeks: complete mastery of
the senses and a permanent state of selflessness, enabling him to overcome
samsara. He has no home, no wife, no possessions. As he and his followers
wander the land, the rumor says, the high and the mighty present themselves
to him and become his students. They call him the Buddha, meaning enlightened
a village one day, Govinda learns that the Buddha actually exists; a young
man from Magadha has told him that he has seen the Buddha and listened
to him while he was teaching. After he tells Siddhartha the news, both
young men decide to seek out the Buddha and he what he has to say. When
Siddhartha informs the oldest Samana of his and Govinda's decision to leave
the group, the old man becomes angry and curses. Siddhartha then stands
directly in front of the man and, with a penetrating gaze, turns him mute
and motionless. After a few moments, the Samana bids him and Govinda good
fortune and wishes them a happy journey.
their travels, they hear that the Buddha is in the town of Savatthi (written
in the novel with one t). When they go there, an old woman who gives
them food tells them Gotama stays in a grove called Jetavana, a gift to
him and his followers from a wealthy merchant, Anathapindika. They can
stay the night there, she says, for the Buddha welcomes pilgrims. On their
way, they encounter followers of the Buddha, as well as many other pilgrims,
and thus have no trouble finding the grove. At dawn, they are surprised
to see so many people gathered in one place. Many of the monks are leaving
with alms dishes to beg food that they will bring back for their only meal,
taken at midday. Siddhartha recognizes the Buddha (“a simple man in a yellow
robe,” the narrator says) even though he has never seen him before. As
the Buddha also leaves with his alms dish, Siddhartha perceives him as
a man of deep inner calm who is a reservoir of truth.
the evening, Siddhartha, Govinda, and others assemble while the Buddha
presents a lesson. The only way to escape the suffering of the world, he
says, is to follow his teachings—in particular, the eightfold
path. He reviews doctrines, gives examples, repeats important points.
He is like a light from the sky. After he finishes, many ask for acceptance
into his community, including Govinda, and the Buddha receives them. But
Siddhartha decides to leave Govinda and the community and go a separate
in the grove the next morning, Siddhartha comes upon the Buddha and tells
him he has been privileged to listen to his teachings but will be moving
on. In explaining his decision, Siddhartha says,
You have found salvation
from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your
own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through
enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! . . . This
is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings,
for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers
and to reach my goal by myself or to die. (Part 1, "Gotama")
Siddhartha goes off on his own, he reviews his life up to this point. So
far, he has been trying to peel away the layers of himself to get at the
core—the Atman, which is part of a universal soul. In so doing, he
has been escaping from himself, “fleeing himself,” the narrator says. Through
all his experiences, he really learned nothing about himself. Now, he decides,
he will learn about himself, and he will be his own teacher.
longer will Siddhartha try to fathom a hidden world beyond the material;
he will be part of the world. He will drink in its beauty, take part in
its pleasures. When he comes to a river, a ferryman takes him across, expecting
no payment, and wishes his passenger good will. Siddhartha then passes
through a village and comes to a stream on the other side of it. There,
a young woman washes clothes. When she sees Siddhartha, they exchange idle
talk and then she makes a subtle advance that reveals her carnal desire.
Siddhartha, aroused, kisses her bosom but suddenly withdraws after a voice
in him forbids him to continue this encounter. He turns and walks away.
before evening, he arrives at a grove on the outskirts of a city. Servants
are carrying a beautiful young woman into the grove on a canopied chair.
She wears a garment of green and gold. When their eyes meet, she smiles
slightly. However, the servants look with disdain upon him, for he still
looks the part of a poor Samana. On his way into the city, he learns from
a passerby that the woman is a courtesan named Kamala, who owns a house
in the city. Siddhartha enters the city, looks around, and makes friends
with a barber's assistant in a temple of Vishnu. He stays the night near
boats by a river, and in the morning goes to the barber's shop for a haircut,
shave, and anointment with oil. He then bathes in the river.
the afternoon, he again sees Kamala at the grove. After she inquires about
his changed appearance, he informs her that he had been a Samana for three
years but now has abandoned that calling. Consequently, he no longer needs
to look like an ascetic. What is more, he no longer needs to look away
when he sees a beautiful woman. Boldly he asks her to teach him the “joys
of love.” But he is not yet ready, she says. He must have money and elegant
clothing, and he must bring gifts for her. He then asks her if she will
kiss him if he composes a poem for her. Yes, she says, if she likes it.
Siddhartha ponders for a moment, then recites a poem that flatters her.
Kamala claps. When she kisses him, demonstrating her skill as a courtesan,
Siddhartha notes to himself that he is already learning from her.
he leaves, she gives him a gift: white clothing for the upper part of his
body. She promises to speak to him again the following day. Siddhartha
already knows the location of her house. When he appears there the next
day, she tells him that she has recommended him for employment in the business
of a wealthy merchant, Kamaswami, who lends money at interest and buys
and sells rice, wool, linen, and other goods. If Siddhartha conducts himself
properly, he will one day become wealthy himself, for Kamaswami is old
and lazy and is ready to pass on responsibility to someone else.
pleased that Siddhartha can read and write, hires him to write letters
and business contracts and invites him to live in his sumptuous home. In
time, Siddhartha makes great sums of money and lives a life of pleasure.
He eats the best foods, wears elegant clothes, buys his own house with
a team of servants, keeps a garden on the outskirts of the city, travels
about on his own palanquin, and receives the attentions of Kamala, who
regards him as a favorite. In his new lifestyle, he welcomes other pleasures
as well, including gambling and drinking.
the years pass, vices overtake him—greed, envy, lust. Eventually, the material
world begins to lose its luster. When he rolls the dice, he bets enormous
sums—a way of showing disdain for his riches. He wins vast sums, then loses
vast sums; he loses possessions and wins them back. And so the cycle goes.
evening, while spending time with Siddhartha, Kamala asks him about the
Buddha. After Siddhartha speaks of him at length, she says that she may
one day join the Buddha, offering him her garden as a gift. Later, when
lying with her, Siddhartha notices the little lines in her face. Her youth
is running out; she is tired. He himself, now in his forties, exhibits
gray hairs; he too is tired. After returning home, he spends time with
dancing girls and drinks heavily. Later, he has trouble sleeping, for he
is disgusted with the smell of wine and perfume and with what he has become.
Toward dawn, he dozes off and dreams of Kamala's bird, which lives in a
golden cage. It has stopped singing. When he goes to the cage to see why,
he finds the bird lying flat and stiff. It is dead.
waking, Siddhartha goes to his garden and meditates. He remains there all
day. When he finally comes out, he decides to strike out anew. Leaving
behind his house and other possessions, he moves on, not even stopping
to say goodbye to Kamala or Kamaswami.
through the forest, he arrives at the same river he crossed years before.
Now deeply troubled, he stands by the river, looks down at his image in
the water, and spits at it. He considers drowning himself to end his suffering.
Then the sacred word comes to him—Om. Immediately, he realizes how
wrong it would be to kill himself. He repeats the word again and again,
then collapses and falls into a deep sleep.
he awakens, refreshed, he sees a monk in a yellow robe. Despite his shaven
head, Siddhartha recognizes him—Govinda—but Govinda does not recognize
Siddhartha. Govinda tells him he has been sleeping in a dangerous place,
where there are snakes and other wild animals. Apparently Govinda had been
sitting there to watch over Siddhartha. When the monk gets up to leave,
Siddhartha says, “Farewell, Govinda.” Surprised, Govinda asks how he knows
then reveals his identity and says he is on a pilgrimage. He tells Govinda
what has happened to him since they last saw each other and says he is
now on a new journey to find himself. After Govinda moves on, Siddhartha
seeks out and finds the ferryman who treated him kindly about twenty years
before. After they talk for a while, the ferryman recognizes Siddhartha
and introduces himself as Vasudeva. Siddhartha offers him his fine clothes
in exchange for a ride across the river and a simple loincloth. Goodly
Vasudeva cooperates and invites Siddhartha to stay the night in his hut.
To Siddhartha, the river holds mysteries, and he tells Vasudeva that he
would like to live near it and become Vasudeva's assistant. Inside the
hut, Vasudeva gives his guest bread, water, and mango fruit. Then they
sit on a log before the river while Siddhartha recounts the story of his
life. It is very late when Siddhartha finishes his tale, to which Vasudeva
listened raptly. Before they retire, Vasudeva says Siddhartha will learn
much from the river in the days ahead. “It knows everything, the river,
everything can be learned from it," Vasudeva says. "See, you've already
learned this from the water too, that it is good to strive downwards, to
sink, to seek depth. The rich and elegant Siddhartha is becoming an oarsman's
servant, the learned Brahmin Siddhartha becomes a ferryman . . .” (Part
2, "The Ferryman").
pass as Siddhartha lives in contentment with Vasudeva.
Kamala has given up her life as a courtesan, donated her garden to Buddha's
monks, and begun following his teachings. She now has a son, who was sired
by Siddhartha before he left Kamala. He is unaware of the existence of
the child, who is named after his father.
word spreads across the land that the Buddha is dying, she and the boy—like
so many others from around the land—go to be with him. Along the
river, the boy becomes unruly. Tired and irritable, he wants to return
home, complaining that it is no concern of his that some holy man is dying.
Not far from Vasudeva's ferry, the boy insists that they stop to rest.
By this time, Kamala herself is also tired, so they halt their journey.
the boy eats a banana, Kamala lies down. Shortly after she closes her eyes,
a snake bites her and she screams. They run along the bank, looking for
people and shouting for help. When they near Vasudeva's ferry, she collapses.
Vasudeva, who has heard their cries, carries her to his boat and takes
her and the boy to his hut. Siddhartha, who is lighting a stove fire, recognizes
her. Seeing himself in the boy's face, he realizes that he is his son.
she dies, Kamala tells Siddhartha that she can see that he has found peace
at last. And Siddhartha tells her that she, too, has found peace.
she dies, Siddhartha keeps the boy with him. The child, age eleven, spends
many days mourning the loss of his mother, the only parent he knew—one
who pampered him and saw to his every need and desire. Realizing little
Siddhartha will have trouble adjusting to a life without the material things
he is used to, his father is patient with him. He gives him appetizing
meals and avoids forcing him to do chores when he resists. But the boy
refuses to adapt and refuses to accept his father's love. He disobeys him
and insults him, and one day says he would rather be a criminal and “go
to hell” than be like his father.
morning after this outburst, the boy is nowhere to be found. Vasudeva and
Siddhartha then discover that the money they had saved from their ferry
business is missing. They also observe that their boat is on the opposite
bank. Siddhartha wants to pursue the boy and bring him back. But Vasudeva
tries to talk him out of it, saying the boy knows his own mind and is now
old enough to get along. But Siddhartha pursues him, traveling all the
way to the garden that was once Kamala's. There, he begins to believe it
would be useless to reclaim the boy. For a long time, he sits and meditates,
completely losing himself in his thoughts. Then the hand of Vasudeva, who
had followed Siddhartha, touches his shoulder, and Siddhartha returns with
him to their river hut. But he does not readily get over the absence of
his son. Each time he sees a child, he wonders why he has been deprived
of the joy of living with his own child.
is now less proud than he was in his youth. All his experiences—the good
ones and the bad ones, as well as the wisdom he has gained living a simple
life by river—have made him a better man and brought him closer to achieving
day, he imagines that he hears the voices of his father and son and of
Kamala and Govinda—of everyone he has ever heard or seen, of everyone in
the entire world—merging in the river. The river is all life flowing toward
a goal. It sings “the great song of the thousand voices,” which consists
of this word, Om—perfection.
you hear?” says Vasudeva.
hears. And he smiles. Siddhartha's “self had flown into oneness” (Part
2, "Om"). He has achieved enlightenment. Vasudeva hears the same sound
in the same way, and he also achieves nirvana. Overjoyed, he decides it
is time to leave and go off into the forest to enter "the oneness" (Part
Govinda has heard tales of a wise old ferryman who plies his trade only
a day's journey away. Over the years, Govinda has learned a great deal
in his pursuit of perfection, and younger monks admire him. Still, he yearns
to know more, and so he seeks out the ferryman. When he finds him, he asks
him what he should search for to achieve enlightenment. The old ferryman,
Siddhartha, tells him that he must not search for anything, for a search
means seeking a goal. The best strategy is to be free, to have no goal,
Siddhartha says. When Siddhartha recalls the time long ago when he slept
on the riverbank and a man came by and guarded him against snakes, Govinda
realizes that he is speaking with his old friend. He expresses his happiness
at seeing him again.
night, Govinda stays in Siddhartha's hut.
next day, when Siddhartha and Govinda continue their conversation, Siddhartha
says he does not believe in words or lessons but in actions and in observing
the “things” of the world. When the time comes for Govinda to leave, he
asks Siddhartha to give him some bit of wisdom to take with him to guide
him on his struggle to attain enlightenment. Siddhartha then says, “Kiss
my forehead, Govinda!”
does so, he sees in Siddhartha innumerable faces—of men, women, fish, crocodiles,
elephants—"and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated
themselves, floated along and merged with each other. . .” (Part 2, "Om").
They are all Siddhartha. And Govinda, at this moment, achieves the enlightenment
reading Siddhartha, you will encounter unfamiliar terms. The following
glossary may be helpful to you when you read, study, and write about the
novel. Most of the terms appear in the book.
In Hinduism, ritual cleansing of the body to rid it of sins and prepare
it for prayer. In the first chapter of the First Part of Hesse's book,
Siddhartha questions the validity of certain Hindu practices, including
ablutions: "The ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not
wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit's thirst, they did not relieve
the fear in [Siddhartha's] heart."
Agni: In Hinduism,
the god of fire. Hindus invoke him when they build ceremonial fires to
make sacrifices or conduct worship services. Agni acts as a go-between
who delivers the sacrifices that humans make to the gods. He also serves
as a messenger between humans and gods.
One who leads a life of self-denial; one who renounces material pleasures.
In Hinduism, an individual's eternal element; the spirit or soul. The Atman
is part of Brahman. In the first paragraph of the First Part of Siddhartha,
the narrator refers the Atman when describing the spiritual development
of the title character: "He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of
his being, indestructible, one with the universe." The Atman survives death
and transmigrates to another body (human or animal) unless the individual
has achieved moksha. Those who achieve moksha become
part of Brahman. Sometimes Atman and Brahman are
identified as the same entity, as Siddhartha does when he questions the
validity of certain Hindu beliefs: "And what about the gods? Was it really
who had created the world? Was it not the Atman, He, the only one,
the singular one?" (Part 1, "The Son of the Brahman").
Bo Tree of Gya (or
Tree; or Gaya): Tree in India's Bihar state under which the
Buddha sat while attaining enlightenment, according to Buddhists.
One of the three major Hindu deities. His role is that of creator. He is
also referred to as Prajapati.
In Hinduism, the single eternal essence of which the universe is made.
Brahmin: In Hinduism,
a priest or scholar. Brahmins make up the highest class in the Hindu social
Philosophical system founded by Siddhartha Gautama (563?-483? BC), known
as the Buddha (a title meaning enlightened one). Buddhism teaches how to
obtain release from suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara)
through the attainment of perfect enlightenment (nirvana).
The Buddha did not believe in the existence of a supreme being. Buddhism,
therefore, is either atheistic (denying the existence of a supreme being)
or non-theistic (not believing in the existence of a supreme being but
not ruling out that such a being could exist). There is no such thing in
Buddhist thought as a heaven. In metaphorical language, the ultimate goal
of a Buddhist is to enter a state of eternal, undisturbed, peaceful sleep.
The Buddha established Four Noble Truths as the central tenets of
his philosophical system, which are as follows:.
1. Life on earth
consists of suffering.
Eightfold Path: See Buddhism.
2. The cause of this suffering
is the desire for sensual pleasure, material possessions, and nonexistence
or continued existence.
3. Individuals can end their
suffering by suppressing or giving up their desires.
4. The way to suppress or
give up their desires is to follow the Eightfold Path. This path
consists of having (1) the right view, requiring seeing the world and reality
as they really are through belief in the Buddhist system; (2) the right
intention, requiring a willingness to renounce the material world and follow
the Buddhist system; (3) the right speech, requiring abstention from lying,
verbal abuse, slander, and idle talk; (4) the right action, requiring abstention
from committing murder or harming in any way another living thing, from
committing theft, and from committing sexual improprieties; (5) the right
livelihood, requiring the refusal to do work that contravenes Buddhist
tenets; (6) the right effort, requiring avoidance of harmful thoughts and
the development of good thoughts; (7) the right mindfulness, requiring
continual awareness of thoughts, feelings, and anything that affects the
body; (8) the right concentration, requiring meditation that detaches one
from the world and brings tranquillity and composure.
Four Noble Truths:
Major world religion centered in India that encompasses many beliefs. One
Hindu may accept some beliefs that another Hindu rejects. Generally, however,
Hindus believe in a supreme being, the creator Brahma. They also believe
in two other major deities that, with Brahma, make up a trinity: Siva (also
called Shiva), the god of destruction and restoration, and Vishnu, the
preserver. Hindus believe that the Atman (spirit, soul, or eternal part
of an individual) survives death and transmigrates to another body (human
or animal) unless the individual has achieved moksha.
In Hinduism, the incarnation of Vishnu, one of three major gods. (See Hinduism,
Lakshmi: Hindu goddess
of prosperity, beauty, success, and good luck. She is the wife of Vishnu.
(See Hinduism, above.)
Mara: In Hinduism,
the god of death, sin, and destruction. In Buddhist myth, he is viewed
as an evil god of magic and illusion who once tried to tempt the Buddha
away from meditation.
maja (or maya): In
Hinduism, the belief that the everyday world of the senses is an illusion.
In Hinduism, the achievement of perfect enlightenment that frees an individual
from samsara and enables him or her to unite with
Moksha is comparable to the Buddhist experience of nirvana.
In Buddhism, the liberation of the self from attachment to the physical
world; extinction of suffering and all human desires. The word nirvana
comes from a Sanskrit word meaning to blow out. A person who achieves nirvana
“blows out” the fires of lust, greed, envy, and other passions. Nirvana
is comparable to the Hindu experience of moksha.
Sacred word chanted by Hindus and Buddhists. The Encyclopædia
Britannica defines the term as follows:
The syllable Om
is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a
u coalesce to become o), which represent several important
triads: the three worlds of earth, atmosphere, and heaven; the three major
Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; and the three sacred Vedic scriptures,
Rg, Yajur, and Sama. Thus Om mystically embodies the essence of the entire
universe. It is uttered at the beginning and end of Hindu prayers, chants,
and meditation and is freely used in Buddhist and Jaina ritual also. (2001
Standard Edition CD-ROM)
Another name for Brahma.
(or sansara): in Hinduism, the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth,
life, death, and so on.
language of India.
Veda: Body of four
sacred books of the Hindus.
Vishnu: See Hinduism.
the novel, the title character struggles to achieve the self-realization
(or spiritual perfection) required to end the cycle of birth and rebirth
and to become one with the universal soul.
Personal Experience vs
Buddha teaches a system for attaining enlightenment, or nirvana. His disciples
then teach others to follow this system. In Siddhartha, the title character
rejects formalized learning, although he does not condemn it, and instead
pursues knowledge independently, progressing toward enlightenment through
his own experiences. He listens to nature and to the voice within him.
However, he does accept advice, such as that given by Vasudeva.
never abandons his quest for self-realization, although he does become
deeply discouraged at times. The closest he comes to giving up is the moment
he considers drowning himself. He then meditates on the sacred word, Om,
and gains renewed strength to carry on.
The Folly of Materialism,
or Less Is More
is a false reality—the Hindus call it maja (or maya)—that hinders spiritual
development. Siddhartha discovers the wisdom of this Buddhist and Hindu
tenet when he immerses himself in the pleasures of the physical world but
cannot satisfy his deepest longings. After returning to a simple life,
he discovers that less is more, and he achieves enlightenment.
The Paradox of Unreal
is an illusion to the Buddha and Siddhartha. Yet they acknowledge the reality
of desire and feelings, which they must overcome to achieve nirvana. The
Buddha and his disciples accept alms from well-wishers. But, according
to the Buddha, both the alms and the well-wishers are illusions. Meanwhile,
Siddhartha learns from the river. But how can he learn from an illusion?
And what about love? After achieving enlightenment, the Buddha teaches
his followers how to achieve enlightenment, thereby exhibiting love for
them. But love is a feeling that he supposedly overcame when he achieved
nirvana. Siddhartha also exhibits love—before and after he achieves enlightenment.
Siddhartha recognizes but cannot fully explain the paradox of "unreal reality."
In the final chapter of the book, he and Govinda discuss this paradox.
said: "But is that what you call `things', actually something real,
something which has existence? Isn't it just a deception of the Maja[Maya],
just an image and illusion? Your stone, your tree, your river—are they
actually a reality?"
too," spoke Siddhartha, "I do not care very much about. Let the things
be illusions or not, after all I would then also be an illusion, and thus
they are always like me. This is what makes them so dear and worthy
of veneration for me: they are like me. Therefore, I can love them. And
this is now a teaching you will laugh about: love, oh Govinda, seems to
me to be the most important thing of all. To thoroughly understand the
world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do.
But I'm only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise
it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings
with love and admiration and great respect."
I understand," spoke Govinda. "But this very thing was discovered by the
exalted one to be a deception. He commands benevolence, clemency, sympathy,
tolerance, but not love; he forbade us to tie our heart in love to earthly
know it," said Siddhartha; his smile shone golden. "I know it, Govinda.
And behold, with this we are right in the middle of the thicket of opinions,
in the dispute about words. For I cannot deny, my words of love are
in a contradiction, a seeming contradiction with Gotama's words. For this
very reason, I distrust in words so much, for I know, this contradiction
is a deception. I know that I am in agreement with Gotama. How should he
not know love, he, who has discovered all elements of human existence in
their transitoriness, in their meaninglessness, and yet loved people thus
much, to use a long, laborious life only to help them, to teach them!
Even with him, even with your great teacher, I prefer the thing over the
words, place more importance on his acts and life than on his speeches,
more on the gestures of his hand than his opinions. Not in his speech,
not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life."
(Part 2, "Govinda")
are examples of foreshadowings in Siddhartha.
walking through the forest after leaving the Buddha, "Siddhartha saw a
group of apes moving through the high canopy of the forest, high in the
branches, and heard their savage, greedy song" (Part 2, "Kamala"), the
narrator says. This sentence foreshadows Siddhartha's life in the city
when he hearkens to the "song" of Kamaswami, whom the narrator later describes
as having "a greedy mouth" (Part 2, "With the Childlike People").
seeing the apes, "Siddhartha saw a male sheep following a female one and
mating with her," the narrator says. This sentence foreshadows Siddhartha's
lustful relationship with Kamala (Part 2, "Kamala").
Govinda comes upon Siddhartha sleeping by the river, he stands guard over
him. When Siddhartha awakens, Govinda tells him, "It is not good to be
sleeping in such places,
where snakes often are and the animals of the forest have their paths"
(Part 2, "By the River"). This scene foreshadows the one in which Kamala
rests by the river and suffers a fatal snakebite.
are examples of the symbols in Siddhartha and what they represent.
songbird: Siddhartha. After Siddhartha dreams that it dies, he "dies"
to his dissolute life as a pleasure-seeker.
Ultimate reality; the essence of the Brahman. For further information see,
the glossary entry.
(1) Transition. Siddhartha crosses the river when he ends his life as a
samana to experience the world of the senses. He crosses it again when
he ends his life as a materialist and becomes a simple ferryman. (2) Unity
of all things; Brahman. (3) Depth of the inner self; atman.
Siddhartha wins, then loses, then wins, then loses. Gambling appears to
symbolize the cycle of birth and rebirth.
Nirvana; moksha; enlightenment. Everyone in the novel who has achieved
enlightenment, or is destined to achieve it, smiles. Other characters do
robes: Self-abnegation. According to Buddhist scripture, the Buddha
told monks to wear robes dyed with hues from tree bark, roots, leaves,
and other naturally occurring materials. The dyes imparted earth tones,
such as yellow and brown (Vinaya Texts. Mahâvagga.
Eighth Khandaka, Chapter 10. Sacred Books of the East. Vol. 17.
Davids, T.W. Rhys, and Hermann Goldberg, Translators. 14 Sept. 2009 <http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/sbe17/sbe17077.htm>).
The yellow robes thus can be interpreted as symbolizing self-abnegation
in that the yellowness represents humility and lowliness, like the dirt
or mud beneath the feet.
climax of a novel or another literary work, such as a play, can be defined
as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself
for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series
to the first definition, the climax of Siddhartha occurs in the
chapter entitled "By the River," when Siddhartha hears the word Om
while standing at the river as he considers drowning himself. This mystical
sound heartens him, restoring his will to live. The narrator says, "Om!
he spoke to himself: Om! and again he knew about Brahman, knew about the
indestructibility of life, knew about all that is divine, which he had
forgotten." The moment represents a turning point that eventually leads
to his achievement of nirvana.
to the second definition, the climax of the novel occurs in the
chapter entitled "Om," when Siddhartha and Vasudeva both achieve perfect
enlightenment (nirvana or moksha) at the same moment while listening to
you hear," Vasudeva's gaze asked again.
Vasudeva's smile was shining, floating radiantly over all the wrinkles
of his old face, as the Om was floating in the air over all the voices
of the river. Brightly his smile was shining, when he looked at his friend,
and brightly the same smile was now starting to shine on Siddhartha's face
as well. His wound blossomed, his suffering was shining, his self
had flown into the oneness. In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his
fate, stopped suffering. On his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge,
which is no longer opposed by any will, which knows perfection, which is
in agreement with the flow of events, with the current of life, full of
sympathy for the pain of others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of others,
devoted to the flow, belonging to the oneness. (Part 2, "Om").
writing in Siddhartha is generally formal. In English translations,
words such as quoth, O, and behold occur frequently
in the dialogue. These words and the overall formality of the writing generally
undergird the novel's dignified tone while also helping to suggest an ancient
the most frequently occurring figure of speech in the novel is anaphora,
the repetition of a word of phrase at the beginning of successive word
groups. Note, for example, the repetitions (highlighted) that occur in
the opening paragraph of the novel. The original German wording appears
first, then an English translation.
des Hauses, in der Sonne des Flußufers Booten, im
Schatten des Salwaldes, im Schatten
des Feigenbaumes wuchs Siddhartha auf, der schöne Brahmanen, der junge
Falke, zusammen mit seinem Freunde, dem Brahmanensohn. Sonne bräunte
seine lichten Schultern am Flußufer, beim
Bade, bei den
heiligen Waschungen, bei den
heiligen Opfern. Schatten floß in seine schwarzen Augen im Mangohain,
den Knabenspielen, beim Gesang der Mutter, bei
den heiligen Opfern, bei den
Lehren seines Vaters, des Gelehrten, beim Gespräch der Weisen. Lange
schon nahm Siddhartha am Gespräch der Weisen teil, übte sich
mit Govinda im Redekampf, übte sich mit Govinda in der Kunst der Betrachtung,
im Dienst der Versenkung. Schon verstand er, lautlos
das Om zu sprechen, das Wort der Worte, es lautlos
in sich hinein zu sprechen mit dem
Einhauch, es lautlos aus sich heraus
zu sprechen mit dem Aushauch, mit gesammelter Seele, die Stirn umgeben—vom
Glanz des klardenkenden Geistes. Schon verstand er, im Innern seines Wesens
Atman zu wissen, unzerstörbar, eins mit dem Weltall.
also frequently uses anastrophe, a figure of speech that inverts the normal
word order. Here is an example, in which Kamala addresses Siddhartha: "Beautiful
are your verses, oh brown Samana, and truly, I'm losing nothing when I'm
giving you a kiss for them." (In everyday conversation, a person would
say, "Your verses are beautiful.")
the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near
the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood
forest, in the shade of the fig tree
is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young
falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned
his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing
the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured
into his black eyes, when playing as
a boy, when his mother sang, when
the sacred offerings were made, when
his father, the scholar, taught him, when
the wise men talked. For a long time, Siddhartha had been partaking in
the discussions of the wise men, practicing
debate with Govinda, practicing with
Govinda the art of reflection, the service of meditation. He already
knew how to speak the Om silently, the word of words, to
speak it silently into himself while inhaling, to
speak it silently out of himself while exhaling, with all the
concentration of his soul, the forehead surrounded by the glow of the clear-thinking
spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of his being,
indestructible, one with the universe.
divided the novel into two parts, the first part with four chapters and
the second with eight. This structure seems to align itself with the teachings
of Buddhism—in particular, the Four Noble Truths
and the Eightfold Path. The chapter titles are
Son of the Brahman
Hesse dedicated the first part
to Romain Rolland (1866-1944), a French playwright and essayist who won
the Nobel Prize in 1915. He dedicated the second part to William Gundert,
the Childlike People
Questions and Essay Topics
In the first chapter of the
novel, Siddhartha's father tells his son, "When you'll have found blissfulness
in the forest, then come back and teach me to be blissful. If you'll find
disappointment, then return and let us once again make offerings to the
gods together." The novel ends shortly after Siddhartha achieves enlightenment
at the river. Nothing is said about whether he plans to return home. If
you had written the novel, would you have extended its length with a chapter
in which he goes home to see his father? Explain your answer.
Write an essay that explains
the extent to which Hermann Hesse based Siddhartha on his own experiences
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts the Siddhartha of the first chapter with the Siddhartha of
the final chapter.
Explain what you believe is
the main difference between Hinduism and Buddhism.
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts the Siddhartha with Govinda.
Why does Siddhartha choose not
to follow the Buddha?
Explain the following quotation.
The speaker is Siddhartha. "Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf,
which is blown and is turning around through the air, and wavers, and tumbles
to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars: they go on a fixed
course, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their law and their
Siddhartha and his son are alike
in one respect: Each of them rejects his father's lifestyle to go his own
way. In what ways are they different?