Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

The book Siddhartha by a German-Swiss writer, Hermann Hesse, is not a biography of the Buddha; it is a novel that tells about an Indian youth’s long spiritual quest for the answer of the enigma of man’s role in this earth. The story sets around the time of the Buddha. The youth, named Siddhartha, is a brahmin’s son who decides to leave his comfortable home to become a samana, the one who leaves behind his earthy belongings and lives a contemplative life in search for the meaning. Together with his best friend, Govinda, they start the journey. They both finally arrive at the Buddha’s place and become his ‘students’ for some time, but Siddhartha then decides to leave and takes on his own journey, whilst Govinda stays.

Here begins his silent lone walks, continued with his restless life: he meets a beautiful courtesan and becomes a rich business man but feels bored and sickened by all the lust and greed involved. Then he moves on and walks again. Until he arrives by a river, by where he falls asleep caused by his fatigue. He then stays with Vasudewa, the ferryman, in his simple hut by the river. It is by this river that he starts to hear something, it is as if the river is saying something to him, about the true meaning of suffering and happiness, about making peace with himself, about compassion towards other beings, and finally about wisdom. He learns all this and finds enlightenment through the nature, the flowing river.

Making a review about this book is not easy for me for I would not be able to cover its richness and depth I’ve gained from my reading. Being quite short in volume, this book conveys a very deep message about the importance of being an individual, and to follow the Self in us. Finding the meaning is a very personal journey, and Siddhartha learns that it is not achieved by listening to a teaching by a teacher figure, but by finding it oneself. Because,

Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish. Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. (p. 142). Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. (p. 145)

This book also conveys the simple truth about compassion and about seeing the world as a complete, non one-sided view. Every being, living or not, is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, in the past there is a possible blessed future, in the future, a printed past. All newborns have death within them, all dying people, eternal life. Or simply, I would say, I am you, and you are me. Then we have no reason to despise the others or the world. All just needs our loving understanding, our agreement, to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings and experiences with admiration and respect.

Hermann Hesse was born in 1877 in Calw, on the edge of Black Forest, Germany. He was brought up in a missionary household, and his religious crisis afterwards led to his fleeting from the seminary, an unsuccessful cure by a well-known theologian, and an attempted suicide. This crisis is often reflected in his novels. Siddhartha was written in 1922, when he turned his attention to the East. Some other successful novels are Demian (1919), which reflects his preoccupation with the workings of the subconscious and psychoanalyses, Steppenwolf (1927), about a man torn between self-affirmation and self-destruction, Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), dealing with the friendship between two medieval priests, one contented with his religion, the other a wanderer in search of peace and salvation. Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946 for his work Magister Ludi. Until his death in 1962, he lived in seclusion in his village, Montagnola, Switzerland.

The book: Siddhartha/ Hermann Hesse/ Bantam Books/ 1988 (1922)/ Fiction/ English/ 152 pages.

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