Siddhartha

Siddhartha, written by Hermann Hesse and translated by Hilda Rosner, is a novel of a man’s life and his spiritual journey to attain enlightenment and understanding by going through all of the plagues and suffering that is common for any man. The story takes place about 2,500 years ago during the time of the Buddha and is narrated by Siddhartha the protagonist of the book who goes from his teenage years to old age, searching. This is a highly spiritual book which uses language which may be confusing to one who does not have an open mind. The writer himself had to spend a long time reading scriptures to put the teachings of the Buddha into a novel. The book begins with a young teenage Siddhartha, the son of a wealthy and respected Brahmin who although follows his religion very well and does everything he is told, still does not feel complete. He believes that his father and the priests, who he so adamantly follows, cannot teach him any more than he already knows. Along with his best friend, Govinda, Siddhartha leaves his father and his life of luxury to live the nomadic and self-sacrificing life of a Samana. While with the Samanas Siddhartha lives a life completely different from the one he has left, one devoid of pleasure, property, or the Self. But even with the holy Samanas Siddhartha does not believe their teachings can help lead him  to enlightenment any more that those of his father’s. Siddhartha and Govinda leave the Samanas and seek out the rumored Buddha, Gotama. The two are taken in by the Buddha and his followers and begin to learn the teachings of Buddhism and the illustrious one, Buddha. Still, under the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha does not feel that his teachings will lead him to enlightenment. Siddhartha leaves the Buddha, Gotama, and any dependence on religious teachings and instead seeks enlightenment through the materialistic pleasures of the world.  He travels to a large city where he becomes a wealthy business man and he becomes a lover with the courtesan (prostitute) Kamala. To Siddhartha, the teachings about sexuality and love from Kamala are as important as those from the Buddha. “He learned many things from her wise red lips. Her smooth gentle hand taught him many things. He…was taught by her than one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to one who can understand. She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling, of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused. He spent wonderful hours with the clever, beautiful courtesan and became her pupil, her lover, her friend” (54). But this does not last for soon Siddhartha falls into the unhappy life of constantly gambling, drinking, and having sexual relations with not outlet other than to do more of those things. Realizing that hid experiment has failed, Siddhartha leaves the city along with Kamala, who he does not inform of his departure. In his departure Siddhartha comes upon a river where he reunites with an old ferryman, Vasudeva, who had taken him across the river many years ago before he even met Kamala. Vasudeva takes the now old Siddhartha as his apprentice and Siddhartha spends many years learning more from the river than he did from any other religious teacher. During his studies, Kamala, comes by the river on her way to seek the Buddha. She has with her however, her son, Siddhartha’s son. Kamala is poisoned by a snake by the river and subsequently dies, leaving her young son to the care of his father Siddhartha, for who he has no feelings of love whatsoever.  His son eventually runs away from Siddhartha and the ferry man to return to the extravagant lifestyle he left behind. Realizing he cannot retrieve him, Siddhartha again returns to the river to continue his studies. Finally the river teaches Siddhartha the meaning of life and how all things are connected in a never-ending cycle and how all things, good or bad, are necessary to understand life. Realizing he pupil has now understood the river; Vasudeva leaves Siddhartha and walks off into the woods never to be seen again. The novel ends with the return of Govinda, Siddhartha’s long lost friend who decades ago chose to follow the Buddha. Now a monk, Govinda asks Siddhartha to teach him what he knows for he has not attained enlightenment from the teachings of the illustrious one. However the now holy Siddhartha explains to Govinda that no one can teach wisdom, that one must find it through their own thoughts. “Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sound foolish…Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom” (115). This book is not like any other dealing with religion and spiritual enlightenment. Any other book would have had Siddhartha attain enlightenment while living the life of a devoted follower of the Buddha, like Gotama. But in this novel, the pleasures and suffering that went along with the life of a rich merchant, a father, or a sexual lover to a prostitute were instrumental in helping Siddartha finally find what he was seeking. This is the story of how an imperfect man, leading an imperfect life, found perfection by not listening to any one voice, but to all voices. “When Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om-perfection” (111).

Siddhartha Cover Art

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *