Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha discusses the life and spiritual journey of Siddhartha, a Brahmin contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Siddhartha’s name, a portmanteau of the Sanskrit words for “achieved” and “what was searched for,” invites comparison to the Buddha himself, who went by the same name when he was a prince. Unsatisfied with his spiritual state as a Brahmin, Siddhartha immerses himself in various other life philosophies. In his pursuit of enlightenment, he becomes a Samana, meets Buddha, and attempts a citified materialistic lifestyle, but these options all leave him unfulfilled. It is not until Siddhartha begins a simple life alongside secluded river that he is spiritually satisfied. Siddhartha is a bildungsroman in its appreciation of the protagonist’s spiritual journey to maturity and enlightenment, and his reuniting with Vasudeva shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.
The novel discusses Siddhartha’s dissatisfaction at different stages of his life. As a Brahman, he is quite popular because his family is well-off and he is unanimously considered one of the greatest spiritual individuals in the community. While this situation is convenient for Siddhartha’s ego, he realizes that he has no more to learn from the elder Brahmans:
But where were the Brahmans, where the priests, where the wise men or penitents, who had succeeded in not just knowing this deepest of all knowledge but also to live it? (Hesse 15)
If his goal is continual spiritual growth until enlightenment, it is reasonable for him to want to try other philosophies. He and his best friend Govinda join the Samanas (also known as Sramanas), who are wandering ascetics living in the forest. The focus of the Samana community is overcoming the bod...
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... of being, with its correlates of existence, time, and space,” (Kraft 91).
Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha serves as a bildungsroman, following Siddhartha’s spiritual journey as he exposes himself to various philosophies in pursuit of ultimate enlightenment. As he develops psychologically and ethically, Siddhartha grows closer to the point of emotional and spiritual maturity, at which he considers himself fully distinct from his earlier self. Siddhartha’s reunion with Vasudeva at the river is a pivotal moment that defines how he will live out the rest of his life. It fully defines Siddhartha’s Zen-like philosophy, marks the end of his self-suppression, and begins his relinquishment of concrete linear time.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions, 1951. Print.
Kraft, Kenneth. Zen, Tradition and Transition. New York: Grove, 1988. Print.
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