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Study Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
Type of Work
.......Hermann 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 Samuel Fischer.
.......The 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.
Point of View
.......Hermann Hesse tells the story in omniscient third-person point of view, enabling the narrator to reveal the thoughts of the characters.
Characters Plot Summary
Young 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 Krishna.
Samanas: Ascetics 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.
Kamala: Courtesan (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 enlightenment.
Vasudeva: Humble 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.
Little Siddhartha: Spoiled son of Siddhartha and Kamala.
Monks: Disciples of the Buddha.
Old Woman of Savatthi: Woman who gives
Siddhartha and Govinda food and tells them where to find the Buddha.
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
Young Man From Magadha: Person who informs Govinda of the whereabouts of the Buddha.
Anathapindika: Wealthy merchant who provides land for Buddha and his
Passerby: Person 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 grove.
Barber's Assistant: Man whom Siddhartha encounters and befriends in the city where Kamala lives. He gives Siddhartha a shave and haircut, then anoints him with fragrant oil.
by Michael J. Cummings.© 2009
.......Everyone 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
.......Oddly, 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?.......One 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, Om, and his soul tries to drink in understanding. Shortly thereafter, three
ascetics—Samanas, 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.
.......Hurrying 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.
.......But 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.
.......So, 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
.......In 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
.......On 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.
.......In 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 way.
.......Walking 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").......After 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.
.......No 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.
.......Just 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.
.......In 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.
.......Before 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.
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.
.......As 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.
.......One 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.
.......After 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
.......Passing 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.
.......When 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
.......Siddhartha 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
.......Years pass as Siddhartha lives in contentment with Vasudeva.
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.
.......When 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.
.......While 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.
.......Before 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.
.......After 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.
.......The 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.
.......Siddhartha 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 full enlightenment.
.......One 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.
.......“Do you hear?” says
.......Siddhartha 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 2, "Om").
.......Meanwhile, 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.
.......That night, Govinda stays in
.......The 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!”
.......When 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 he seeks.
Terms to Know
.......When 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.
ablutions: 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.
ascetic: One who leads a life of self-denial; one who renounces material pleasures.
Atman: 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 Prajapati 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 Bodhi Tree; or Gaya): Tree in India's Bihar state under which the Buddha sat while
attaining enlightenment, according to Buddhists.
Brahma: One of the three major Hindu deities. His role is that of creator. He is also referred to as Prajapati.
Brahman: 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 system.
Buddhism: 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: See Buddhism.
Hinduism: 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.
Krishna: In Hinduism, the incarnation of Vishnu, one of three major gods. (See Hinduism, above.)
Lakshmi: Hindu goddess of prosperity, beauty, success, and good luck. She is the wife of Vishnu. (See Hinduism,
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.
moksha: In Hinduism, the achievement of perfect enlightenment that frees an individual from samsara and
enables him or her to unite with Brahman. Moksha is comparable to the Buddhist experience of nirvana.
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 and 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)Prajapati: Another name for Brahma.
Samana: Ascetics seeking enlightenment.
samsara (or sansara): in Hinduism, the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth, life, death, and so on.
Sanskrit: Ancient language of India.
Veda: Body of four sacred books of the Hindus.
Vishnu: See Hinduism.
.......Throughout 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 Formal Training
.......The 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.
**.......Siddhartha 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
.......Materialism 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 Reality
.......Reality 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.
.......Govinda 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?"
......."This 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."
......."This 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 things."
......."I 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")
.......Following are examples of foreshadowings in Siddhartha.
.......While 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").
.......After 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").
.......When 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 Symbols
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.
.......Following are examples of the symbols in Siddhartha and what they represent.
Kamala's songbird: Siddhartha. After Siddhartha dreams that it dies, he "dies" to his dissolute life as a pleasure-seeker. Climax
Om: Ultimate reality; the essence of the Brahman. For
further information see, the glossary entry.
River: (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.
Gambling: Samsara. Siddhartha wins, then loses, then wins, then loses. Gambling appears to symbolize the cycle of birth and
Smile: Nirvana; moksha; enlightenment. Everyone in the novel who has achieved enlightenment, or is destined to achieve it, smiles. Other characters do not.
Yellow 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.
.......The 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 of events.
.......According 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.
.......According 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 the river.
......."Do you hear," Vasudeva's gaze asked again. Writing Characteristics
.......Brightly, 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").
.......The 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
.......Perhaps 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.
Im Schattendes 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, bei 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.
.......Hesse 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.")
In 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.
.Structure and Dedications
.......Hesse 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 as
1...The Son of the Brahman .......Part 2
2...With the Samanas
1...Kamala 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, his cousin.
2...With the Childlike People
4...By the River
Study 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 in India.
- 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?