A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.
His glance turned to ice when he encountered women; his mouth twitched with disgust when he walked through a city of nicely dressed people. He saw merchants trading, princes hunting, mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering themselves, physicians trying to help the sick, and lovers loving—and all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye; it all lied, it all stank, it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful and beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted bitter. Life was torture.
‘Siddhartha’ is a quest for the meaning of life, for peace, for Enlightenment. In very simple terms, this is a story about a man trying to understand himself.
To begin with, this is not a story about Gautam Buddha, whose name was also Siddhartha before becoming the Buddha. This story is about a Brahmin boy named Siddhartha. The name Siddhartha means one who achieves his goals.
It’s an interesting take on an age-old tale, and we are invited along quite an extraordinary journey, experiencing Siddhartha’s highs, lows, loves, and disappointments along the way. Drawing parallels with Buddha, Hesse shows us the life of a privileged Brahmin son who grows increasingly dissatisfied with the life expected of him.
As with the Buddha, Siddhartha too sets out on a journey that takes him finally to the path of Enlightenment, and along the way, we get to see the beauty and intricacies of the mind, nature, and experiences. The book does show, in astonishing detail, the inner struggles that all of us can relate to, the suffering we all share, and the fleeting strands of joy and happiness for which we all strive.
The book describes each stage of Siddhartha. From a Brahman to Saamana to a businessman to a gambling addict to a suicidal depressive to a father and so on and so on and so on, the ever-changing yet constant river of life.
It is a simply told yet very complex and moving story of a man – from boyhood to the zenith of Enlightenment.
Before diving into this book, it’s good to know a little bit about Buddhism, or more importantly, about the life of Buddha himself.
The Buddha was born into a noble family. He was called Siddhartha Gautama in his childhood. His father was a king and wanted Gautama to be a powerful king when he grew up. So he gave Gautama all the pleasures in the world. Guatama never got to experience pain or misery. He never got hungry, never got injured, or anything like that. And his father never allowed Gautama to go outside the palace walls. He was basically locked in the kingdom.
But one day, he went outside the palace walls and got exposed to the outside world. He saw sickness and death all around him. Then he realized that this sort of suffering could happen to him as well.
This, and the suffering of others in the world, caused him great distress, and eventually, he decided that he could not continue living such a luxurious lifestyle when so many others were suffering. So he decides to become an ascetic to find a way to this pain.
From here on, the journey began for him, where he attained what Buddhists call Nirvana. Or Enlightenment. After failing many times over several years, Gautma finally became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Gautama Buddha, for me, is and always will be an enigma. Imagine, for a moment, the courage and resolve one must muster to walk away from a life of luxury and comfort to live the life of an ascetic. Gautama had everything. He had a beautiful family, he was to be crowned king someday, and he was rich beyond his wildest dreams. Too good to be true, right? How and why did he walk away from all of this? A puzzling question. And this book does do justice in trying to answer the very same.
Siddharta was born into a Religious family. He was handsome, clever, and popular among his villagers. Everyone loved him and had high hopes for him.
Siddharta had everything going for himself. But he always felt empty inside.
He wanted to understand life. The world. He wanted to understand what it meant to be alive. But his religion didn’t give any answers to these questions. He was spiritually dissatisfied and believed the elders in his community had nothing more to teach him.
So he wanted to find these answers by himself. And he goes on a journey to find the meaning of life.
While on this journey to Enlightenment, he meets the Buddha. He was impressed by the Buddha’s teaching, but Siddhartha realized that whatever the Buddha realized that allowed him to become enlightened, Buddha couldn’t teach that to anyone else.
You won’t be a Buddha if you follow what Buddha did or said; you will end up as a follower of Buddha. You must find your own paths, your own rules, and, eventually, your own sacred life.
Sidharth says that wisdom cannot actually be taught; it must come from personal experience, so he moves on.
What’s unique about Siddhartha is that instead of trying to get rid of the ego, desire, and suffering, he recognizes their importance in the process of attaining self-knowledge and wisdom. That’s seemingly not very Buddhist-like.
On this journey, he becomes a wandering Monk, becomes a Wealthy Trader, a Lover of a Prostitute, an assistant of a boatman, a father, and finally, the ENLIGHTENED ONE.
The writing style of the book is mythical and simple. It’s calm and meditative.
Hesse said that when writing the book, he was heavily influenced by Western philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Spinoza, and Nietzsche.
And you will find some very interesting Nietzsche theories in the story, like overcoming the self, the impossibility of objective teachable truth, and the necessity of suffering when becoming stronger.
It’s a beautiful exploration of the different stages of life we experience. It’s a story about unifying the conflicting elements of good and evil in the individual.
The novel seems to say that you must experience the bad along with the good to attain Enlightenment. It’s like the idea that you are not either good or bad. You are you.
If you are depressed or going through some sort of life or identity crisis, if you’re trying to figure out the meaning of your life, if you’re grieving, or if you just went through a breakup, this would be a good time to start reading Siddharta.
Also, for anybody who’s into Buddhism or if you’re just into folklore mythology, then this book is a must-read.
The book is a harrowing tale of man’s lust for greed, power, sex, and material gain; however, its ultimate purpose is to show that often times what we are looking for is in the simplest places imaginable.
Hesse’s work craftily explains (through Buddhist and Hindu philosophies) that life is an all-encompassing journey that will eventually show all mankind what it is looking for.
By the way, If you like to read quotes, I have pulled together some of the best quotes from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. You can read them here. Best Quotes from Siddhartha