In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life -- the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.
'Siddhartha,' on the other hand, is a book that demands that you think whilst reading it. It doesn't give you any real answers, but instead lets you think of your own. It is instructive, it is difficult in places, it is irksome, it is enlightening. It isn't always wonderful, and some of the writing is heavy-handed by today's standards. Hesse's is a style often copied or imitated, though not usually to any degree of success.
If you want a spiritually compelling book, read this, not 'The Alchemist.' Or, better yet, take a weekend and read both, and compare - I wonder if you'll come to the same conclusions that I did.
I'm sorry, but that is vague, vacuous and obfuscatory. It seems to be some eternal truth, but it is gibberish. It is a paean to the Western Culture's romantic ideal of Eastern Mysticism.
Like saying "Hey, I don't understand it, so it must be smart."
Of Hesse's works, "Siddhartha" is most frequently cited as one of the more important. It hardly seems worth it. "Steppenwolf," for all the issues I might have with it, is a far more intelligent, intelligible, attempt at examining the inner self.
Hesse seems to have been enraptured by the ineffability of Indic thinking, but he seems to equate ineffability with profundity. The two are not coextensive; indeed, in some ways they are mutually exclusive.
This is not to deny that "Siddhartha" contains some illuminating insights into human nature, it's just that the attempt to move from those insights to some profound grasp of the essence of existence is presumptuous and pompous.
It is also written in a very juvenile style, attempting a synthesis of prose and poetry that only highlights the unintelligibility of the fundamental "truths" Hesse seems so infatuated with.
Sorry. This is high literature, not.
Some things that I learned are that great things come to those who wait. It takes Siddhartha an entire lifetime to finally become enlightened. That to me is such an inspiration and an encouragement to never give up on anything in life.
Some things that I learned about the culture of the story are that there are a lot of different religions. It seems that with every “Holy” person that Siddhartha comes in contact with, there’s always a different belief system. The main goal in all these religions is to reach a state of Nirvana; it just seems each group has a different way of achieving it.
I would recommend this book t anyone that loves to be really engaged in their reading. In the course of reading this book, I myself felt apart of it as if I too were on a journey and meeting the people and experiencing the struggles. Absolutely amazing book.
The Siddartha of the title, born into a Brahmin family around the time the Buddha first emerged in the 6th-5th century b.c.e., senses dissatisfaction with his life. Like Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha’s family had amassed great wealth and lived a privileged lifestyle. However, both young men decide to leave all that behind and explore the world. Siddhartha becomes an ascetic and encounters Gautama Buddha shortly after he achieves enlightenment. He reveres the Buddha but does not become a follower. Rather, he leaves on another journey that will have profound effects on his life. Siddhartha meets a number of teachers along his journey, and each one adds lessons to his life.
Numerous passages struck me, but this one had particular significance. “One can convey knowledge but not wisdom. One can find wisdom, one can live it, one can be borne by it, one can work wonders with it, but one can neither speak it nor teach it” (111). This statement represents Siddhartha’s great discovery. He recognizes the achievement of Gautama Buddha, but he senses each person has to travel the path alone and discover -- for him or herself – Nirvana. This idea mirrors an identical idea of Krishnamurti, who became a great teacher, and then walked away from his followers telling them they did not need him.
My version of the book has extremely helpful introduction and notes by Robert A. F. Thurman, who teaches Buddhist studies at Columbia University. These long endnotes provide explanations for some of the more esoteric philosophical terms and ideas expressed by Hesse. Do not skip them!
We all meet people, learn things, gather insights, experience epiphanies, but assembling these into a coherent personal philosophy can be elusive for many of us. Knowing what to accept, what to reject, what to hold for further examination is a complicated process that requires an open mind and a great deal of patience. This central lesson of Hesse’s novel made my reading more than worthwhile. Deep down, I knew this, but seeing the effect it can have is an epiphany in itself. An inspiring and thought-provoking novel everyone can enjoy. 5 stars
None of this can be taught - no amount of reading scriptures or teachings is going to help.
What fascinates me is that such personal quests were not uncommon in ancient India. I am not sure if there are still people who go boldly in search of answers like that.
So, I am guessing both are why this book, while a nice read and an interesting opportunity for introspection, did little to move me. At 50, I do not do the same soul searching that college-age individuals do, and that is where much of this book’s impact would hit. And I feel like I’ve read it many other times. I fully realize that the other books I read – the ones I think as predecessors to this book – are most like the true rip-offs. But by coming to this party late, I lose the impact. For me, in my current space and time, it was a nice enough book, with a pleasant story and some deep thoughts. But it didn’t move me. It didn’t make me a different person. It didn’t make me feel as though I went to the mountaintop. Other readers (young readers) will feel it more than me I am sure. But, all I can say is I read this classic, and that is about all.
This book is not a biography of The Buddha (one his names was Siddhartha), though it is meant to parallel his life and his spiritual journey and awakening to nirvana. As an allegorical tale, it's rather good, with poetic descriptions of the people and world in which it inhabits. As with such a story, which is obviously intended to instruct, that teaching presence is felt -- repetition of ideas is often used, as well as question/answer style discussions between characters meant to hash out the philosophy. It's difficult to relate an inward journey, a journey of the mind and the soul to readers without these devices, and I think Hesse does a good job with these tools to related the journey.
Another issue (which I don't want to get into in detail or get into an argument about) that colored my experience of the book, is the issues of cultural appropriation (the act of a white person claiming and writing from the point of view of another culture) and orientalizm (presenting the Asia and Asians as inherently mystical and therefore stereotyping the people). I would love to know of any articles on this subject, if anyone knows of any.
However, that being said, I have heard that many Buddhists from both China and India have found this book enjoyable and instructive and it seems that Hesse tried to be respectful in his writing.
If I read this book when I was twenty years old, I would probably have loved it whole heartedly. Now, at thirty, I have some reservations, but I can see why many people have valued this spiritual story and have found truth and wisdom within its pages.
Comparisons that I drew with this book include one to The Alchemist, which, come to think of it, I'll need to put a little underneath Siddartha in terms of philosophical value, but The Alchemist was a bit more interesting to read I think. There's an element of Garcia Marquez in Siddartha as well, which I enjoyed. Anyhow the book is thin and very easy to read. It's the Buddhist stuff that's the hard part.
But I suppose I didn't like it as much as other people have, nor did I like it as much as I've for other books.
Experiments in Reading
There are really only two important characters in Siddhartha, Siddhartha himself and Govinda. Govinda is Siddhartha’s shadow in the beginning in the book, but eventually decides to strike out on his own by following the Buddha’s teachings. His journey through life is in direct contrast to Siddhartha’s, but remains a shadow of Siddhartha, while not actually following him. Govinda, Instead of forging his own path to enlightenment, tries to follow the teachings of the Buddha. When they meet again at the end of their lives, and Govinda sees that Siddhartha has found enlightenment, and he has not you realize that simply complying, and following people will not lead you to a fulfilling life. One must think, experience, and become enlightened. It is not something you can just learn from a book or teaching.
Herman Hesse’s writing style in Siddhartha is relatively easy reading. You shouldn’t read this when tired or distracted, as it would be easy to miss some very relevant points. But coming in a couple hundred pages you don’t get mired in a story so complex that you cannot remember the book. This is a big advantage for this text as it focuses more on getting to the point of the stages of his life. Siddhartha is definitely a book worth a read, probably a few times throughout one’s life, as it might ring differently each time.
“…the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future… I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadows, not through reality.”
I also really felt that this book ended in an odd place and I think that Hesse portrayed one man's path to part of an enlightened state but did not express the completeness of the whole experience. I also believe that this state can be achieved by many different paths and those paths would be unique to each persons life experience.
It was however, a very interesting book and I give him credit for the effort of trying to elaborate on a very difficult subject.