Siddhartha: A Novel

by Hermann Hesse

Paper Book, 1982




Bantam (1981), 160 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: Hermann Hesse wrote Siddhartha after he traveled to India in the 1910s. It tells the story of a young boy who travels the country in a quest for spiritual enlightenment in the time of Guatama Buddha. It is a compact, lyrical work, which reads like an allegory about the finding of wisdom..

Original publication date

1951 (first US edition)
1945 (first Italian edition)
1954 (first British Commonwealth edition)



0553208845 / 9780553208849


½ (6658 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

[It] attempts to postulate an answer to the riddle of man's confused and contradictory existence in this universe.

User reviews

LibraryThing member tloeffler
Siddhartha leaves his family as a young man to search for happiness. He travels, trying on and then discarding several different lives, until he ends up living on the river with a ferryman. What he finds is that happiness is a culmination of everything in life. Like the river, life is not only the
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now but what has come before and what is yet to be. I'm not explaining the philosophy very well, but it was very inspirational to me. Although the first part of the book moved slowly, the second half was fascinating, and I would recommend the book to anyone. It doesn't try to teach you a religion; it tries to show you that everything in your life is your religion.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Earlier this summer I read Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' and wondered to myself, 'Why am I not having to think right now?' I read the whole book, trying to think about thinking about it, and I was continually blocked. Perhaps, I concluded, there isn't as much to think about here as there is
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supposed to be.

'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.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This slim novel is a good attempt at understanding Buddhist philosophy by following the journey of a man named Siddharta who tries asceticism, hedonism, and other lifestyles until finally attaining wisdom. Oddly enough, Siddharta reminds me a lot of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. These
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books share a similar quest for self-knowledge with the ultimate realization that what one is looking for was with you all the time. After all, "there's no place like Om".
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LibraryThing member jpporter
"Everything is One."

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"
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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.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Much has been written from a spiritual and literary view about this famous 1922 book by Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse. I will look at it from a historical context perspective. Hesse was born in 1877 into the generation immediately after the German victory of the Franco-Prussian War. Think of the
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generation in America born after WWII, or in England after the Napoleonic Wars. It was a generation full of bright futures and expectations, Germany would at long last fulfill its destiny on a global stage. As it turned out it was this same generation that lead Germany into the misery and defeat of WWI (1914-17) and the dream and future died in the slaughter of the trenches. So it was in the aftermath in 1922 Hesse the philosopher became popular with Germans with his introspection and inward looking examination of what life really meant, what is really important. The outer world had defeated Germany and it would find strength and solace by looking inward. Perhaps it is not surprising that another generation resonated with this same message of rejecting the outer world and embracing inner vision, the counter-culture of America in the 1960s, when Hesse's book first became widely read and known in English speaking countries.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
I read this back in the 60s when it was all the rage, and I failed to see the point. Of course, I have undergone countless changes since then, so I thought the time had come to give it another try. Good move. I have an enormous, new-found respect for this novel. It confirmed some things I believed
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and taught me quite a few new things. Every reader should bring something to the story and take away new insights.

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

--Jim, 7/30/10
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LibraryThing member AryckRussell
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, is by far one of the best novels I have ever read. It is such an amazing story that truly touches your spirit. In the story, the main character, Siddhartha, is on the quest to achieve enlightenment. He leaves his parents at a young age to become a Samana, but he soon
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finds out that the doctrines aren’t as true as he thought they would be. He then begins to travel to different towns to listen to other spiritual leaders, including The Illustrious One. He contently listens to their teachings, yet he always finds some kind of contradiction with them. In the end, Siddhartha uses his life experiences as his own doctrine. He realizes that to achieve enlightenment, you must know how life is from all aspects, a Samana, a dice player, a Merchant, a man of great wealth.

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.
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LibraryThing member chetanv
The one lesson which I took from this book is that in the search of peace and truth, every person is alone. Everyone has to make the journey alone - he has to search for his own answers alone.
None of this can be taught - no amount of reading scriptures or teachings is going to help.

What fascinates
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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.
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LibraryThing member disneypope
This is the second time I've read it and it still has wonderful insights after twenty years. I read the Shambala 2000 version and the preface and forward were most helpful in learning about Hesse and why he wrote, etc.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Hesse has simplified but also instructed us in the huge fact that we must all grow. While we go through our stages we all learn some of the same lessons. I think that's why people react to this by finding too "simple" or "obvious."
LibraryThing member purple_haze
A beautiful novel, a journey of a boy (Siddhartha) as a young samara, as he later grows in nature with no possessions to be free of all suffering. As a young boy, a prince, he was full of riches and spoils… but he realized that this was not his path. This novel edifies the importance of and
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difficulty in acquiring Nirvana, everyone’s path is different. Also, that Nirvana cannot be preached or talked about (Can’t show someone how to acquire Nirvana). As Siddhartha finds tranquility and Nirvana by the river, he realizes enlightenment. “In his heart he learned the newly awakened voice speak, and it said to him: ‘Love this river, stay by it, learn from it.’ Yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. It seemed to him that whoever understood this river and its secrets, would understand much more, many secrets, all secrets.”-Herman Hesse
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Audio book performed by Barron Christian. Translation by Sherab Chodzin Kohn.

This slim novel is a classic tale about the search for enlightenment. The story follows Siddhartha throughout his life, and his spiritual journey. He is born a son of a Brahmin, with access to all the privileges that
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implies, but he feels the stirrings of discontent. He wants more from his life, though he doesn’t know what that means. So he sets out on a quest to find enlightenment … and discovers that truth is not so much “out there” as “in here.”

Barron Christian’s performance on the audio book is wonderful. He has a soothing and melodious voice that helps to convey the sense of meditation and thought that is central to the work.

I’m really looking forward to my F2F book club discussion on this one!
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LibraryThing member MorHavok
Siddhartha is a life story, detailing a young mans journey through his life and spirituality. As a young man Siddhartha excels at everything and begins to question his beliefs. He sets out with his friend later and explores the world through many different frames of being. He becomes a Shramana, a
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merchant, a drunk, a beggar, a boatman, and finally as an old man enlightened. His journey through this is poignant because he believes you cannot achieve any meaningful spirituality in life without actually living life. The story of Siddhartha’s life is interesting in he does not take the easy route, but rather trail blazes his own life, and spirituality. Moving through a jungle of opinions and experiences he eventually reaches his destination of enlightenment.

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.

Favorite Quote:
“…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.”
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LibraryThing member William345
I really loved this one. It's especially illuminating if you have some understanding of Vedic religion and how that fed developments in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, though that's not essential. Set on the Gangetic Plain about 2600 years ago, it's about one man's search for enlightenment. This
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man, Siddhartha, son of a Brahmin, even in the presence of Gautama Buddha himself, is unable to find a way if it depends on the teachings of others. There is, Siddhartha comes to believe, no single illuminated path for all men and women to follow. We must each of us make our own mistakes. We must all suffer, and no warning against it will ever help us. For to live some kind of bizarre life of comfort that prevents suffering also prevents our finding peace. The writing style is very honed down, lean, without abstruse digressions. It fulfills for me that fundamental need that all good fiction must meet: it reveals a completely imagined world. And isn't that what we really require from fiction: that it take us out of ourselves? That it, to paraphrase John Gardner, perpetuate the dream? Highly recommended. I much prefer it to Steppenwolf. Up next Journey to the East and The Glass Bead Game.
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LibraryThing member kdwade
I don't think there's a wasted word in this book; it's everything Hesse did in his other novels, condensed into a very slim story full of beautiful prose and mesmerizing passages. I read it twice in one day, you should probably try it at least once.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
I suppose I can see why the hippies of the late 60's embraced this little book -- it's very spiritual but not in a very practical way. I don't know that any real-world applications could come of it, but it still made a nice story.
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
This is, and is not the story of the Buddha. It is Hesse's attempts to find sanity, and we are glad he takes us along with him.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
Last read in the 1970s when Hesse was very trendy. Re-reading in 2020s has been an experience. The book doesn't quite hold up to my memories. Rather than being deep and very meaningful, I found it to be a simple short saga of the stages of life. The oriental mysticism no longer seems deep, but the
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book is not without wisdom.
So, a nice read, but not the answer to question of the meaning of life!
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LibraryThing member siafl
To some people this book, as I understand, could be life changing. This wasn't so for me because the Buddha is not my saviour. And if you take away that layer, which says 'this book is my all-time favourite because its story has the deepest impact possible on my life of all books out there', if you
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take away that, then this book's writing is about average. It doesn't have the best stuff in it. In fact sometimes I thought to myself that I'd much rather learn about what Siddartha was hearing, say, from listening to the river, than just knowing that he heard something life-changing and be left with just that bit. In many ways the book presented me very interesting and important observations, but it has left a lot of unsatisfactory holes and questions. It's a very good introductory book into Buddhism, but I suspect if I am genuinely interested in the subject I should pick up a real Buddhist philosophy book and start digging.

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.
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LibraryThing member BookAddict
I don't think the journey portrayed in this book would necesarily lead to the stated outcome. I agree that being connected to the Divine force is a state in which you are at peace because you know the true nature of yourself as part of the Divine and because you are connected to the Divine you no
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longer fear the unknown. You would also feel less connected earthly and materialistically because you would know how transient this life is. But I don't agree that this would lead to eternal bliss while we are still living. Because we have to live in a materialistic tangible world we cannot stay permanently in the conciousness of the Divine force because if we could we couldn't do anything in this life. Taking part in this life forces us away from that state. I think the only true eternal peace would come when we can permanently stay in that state which would be when our life force leaves us and merges with the Divine and no longer has the attachment to the physical realm.
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.
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LibraryThing member deckla
Truth be told, I'm not a big fan. I prefer my fiction to be less life-lessonlike. Maybe I didn't relate in 1975 because Siddhartha was male. But I'm not exactly drawn to read it again. And states of out-of-body bliss scare me.

"No longer knowing whether time existed, whether this display had lasted
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a second or a hundred years, whether there was a Siddhartha, or a Gotama, a Self and others, wounded deeply by a divine arrow which gave him pleasure, deeply enchanted and exalted, Govinda stood yet a while bending over Siddhartha's peaceful face which he had just kissed, which had just been the stage of all present and future forms."

This is a book with answers. I prefer questions.
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LibraryThing member lente
Inspiring read, but clearly written from one perspective. Implicit in the story is a moral, which you may not agree with. Hard to read as just a story.
LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Forget the required reading lists for high schools, this is on the required reading list for human beings. One of the most beautiful pieces of art ever created. Read it more than once, please.
LibraryThing member figre
I am convinced that there are certain types of books that you have to read at certain parts of your life for them to have the same impact felt by the rest of the world. I am sure that The Catcher in the Rye did nothing for me because I didn’t read it until I was 40. I am also convinced there are
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also certain books (and events) that have their impact because of when they occurred. They were the first, and all others were followers. In a non-literary example, Jimi Hendrix does nothing for me, primarily because I just wasn’t old enough to hear him when he first came out, I never understood the slam against sensibility that was his music, I don’t understand the impact, and the music is just okay.

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.
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LibraryThing member justagirlwithabook
I read this in high school as required reading for an AP Lit class. I actually found this one more interesting and enjoyed it at the time. If I were to read it now, as an adult, I don't know if I would enjoy it quite as much, but that's okay. I do recommend this one for those interested in
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philosophical reads.
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