Siddhartha (novel)

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Author Hermann Hesse
Translator Hilda Rosner
Country Germany
Language German
Genre(s) Allegorical buddha
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date 1922, 1951 (U.S.)
Media type print (paperback)
Pages 152
ISBN 0-553-20884-5

Siddhartha is an allegorical novel by Hermann Hesse which deals with the spiritual journey of an Indian boy known as Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha.

The book, Hesse's ninth novel, was written in German, in a simple yet powerful and lyrical style. It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s.

The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean "one who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals".[1] The Buddha's name, before his renunciation, was Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Buddha. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama".


[edit] Plot Summary

The story takes place in ancient India around the time of Gautama Buddha (likely between the fifth and seventh centuries BCE[2]). It starts as Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, leaves his home to join the ascetics with his companion Govinda. The two set out in the search of enlightenment. Siddhartha goes through a series of changes and realizations as he attempts to achieve this goal.

Experience is the aggregate of conscious events experienced by a human in life – it connotes participation, learning and perhaps knowledge. Understanding is comprehension and internalization. In Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, experience is shown as the best way to approach understanding of reality and attain enlightenment – Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey shows that understanding is attained not through scholastic, mind-dependent methods, nor through immersing oneself in the carnal pleasures of the world and the accompanying pain of samsara; however, it is the totality of these experiences that allow Siddhartha to attain understanding.

Thus, the individual events are meaningless when considered by themselves—Siddhartha’s stay with the samanas and his immersion in the worlds of love and business do not lead to nirvana, yet they cannot be considered distractions, for every action and event that is undertaken and happens to Siddhartha helps him to achieve understanding. The sum of these events is thus experience.

For example, Siddhartha’s passionate and pained love for his son is an experience that teaches him empathy; he is able to understand the childlike people after this experience. Previously, though he was immersed in samsara, he could not comprehend the childlike people’s motivations and lives. And while samsara clung to him and made him ill and sick of it, he was unable to understand the nature of samsara. Experience of samsara at this point did not lead to understanding; perhaps it even hindered him. In contrast to this, Siddhartha’s experience with his son allows him to love, something he has not managed to do before; once again, the love itself does not lead to understanding.

The novel ends with Siddhartha being a ferryman, talking to the river, talking to stones, at long last at peace and capturing the essence of his journey:

Slower, he walked along in his thoughts and asked himself: “But what is this, what you have sought to learn from teachings and from teachers, and what they, who have taught you much, were still unable to teach you?” And he found: “It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!”

[edit] Characters in Siddhartha

Siddhartha is the novel's protagonist. The novel follows Siddhartha along his spiritual progress, and his goal to reach enlightenment. After attempting many different approaches, he at last finds enlightenment by listening to a river's murmurring which the ferryman Vasudeva leads him to. Even before his enlightenment, he develops a forceful personality bordering on hypnotism, as demonstrated by his convincing the elder Samana to allow him to join Gotama. In Sanskrit, a compound of “siddha” means “accomplished” or “fulfilled,” and a compound of “artha” means “aim” and “wealth.” Therefore, “Siddhartha” is literally “the wealth of a fulfilled aim.” (The story of Siddhartha's growth can be read as the classically European bildungsroman —a "novel of education" or "novel of formation").

Govinda is Siddhartha's best friend and companion. He knows that Siddhartha has great potential and will follow him anywhere. It is not until Govinda pledges himself to Gotama, the historical Buddha, assuming that Siddhartha will pledge himself also, that he is forced to follow a different path than Siddhartha. ("Govinda" is also one of the best names of the Hindu god Krishna. Translated literally, it means "the protector of the cows.") Govinda could be considered the "shadow self" of Siddhartha.

Gotama , alternately known as the Perfect One or the Illustrious One, is the Buddha. He was named for the real Buddha, whose name was also Gotama (or alternately Gautama). He has attained enlightenment, as his peaceful demeanor and gentle, half-mocking smile show. Even after hearing his teachings only once, Siddhartha admires him more deeply than anyone else. But Siddhartha does not believe that it is possible to attain enlightenment through teachers, doctrines, or disciplines, so he leaves Gotama and once again chooses a new path. Govinda, however, becomes one of Gotama's followers, a monk.

Kamala is the beautiful courtesan from whom Siddhartha attempts to learn the pleasures of life and love. He comes to her filthy and poor, and she helps him to become a man of wealth, clothing, and earthly pleasures. After realizing that he has become an ordinary man, just like the others in the town, he leaves Kamala to again search for salvation. She bears his son. While on a pilgrimage to Gotama's deathbed, she is bitten by a snake and dies in Siddhartha's arms. "Kamala" is a common Indian name meaning "lotus". Moreover, Kāmadeva is the Hindu god of love; one of his names is Kāma, meaning "desire."

Kamaswami is a rich, conventional merchant. When Siddhartha offers himself to earthly desires, Kamala tells him to make money and become rich by becoming an associate of Kamaswami. Under the apprenticeship of Kamaswami, Siddhartha soon becomes a very rich man. Kamaswami's name is derived from "kama" (see "Kamala" above) and "swami," meaning "master"; he is thereby a "master of desire."

Vasudeva is a ferryman who has attained enlightenment by listening to the river. Like Gotama Buddha, he is a deeply peaceful and happy man. Siddhartha first encounters him when he needs to cross the river, but has no money to pay for transport. Vasudeva transports him for free, saying that “everything comes back.” After Siddhartha leaves the town, leaving Kamala and Kamaswami, he again meets Vasudeva, attains enlightenment the same way, and becomes a ferryman too. Vasudeva goes into the woods and dies in the penultimate chapter of the novel. In Hinduism, Vasudeva was the father of Krishna. The root "vas" means either "to dwell" or "to shine" and so Vasudeva's name may mean that he is the one who dwells/shines in all things.

Siddhartha's son, also named Siddhartha, is the son of Siddhartha and Kamala. Siddhartha doesn't know of the son until he meets Kamala on her Buddhist pilgrimage. After Kamala dies, young Siddhartha refuses to obey his father and eventually steals the ferryman's money and runs back to the town.

[edit] Major themes

From the start of Siddhartha's journey, he seeks personal transformation. He joins the ascetics, visits Gotama, embraces his earthly desires, and finally communes with nature, all in an attempt to attain Nirvana. Siddhartha knows that he will not attain enlightenment by following Gotama. The novel also shows how the path to enlightenment cannot be conferred to another person because it is different for everyone and will likely never be achieved simply by listening to or obeying an enlightened one. For words and teachings may describe the truth but are not the Truth itself; being concepts, they trap you, since enlightenment means release from concepts.

Another powerful theme is the concept of the circle in time portrayed through the relationship of the father and son, exemplified with his experience with his father and again with the experience with his son. This idea is shown throughout by Siddhartha's need of companionship: first Govinda, then Kamala, and finally Vasudeva--each companion symbolized the attainment of the various stages in his path to enlightenment. The novel is unique in that time is not linear, the series of events occur at varying jumps in time; yet the themes throughout the book seem to come back to its origin. This symbolizes the essence of the River, being that the River is its own beginning, middle and end--or the source of life. At the end, Siddhartha was only able to reach enlightenment through this realization: that no matter how much life splits from the source, everything tends to gravitate back towards it. At the end of his journey, it is only through the acceptance of the spectrum of human emotion that Siddhartha attains Nirvana. As written, at the exact moment of enlightenment, Siddhartha experiences the emotions of humanity through the River all flowing from and to its source.

[edit] Film versions

A film version named Siddhartha was released in 1972. It starred Shashi Kapoor and was directed by Conrad Rooks. It is currently available on DVD.

Jorge Polaco directed a Spanish version of the film in Argentina, entitled Siddharta, in 2003. [1]

In 1971, a surrealistic adaptation as a musical Western was released as Zachariah. John Rubinstein starred in the title role and George Englund was the director. Don Johnson played Matthew, the equivalent of Govinda.

[edit] Musical references

[edit] References

  1. ^ "The Life of Siddhartha Gautama". Retrieved on 2008-03-27. 
  2. ^ Cousins, L.S. (1996). "The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Series 3 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press) 6 (1): 57-63. ISSN 1356-1863. Retrieved on 2009-02-27. 

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