by: Hermann Hesse


Characters Siddhartha

An earnest spiritual pilgrim, Siddhartha is totally consumed by his quest for spiritual enlightenment. Though in his youth he learns the wisdom of his Brahmin heritage and masters the skills of the Samanas and the teachings of Gotama, the spiritual explanations that satisfy those around him are inadequate for Siddhartha because they do not lead to enlightenment. No matter how many others accept a particular religious explanation, Siddhartha will refuse the explanation if it rings false. Siddhartha seeks spiritual enlightenment at any cost, even when the search complicates other areas of life. Friends, lovers, and family members fall by the wayside when Siddhartha believes they are not compatible with his quest. Further, he believes no leader or philosophy is beyond questioning. Guided by a strong belief in his convictions, he argues with the head of the Samanas and even with the enlightened Gotama the Buddha himself. Siddhartha does not argue for argument’s sake, nor does he question wisdom out of a sense of pride or superiority. He finds logical flaws in the teachings put before him, and he seeks the truth.

Siddhartha possesses an incredible degree of patience, which proves to be important since his quest takes a lifetime to fulfill. He progresses through successive spiritual explorations, experiences failure numerous times, but persists until he reaches his goal. The instantaneous, magical transmission of Nirvana from Siddhartha to Govinda demonstrates that Siddhartha has found the transcendent understanding they have both sought for so long. He has finally reached his goal.

Siddhartha is the Sanskrit name of the Buddha and means “he who is on the proper road” or “he who achieves his goal.” Hesse is not attempting to directly portray the life of the Buddha himself through Siddhartha but to use Siddhartha as a means of discussing a path to enlightenment. At the same time, many striking similarities exist between Siddhartha and the actual Buddha. For example, both left promising lives in their pursuit of knowledge. In Siddhartha’s case, he leaves Kamala when he becomes disillusioned with the material world, while the Buddha left a wife and son to become an ascetic. Both studied with ascetics, and both spent many years in study by a river, finally achieving enlightenment. Siddhartha has succeeded in his own arduous quest, and at the end of the novel, he is poised to take on followers of his own.