Siddhartha is a son of a Brahmin, and Hesse’s tale follows Siddhartha on his path to Enlightenment. In the beginning, Siddhartha rejects the orthodox, conventional teachings of the Brahmins, and in his quest for Enlightenment, abandons his home to join the austere rigors of the ascetic Samanas. With the Samanas, Siddhartha learns methods of self-mortification, learns to repress the self, and later realizes that it cannot lead to Enlightenment. Then, he abandons the Samanas, and travels to Savathi to meet the illustrious Buddha. His meeting with the Buddha makes him understand that Enlightenment cannot be taught, and that he must seek understanding through experience. So, he plunges himself into a life of pleasure – he courts a courtesan, gains a great deal of material wealth, and fathers a son, and then throws it all away to find peace at the feet of a humble boatman besides the river.
Hermann Hesse spent some time in India in 1910, and ‘Siddhartha’ materialized as a result of this visit. First published in German in 1922, and later in English in 1951, it became a rage among the youth of the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, US found itself spiritless in the wake of the World Wars, and ‘Siddhartha’, with its firm belief in the ultimate meaningfulness of life, immediately found takers among the disillusioned. In a collapsing, war-torn, and bleeding country, it furnished a strong message to those who were seeking a “way within”. It introduced Oriental philosophy to a morally depraved society, and put them on a path to self-discovery. ‘Siddhartha’ is considered as Hesse’s best piece of work, and it won the Nobel Prize in 1946.
‘Siddhartha’ is a novella written in the third person perspective. It is divided into two parts; it has a nice flow to it, and is therefore easy to read. It is recounted in a simplistic, meditative, almost poetic style. Some of the prose is so beautiful, it sings to you. Hesse has done a spectacular job in packing much insight and power in just 123 pages.
‘Siddhartha’ is a quest for meaning of life, for peace, for Enlightenment. It could mean different things to different people. Myself, I loved it. I loved Siddhartha’s absolute dedication to his goal. I loved his idea of distilling wisdom from experience — everyone’s path is his own, who’s to say they don’t all lead to the same destination? I loved the strength and courage with which Siddhartha stood through pain and loss. I especially loved the three-page ending in which Hesse describes the final understanding that Siddhartha came to. I am still pondering the lessons I learnt from it and I am certain that I will be returning to it to glean more.
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