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Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

It's Christmas 2001 and I recently purchased this book at a booksale and have just finished reading the 60 pages of preface by Donald McCrory. I almost don't need to read the actual book after that! It gave an excellent background to Hesse's life & influences and described the plot & meaning of 'Siddhartha'. So, I may as well type up a few choice passages from the preface which caught my eye.

If you want a link to purchasing the version with Donald's preface, you could try clicking here.

From the preface by Donald McCrory:

His enjoyment however was shortlived for in March 1892 he ran away from the school and disappeared for some twenty-three hours. This act of rebellion, inexplicable to both parents and teachers, began a series of crises that was to shatter all notions of a formal education and destroy the family's hopes of a career for Hermann in the Church.

Two months later, much to the relief of school authorities, he was hastily withdrawn from the school and handed to Pastor Christoph Blumhardt of Bad Boll for a 'cure'. His behaviour had cast doubts upon his sanity.


Good behaviour prompted Schall to allow the young recalcitrant to return home. In Calw, however, he rapidly became unsettled and was sent back to Schall's school which, it should be noted, was designed for 'mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed children'. His parents were clearly at their wits' end.

Hesse had become a rebel - but a rebel with a cause - and for the remainder of his life he would uphold the rights of the individual against authority, crass materialism and the decline of culture. Sadly, but all to rapidly, he realised that he was an 'outsider', and would have to find his own way in the world. As a result, his novels record what became the highly individual 'inner' journey of a man who sought to discover his 'true' self.


The letters show him to be a seething, belligerent pupil who would not submit to the stultifying practices that surrounded him. The reader of German is urged to study his early outpourings and to juxtapose them with the novels written before 1922; in particular with Beneath The Wheel (1904) Demian (1914), and Klingsor's Last Summer (1920).

Nevertheless, for readers of Siddhartha who are unfamiliar with Hesse's other writings, the nature and intensity of his outbursts may come as a deep surprise. The pain, anger and frustration constrast so vividly with the joy, equanimity and gradual acceptance of life's flow which he describes so touchingly in his Indic poem. The source of his vehemence is what he deems to be blatant parental rejection.


To an extraordinary degree these brief extracts reveal issues and attitudes that were to become hallmarks of Hesse's prose; the yearning for acceptance, the belief in an ideal, the conflict between spirit and the flesh, the upholding of the dignity and value of the individual. Above all else, there rises the intense longing for physical and spiritual self-fulfilment, but not of the kind envisaged by his family. This longing that became his life-long quest gave rise to the unmistakable spiritual quality of his writings. It surfaces here, for when Hesse wrote those impassioned lines he knew he was destined for the priesthood.


Hesse's wish to follow his own path began very early and this caused his mother untold nightmares. ... Her admission that a 'wrong or weak upbringing' could cause untold harm is interesting, as it could be argued that, in their desire to channel Hesse's talents and energies, his parents created the very conditions that led to his vitriolic attacks.

Given that Hesse was a hyper-sensitive, hyper-active and headstrong child, it is not difficult to see how overbearing parental control, no matter how well-intentioned, could have triggered off in him exactly what they were trying to prevent. Coupled to home pressures (Hesse may well have called them oppressions), the school system in Wilhelmine Geermany did nothing to alleviate matters. In fact he severely regimented schoolday, described so well in Hesse's second novel, Beneath the Wheel published in 1904, lies at the root of the truancy and tragic death - it may well have been suicide - of the protagonist, young Hans Giebenrath, a thinly disguised Hermann Hesse.


He was unable to study, became depressed and again flirted with thoughts of suicide. Overwhelmed by his personal circumstances, he resorted to the life of a social misfit.


More significant, however, was his first prose publication which he called An Hour after Midnight which was reviewed somewhat sympathetically by Rilke, who described it as '... honest and deep, his love grand and its feelings are pious. The work stands at the edge of art'.

To an idealistic and talented 22-year-old this was praise indeed. The response of his parents, however, could not have been more negative. They implored their son to abandon writing. His mother in particular, appalled at the Romanticism of the work, wrote a letter pleading with him to flee his impure muse. Needles to say, Hesse was too headstrong to be dissuaded. Their remarks left him with deep scars. He never forgot his mother's letter and was never quite able to forgive his parents.


How could any wife live with a man - no matter how gifted - who believed that he had given up too much for too little? As strong-willed as Hesse, she was equally set in her ways, and showed as little interest in his writings as he did in their domestic life. Gradually they drifted apart. Hermann devoted himself to his writing, his circle of painters and musicians and to gardening, whilst Maria tied herself more to her children, her home and her love of singing. They were eventually divorced in 1922, long after the marriage had failed.

The increasing literary output of Hesse during this period (1904-1922) explains, at least in part, the growing isolation felt by Maria. Not only was Hesse writing new and significant material (collections of tales, legends, novels), but also poetry, nature sketches, travel reports, literary essays, and several translations from Latin (Ovid), French (Verlaine), and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, many of which were published. In addition, he wrote much that was not. Like many writers an intellectuals of his day, Hesse was a prolific letter-writer; his personal correspondence fills several volumes.

Enormous mental energy and time went into his publications - after all, he had to make a living - but his self-imposed demands left little time for any family life.


The first collection of Hesse's reviews, published in 1910, contained more than three thousand pieces. We can but admire the energy, enthusiasm and intellectual appetite of this lonely but remarkable individual.


His reviews of the work of the Sanskritist scholar, Garbe, of the Indologist Deussen (whose translations of the Upanishads Hesse read and studied avidly), of Neumann, whose translations of Buddha's talks were published in 1921, and of the works of Richard Wilhelm, perhaps the greatest German scholar of ancient Chinese texts, are of particular relevance to the thematic content of the novel. Hesse repeatedly declared that he would only draw attention to those texts he believed would 'survive'. Without these translations, Hesse would not have been able to steep himself in the sacred writings of the East, a self-imposed task that he had to fulfil in order to study, reflect on and eventually to 'live' Eastern philosophical writings.

Among the many influential writers and thinkers that Hesse read and admired, there are three that deserve special mention here, for all three have a bearing on the finished version of Siddhartha: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Jacob Burckhardt, the historian who replaced Nietzsche as the guiding light in the second half of Hesse's life. Hesse had read the major works of all three writers before 1900 and was to draw deep inspiration from each one at later stages in his own career.


Hitler's vision of a new world-order was anathema to the one envisaged by Hesse. Yet, despite the trauma of the First World War and what he deemed the absurd rise and apparent success of Hitler, Hesse's early dreams of a new age for humanity based on spiritual values never left him.


His trip had been a dismal failure and it was not until he began to write Siddhartha that he re-encountered the wisdom of India.


It should not be forgotten however that Hesse, both before and after his encounter with the new world of psychology, continued to heed what he termed 'the voice of life', a throwback perhaps to the sentiment expressed so vehemently in his letters of 1892, in which he declared that he wanted to fulfil himself as a human being.


Although in public Hesse was a reject, an eccentric and outsider, he was beginning to become his own man.


Incredibly, despite being physically and emotionally exhausted, his ideals undermined and his life with Maria worsening, Hesse was able to continue his flow of short stories, literary studies, travel reports, poems, extensive entries into his diaries, and editorial work. His wartime service, psychoanalysis and watercolour painting, which he had turned to in 1916 for therapeutic reasons, helped him to retain his sanity.


According to Mileck, those years in Ticino remained 'the most vibrant and productive period of his life'. Until 1923, Hesse rarely emerged from his hermitical retreat, although he was eager to strike up new frienships with local, like-minded people.


The failure of his second marriage brought Hesse to another crisis point, which led to Steppenwolf (1927), arguably the most autobiographical of Hesse's novels. Although analysis of this crucial novel lies outside the scope of this Introduction, the writing of Steppenwolf probably prevented Hesse from suicide.


The reception for Steppenwolf was as unfavourable as that of Siddhartha. Yet, like its predecessor, it came to be a bestseller and, for those who wish to trace the 'development' of Hesse as a writer of prose, it is essential reading.


The publication in 1922 of Siddhartha gave his many critics yet another opportunity to slander him. Reviews of the novel in German newspapers were scathing and deeply distressing for Hesse. For modern readers, such attacks on the novel may come as a surprise but in the Germany of the early 1920's they were both real and persistent. Indeed, the 1920's were depressing years for Hesse. Germany had proved to be a vast disappointment. He must have felt relieved when his application for exile in Switzerland was approved. Exile brought Hesse little respite from work but there is little doubt that his first twelve years there represent the golden age of his literary works.


In reply to the question 'Where do you come from?', one of Saint-Exupery's characters replies, 'I have come from my childhood'. Hesse might have said the same. Experiences at school and attitudes at home - the sources of much of his misery - helped him, albeit painfully, to become the person he was. It is no surprise, therefore, that in his novels he reappraises his formative years which had shaped his life and thought.

Siddhartha's malaise, in part at least, stems from his 'education'. The breach between what he has been taught and what he believes he needs to experience lies at the root of his discontent. This accounts for his flight from the route planned for him by his parents, in much the same way that young Hesse fled from school in Maulbronn.

In the Eastern philosophy expounded in the Upanishads and in the Bhagavad Gita, the Indian texts Hesse studied most closely, he discovered a system of thought in which the serious seeeker of truth is able to rise above the tyranny of the senses and ascend to that all-embracing unity which mystics sing about. In such texts, the conflict of duality is described as that between the 'higher' and 'lower' selves. The senses, according to the Upanishads, naturally turn outward to the transient world of pleasure and pain sansara in the novel), whereas the mind can turn 'inwards' and discover a realm described as unchanging and therefore 'real' and blissful. In these writings, Hesse found both the theoretical and practical basis for his novel. He then fleshed out the detail from his personal experiences. In this way, the novel plots Siddhartha's, that is Hesse's, progress towards an all-transcendent realm where duality no longer prevails.


The overiding focus of the novel is on the inner or spiritual development of the characters; Hesse is concerned with what goes on inside the soul of individuals where, in his view, the 'real' action in a human life occurs. The 'outside' world serves as no more than a convenient backdrop and the action almost always relates to the 'journey within'.


After such a positive start to the novel, the delay in its completion, according to Hesse, stemmed from the fact that he himself had not experienced that transcendental state of unity to which Siddhartha aspires. In order to do so, Hesse lived as a virtual semi-recluse and became totally immersed in the sacred teachings of both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. His intention was to attain that 'completeness', which, in the novel, is the Buddha's badge of distinction. The influence of the Upanishads lies at the heart of the mystical visions experienced by both Siddhartha and Govinda.

In turning to the Orient for inspiration, Hesse was not alone; its influence is clearly discernible in the works of Franz Werfel, Gustav Holst and in the religious organ music of Olivier Messiaen.


Hesse's efforts to reconcile opposing forces give his novels their unity and their sense of lived reality. The peace that is known when opposites are transcended is an ideal to which spiritual seekers aspire. Hesse also aspired to it, but for most of his life it remained an ideal, seldom a reality.

Within three years of its publication, Siddhartha was in its twenty-third edition, a remarkable achievement in face of the scathing criticism that had greeted its publication.


Life is beginning to show Siddhartha its pain and frustrations. Above all, he lacks peace of mind and so is gently brought to what German critics term a Grenzsituation, a crisis point, as a result of which he feels compelled to forsake home and family and join the Samanas, wandering ascetics, renowned for their unpitying self-denial. His decision sets in motion a cycle of adventures.


The 'bliss inexpressible through words', a verse from one of the Upanishads quoted by Govinda when Siddhartha questions the value of their pursuit, still remains a dream. The rest of the novel traces Siddhartha's journey towards that state of inexpressible bliss. From the outset of his quest, Siddhartha knows that, on the spiritual path, no effort is ever wasted.


To all who meet him there is no doubt that Buddha is 'complete', that he has attained what all seekers desire, 'enlightenment', that, indeed, he is a God among men. His enigmatic smile is an outward expression of a soul at one with everything, for it is at peace with itself. This is the state of being Siddhartha seeks, the absence of which is the cause of his present sorrow and wanderings.

Although the purpose of the Buddha's teaching is salvation from suffering, Siddhartha is convinced that neither the sage nor his doctrines are able to convey the secret of the experience of enlightenment and, for Siddhartha, no other experience is acceptable. The Buddha leaves Siddhartha as lovingly as he had met him. This contrasts with the despondent goodbyes of Siddhartha's parents, and with the rather fretful farewells between Govinda and Siddhartha.


The world, however, has not altered one iota; what has changed is Siddhartha's viewpoint and therefore his attitude towards himself, towards others and the circumambient universe, a volte-face that is a necessary step, so it would seem, in the search for true understanding and happiness. The change is 'within', because Hesse is convinced that any change worthy of the name could not come from anywhere else. In 1919 he had already claimed: 'What we can and should change is ourselves: our impatience, our egoism (spiritual egoism too), our sense of hurt, our lack of love and forbearance. Any other change in the world, even when done for the best intentions, I consider as useless.'

Hesse's belief in the primacy of inner chance accords with the spirit of the teachings, by no means exclusively Eastern, found in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

What should not be underestimated is Siddhartha's decision not to follow the Buddha's Way. How many sincere seekers would have the courage not to follow an accepted master?


This deviation from convention is typical of Hesse, himself highly unconventional.


Three factors contributed to Hesse's preparation of the text of Siddhartha. Firstly, his rediscovery of India's sacred writings, secondly his psychoanalytical sessions with Jung, and thirdly his deep and repeated reading of Tao Te Ching, of Lao-Tsu.


In a letter dated 1931, he is at pains to show that in the novel he attempted to set down the fundations of a faith that would help young people to begin their lives again. Hesse went on to claim quite seriously that his novel was 'an attempt to formulate that which was most important', and that the reader should make a thorough study of its every word, in much the same way that theological students study the Bible.


Siddhartha's refusal to follow the Buddha is in keeping with Nietzsche's statement in Also sprach Zarathustra that 'one repays a teacher badly if one always wants to remain nothing but a pupil'. Not that Siddhartha had ever been a devotee of Buddha, but he had been and still was a seeker. It is clear that Hesse is urging Siddhartha to seek his true self and to do so without props. What the Self meant for Hesse will be clarified later but, from the outset, Siddhartha's quest may be seen as a natural outcome of tendencies, influences and events peculiar to Hesse's own life.

{That's up to about page 35 of the preface}

{MORE to come - if/when I get around to it. In the meantime, why not try one or two of the lovely linx at the bottom of this page.}

{Ten days or so later and I feel like a bit more Thai Ping ...}

Siddhartha is prepared to ignore Buddha's precepts but not his example.


Siddhartha cannot, however, erase all trace of his past life. It has left its mark so deeply on his soul that he is forced to recognise that, despite all, he is still separated from his fellow-beings. In a manner reminiscent of Buddha himself, his heart opens to the suffering of humanity and is saddened at its lack of discrimination. Humans cause their own anguish and, what is worse, create it for each other as well.


The notion of the 'outsider' surfaces again as the highly prosperous Siddhartha begins to feel the discontent which, years before, had driven him from the home of his pious parents. Inertia, depsondency and nausea betray a deeper malaise; his inner voice is now silent; inwardly he is 'dead'. To compensate, he immerses himself in reckless gambling and, in the addictive and futile cycle which gambling creates, he becomes old, weary and sick. His sickness is of the soul, as it was at the beginning of the novel, but he now suffers from Weltschmerz, weariness of living in the world.


Dreams in Hesse's novels are clues to the state of a character's soul. The death of the songbird in Kamala's golden cage, which is the crux of his dream, reminds him of his former ways. Eleven years will pass before they meet again. Although neither can foresee the circumstances of their next meeting, bot will learn valuable soul-lessons from it, especially Siddhartha, who is gradually learning to accept all that life throws at him.

Once he has left, he falls prey to despair and thoughts of suicide. Like the young Hesse when at school in Bad Boll and Hans Giebenrath in Beneath the Wheel, Siddhartha's inner tensions have reached breaking point, like a bird hatching. This is the central image in the novel Demian, and very pertinent here: 'The egg is the world. Whoever wants to be born must first destroy a world. The bird is flying to God. The name of the God is Abraxas.'

At the river's edge, Siddhartha is faced with a decision. He has destroyed the old world, will he now fly to God or enter oblivion? Then, redemptively, the mystical sound of Om arises within him and his moment of crisis passes ... Siddhartha is saved and then enters a deep sleeep from which he emerges spiritually rejuvenated.

The man who awakens to find Govinda standing over him is a new man, so new that he is in fact unrecognised. The change that has taken place in Siddhartha is like a resurrection. The Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita that, 'On this path, endeavour is never wasted, nor can it ever be repressed. Even a very little of its practice protects one from great danger'. In Siddhartha's hour of greatest need, the memory of his former practices arises in his tormented soul to remind him of his true stature.


The real point of Siddhartha's transformation - and this largely explains his present euphoric happiness - is that he is a child once again


He has spent too long trying to 'become' what he wanted to be rather than 'being' what he is. The crucial distinction between sein (to be) and werden (to become) which was so clearly expounded in the Upanishads centuries before him, has now been understood by the world-weary Siddhartha.


There is a fourth phase, relevant to Siddhartha, and that is called 'sanyasin', one who has renounced worldly affairs to reflect on ultimate truths.


Siddhartha realises that his life too is a river and that all life flows into it. All that exists is in its waters; past and present dissolve in the all-encompassing, eternal, present moment, the sound of which is Om. Not until chapter eleven does Siddhartha experience the cosmic import of Om, but, for now, he is content to remain by the river, and therefore 'spiritually' ready to meet Vasudeva, the ferry-man.


Certainly Siddhartha, Govinda and the Samanas have been striving for perfection, but who, in truth, really knows the Supreme? The Buddha? Vasudeva? At this point in his journey, Siddhartha is convinced that he does not know, but somehow intuits that he is close. The decision to stay marks a major turning-point in the narrative and, consequently, in Siddhartha's life.


With Vasudeva, there is only one teacher and one lesson: to listen with a still heart. And, with practice, that is what Siddhartha achieves.

By listening to the river, Siddhartha discovers the truth of Krishna's words. The unity of all life, the experience of which is the fruit of self-realisation, is a law that the Buddha lived daily and one that daily contact with the river brings ever closer to Siddhartha. Listening to its eternal flow dispenses with the need for doctrines, rituals and disciplines. The two ferry-men have no cause to speak. Their hearts and souls are so finely attuned to each other that verbal communication is rendered obsolete. Both have their minds fixed on the Eternal.


Critics rightly describe Hesse's novels as 'landscapes of the soul', a description that fits the stark confessional tone of this and other narratives. External events are only 'real' insofar as they impinge upon inner realities. A central teaching of Vedantic philosophy, and one already mentioned, is that we cannot change events. We can only change our reaction to events. This is a hard pill for Siddhartha to swallow, even harder for Western readers. Its truth is borne out in a series of events, however, beginning with the impending death of the Buddha.


In a deeply moving scene, both Kamala and Siddhartha are 'joined' again; she recognises that he is and yet is not the same man. Outwardly, he may seem no different but, inwardly, he has been re-baptised, dipped in God!


Vasudeva soothingly explains that everyone born into this world has their own path to tread, a path mapped out in ones's own karma. In a dialogue based on the Gita, Vasudeva wisely concludes: 'If you died ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest'.


Grief-stricken, he leaves and sits down in the dusty road and repeats Om, the indestructible sound that is the name and symbol of Brahman. Through the loss of his son, Siddhartha learns the rare virtue of detachment, a necessary step on the way to wisdom. Hours later, his guru Vasudeva appears. This is no surprise for a true sage acts and speaks only when necessary. Not a word passes between them; sometimes much more is 'said' by being left unsaid.

The change in Siddhartha that Kamala noticed continues and although he does not share the thoughts and views of ordinary people, he shares with them life's urges and desires. The pain suffered at the loss of his son still irks him and, in a rather strange way, draws him closer to the man-in-the-street. For what separates the sage from the rest, we are told, is that the sage is conscious of the unity of all life. Paradoxically, this sense of unity both differentiates Siddhartha from others and draws him closer to them. Knowledge of this unity is the source of the calm contentment seen in Vasudeva's old face. He knows the truth and sees it as his task to help Siddhartha to know it in experience.


Invariably, he sees his past rise before him. Reminded of his father, he wonders if life's events repeat in a fateful circle. Still smarting from the wound of his son's flight, he decides to lay bare his heart to Vasudeva who, once again, brings him to the river's edge. He listens and becomes aware of the unity of sound like a cosmic dance. Over and above all else, he hears the healing sound of Om, the same sound that has saved him twice from self-destruction. Ultimately, Siddhartha learns what Vasudeva has known and lived all along. By surrendering to the unity everywhwere, inner peace may be attained.


Buddha, Vasudeva and Siddhartha all follow their own path, a path that may find its source in the Sanskrit term 'swa-tantra', which translates loosely as 'that which has the system within itself'. Listening to one's inner voice, a constant in Hesse's works, seems to be the key to unlocking the system within. This is what Siddhartha does, and no doubt it is what Govinda, one day, will also do.

Govinda is to learn a great deal from his meeting with Siddhartha, not least of which is the claim that wisdom is not at all communicable. 'Knowledge,' claims Siddhartha, 'can be communicated, but not wisdom.' He goes on to explain that the half-truths which most of us live by arise from trying to put into words the ineffable core of spiritual truth. Just as we can tell a tree by its fruits, so are there sure signs of a soul that has attained union. In the novel, the silence, compassion and beatific smile of Vasudeva are those signs. he acts and speaks only when necessary, the hallmark of true spiritual wisdom.

More significant is Siddhartha's claim that wisdom cannot be taught. The duality that spiritual teachers refer to is a necessary teaching tool but it is not the whole picture. What, then, is the whole picture? In the novel, it takes the form of a mystical vision. Siddhartha's visions are mystical in the sense that they reveal 'consciousness of the identity of one's own inner being with that of all things' which, according to Schopenhauer, 'is a state which mystics achieve in subjective experience'. But since this experience cannot be communicated, it reaches the limits of philosophy, of language and, most crucially for spiritual aspirants, the end of their striving. What else explains the 'beatific smile' of Buddha, Vasudeva ans lastly of Siddhartha himself? Is it not the outward sign of self-fulfilment in which all dualism has been transcended? The theme of dualism had, of course, a very significant role in Hesse's life and, as a consequence, in this and all his major works.

True to his experience, and in accord with Indian philosophical concepts of Advaita (non-duality), which is the eseential teaching in the Bhagavad Gita and in the books of the Upanishads, Siddhartha points to the unity that can only be truly known in experience, and which, necessarily, transcends all notions - for him utterly false notions - of duality. After all, what do good and bad, high and low relate to, if not to a third point that contains both?


Govinda is taken aback. Although a seeker all his life, he finds such notions strange, even crazy. Unable to come to terms with what he has heard - Govinda would naturally baulk at anyone dismisses 'teachings' as mere words - he nevertheless acknowledges Siddhartha's pure and radiant presence, a sure sign of saintliness, and thus he bows before him. Govinda then asks Siddhartha to give him something to help him on his way. Looking into his face, Siddhartha sees suffering, continual seeking and continual failure. He simply asks Govinda to kiss his forehead, an act that enables Govinda to experience Siddhartha's description of the unity of all life. The source of what ensues - Govinda's cosmic vision - is to be found in chapter eleven of the Bhagavad Gita, entitled 'The Universal Form', in which the prince Arjuna asks the Lord Krishna to reveal himself in all his glory. With the aid of a 'divine' eye given to him by Krishna, Arjuna 'sees' the divine forms of the Lord.

Likewise, through grace, Govinda 'sees' a timeless panorama of humanity performing a myriad of disparate but simultaneous actions in which birth and death are seen to be recurrent changes of state.


This mystical vision of timelessness, very similar to what Siddhartha himself experiences in the previous chapter, is what Govinda is given to help him on his way. It is a magnificent gesture of magnanimity and a fitting gift for an aspirant distinguished by his undaunted pertinacity. He is made to experience the truth that wisdom can neither be taught nor communicated in words and that what he has 'seen' has its source in his own being. Above all else, however, it is the feeling of love that now overwhelms him and which, shown as a smile, closes the text.

Page 54 & 55 -

Govinda also learns from his encounter - possibly his last - with Siddhartha to trust in providence and in his own efforts and, like David Copperfield, to never separate the two. He learns that he has not been left behind on the dusty road of life and what others may have called his (and Siddhartha's) airy dreams of youth were, and are, pure inner realities that cannot be gainsaid. His zest for the spiritual life has been renewed and whatever now befalls him in the daily round will be set against his vision of unity, his vision of love. Armed with this, he will be well able to accept life's dichotomies and, in time, transcend them.

He has learned the supreme importance of the need to love the world, oneself and the need to respond to one's inner voice. Siddhartha reached his mystical heights because he was guided by his heart and always tried to act to the heart, to the inner reality. Not content with words, he felt impelled to touch the inner, truer meaning of life. Siddhartha's experiences taught him how to reach out to the heart of a brother, of a group and finally, to the heart of humanity itself. The lives of Siddhartha and Vasudeva show a continual aspiration to increase the consciousness of God within their own being. In concentrating upon the light within, they both come to recognise the perennial teaching that the same light shines in each and every living soul, even in the animal and mineral kingdoms, as it does through the etheric worlds, and this makes possible the type of cosmic vision seen by Govinda. There is no doubt also that Govinda's faith has received a boost: faith not merely in the sense of belief, but faith as an inner quality, an inner knowing of God.

He will remember to the last Siddhartha's and Buddha's heavenly smile, that symbol of a soul that has been liberated from 'sansara'. Instead of restless pressure and effort, the never-satisfied and never-dying hope that constitutes the life-dream of those caught up in the ways of this lower world, each of us can attain that peace that is beyond understanding, that ocean-like calmness of spirit, whose mere reflection in the countenance is a complete and certain gospel.

Govinda learns that wisdom cannot be taught, for what seems right, of value, and wise to one man often seems nonsense to another. In a letter to a Persian reader in 1958, Hesse claimed that his novel sought to establish that which was common to all forms of worship and beliefs. In a strange way, therefore, Hesse, like his parents before him, was a missionary, advocating religious unity and brotherhood but without the need to convert. Siddhartha preaches tolerance, understanding and patience: three much needed virtues to readers in 1922 and that are still highly relevant today.

Okay, now to a bit of the actual book. You'll find a link below to a searchable version of 'Siddhartha', but it's a slightly different translation. So, for contrast/comparison I may as well type up a few sections of the translation by Hilda Rosner ...

Siddhartha had begun to feel the seeds of discontent within him. He had begun to feel that the love of his father and mother, and also the love of his friend Govinda, would not always make him happy, give him peace, satisfy and suffice him. He had begun to suspect that his worthy father and his other teachers, the wise Brahmins, has already passed on to him the bulk and best of their wisdom, that they had already poured the sum total of their knowledge into his waiting vessel; and the vessel was not full, his intellect was not satisfired, his soul was not at peace, his heart was not still.


But where was this Self, this innermost? It was not flesh and bone, it was not thought or consciousness. That was what the wise men taught. Where, then, was it? To press towards the Self - towards Atman - was there another way that was worth seeking? Nobody showed the way, nobody knew it - neither his father, nor the teachers and wise men, nor the holy songs. The Brahmins and their holy books knew everything, everything; they had gone into everything - the creation of the world, the origin of speech, food, inhalation, exhalation, the arrangements of the senses, the acts of the gods. They knew a tremendous number of things - but was it worth while knowing all these things if they did not know the one important thing, the only important thing?

Many verses in the holy books, above all the Upanishads of Samaveda, spoke of this innermost thing. It is written: 'Your soul is the whole world'. It says that when a man is asleep, he penetrates his innermost and dwells in Atman. There was wonderful wisdom in these verses; all the knowledge of the sages was told here in enchanting language, pure as honey collected by the bees. No, this tremendous amount of knowledge, collected and preserved by successive generations of wise Brahmins, could not be easily overlooked. But where were the Brahmins, the wise men, the priests who were successful in not only having this most profound knowledge, but in experiencing it? Where were the initiated who, attaining Atman in sleep, could retain it in consciousness, in life, everywhere, in speech and in action? Siddhartha knew many worthy Brahmins, above all his father - holy, learned, of highest esteem. His father was worthy of admiration; his manner was quiet and noble. He lived a good life, his words were wise; fine and noble thoughts dwelt in his head - but even he who knew so much, did he live in bliss, was he at peace? Was he not also a seeker, insatiable?

... It often seemed near - the heavenly world - but never had he quite reached it, never had he quenched the final thirst. And among the wise men that he knew and whose teachings he enjoyed, there was not one who had entirely reached it - the heavenly world - not one who had completely quenched the eternal thirst.

... 'You will go into the forest and become a Samana', his father said, 'If you find bliss in the forest come back and teach it to me. If you find disillusionment, come back and we shall again offer sacrifices to the gods together.'

{Compare with Chapter One, the section beginning with 'Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself ...' & 'But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part ...'}

*    *    *

'Govinda, I believe that amongst all the Samanas, probably not even one will attain Nirvana. We find consolations, we learn tricks with which we deceive ourselves, but the essential thing - the way - we do not find.'

... 'I have always been full of questions. Year after year I have questioned the Brahmins, year after year I have questioned the holy Vedas. Perhaps, Govinda, it would have been equally good, equally clever and holy, if i had questioned the rhinoceros or the chimpanzee. I have spent a long time and I am not yet finished, in order to learn this, Govinda: that one can learn nothing. There is, so I believe, in the essence of everything, something that we cannot call learning. There is, my friend, only a knowledge - that is everywhere, that is Atman, that is in me and in you and in every living creature, and I am beginning to believe that this knowledge has no worse enemy than the man of knowledge, than learning.'

{I'm reminded of a Buddhist cartoon - click}

... Govinda murmured a verse to himself, a verse from one of the Upanishads:

'He whose reflective pure spirit sinks into Atman
Knows bliss inexpressible through words.'

Siddhartha was silent. He dwelt long on the words which Govinda had uttered. Yes, he thought, standing with bowed head, what remains from all that seems holy to us? What remains? What is preserved? He shook his head.

... The rumours of the Buddha sounded atttractive; there was magic in these reports. The world was sick, life was difficult and here there seemed new hope, here there seemed to be a message, comforting, mild, full of fine promises.

... 'I have no desire to walk on water,' said Siddhartha. 'Let the old Samanas satisfy themselves with such arts.'

{Compare with Chapter Two, the section beginning with 'Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas ...'}

*    *    *

He seemed to be smiling gently inwardly. With a secret smile, not unlike that of a healthy child, he walked along peacefully, quietly. He wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step, his peaceful downward glance, his peaceful downward-hanging hand, and every finger of his hand spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflecting a continual quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace.

... and the two Samanas recognised him only by his complete peacefulness of demeanour, by the stillness of his form, in which there was no seeking, no will, no counterfeit, no effort - only light and peace.

... 'But according to your teachings, this unity and logical sequence of all things is broken in one place. Through a small gap there streams into the world of unity something strange, something new, something that was not there before and that cannot be demonstrated and proved; that is your doctrine of rising above the world, of salvation. With this small gap, through this small break, however, the eternal and single world law breaks down again. Forgive me if I raise this objection.'


'You are clever, O Samana,' said the Illustrious One; 'you know how to speak cleverly my friend. Be on your guard against too much cleverness.'

The Buddha walked away and his look and half-smile remained imprinted in Siddhartha's memory for ever. I have never seen a man look and smile, sit and walk like that, he thought. I, also, would like to look and smile, sit and walk like that, so free, so worthy, so restrained, so candid, so childlike and mysterious. A man only looks and walks like that when he has conquered his Self. I also will conquer my Self.

{Compare with Chapter Three, the section 'The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts ...' & 'But according to your very own teachings ...' & 'You know how to talk wisely, my friend ...'}

*    *    *

Some Links:

Hesse home page

More Hesse

Searchable version of Siddhartha

Passages from Siddhartha

Last chapter of the book

Joseph Mileck - regarded as an 'expert' on Hesse & his work

www.glassbeadgame.com - from the title of a Hesse novel

Hesse's influences:

Bhagavad Gita     or     click here     or     here

Upanishads     or     click here

If you happen 2 speak German ... click here :)

Here's a few searches of phrases/ideas from the preface or the book itself:

Joyous love towards everything

And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another

Enigmatic smile

Verbal communication obsolete

{The two ferry-men have no cause to speak. Their hearts and souls are so finely attuned to each other that verbal communication is rendered obsolete. Both have their minds fixed on the Eternal.}

not alter his destiny in the slightest (if you died ten times for him)

This page mentions Hesse's work (along with many other writers) but mainly as a link to Amazon to purchase the books

Last Update: January 5th, 2002