Study Guide

Siddhartha in Siddhartha

By Hermann Hesse


Sidd the Kid

You've seen enough makeover scenes to know how it works. The dowdy girl takes off her glasses, brushes her hair, and is suddenly a supermodel. The soccer dad takes off his corduroy blazer, trades his New Balances for wingtips, and becomes suave. The handsome prince leaves his riches and becomes a grimy, enlightened, homeless man.

Wait—what was that last one?

Oh, that's just what happens to Siddhartha. He gets a spiritual makeover. And instead of a three-minute montage, his transformation takes place over his entire lifetime.

Siddhartha and his spiritual quest is the driving force of the novel. From the very first chapter of the book (when Siddhartha convinces his father to allow him to become a Samana), he's determined to seek enlightenment—like, hard-core-stand-in-one-place-unmoving-all-night determined:

But where were the Brahmans, where the priests, where the wise men or penitents, who had succeeded in not just knowing this deepest of all knowledge but also to live it? (1.9)

With the Samanas, he's admired for learning quickly and practicing the exercises with focus and energy. It is with similar direction and determination that Siddhartha pursues Kamala and, ultimately, the path to enlightenment. Although Siddhartha struggles while living as a rich man, and later struggles with his powerful love for his son, he remains persistent in his search for enlightenment.

In addition to being determined, Siddhartha is fiercely individualistic. Eager to learn the truth and skeptical of doctrine, Siddhartha does not hesitate to question even the most well-respected teachers. He's a rebel, that Siddhartha:

At this, Siddhartha laughed in his very own manner, in which his voice assumed a touch of sadness and a touch of mockery, and said: "Well, Govinda, you've spoken well, you've remembered correctly. If you only remembered the other thing as well, you've heard from me, which is that I have grown distrustful and tired against teachings and learning, and that my faith in words, which are brought to us by teachers, is small. But let's do it, my dear, I am willing to listen to these teachings—though in my heart I believe that we've already tasted the best fruit of these teachings." (2.36)

In fact, as Siddhartha begins to recognize his own self-reliance while living as a Samana, he discovers that his learning will have to be much more self-directed and experiential than the rigid structures offered by the Samanas or Gotama Buddha’s community. He's got to do his own thing:

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!" (4.3)

Luckily, Vasudeva’s ability to guide Siddhartha to learn on his own rather than teaching him caters to Siddhartha’s learning-type and ultimately enables him to achieve enlightenment.