Book Blog: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

This short novel is an inspiring account of a search for enlightenment, and how challenges can play a crucial role in this. We follow the story of Siddhartha from a proud young man to a wise and humble old one.

Siddhartha sitting by the river with Vasu Deva, the ferryman

Siddhartha sitting by the river with Vasu Deva, the ferryman

Siddhartha leaves his Brahmin father’s house, and wanders for several years as a samana: a spiritual seeker in absolute poverty. During this time he meets Gautama, the Buddha: he recognises him as an enlightened being, but faces a major challenge in choosing whether to take vows and become a disciple, or continue his lone search.

Although his best friend, Govinda, takes vows, Siddhartha feels he needs to learn direct from life, not from a teacher. He plunges deep into worldly pleasures for many years, making money with a rich merchant, and enjoying love with a beautiful courtesan.          

Slowly, his integrity is eroded by this life. He becomes tense, angry, addicted to gambling. Alone he meets the challenge of withdrawing from this, and one day he just walks out, penniless, and never returns.

Siddhartha goes back to the old ferryman, Vasu Deva, and lives with him. Really, it is Vasu Deva and the river who are his greatest teachers. Near the end of his life, Siddhartha finds enlightenment with their help, and in a moving scene shares some of his insights with his old friend Govinda.

One of Siddhartha’s great insights is that someone who is constantly seeking may never relax or open up to finding: and what we need may not be what we’re trying to find!

Siddhartha can see that he’s had to learn from his own experiences, decadent as well as uplifting. It’s when he can see all life as part of divine oneness that he moves beyond his own pain into a joyful acceptance of life. And the challenges were essential in getting him there.