Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse (1922) #JazzAgeJune

Siddhartha, to his best friend, Govinda: “When someone is seeking it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with this goal. ‘Seeking’ means: to have a goal; but ‘finding’ means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”

Technically, this was a reread. When I was in high school Siddhartha (and The Glass Bead Game) was passed around like water on a thirsty day. But as the decades have passed, I’d forgotten why.

Siddhartha is a good son from a wealthy Brahmin family. He looks to his parents, his religion and the wise holy men to teach him. He has learned the rites and rituals well and is supported by his devoted friend, Govinda. But he is restless and one day has the realization that his teachers, who have spent their entire lives in meditation, prayer, learning and performing rituals are still not enlightened. And isn’t that the goal of the work?

When a group of renunciants enter his town he leaves with them in hopes that their austerity will lead him to “kill his Self.” He spends three years living in the forest begging for meals, holding no property or material possessions of any kind, learning deep meditation and extreme fasting. Though he has moments of transcendence, he is still conscious of his Self in his daily life.

He leaves the Semanas and begins a path of his own living the life of a rich merchant and lover of a courtesan, then realizing the material world is not for him, he renounces it all for a meager subsistence as a ferry boat worker. Along the way he meets Gotama, an enlightened master whose teachings he admires and is tempted to follow.

Siddhartha to Gotama Buddha: “Not for one moment did I doubt that you were the Buddha, that you have reached the highest goal which so many thousands of Brahmins and Brahmin’s sons are striving to reach. You have done so by your own seeking, in your own way, through thought, through mediation, through knowledge, through enlightenment. You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings. To nobody, O Illustrious One, can you communicate in words and teachings what happened to you in the hour of your enlightenment….worthy instruction does not contain the secret of what the Illustrious One himself experienced…That is why I am going on my way…to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone.”


Siddhartha recognizes that Gotama is enlightened and has gathered around him others like Siddhartha who are looking for a teacher to guide them to their own enlightenment. But the techniques that brought Gotama to that point were discovered through is own journey, his own questionings, frustrations and observations. Siddhartha must do the same.

I found this quite important. No one can lead you to yourself, except you. This might be what attracted me in high school: Siddhartha is a timeless story about finding yourself and the unique path you are meant to travel.

Siddhartha had one single goal—to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow—to let the Self die….When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self—the great secret.

The reason why I do not know anything about myself…I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself. I was seeking Brahman, Atman, I wished to destroy myself, to get away from myself….I will no longer devote myself to Atman and the sorrows of the world. I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins. I will no longer study Yoga-Veda, Atharva-Veda, or asceticism, or any other teachings. I will learn from myself, be my own pupil, I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha.

Siddhartha to Govinda who, many years ago left Siddhartha to follow Gotama Buddha: ”Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish…..Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. I suspected this when I was still a youth and it was this that drove me away from teachers.”


Title: Siddhartha
Author: Hermann Hesse
Publisher: Bantam Books
Date: 1922, 1971
Device: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 152

Challenges: #20BooksofSummer, #JazzAgeJune, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, Mount TBR

6 thoughts on “Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse (1922) #JazzAgeJune

  1. I read this in the 70s, a little while after my partner and I were inducted (initiated?) into basic techniques of transcendental meditation. Wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – it felt like what I suppose we’d now call creative nonfiction, a clearly fictionalised biography but without, as far as I remember, much help in the way of sources. Would I read it again? As there are other Hesse titles I want to read (or, like ‘Das Glasperlenspiel’, reread) I suspect I wouldn’t be in a hurry to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interestingly, I was talking to one of my friends from high school and she just recently bought Siddhartha and The Glass Bead Game (and some Alan Watts, who was also big back then) to reread them. Hmm, I wonder if there is something in the water around here!

      Siddhartha is long on the thoughts of the main character, but short on any of the techniques he was learning, because I don’t think that was the point. I think it is just a good study/imaginative musing on his Self consciousness.

      TM, eh? I almost did that too 🙂

      Like

  2. Love the way you say this: “When I was in high school Siddhartha (and The Glass Bead Game) was passed around like water on a thirsty day.” That was true at my high school also; I read them way back when.

    Liked by 2 people

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