By Hermann Hesse. This book is about the spiritual journey of a man named Siddhartha not the great Siddhartha, Buddha. Set in the times of Buddha, this story follows Siddhartha from a young age to his spiritual enlightenment. Born into a brahmin family, Siddhartha is well loved and well respected. He is a great student and learns quickly. Discontent with the teachings of brahmins from whom he feels that he has learned all that he can he decides to follow samanas – yogis – that are traveling through the forest. Getting permission from his father in his own stubborn way he leaves home with his good friend Govinda and follows the samanas into the forest and their way of life. After years of ascetic living Siddhartha is still restless, still searching for meaning when hears about the great one – Gotama. Meeting Gotama fills Siddhartha with awe but he quickly realizes that he cannot learn from the great one. He realizes that path to self-realization and spiritual enlightenment is unique to every person and that cannot be taught or learnt…it has to be experienced. After a brief encounter with Buddha he parts with his friend Govinda and leaves to find his own salvation.
Siddhartha realizes that while seeking Brahman he ignored his ‘self’ and that he cannot run away from himself if he truly wanted peace and enlightenment. He needs to know the secret of Siddhartha if he were to rid himself of the ‘self’. This awakening is the beginning of an arduous journey of self-discovery that finally leads him to true peace.
Hermann Hesse’s writing is simple yet beautiful. Although the story didn’t exactly capture me – being a Hindu the concepts of spiritual enlightenment and transcendence are not new to me and salvation through suffering is a way of life that is all too familiar with Hindus – I enjoyed the book. If spiritual quest is not your cup of tea then this book is not for you. It’s slow pace will make the reading difficult. It is, however, thought provoking and every one will get a different piece of wisdom out of this. My favorite take aways from this book are:
- You cannot be true by distancing yourself from your ‘self’…you need to embrace your ‘self’ to be true.
- Knowledge can be taught but wisdom cannot be – wisdom has to be experienced