Hermann Hesse's moving and inspirational chronicle of spiritual evolution, Siddhartha, includes a new introduction by bestselling author Paulo Coehlo in Penguin Classics. Siddhartha is perhaps the most important and compelling moral allegory our troubled century has produced. Integrating Eastern and Western spiritual traditions with psychoanalysis and philosophy, this strangely simple tale, written with a deep and moving empathy for humanity, has touched the lives of millions since its original publication in 1922. Set in ...
Hermann Hesse's moving and inspirational chronicle of spiritual evolution, Siddhartha, includes a new introduction by bestselling author Paulo Coehlo in Penguin Classics. Siddhartha is perhaps the most important and compelling moral allegory our troubled century has produced. Integrating Eastern and Western spiritual traditions with psychoanalysis and philosophy, this strangely simple tale, written with a deep and moving empathy for humanity, has touched the lives of millions since its original publication in 1922. Set in India, Siddhartha is the story of a young Brahmin's search for ultimate reality after meeting with the Buddha. His quest takes him from a life of decadence to asceticism, from the illusory joys of sensual love with a beautiful courtesan, and of wealth and fame, to the painful struggles with his son and the ultimate wisdom of renunciation. Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) suffered from depression, endured criticism for his pacifist views, and weathered series of personal crises which led him to undergo psychoanalysis with J. B. Lang; a process which resulted in Demian (1919), a novel whose main character is torn between the orderliness of bourgeois existence and the turbulent and enticing world of sensual experience. This dichotomy is prominent in Hesse's subsequent novels, including Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927), Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) and his magnum opus, The Glass Bead Game (1943). Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Paulo Coelho was born in Brazil and has become one of the most widely read authors in the world. Especially renowned for The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes, he has sold more than 100 million books worldwide and has been translated into 66 languages. If you enjoyed Siddhartha, you might like Hesse's Steppenwolf, also available in Penguin Classics.
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I read Herman Hesse's short novel "Siddhartha" in high school, as many people of my generation did and as many young people still do. I remember being deeply moved by the book and going on to read more of Hesse over several years. Then, I put Hesse aside for a long time. Even though I grew seriously interested in Buddhism some years ago, I was not moved to revisit "Siddhartha" or Hesse.
After rereading "Narcissus and Goldmund", I returned at last to "Siddhartha". It is difficult to recapture feelings from many years ago, but I was moved again by Hesse's book but probably saw it differently than I did when I was young. Although the book appeals primarily to young readers, something is to be gained by reading it late in life. The book has deservedly become famous and will at any age reward reading.
Hesse's novel tells the story of the title character from his youth through old age. Siddhartha is the child of a well-to-do Brahmin and is a gifted student with a good friend, Govinda. As an adolescent, Siddhartha experiences spiritual discontent and to the chagrin of his father joins an ascetic sect, the Samanas, which wander the forest practicing self-mortification. After some years, Siddhartha again realizes he is dissatisfied. He and Govinda, who has joined him, go to hear the teachings of the Buddha. Govinda becomes a follower but Siddhartha, after a conversation with the Buddha, wanders on his way looking for experiences rather than teachings. After crossing a river through a mysterious ferryman, Siddhartha comes to a town, meets and becomes enamored of a beautiful courtesan, Kamala, and ultimately becomes rich, successful, and Kamala's lover. Siddhartha again comes to feel the emptiness of this life and wanders off where he meets the old ferryman and, with guidance from the ferryman and from the river, spends the rest of his life ferrying people over the river and attains peace and contentment at last.
Young people probably read "Siddhartha" because of the protagonist's search for meaning in life which begins in youth. Reading at later in life, one might think more about Siddhartha's old age. It might be tempting to suppose that Siddhartha rejected the materialism and sensuality he adopted in the middle years of his life, but that is not the case. It seems to me that the elderly Siddhartha accepted his activities and experiences during these years and saw them as continuous with his life as part of a timeless whole. So too, some might refer to Siddhartha's search as involving in recent jargon "finding oneself" but Siddhartha seeks to lose the sense of a separate self and to try to see reality whole.
Instead of the rejection of American society of the counter-culture of my youth, Siddhartha finds an acceptance of himself, of others, and of the culture in which he lives. He says at one point that the difference between the wise and other people is that the former avoid taking the part for the whole, and even that insight can be overdone. Although Siddhartha comes to believe in the inadequacy of words and concepts to express full reality, he tries to explain his insights several times in the latter part of the book. When he meets again his old friend Govinda who has become a faithful disciple of the Buddha, Siddhartha struggles to explain what he has learned.
"[I]t seems to me that everything that exists is good -- death as well as life , sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me. I learned through my body and soul that it was necessary for me to sin, that I needed lust, that I had to strive for property and experience nausea and the depths of despair in order to learn not to resist them, in order to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of desired imaginary world, some imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it."
There is a sense of understanding of one's life and of a love and acceptance of reality as a whole and -- more concretely -- of the society in which one lives -- that becomes an important part of Siddhartha's wisdom. Parts of this understanding may not be apparent to young readers who love Hesse's novel or, indeed, to other readers stung with a sense of social criticism, as was the case in late 1960s America and as remains the case today. Something is to be learned from a spiritual vision that might have escaped youthful readers.
I learned a great deal from reading and thinking about "Siddhartha" again and in thinking about reading the book when I was young.
Nov 10, 2011
Simple Story of Buddha
Hesse is a fine writer and I have enjoyed his Steppenwolf since my college reading many years ago. Siddharta is a fine introduction to
the Buddha's life and philosophy. It was an excellent read after I completed my course on Buddhism (by The Great Courses set of DVDs)
A wonderful way to get the feeling of this religion in any comparative study of the 5 great religions.
Mar 3, 2010
Read this and loved it. Bought it on a suggestion from a friend and I couldn't put it down. This is a book that will forever stay in my collection.
Mar 5, 2009
An eloquently written book about the spiritual journey.
Aug 19, 2008
Powerful and Transcendent Simplicity
This short novel following the adventure into enlightment by one Siddhartha Gautauma is a pure example of Hesse's story-telling genius. No wonder it helped to launch an intellectual revolution in the 50s and 60s. The prose, like a parable, is utterly accessible, the plot compelling-a boy on a journey through life stages towards enlightement, and links this to modern, andyet timeless, sensibilities for finding oneself, transcending the materialistic quandries, and loving humanity. A must read for everyone from Junior High onward!
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