Analysis of “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha is a novel written by Herman Hesse in 1921. The novel’s main characters are the young brahmin Siddhartha and his close friend Govinda. They have been trying to achieve enlightenment, that is, a special realization of the Self. For this purpose, Siddhartha and Govinda join the movement of Samanas, which desires to attain enlightenment through asceticism, the denial of physical being as valuable. After some time spent in Samanas, Siddhartha discovers the existence of Gotama, the Buddha, who achieved total enlightenment called Nirvana. Siddhartha leaves Samanas and decides to find this holy man on his own because of the conviction that enlightenment cannot be achieved in groups. Left alone, Siddhartha deviates from the spiritual path and indulges in human needs such as love, wealth, and trade. The key scene of the book happens at the end when Siddhartha, in the horror of his mistakable actions, goes to the river and meets there Govinda. Their conversation, full of Hindu philosophy notions, is very instructive, so Siddhartha’s confession should be extensively analyzed to realize Siddhartha’s life lessons.
Lessons from Siddhartha’s Conversation
The Value of Being Free
The conversation between Siddhartha and Govinda starts with important reflections on the value of freedom in seeking spiritual enlightenment. When Govinda met Siddhartha, he did not recognize his old friend. It helped both characters start their discussion straightforwardly and sincerely. Siddhartha proclaims: “when someone is searching, then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything” (Hesse 91). It means that when someone is searching for something, their thoughts and soul are occupied with a certain aim, which captures individuality by some idea. It results in a situation when a person becomes unfree. Thus, striving for some goal, the seeker becomes blind to things around them. Spiritual liberation should happen freely by self-reflection, not by some stepwise procedure.
Despite the fact that this text is highly religion-oriented, some conclusions may be useful in everyday life of modern people. This statement can be considered a manifest against careerism and the search for some benefits. True success and spiritual liberation can be achieved through gradual learning, knowledge about the world, and an honest attitude toward others. Although some critics can disagree with such an application of religious symbols to ordinary life, I definitely appreciate such kind of actualization of old texts.
The Search for Wisdom
Another crucial quote from the chapter related to the dialogue between Siddhartha and Govinda is about the attainment of wisdom. Siddhartha says: “knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it” (Hesse 93). The integral idea here is that Govinda is convinced that wisdom comes from religious teachings and communicated thoughts. In fact, it was the reason why he stayed with Samanas for so long – he tried to find wisdom through the words of wise men. However, Siddhartha admits that real wisdom can be achieved through constant learning from life and nature. This path to wisdom can be traced through Siddhartha’s life after leaving Samanas. He lived in a society of people and understood that their desires and wishes were not sacred and spiritual. Therefore, independent thinking through life experience is the right way of achieving enlightenment. I fully agree with this idea and understand that the most influential intellectual thinkers, such as Noam Chomsky or Slavoj Zizek, have learned a lot about current events with their own minds.
The Meaning of Truth in Achieving Nirvana
Finally, it makes sense to talk about Siddhartha’s ideas about the meaning of truth in Buddhism. The great meaning has Siddhartha’s phrase that “the opposite of every truth is just as true” (Hesse 93). In other words, he says that the truth is one-sided, so the duality of many symbols and phenomenons of modernity is not always true. The ways to achieve wisdom are unlimited – there are no dichotomies between goodness and sin, heaven and hell. The truth-seeker can find it both through greedy actions and worship. Thus, every individual has a variety of ways to find truth and subsequent spiritual wisdom. It is incorrect to divide the world into white and black. There are no such commonalities that the “white” way leads to Nirvana, while the “black” way leads to misfortune and failure. Siddhartha provides a great example: “the sinner, which I am and which you are, is a sinner, but in times to come he will be Brahma again, he will reach the Nirvana” (Hesse 93). Even from the extreme position of being evil, there is a path to liberation.
It is hard to disagree with such a view of the world. The extreme political polarization in modern global politics seems to be erroneous. For example, many people demand that others be right-wingers or left-wingers in politics. Nevertheless, it is an oversimplification of reality because many issues are hidden from this duality. Only the multipolar approach to the attainment of truth is a justified strategy.
Siddhartha, written by Hesse, is an immortal work containing many important ideas for modern humanity. I agree with many of the ideas in the text, especially those mentioned in this essay. I recognize the importance of free-thinking, life experience, and independence from harmful goals as essential ingredients for achieving spiritual liberation and enlightenment. Buddhism is a religion in which teaching can help in difficult situations not only for people of Eastern culture but also for the Western world.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha: An Indian Tale. Digireads Publishing, 2015