Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Siddhartha combines two universal myths, that of Everyman searching for enlightenment and that of the hero on the way to sainthood. Siddhartha takes the journey common to all of Hesse’s later heroes, passing from the irresponsible paradise of childhood through the purifying conflicts of youth to the liberation of adult wisdom, the “higher irresponsibility” of absolute faith. Throughout Hesse’s works is the reminder that one can learn how to live only from life itself, not from books or teachers. Thus, Siddhartha, the eternal seeker, goes his own way, bowing to no one. He must disregard the wishes of his father, the advice of his friend Govinda, and finally even the counsel of the great Buddha. Only thus can he find his way to his true self.
The story of Siddhartha is also built on the myth of the quest. For Siddhartha, the quest begins when he feels that the teachings of Brahmanism do not lead to salvation and decides to try other paths. He leaves home with his friend Govinda to join the ascetic Samanas, with whom he spends three years. When he realizes that asceticism and yoga are only leading him further away from himself, he goes with Govinda to hear the teachings of Guatama the Buddha. Govinda remains with the great teacher, but Siddhartha decides that he must seek his own path through immersion in the world of the senses.
He travels to a large city, where he falls in love with Kamala, a famous courtesan. With her help Siddhartha becomes wealthy, able to afford anything he wants—including Kamala herself. Eventually he realizes that this life of indulgence is just as pointless as a life of denial, that both luxury and asceticism can be extremes that obstruct the path to spiritual illumination. He decides, therefore, to turn his back on the world of Sansara and illusion. Unaware that Kamala is now pregnant with his...
(The entire section is 766 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Siddhartha centers on the lifelong search of Siddhartha, the young son of a Brahman, for enlightenment. As a boy, he is trained in the traditional rituals and meditations of the learned, but there is a restlessness in his soul. He cannot stop questioning and speculating, and he doubts whether any of his teachers is truly enlightened. Against his father’s wishes, he decides to join a group of Samanas, wandering ascetics, and his friend Govinda accompanies him. For three years, Siddhartha lives the ascetic life of self-denial. He cultivates a dislike of the sensual world and tries to empty himself of desires in order to reach the innermost core of his being. Eventually, however, he becomes dissatisfied, and guesses that the Samanas are no closer to enlightenment than the Brahmans who had taught him in his early youth.
Leaving the Samanas, Siddhartha and Govinda travel to see Gotama the Buddha, who has the reputation of being a wise man and supreme teacher. The young men are impressed by the Buddha’s quiet bearing and peaceful countenance, but Siddhartha, unlike Govinda, does not become his disciple. Siddhartha is skeptical of all teachings, convinced that enlightenment cannot be taught but can only be experienced by the individual for himself. He resolves to leave behind all doctrines and teachers. This decision is a major turning point for him, as he becomes more accepting of himself and more ready to appreciate the beauty of the sensory world. He is now alone, free of past ties, and ready to travel in whatever direction he chooses.
The second part of the novel relates Siddhartha’s gradual immersion in the world of sensual and material activities. Reaching a large town, he meets Kamala, a beautiful courtesan. She teaches him the art of love and finds him employment with a rich merchant named Kamaswami. Siddhartha prospers in business, and, as the years go by, he becomes rich and acquires a taste for luxurious living. At...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Siddhartha is a Brahmin’s son. He grows up with his friend Govinda. Handsome, intelligent, and graceful, he is loved by everyone—his parents, friends, society, and especially Govinda. At an early age, he listens to the teachings of his learned father, masters the required Brahminical texts, performs all prescribed religious rites, and practices the art of meditation. Govinda admires his friend’s superior intellect, strong determination, and high vocation. He knows that Siddhartha will be a great man someday, and he wants to be his friend and follower.
Siddhartha himself is, however, not happy. His soul is restless. Dissatisfied with what the scriptures tell him, he wants to experience knowledge himself. An inward voice compels him to leave the idyllic peace and harmony of his father’s home and join the Samanas, a sect of ascetics who live a life of rigorous austerity in the forests. Govinda follows him like his shadow.
While living with the Samanas, Siddhartha learns many ways of losing the self. He learns how to mortify his flesh, to kill his senses, to suppress his ego, and to dwell at will in the bodies of dead birds and animals. He soon realizes that this flight from the self is only a temporary escape, not a permanent release from the life cycle. Still athirst for self-knowledge, he decides to leave the Samanas and goes with Govinda in search of Gotama Buddha.
Siddhartha meets Gotama Buddha in the Jetavana grove. He immediately recognizes that the Buddha attained the peace of Nirvana, which he is still seeking. He listens to Gotama’s sermon on suffering, the cause of suffering, and the release from suffering through the Eightfold Path. He is impressed by Gotama’s enlightened presence, but he is not convinced by his teachings. He concludes that, in order to find Nirvana, one must experience what the Buddha experienced. He therefore resolves to conquer his self, like the Buddha. Govinda becomes a follower of the Buddha, leaving Siddhartha to wander alone on his solitary path to self-conquest.
Carrying an indelible impression of Buddha’s personal example in his mind, Siddhartha turns to himself and says, “I will learn from myself, be my own pupil; I will learn from myself the secret of Siddhartha.” With this resolution, he experiences a new awakening and a sense of aloneness, for he decides to continue his quest alone and never to look back.
With this awakening, the world of appearance becomes palpable and real; it is no longer the veil of illusion that conceals the truth. Like a newborn child, he looks at the world with great wonder and curiosity. During the night, as he sleeps in a ferryman’s hut beside the river, he has a strange dream in which he...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)