Siddhartha Questions and Answers
by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha book cover
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What is the lesson in the first chapter of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, titled "Brahmin's son"?

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In the first chapter of the novel Siddhartha, author Herman Hesse describes just how much Siddhartha is loved and admired by those around him.  Though he is still a young man, for some time he has already "been partaking in the discussions of the wise men, practicing debate with Govinda, practicing with Govinda the art of reflection, the service of meditation. He already (knows) how to speak the Om silently ... with all the concentration of his soul ... (and) to feel Atman in the depths of his being, indestructible, one with the universe."

His mother and father are filled with joy and pride when they think of their handsome, intelligent, respectful son.  His father envisions him "growing up to become a great wise man and priest, a prince among the Brahmans."  Young girls' hearts are filled with love when they see him.  His friend Govinda also greatly loves Siddhartha:

He loved Siddhartha's eye and sweet voice, he loved his walk and the perfect decency of his movements, he loved everything Siddhartha did and said and what he loved most was his spirit, his transcendent, fiery thoughts, his ardent will, his high calling.

The lesson of this chapter, however, comes in Siddhartha's recognition that he "is not a source of joy for himself."  When he thinks about his daily routine, which involves walking in the garden, sitting in prayer and meditation, washing himself in the daily ablutions, and offering ritual sacrifices, he realizes that he "(lacks) all joy in his heart," and he does not believe that any of these acts are bringing him closer to his ultimate goal of Nirvana. 

Siddhartha feels empty and dissatisfied, and "dreams and restless thoughts (come) into his mind."  This is made worse by the fear that overtakes him:

He had started to suspect that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmans had already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom, that they had already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was not full, the spirit was not content, the soul was not calm, the heart was not satisfied. The ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit's thirst, they did not relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent--but was that all?

Siddhartha looks around at all of the teachers in his village, including his own father, but he sees them all as coming up short:

Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow --but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man?

The fear that, by continuing along his current pathway, he will never truly "meet with his innermost part and ... reside in the Atman" leads Siddhartha to make an important decision: he will leave this familiar life to become a wandering Samana.  Perhaps in that ascetic, nomadic life, he believes, he will finally achieve Nirvana.   

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