Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is about a young man who, growing up as privileged person, feels a discontent with the lifestyle of his family and with his potential future. Although he could live the life of the upper class if he wished, he decides to go off with his friend Govinda in search of meaning. This search will take him down several roads and on several philosophical journeys.
Early in the story he joins a group called the Samanas. Samanas are Buddhists who are learning how to live according to the Buddhist philosophy. Their philosophy, at least as it is presented in the novel, requires its adherents give up most worldly pursuits and desires. The novel describes Siddhartha’s learning this way:
Instructed by the oldest of the Samanas, Siddhartha practised self-denial, practised meditation, according to new Samana rules.
While that doesn’t sound particularly exciting, Hesse does give some vivid examples of what Siddhartha did during this process:
A dead jackal was lying on the sandy bank, and Siddhartha's soul slipped inside the body, was the dead jackal, lay on the banks, got bloated, stank, decayed, was dismembered by hyaenas, was skinned by vultures, turned into a skeleton, turned to dust, was blown across the fields. And Siddhartha's soul returned, had died, had decayed, was scattered as dust, had tasted the gloomy intoxication of the cycle, awaited in new thirst like a hunter in the gap, where he could escape from the cycle, where the end of the causes, where an eternity without suffering began.
Though Siddhartha stayed with the Samanas for several years and became very accomplished and even met Gotama, the perfected one, he still felt something missing and decided to leave the Samanas and head off on his own.