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By Hermann Hesse
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THE SON OF THE BRAHMAN
In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman. The sun tanned his light shoulders by the banks of the river when bathing, performing the sacred ablutions, the sacred offerings. In the mango grove, shade poured into his black eyes, when playing as a boy, when his mother sang, when the sacred offerings were made, when his father, the scholar, taught him, when the wise men talked. For a long time, Siddhartha had been partaking in the discussions of the wise men, practising debate with Govinda, practising with Govinda the art of reflection, the service of meditation. He already knew how to speak the Om silently, the word of words, to speak it silently into himself while inhaling, to speak it silently out of himself while exhaling, with all the concentration of his soul, the forehead surrounded by the glow of the clear-thinking spirit. He already knew to feel Atman in the depths of his being, indestructible, one with the universe.
Joy leapt in his father's heart for his son who was quick to learn, thirsty for knowledge; he saw him growing up to become a great wise man and priest, a prince among the Brahmans.
Bliss leapt in his mother's breast when she saw him, when she saw him walking, when she saw him sit down and get up, Siddhartha, strong, handsome, he who was walking on slender legs, greeting her with perfect respect.
Love touched the hearts of the Brahmans' young daughters when Siddhartha walked through the lanes of the town with the luminous forehead, with the eye of a king, with his slim hips.
But more than all the others he was loved by Govinda, his friend, the son of a Brahman. 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. Govinda knew: he would not become a common Brahman, not a lazy official in charge of offerings; not a greedy merchant with magic spells; not a vain, vacuous speaker; not a mean, deceitful priest; and also not a decent, stupid sheep in the herd of the many. No, and he, Govinda, as well did not want to become one of those, not one of those tens of thousands of Brahmans. He wanted to follow Siddhartha, the beloved, the splendid. And in days to come, when Siddhartha would become a god, when he would join the glorious, then Govinda wanted to follow him as his friend, his companion, his servant, his spear-carrier, his shadow.
Siddhartha was thus loved by everyone. He was a source of joy for everybody, he was a delight for them all.
But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself, he found no delight in himself. Walking the rosy paths of the fig tree garden, sitting in the bluish shade of the grove of contemplation, washing his limbs daily in the bath of repentance, sacrificing in the dim shade of the mango forest, his gestures of perfect decency, everyone's love and joy, he still lacked all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind, flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night, melting from the beams of the sun, dreams came to him and a restlessness of the soul, fuming from the sacrifices, breathing forth from the verses of the Rig-Veda, being infused into him, drop by drop, from the teachings of the old Brahmans.
Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself, he had started to feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother, and also the love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever, would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy 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? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? And what about the gods? Was it really Prajapati who had created the world? Was it not the Atman, He, the only one, the singular one? Were the gods not creations, created like me and you, subject to time, mortal? Was it therefore good, was it right, was it meaningful and the highest occupation to make offerings to the gods? For whom else were offerings to be made, who else was to be worshipped but Him, the only one, the Atman? And where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one's own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! They knew everything, the Brahmans and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much—but was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing?
Surely, many verses of the holy books, particularly in the Upanishades of Samaveda, spoke of this innermost and ultimate thing, wonderful verses. "Your soul is the whole world", was written there, and it was written that man in his sleep, in his deep sleep, would meet with his innermost part and would reside in the Atman. Marvellous wisdom was in these verses, all knowledge of the wisest ones had been collected here in magic words, pure as honey collected by bees. No, not to be looked down upon was the tremendous amount of enlightenment which lay here collected and preserved by innumerable generations of wise Brahmans.— But where were the Brahmans, where the priests, where the wise men or penitents, who had succeeded in not just knowing this deepest of all knowledge but also to live it? Where was the knowledgeable one who wove his spell to bring his familiarity with the Atman out of the sleep into the state of being awake, into the life, into every step of the way, into word and deed? 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? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day? Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine source in one's own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost.
Thus were Siddhartha's thoughts, this was his thirst, this was his suffering.
Often he spoke to himself from a Chandogya-Upanishad the words: "Truly, the name of the Brahman is satyam—verily, he who knows such a thing, will enter the heavenly world every day." Often, it seemed near, the heavenly world, but never he had reached it completely, never he had quenched the ultimate thirst. And among all the wise and wisest men, he knew and whose instructions he had received, among all of them there was no one, who had reached it completely, the heavenly world, who had quenched it completely, the eternal thirst.
"Govinda," Siddhartha spoke to his friend, "Govinda, my dear, come with me under the Banyan tree, let's practise meditation."
They went to the Banyan tree, they sat down, Siddhartha right here, Govinda twenty paces away. While putting himself down, ready to speak the Om, Siddhartha repeated murmuring the verse:
Om is the bow, the arrow is soul,
The Brahman is the arrow's target,
That one should incessantly hit.
After the usual time of the exercise in meditation had passed, Govinda rose. The evening had come, it was time to perform the evening's ablution. He called Siddhartha's name. Siddhartha did not answer. Siddhartha sat there lost in thought, his eyes were rigidly focused towards a very distant target, the tip of his tongue was protruding a little between the teeth, he seemed not to breathe. Thus sat he, wrapped up in contemplation, thinking Om, his soul sent after the Brahman as an arrow.
Once, Samanas had travelled through Siddhartha's town, ascetics on a pilgrimage, three skinny, withered men, neither old nor young, with dusty and bloody shoulders, almost naked, scorched by the sun, surrounded by loneliness, strangers and enemies to the world, strangers and lank jackals in the realm of humans. Behind them blew a hot scent of quiet passion, of destructive service, of merciless self-denial.
In the evening, after the hour of contemplation, Siddhartha spoke to Govinda: "Early tomorrow morning, my friend, Siddhartha will go to the Samanas. He will become a Samana."
Govinda turned pale, when he heard these words and read the decision in the motionless face of his friend, unstoppable like the arrow shot from the bow. Soon and with the first glance, Govinda realized: Now it is beginning, now Siddhartha is taking his own way, now his fate is beginning to sprout, and with his, my own. And he turned pale like a dry banana-skin.
"O Siddhartha," he exclaimed, "will your father permit you to do that?"
Siddhartha looked over as if he was just waking up. Arrow-fast he read in Govinda's soul, read the fear, read the submission.
"O Govinda," he spoke quietly, "let's not waste words. Tomorrow, at daybreak I will begin the life of the Samanas. Speak no more of it."
Siddhartha entered the chamber, where his father was sitting on a mat of bast, and stepped behind his father and remained standing there, until his father felt that someone was standing behind him. Quoth the Brahman: "Is that you, Siddhartha? Then say what you came to say."
Quoth Siddhartha: "With your permission, my father. I came to tell you that it is my longing to leave your house tomorrow and go to the ascetics. My desire is to become a Samana. May my father not oppose this."
The Brahman fell silent, and remained silent for so long that the stars in the small window wandered and changed their relative positions, 'ere the silence was broken. Silent and motionless stood the son with his arms folded, silent and motionless sat the father on the mat, and the stars traced their paths in the sky. Then spoke the father: "Not proper it is for a Brahman to speak harsh and angry words. But indignation is in my heart. I wish not to hear this request for a second time from your mouth."
Slowly, the Brahman rose; Siddhartha stood silently, his arms folded.
"What are you waiting for?" asked the father.
Quoth Siddhartha: "You know what."
Indignant, the father left the chamber; indignant, he went to his bed and lay down.
After an hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman stood up, paced to and fro, and left the house. Through the small window of the chamber he looked back inside, and there he saw Siddhartha standing, his arms folded, not moving from his spot. Pale shimmered his bright robe. With anxiety in his heart, the father returned to his bed.
After another hour, since no sleep had come over his eyes, the Brahman stood up again, paced to and fro, walked out of the house and saw that the moon had risen. Through the window of the chamber he looked back inside; there stood Siddhartha, not moving from his spot, his arms folded, moonlight reflecting from his bare shins. With worry in his heart, the father went back to bed.
And he came back after an hour, he came back after two hours, looked through the small window, saw Siddhartha standing, in the moon light, by the light of the stars, in the darkness. And he came back hour after hour, silently, he looked into the chamber, saw him standing in the same place, filled his heart with anger, filled his heart with unrest, filled his heart with anguish, filled it with sadness.
And in the night's last hour, before the day began, he returned, stepped into the room, saw the young man standing there, who seemed tall and like a stranger to him.
"Siddhartha," he spoke, "what are you waiting for?"
"You know what."
"Will you always stand that way and wait, until it'll becomes morning, noon, and evening?"
"I will stand and wait."
"You will become tired, Siddhartha."
"I will become tired."
"You will fall asleep, Siddhartha."
"I will not fall asleep."
"You will die, Siddhartha."
"I will die."
"And would you rather die, than obey your father?"
"Siddhartha has always obeyed his father."
"So will you abandon your plan?"
"Siddhartha will do what his father will tell him to do."
The first light of day shone into the room. The Brahman saw that Siddhartha was trembling softly in his knees. In Siddhartha's face he saw no trembling, his eyes were fixed on a distant spot. Then his father realized that even now Siddhartha no longer dwelt with him in his home, that he had already left him.
The Father touched Siddhartha's shoulder.
"You will," he spoke, "go into the forest and be a Samana. When you'll have found blissfulness in the forest, then come back and teach me to be blissful. If you'll find disappointment, then return and let us once again make offerings to the gods together. Go now and kiss your mother, tell her where you are going to. But for me it is time to go to the river and to perform the first ablution."
He took his hand from the shoulder of his son and went outside. Siddhartha wavered to the side, as he tried to walk. He put his limbs back under control, bowed to his father, and went to his mother to do as his father had said.
As he slowly left on stiff legs in the first light of day the still quiet town, a shadow rose near the last hut, who had crouched there, and joined the pilgrim—Govinda.
"You have come," said Siddhartha and smiled.
"I have come," said Govinda.CHAPTER 2
WITH THE SAMANAS
In the evening of this day they caught up with the ascetics, the skinny Samanas, and offered them their companionship and—obedience. They were accepted.
Siddhartha gave his garments to a poor Brahman in the street. He wore nothing more than the loincloth and the earth-coloured, unsown cloak. He ate only once a day, and never something cooked. He fasted for fifteen days. He fasted for twenty-eight days. The flesh waned from his thighs and cheeks. Feverish dreams flickered from his enlarged eyes, long nails grew slowly on his parched fingers and a dry, shaggy beard grew on his chin. His glance turned to ice when he encountered women; his mouth twitched with contempt, when he walked through a city of nicely dressed people. He saw merchants trading, princes hunting, mourners wailing for their dead, whores offering themselves, physicians trying to help the sick, priests determining the most suitable day for seeding, lovers loving, mothers nursing their children—and all of this was not worthy of one look from his eye, it all lied, it all stank, it all stank of lies, it all pretended to be meaningful and joyful and beautiful, and it all was just concealed putrefaction. The world tasted bitter. Life was torture.
A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal. Once all of my self was overcome and had died, once every desire and every urge was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer my self, the great secret.
Excerpted from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Copyright © 2015 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Reading Group Guide
Hermann Hesse’s short novel Siddhartha has sometimes been called a work of reverse missionary activity, bringing to the West the lessons of a typically Eastern story of spiritual searching and fulfillment. However, this deceptively simple and episodic tale of the title character’s progress through life provides no conventional resolutions to the questions it poses. In emphasizing Siddhartha’s self-assertive individuality, Hesse makes plain that his book is as much a product of Western as well as Eastern intellectual traditions.
The story of the Brahmin’s son who leaves home to seek deep and lasting satisfaction appears to end where it began: beside a river with Siddhartha and Govinda united in friendship. But the first words of the novel are a hint that it will proceed and find its momentum through a series of opposites: “In the shade of the house, in the sunshine near the boats on the riverbank” (p. 3). Immediately, light is contrasted with shade, and the stability of home is contrasted with the vehicles that ply the river’s flow, foreshadowing Siddhartha’s future life with the ferryman Vasudeva. Each of the novel’s twelve chapters, divided into two parts, finds Siddhartha simultaneously facing a crisis and a new beginning in his search.
One of the important questions to consider is whether Siddhartha’s search is driven more by discontent with his current state or by a vision of where he is going. In succession, he rejects the intellectual and ritualistic teachings of his father and the other Brahmins; the self-abnegating rigors of the ascetic samanas; the opportunity to become a disciple of Gautama, the Buddha; the world-weary existence of material success; and even the futile role of protective father to his son. As Siddhartha reflects early on, the stages of his life are like “the old skin that leaves the serpent” (p. 35). The image of the rejuvenated snake sharpens the contrast between his deliberate intentions and the natural course of things through the stages of life. If we believe that Siddhartha achieves progress and not merely a change of circumstances in his lifelong search, it can be asked what part his own will plays in achieving the enlightenment that he finally comes to by the end of the story. To an observer, the scene of Govinda gazing raptly at the face of his old friend beside the river might appear to be simply their reunion after many years of separation. However, we are told that what Govinda sees reminds him of the smile of Gautama, the universally acknowledged “Sublime One,” the Buddha, whose lifelong disciple Govinda had been.
In finally identifying Siddhartha with the Buddha, Hesse suggests that the story he is telling is both more and less than an original work of fiction. It is important to keep in mind that Siddhartha is the given name of the person who came to be known as the Buddha. The early events in the life of the novel’s protagonist closely parallel the traditional story of the Buddha’s life. In the third chapter of the book, the fictional character, Siddhartha, meets Gautama, a portrayal of the historical Buddha and, during their dialogue, rejects the idea of following him as a disciple among all the other disciples, including his friend Govinda. In having Siddhartha set off on his own, Hesse raises searching questions about the nature of the relationship between a teacher and a disciple, about how a teaching that reflects the experience of a teacher can instill that experience in a follower.
This is one of a series of encounters with individuals who profess to have something to teach Siddhartha, and whose teachings he comes to find inadequate in various ways—the scholarship of the Brahmins that leads to intellectual prowess but not happiness, the asceticism of the samanas that creates a stoic perseverance but nothing more, the art of love from Kamala that never results in a loving spirit, and the mercantile expertise of the merchant Kamaswami that leads only to unsatisfying entanglement in possessions. Through a movement from extreme to extreme, Siddhartha finally comes to the silent, listening Vasudeva, the ferryman. Vasudeva’s expert ability to navigate the opposite banks of the river and all they represent becomes an emblem of the unity of spirit that Siddhartha has sought, and the almost wordless communion between the two leads to the culmination of Siddhartha’s search. As Hesse has told the story, the apparent resolution of opposites that occurs at the end seems to embody a teaching, though perhaps not one that can be easily verbalized apart from the telling of the incidents of the story itself. At the same time, and in the spirit of Siddhartha’s own search, Hesse has raised questions for us about whether words can communicate the deepest truths or can only prepare us to experience them.
1. What does Siddhartha mean when he refers to the “path of paths” that must be found (p. 17)? Why is he so certain that neither the Brahmins nor the samanas have found it?
2. Does Gautama adequately answer Siddhartha’s contention that “no one is granted deliverance through a teaching” (p. 32)? Why doesn’t Siddhartha become one of Gautama’s followers?
3. What is the connection between Siddhartha losing his friend Govinda to Gautama and Siddhartha’s “awakening”? What does it mean that “the awakening man was on the way to himself” (p. 37)?
4. What is the meaning of Siddhartha’s dream in which Govinda becomes a woman?
5. Why does Siddhartha both love and despise the “child people”? How is it that having been a samana separates him from them?
6. After waking up by the river, why does Siddhartha say, “I have nothing, I know nothing, I can do nothing, I have learned nothing. How wondrous this is!” (p. 84)?
7. How is Vasudeva’s ability to listen so deeply related to his being “no friend of words” (p. 94)?
8. Why is seeing Siddhartha just as good for Kamala as seeing Gautama?
9. When Siddhartha can no longer distinguish the many voices he hears in the river, why does he feel that “he had now learned all there was to know about listening” (p. 118)?
10. Why does Vasudeva leave Siddhartha?
11. Why does Govinda think Siddhartha’s teaching sounds foolish?
12. Why does the story end with Govinda thinking about “everything that he had ever loved in his life,” when he had previously reminded Siddhartha that Gautama had “forbade us to fetter our hearts in love for anything earthly” (p. 132; p. 128)?
13. How can we know who is the right teacher for us?
14. Can wisdom be taught?
15. What is the relation of words to wisdom? Do words tend to enhance or limit wisdom?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This slim novel is a good attempt at understanding Buddhist philosophy by following the journey of a man named Siddharta who tries asceticism, hedonism, and other lifestyles until finally attaining wisdom. Oddly enough, Siddharta reminds me a lot of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. These books share a similar quest for self-knowledge with the ultimate realization that what one is looking for was with you all the time. After all, "there's no place like Om".
This book was, simply put, short and sweet. Even though I am a devout Christian, I found Siddharta a definite must. I admit, though, that at times it was a bit hard to keep my focus. One of the best things about the book is that you get such a clear view of what is going on in Siddharta's mind. I reccomend it for reading a rainy saturday afternoon or whenever you have 20 minutes to spare (only about 120 pages). Even Russell Crowe reccomends it!
The most beautiful piece of literature ever written. Hesse effectfully captures the quintessence of ardent love and depicts the state of true enlightenment. Read and enjoy!
Evie Mpras gives this book two thumbs up!