Siddhartha is an award winning novel that is extremely well recognized throughout the literature community. It was written by Nobel Prize winner, Hermann Hesse, who was greatly influenced by eastern philosophy. During his formative years he was immersed in eastern culture, primarily Buddhism. This influence ultimately led Hesse to create the inspiring novel, Siddhartha. This novel was a milestone in sharing eastern philosophies with the western world. Throughout the novel Hermann Hesse illustrates the Buddhist outlook on life; highlighting key Buddhist principles. He accomplishes this through the story of Siddhartha and his journey to enlightenment, the ultimate goal in eastern philosophy.
Throughout Siddhartha’s journey there were many significant events show casing different Buddhist ideals. One of which is when Siddhartha gave into the temptations and cravings of materialism, riches and phony success. Buddhism emphasizes just the opposite of this; that true happiness only exists without cravings and external satisfactions. Here Hesse displays Siddhartha’s fall to humanly desires and his entrapment in the materialistic cycle of gain and loss, “Property, possessions and riches had also finally trapped him. They were no longer a game and a toy; they had become a chain and a burden” (Hesse 63). At this point in Siddhartha’s path he has strayed away from true happiness. As he continues to pursue materialist gain and recover from losses his happiness continues to diminish. The Buddhist belief that true happiness only exists without cravings is proven here through Siddhartha. He is unable to achieve happiness because the materialistic drive pushes him to always want more, leaving him dissatisfied and unhappy with what he already has. Hesse goes further to illustrate this trap by stating: He won thousands, he threw thousands away, lost money, lost jewels, lost a country house, won again, lost again.
He loved the anxiety, that terrible and oppressive anxiety which he experienced during the game of dice, during the suspense of high stakes. He loved this feeling and continually sought to renew it, to increase it, to stimulate it, for in the feeling alone did he experience some kind of happiness, some kind of excitement, some heightened living in the midst of his satiated, tepid, insipid existence. (Hesse 64) Hesse demonstrates that this trap, disguised as success and happiness, is truly a deceitful and unfulfilling cycle. While at times Siddhartha may feel that his lifestyle gives him happiness it does not. He receives a false sense of pleasure from temporary gains masking his meaningless life. Siddhartha’s finally comes to the realization of what his existence has become, “He was overwhelmed by a great feeling of sadness. It seemed to him that he had spent his life in a worthless senseless manner; he retained nothing vital, nothing in a way of previous or worthwhile” (Hesse 66).
Through Siddhartha’s realization Hesse is able to clearly convey the Buddhist teaching; happiness is only obtainable without cravings. Once Siddhartha was able to break the cycle and see the source of his unhappiness he was able to change it and return to his path of enlightenment and quest for nirvana. Further into Siddhartha’s journey his son came to live with him after his mother’s death. Siddhartha tries to alleviate his grieving but unfortunately is unsuccessful. Siddhartha’s immense love for his son is consistently rejected. His son’s feelings of disconnect, anger and rebellion are especially clear when his son abandons his father’s care. The night before he ran away, he made this statement,” You want me to become like you, so pious, so gentle, so wise, but just to spite you, I would rather become a thief and a murder and go to hell, than be like you. I hate you; you are not my father” (Hesse 100). Following his son’s desertion Siddhartha immediately wanted to retrieve him; not out of anger but out of concern for his son’s safety.
He was advised by his companion and mentor, Vasudeva, not to chase after the boy but accept what has happened and let it be. This message is the exact Buddhist principle Hesse is attempting to convey here. Buddhism teaches that one must accept life for what it is, not fight it and that everything happens for a reason. Acceptance did not come easy for Siddhartha,” He felt something die in his heart; he saw no more happiness, no goal. He sat there depressed and waited” (Hesse 103). Siddhartha overcame by emotions was unable to move forward and think like enlightened individual he was becoming. With the aid of Vasudeva he was able to move past his emotions that initially inhibited his progression. In time he realized just as he left his father’s care to find his own path; it was his son’s time to do the same. This Buddhist teaching does not say to fight emotions; instead let them dissipate then find inner peace with the event; accept it for what it is and move on. If people dwelled on everything they did not like or did not understand no progression would be made, the path to enlightenment would freeze.
Hermann Hesses’ Siddhartha shows an inspiring story of a man’s life and his rise to greatness. People everywhere are able to relate to these valuable life lessons Siddhartha exemplifies. With Buddhist principles ingrained in these teachings Hesses educates us about the key to true happiness and accepting life. These Buddhist ideals that led Siddhartha to enlightenment can be applied in our lives too. With this new found knowledge we now have the foundation to follow the path to nirvana and enlightenment, the ultimate goal in Buddhism.