About Siddhartha


This novel is one of Hesse's finest and, certainly, is the finest product of Hesse's so-called psychoanalytic period. Begun in 1919, with its first section (through "Awakening") dedicated to the pacifist author Romain Rolland, the book's composition spanned nearly three years. The second section (through "By the River") was written during 1919-20, and the rest was completed eighteen months later. The entire work is loosely based on the life of Gotama Buddha. It also, however, bears a relationship to Hesse's own life for, like Siddhartha, Hesse decided to choose another career than that which his father suggested. Siddhartha left the strict bonds of his Brahmin father to seek his own salvation; Hesse left the strict bonds of his Pietist-Lutheran father to become a writer. Pietists, like Calvinists, believed that man is basically evil and thereby placed heavy emphasis on austere disciplinarianism. Likewise, Siddhartha's father was persistently performing ablutions at the river.

As for a similarity between the lives of Hesse's Siddhartha and the actual Buddha, we may observe that as a child Siddhartha, like Buddha, was an outstanding pupil and athlete. He also left his wife and unborn son for the life of an ascetic, as did Buddha. Moreover, Buddha reportedly practiced yoga and meditated by the side of a river for six months. Also, as Siddhartha's most important decision comes to him under a mango tree, the most important decisions of the Buddha come to him in what are reported to be three visions under a Bo tree. In each case, it was beneath a tree by a river that the vision of all previous existences emerged in a revelation of the simultaneity of all things. Thus both men, by attaining Nirvana, were liberated from the vicious circle of metempsychosis and thereby attained salvation.

The Christian influence on Siddhartha may not be immediately obvious, but it is, nevertheless, unmistakable. To attain salvation, Siddhartha must once again regain his innocence, becoming once again as a little child before entering the Gates of Heaven. Herein lies the perfect resolution of the novel.