Copyright 1922 by Herman Hess
Reprinted January 2003
By Penguin USA
Every human begins a journey at birth and ends it with death. Life is our terrain, vast, mysterious, and treacherous some times, narrow, familiar and comforting at other times. Every child is prepared for this journey by parents, guardians, and teachers. However, only the individual can prepare herself or himself for the most important journey in life. That is the spiritual journey toward self-discovery.
Siddhartha by Herman Hess is the chronicle of one such journey. Hess, a Swiss, blends Eastern and Western ethics, spirituality and philosophically with psychoanalysis to tell a beautiful story of a young man’s quest for self.
Siddhartha is born the son of a Brahmin, adored by his parents, and loved by all his friends especially his best friend Govinda. He is handsome, intelligent, charismatic and a promising future as a member of the Indian upper cast awaits him. However, Siddhartha feels empty, something essential is missing in his life. He leaves his life and parents and, with Govinda following, joins a group of ascetics, relinquishing all his possessions to fast and pray. Eventually he meets Gotama, the Buddha, but he feels that the Buddha’s way is not his.
Siddhartha reenters the world and begins to indulge himself in a life of pleasure. Eventually, he realizes that he has lost all the spiritual awareness he once had, and he is as spiritually simple as everyone else. This awakening begins his true spiritual journey that challenges both traditional Hinduism and Buddhism.
Siddhartha’s journey takes him into the heart of nature where he learns from the river, the wind and all of creation. These are the secrets he tries to share with Govinda when the two meet again as old men. Siddhartha once an Indian prince is now a simple ferryman, and he tells his old friend that the things one can love are the trees, the river, a stone, all the things of nature, but one cannot love words even the words of Buddha.
I first read Siddhartha when I was sixteen years old and several times through out the years. I do not see this work as many do as an introduction to Buddhism or an explanation of what Buddha’s nature really was. Hess was a student of Buddhism and did remain faithful to the Buddha’s life. However, this is a work of fiction, a vision of the Buddha Siddhartha’s life by a westerner and as such, it often shades Eastern thought and motives with a western Christian view point.
Nevertheless, this is a wonderful story of spiritual and moral discovery and a tale of enlightenment. It tells us that enlightenment cannot come from others, but it is something one must achieve on ones own. This journey toward self-discovery and spiritual awareness begins and ends with the individual.
This book will appeal to all who like to contemplate life and its meaning or to those who just want to read a fine work of literature.
Judith Woolcock Colombo: Author of The Fablesinger, Night Crimes, The Gasman & TheDeath of Betty Pinto
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