Siddhartha in Siddhartha

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Siddhartha is the title character of Herman Hesse's ''Siddhartha'', and it is through his eyes that we see the story unfold and his Enlightenment won. This lesson provides a brief biography and analysis.

Role in Siddhartha

Siddhartha is the title character in Siddhartha, a book written by Hermann Hesse about the spiritual evolution of Siddhartha in his quest towards enlightenment. However, we do not get some perfect being in Siddhartha, at least not at first. Instead we end up with an individual who is having trouble finding his way in a world that is utterly confusing and increasingly unfulfilling. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the character of Siddhartha before continuing on with an analysis of him as well as an analysis of what Hesse was saying about the human condition.

Key Terms

Before we go too much further, let's make sure that we understand the meanings of two words we'll be using a great deal. The first of this is enlightenment. To be clear, we are not talking about any Western ideas of enlightenment, but instead those that come from further east. In this context, we are especially alluding to the Sanskrit term moksha, but not exclusively. In the mindsets of the characters of Siddhartha, this is the ultimate goal of life. It is being free from all the illusions of life and being able to focus only on that which has actual meaning.

The second word I want to draw your attention to is much less complex, but shows a great deal of symbolism. It is the name Siddhartha itself. Like the term moksha, it too comes from Sanskrit. However, it is actually two words. The first of these, Siddha, means gotten or achieved. Meanwhile, artha refers to whatever was being looked for or strived towards. Thus, 'Siddhartha' means 'one who has achieved what was being looked for'. In short, a very fitting name for our protagonist.

Brief Biography

Siddhartha is born into a wealthy Brahmin family, whose primary task is to perform the prayers and rituals that will lead to enlightenment. As a Brahmin, enlightenment should be a relatively close task-- his duty in life is to perform rituals so that he may become enlightened himself. However, for Siddhartha, these are empty motions that he derives no fulfillment from. As such, he leaves home with his best friend Govinda to learn from mystics.

First he stays with the Samanas, then he meets the Buddha, but he fails to reach enlightenment. With each of these different groups, Siddhartha tries a different approach to enlightenment, but it falls flat. The rituals he performs as a Brahmin don't provide any meaning for him. Meanwhile, when living as a Samana, he questions why there are still seventy year old men living as Samanas-- shouldn't they have achieved enlightenment by now? Finally, when he reaches the Buddha, he takes issues with a number of the teachings, to which the Buddha simply responds that the ideas taught are what is important. As for the knowledge, it has 'a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is what Gotama teaches, nothing else.'

He decides that he will simply make his own way, saying, 'I want to learn from myself, want to be my student, want to get to know myself, the secret of Siddhartha.' He soon chooses to refocus his efforts on more worldly affairs, such as money and physical love. He learns physical love from Kamala, a beautiful courtesan, while learning business from the gifted merchant Kamaswami. In both of these efforts, Siddhartha excels. This keeps him busy for a number of years, but he gains nothing real from it. Finally, he ends up fleeing that life to work on a river bank. There, in the simple motion of the river, he finally achieves enlightenment. Ultimately, he becomes renowned as an enlightened one and is able to help Govinda achieve enlightenment as well.

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