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Siddhartha Quotes About Identity

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

Searching for and understanding one's identity is an important theme in Hermann Hesse's 'Siddhartha'. We will focus on this theme by reviewing and discussing relevant quotes from the book. Read on to learn more about Siddhartha's journey to finding his identity.

The Search for Identity

Is there ever a time in life when a person can say they are truly certain of their life, their purpose, or their identity? Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, written in 1922, tells the story of a Brahmin boy who journeys through various stages of life and identity in order to find enlightenment. Siddhartha constantly thirsts for knowledge, yet feels it cannot be gained from those who teach him because he believes wisdom must be experienced and not taught.

Let's take a look at some quotes from the novel relating to his experiences with different identities to get a better understanding of Siddhartha's insights during this quest for knowledge and wisdom.

You Must Lose Yourself

From the beginning, Siddhartha felt as though he would not be able to learn to his full potential if he continued learning from the Brahmin priests who taught him. He had a thirst for knowledge that he knew could not be quenched. To the dismay of his father, he chose to leave the life of a Brahmin in order to become a samana.

Upon traveling to become a samana, a person who practices severe self-discipline for religious reasons, Siddhartha must meditate and release attachments to his previous self to be successful.

  • He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being (p. 12).

While he is able to accept this new identity, he finds he is not reaching the level of enlightenment he seeks. He feels dissatisfied living as an ascetic; therefore, he decides to leave the samanas and journey on his own.

A New View on The World

After leaving the samanas with his best friend Govinda, the two men decide to listen to the teachings of the great Buddha. While Govinda decides to adjust his identity so he can follow Buddha, Siddhartha is still adamant about leaving on his own. In a private discussion with Buddha, Siddhartha explains his views and how they will shape the new identity he plans to undertake:

  • I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha (p. 36).

Shortly after this, Siddhartha sleeps, wakes, and is transformed. It is as if he mentally and physically released his past when he verbally released it to the Buddha; he saw the world with new eyes:

  • All this had always been and he had never seen it; he was never present. Now he was present and belonged to it. Through his eyes he saw light and shadows; through his mind he was aware of moon and stars' (p. 38)

Siddhartha spends many years living with a completely different identity than that of a spiritual Brahmin or ascetic. It is not until he is faced with Govinda once more, that he realizes the reason why he has become so far removed from his former identities.

Releasing the Past

If ever there is a downfall, it is often due to a vice that cannot be recognized or controlled. For Siddhartha, that vice was the quest for knowledge. He wanted to know more, he wanted to know the most, and that created an ego within him that simply took over. This caused his departure from training with the Brahmin priests, as well as training with the ascetics. This vice lead to Siddhartha:

  • Losing himself in pleasure and power, in women and money, had had to become a merchant, a dicer, a drinker, a grasper, until the priest and the samana inside him were dead (p. 88).

He needed to completely omit his past identities in order to acknowledge his vices and release them. He finally does this, after another long sleep on the same river where he found new identities before:

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