In the shade of a banyan tree, a grizzled ferryman sits listening to the river. Some say he’s a sage. He was once a wandering shramana &, briefly, like thousands of others, he followed Gotama the Buddha, enraptured by his sermons. But this man, Siddhartha, wasn’t a follower of any but his own soul. Born the son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha was blessed in appearance, intelligence & charisma. In order to find meaning in life, he discarded his promising future for the life of a wandering ascetic. Still, true happiness evaded him. Then a life of pleasure & titillation merely eroded away his spiritual gains until he was just like all the other “child people” dragged around by his desires.
Like Hesse’s other creations of struggling young men, Siddhartha has a good dose of European angst & stubborn individualism. His final epiphany challenges both the Buddhist & Hindu ideals of enlightenment. Neither a practitioner nor a devotee, neither meditating nor reciting, Siddhartha comes to blend in with the world, resonating with the rhythms of nature, bending the reader’s ear down to hear answers from the river.
Author: Herman Hesse