"Siddhartha" is one of the names of the historical Gautama, and the life of Hesse's character resembles that of his historical counterpart to some extent. Siddhartha is by no means a fictional life of Buddha, but it does contain numerous references to Buddha's philosophies and his teachings. Although Hesse's Siddhartha is not intended to portray the life of Gautama the Buddha but he used the name and many other attributed to reflect the legendary atmosphere and the pattern of his heroes transformation. Shakyamuni, known in his youth as Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince who became aware of and profoundly troubled by the problems of human suffering. According to religious scriptures Siddhartha renounced his prince hood at the age of 19 and pursued the life of a religious mendicant from which he rejected both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. After 11 years of ascetic practices and deep meditation, at the age of 30, he finally realized the truth that would emancipate mankind from their suffering, and he became a Buddha. All the teachings of Shakyamuni were recorded giving rise to a vast array of sutras or scriptures. The Buddha can in no way be described as a transcendental or supreme being. "Buddha" means the enlightened one; a Buddha is a person who perceives within his own life the essence, or reality of life itself. Unlike other religious philosophies or systems of religious thought, Buddhism makes no clear distinction between divinity and humanity. Its teachings enable people to attain enlightenment, to become Buddhas themselves. This ultimate reality supports and nourishes humanity, and all other living beings. Those who have perceived this ultimate reality inherent in their own lives truly know themselves, they are Buddhas. (Introduction to Buddhism) The basic teaching of Buddha is formulated in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Preceding from the premise that suffering exists and that a release from it must be found, Buddha constructed his system. The First Noble Truth is to be understood, the universality of suffering. The Second Truth is to be abandoned, the desire to have and control things that cause suffering. The third truth is to be made visible, the supreme truth and final liberation of Nirvana which is achieved as the cause of suffering is eliminated, the mind experiences complete freedom and liberation. The fourth truth is to be brought into being, the truth of the eightfold ariya path leading to the cessation of suffering. (Robinson) The first two steps in the Eightfold Path, which leads to the cessation of suffering, are right understanding and right resolution; a person must first discover and experience the correctness of the Four Noble Truths, and then resolve to follow the correct path. The next three steps form a kind of unit: right speech, right behavior, and right livelihood. These reflect the external aspects of a person's life, which must not be neglected. The interior disciplines constitute the final three steps: right efforts, right mindfulness, and right contemplation. By this means, the follower of Buddha can arrive at Nirvana. (Robinson) Buddhists do not believe in transcendent or any other type of god or gods, the need for a personal savior, the power of prayer, eternal life in heaven or hell after death as many of the western religions do. They do believe in reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living and death. After many of these cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self they can then attain Nirvana. The teachings of Buddhism effectively deal with the question of human beings very existence and pursue the surest way toward establishing a secure basis for living. It is a practical system, which provides a means to realize a state of self-perfection. (Field) Siddhartha is divided into two parts of four and eight chapters, and proceeds from this insight to interpret the work as an illustration of Buddha's Truths and Path; in the first chapter Siddhartha learns the existence of suffering, in the fifth (which corresponds to the first step of the Path) he begins his journey along the correct path, etc. Rose, then, comes to the conclusion that at the end "the difference between Siddhartha and Gautama, which had seemed so vast to the seeker at his meeting with the sage, becomes non-existent."(Rose) This is certainly true in one respect; both Gautama and Siddhartha have arrived at a final condition of Harmony (although the nature of the Harmony differs considerably). But Siddhartha's way was clearly not that of Buddha. The division of four and eight seems nevertheless to allude to the Truths and the Path, since a more natural division of the novel, considering its structure, would be into three sections of four chapters each. (Field) Other aspects of Buddha's teachings are also of interest. Buddha was rather logical, scientific, and rational in his approach. He did not speak of supernatural phenomena or an afterlife, and he dismissed the possibility of miracles. Buddha taught self-reliance. He had little use for rituals and formalistic laws, and he urged each man to work out his own salvation-which would, of course, be possible only within the framework of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The historical Gautama, like the figure in Siddhartha, taught that love and deep attachment to anyone or anything was wrong, since it leads to suffering. Buddha never defined the state of Nirvana, as he understood it, beyond saying that in it the cessation of suffering is attained, and that this is accomplished by the absolute extinction of the will. In "Siddhartha" Hesse also made some basic parallels between the life of his character and that of the legendary Buddha. Buddha left his wife and son to become an ascetic, as Siddhartha leaves his beloved Kamala and his unborn son to take up the ascetic contemplative life. Both spent time among mendicant ascetics studying yoga. Buddha spent several years meditating by the river and Siddhartha last years are spent in a ferryman's service. Buddha's revelations come to him under a Bo Tree while Siddhartha arrives at his final decision under a mango tree. Under the tree Buddha had a visionary experience of all his previous existences and the interconnection of things, and Siddhartha's final magic vision also embraces simultaneity and oneness.(Malthaner)
The opening chapter presents a pair of friends, but Govinda is the devoted follower while Siddhartha is marked as the leader. Siddhartha overcomes his father in a gentle but inflexible contest of wills and leaves his side to aid in his insatiable thirst for knowledge. In Siddhartha's journeys he meets different groups of people in which he absorbs all he can from them and then leaves once he feels that they have no more to offer. He eventually falls into a life of greed, that of a businessman, and impregnates Kamala, but leaves them. As Siddhartha leaves that life he reaches the River, which is a symbol of the boundary between two worlds, and two separate ways of life. He eventually comes into the service of a ferryman, a simple yet rewarding job. Here he meets his wife Kamala, who dies in his presence so many years later, leaving with Siddhartha his child. Siddhartha devotes himself to the education of his son but make the painful experience that his love isn't appreciated and his endeavors are repulsed. His son doesn't want the life Siddhartha thinks best for him; he wants to live his own life and breaks away from his father. Siddhartha strives to win the boy's affection and to keep him, but his son's rebellion repeats more violently Siddhartha's gentle liberation. With the loss of his son, there is nothing left that binds Siddhartha to this world. He realizes that this had to come, so that he would no longer fight what he considered fate, but gave himself unreservedly to his destiny, thus Siddhartha has overcome suffering at last, and with it has attained the last step of his contemplation. He has entered Nirvana, peace has finally come to Siddhartha at last. When it is asked of Siddhartha to show the wonders of enlightenment his efforts to express that he has found the way in words are doomed, since the way within for one individual defies formulation for another, for simply expressed "knowledge can be imparted, but not wisdom". (Field)
Field, George W Herman Hesse Boston: Twayne Pub., 1970
"Introduction To Buddhism" SGI-USA
Malthaner, Johannes. World Literature Criticism James P Draper, ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale Research Comp., 1992.
Otten, Anna. Hesse Companion. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1977.
Robinson, B.A. "Buddhism" Religious Tolerance www.religoustolerance.org/buddhism.htm (5 Mar 2001)
Rose, Enrst. "Faith From the Abyss" Contemporary Literature Criticism. Riley, Carolyn. Vol. #1. Detroit: Gale Research Comp. 1973, 145.