First, about the title. The word Siddhartha is made up from two Sanskrit words: siddha (achieved) and artha (what was searched for). So literally it would mean “he who had found meaning”. In the book, Siddhartha is the name of our main character. Siddhartha Gautama was also Buddha’s own name before his renunciation.
This is the ninth book by Hermann Hesse first published in 1992. It was published in the US in 1951, and became influential in the 1960s.
The book follows Siddhartha’s spiritual journey of self-discovery. It takes place in Kapilvastu, Nepal.
Siddhartha leaves his home in the hope to gain spiritual illumination. His way of achieving this is becoming an ascetic wandering beggar of the Shramanas. He fasts, meditates, becomes homeless, all to achieve his goal. He is accompanied by his friend, Govinda.
On his journey he meets Buddha (referred to as Gotama), but he does not accept his teaching. He thinks that every individual seeks an unique meaning that can not be presented by a teacher. He continues his journey alone, while Govinda starts following Buddha’s teaching.
Not to spoil the whole journey, I will stop here.
This is a really small book and you can read it one sitting. It’s full of wisdom and will help anyone who is looking for some meaning in their life.
Hesse himself said that he wrote Siddhartha to cure his “sickness with life” by immersing himself in Indian philosophy. The book has two parts, where the second part took longer for Hesse to write. The reason, he said, was that he hadn’t reached or experienced the transcendental state of unity to which Siddhartha aspired. In order to do so, he totally immersed in the sacred teachings of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures.
A movie version, starring Shashi Kapoor, was released in 1972.