History: It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean "one who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals". The Buddha's name, before his renunciation, was Prince Siddhartha Gautama, later the Buddha. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama".
Plot: The story takes place in ancient India likely between the fifth and seventh centuries. It starts as Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, leaves his home to join the ascetics with his companion Govinda. The two set out in the search of enlightenment. Siddhartha goes through a series of changes and realizations as he attempts to achieve this goal.
Experience is the aggregate of conscious events experienced by a human in life – it connotes participation, learning and perhaps knowledge. Understanding is comprehension and internalization. In Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, experience is shown as the best way to approach understanding of reality and attain enlightenment – Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey shows that understanding is attained not through scholastic, mind-dependent methods, nor through immersing oneself in the carnal pleasures of the world and the accompanying pain of samsara; however, it is the totality of these experiences that allow Siddhartha to attain understanding.
Thus, the individual events are meaningless when considered by themselves—Siddhartha’s stay with the samanas and his immersion in the worlds of love and business do not lead to nirvana, yet they cannot be considered distractions, for every action and event that is undertaken and happens to Siddhartha helps him to achieve understanding. The sum of these events is thus experience.
The novel ends with Siddhartha being a ferryman, talking to the river, talking to stones, at long last at peace and capturing the essence of his journey:
Review: Siddhartha makes no real sacrifice in his quest for wisdom. He chooses his path and runs roughshod over the lives of those around him. When his son unexpectedly appears, the Ferryman tells him to let his son go (which he does) because his son will not be happy raised by two old men by the river. Never for a moment does Siddhartha consider giving up his Ferryman existence and moving back into the town to raise his son. He doesn’t even really care about his son FOR his son. He spends most of the time worrying about his own bruised heart caused by the son’s rejection of his “love.”
The book teaches you some important lessons about the spiritual journey of life, that life is a deep spring, a fathomless ocean of identity. It is your soul that is the ultimate illusion that is there in you but you are aware of its demanding presence. You are seeking the ultimate goal of Nirvana, an illusion itself, without realizing that Nirvana rests in human mind. When human mind breaks the shackles of time and sentiment, it reaches the ultimate, all powerful entity that dwells inside it.
Opening Line: “In the shade of the house, in the sunshine on the river bank by the boats, in the shade of the sallow wood and the fig tree, Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin’s son, grew up with his friend Govinda.”
Closing Line: “He bowed low, right down to the ground, in front of the man sitting there motionless, whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.”
Quotes: "When all the Self was conquered and dead, when all passions and desires were silent, then the last must awaken, the innermost of Being that is no longer Self - the great secret!"