KFA Writes

Book Review - Siddhartha


Book Review by Kumar R Shrestha

Book title: Siddhartha

Author: Hermann Hesse

Genre: Fiction, Motivational

Pages: 160

Publisher: Bantam, 1982


The Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha is a classic of the twentieth-century world literature. It is a shimmering tale of a man in the quest for the meaning of life and of oneself. Siddhartha can be classified in the genre of a formative novel that narrates the transformation of an individual during their maturation. In the specific case of the book’s protagonist, Siddhartha, the sole objective of the path of individual maturation is wisdom and self-knowledge. Siddhartha’s path closely intersects and intertwines with the principles of Eastern Buddhism and the historical figure of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

Siddhartha, the brahmin’s son, seems to have everything one could desire from life, wealth, beauty and power. All this is not enough for him; he is looking for something more, something that cannot be satisfied with material things and the rich culture he is born into. He rejects the intellectual and ritualistic teachings of his father and the other brahmins. He makes a series of acquaintances with individuals who profess to have something to teach, yet whose teachings Siddhartha finds inadequate, incomplete. After three long years of penance and bodily rigors, he abandons the asceticism of Samanas. Then in the central episode of the novel, he goes in search of Gautama, the Buddha, the Sublime.

The cornerstones of Buddhism - including the recognition of the desire as a source of pain and the suppression of the desire to live as a way to Nirvana - very often coincide with Siddhartha's reflections and ways of research. He realizes that being Gautama’s disciple, following his sublime teachings is not what he is looking for, it is not what will illuminate his existence. He declares, "But one thing this doctrine does not contain so clear, so worthy of esteem: It does not contain the secret of what the Buddha himself has lived." His search for an authentic and pacified inner dimension however does not stop at the teachings of the high master, since, for the protagonist, each must find his own way to wisdom.

His search now enters into the vicissitudes of Samsara. He gets overwhelmed by the art of Kamala’s love. However, it never results in a supreme and spiritual love. He lives in the world, indulges in commerce, earns money and loses much in gambling. He accumulates possessions but understands that all this leads to an unfulfilled desire to possess more. Finally, he even rejects the role of father, as this sense of protection towards his son is just a source of suffering.

This simple book opens, flows and closes with the same continuous flow even in its own reading, as all life flows, just as the river flows, slowly, relentlessly. Finally, he finds solace in the company of his childhood friend Govinda and the river that teach him things that others were unable to.  Siddhartha follows a path similar to Buddha’s, but in his unique ways, he deviates. Siddhartha’s illumination takes place not through the refusal of life, but by immersing himself violently in it, letting himself be involved in it and then resurrecting it with a new maturity.

Siddhartha is an extraordinary book for the messages it transmits to those who are willing to listen, just as Siddhartha was willing to listen and learn from the river. The novel abounds with many passages that induce reflections, both on the path of the world and on the personal path. Three reflections are worth mentioning.

One: Each individual carries the responsibility to find their own personal and spiritual path.  They must find the proper balance with themselves and with the rest of the world. All this is only possible by letting go of their origins and backgrounds; their past, the efforts and achievements; and finally, the burden of age and the regrets of life. The important thing is to do it – it is never too late.

Two: The comforts of life cannot and should not bind us forever. They will one day give way to spiritual search.  Passing through suffering and pain, through learning, the path transforms, modulates and finally radically changes our inward and outward vision. Only then can we feel the path on a more intimate and profound level, leading us to a fuller life.

Three:  The sense of equilibrium and feeling of peace are not necessarily found when what was sought is achieved. The balance and harmony are rather discovered when the soul has gone through its due course of pleasure and pain, and now is predisposed and ready for inner peace.

A book that has deeply infected and influenced millions of readers, writers and thinkers, Siddhartha is definitely one of the ten most inspiring books of all times. Grab hold of it now and delight in its unique richness: This is a must-read for those who are not afraid of adventures. In this inward journey, you shall discover a wholly different person in you and uncover a wholly different meaning to life!

The Author is MBA's Academic Professor at KFA Business School & IT for Managerial Communication

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