A Soul Searcher’s Handbook

Hesse’s work became increasingly popular after World War II. His literature gave young readers a means of tranquility after a time of such confusion. It opened up a new world for them, as they could explore themselves and make sense of the chaos around them.
In Hesse’s Siddhartha, the theme of soul-searching and Dhamma, even when set against the backdrop of Buddhism, can be read by people of all races. What is more intriguing is that a Westerner, Hesse being a German, wrote this novel about Eastern philosophy. It is a novel about self-exploration and the coming together of mind, body, and spirit.
Hesse’s emphasis is upon a historical figure of Siddhartha, a questing and questioning protagonist. He is in many ways the fictional counterpart to the Buddha himself, who, according to scholars, was Sakyamuni Gautama, born in India in the sixth century B.C. Like Gautama, Siddhartha is a member of the Indian elite, a Brahmin born to luxury and power. Hesse writes that the "handsome Brahmin’s son" was expected to become a "great learned man, a priest, a prince among Brahmins." "Love stirred in the hearts of the young Brahmins’ daughters when Siddhartha," writes Hesse, "walked through the streets of the town, with his lofty brow, his king-like eyes, and his slim figure" (p. 3 – 4). Inevitably, Siddhartha, like Gautama, becomes disillusioned with his privileged existence. Both men discover that an existence framed by temporal realities is meaningless. After encountering a group of Samanas, which is described as "lean jackals in the world of men" around whom "hovered an atmosphere of still passion, of devastating service, of unpitying self-denial" (p. 9), Siddhartha makes the fateful decision to leave his father’s palace and to join them. While his commitment to the Samana’s life of self-denial is genuine and deep, Siddhartha remains dissatisfied. He does not discover in ascetism the much sought after release from samsara, or the cyclical nature of existence. In these particulars, Hesse remains faithful to the fragmented history in which Gautama, the Buddha, is enshrouded.