The Fictional Character Siddhartha and Buddha

Siddhartha is a fictional character created by Herman Hesse, but that name is also the name of Buddha before he became enlightened. Siddhartha was known as a rich, intelligent and good-looking man in town he lived in. Despite being seen as someone with intellectual prowess he left home because he was not content with what he was being taught.

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He believed the knowledge he was learning with his father was true and wise, yet he believed there was more for him to learn in the world. As he left his friend Govinda followed him in his decision to expand his knowledge.

Throughout Herman Hesse’s story Siddhartha was not content following others in their teachings. He always seemed to find something displeasing in the paths being tough. He followed many different teachers and groups for brief periods of time before deciding that there is still more in the world to help him find enlightenment. Groups like the Samanas that created stoic perseverance but nothing more or the teaching of the merchant which only resulted in unsatisfying entanglement in possessions never fully allowed Siddhartha to reach enlightenment. 1 He believed that he had to achieve enlightenment on his own rather than follow someone else into it.

As Siddhartha was finding his new way after leaving home his friend, Govinda, followed him to new experiences. When Siddhartha decided to leave a teacher or a group Govinda would mimic him because Govinda looked up to Siddhartha as someone to follow. This changed when the two of them met Buddha as Govinda decided to stay and follow the Illustrious One. Siddhartha supported his friend following Buddha by saying “Often I have thought: will Govinda ever take a step without me, from his own convication? Now, you are a man and have chosen your own path. May you go along it to the end, my friend. May you find salvation!” 2.

As stated above Siddhartha left his home despite being wealthy and likable to achive oneness with himself. Buddha has a similar starting point before he reached enlightenment. Before he became the Buddha his name was Siddhartha Gautama and he too came from a rich background. Gautama was very high in the caste system equivalent to a rulers son so he was not only rich but also favorable. Despite his family preventing him from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world he one day discovered the state that others have come to. He saw a very sick person, an old decrepit man, and a dead person. Through this experience he realized that the only true way to be happy is through the power of the mind and selflessness. He left his home and began his own enlightening experience following teachers and meditation masters.3

The fictional character Siddhartha and Buddha were similar in wanting more from their lives than just what was put in front of them. They were also similar in that they both learned as much as they could from other teachers and masters. When they believed that was the most they could learn they moved on to different or more advanced teachings that could show them new perspectives. During their travels they both gave up their strict lifestyle of self-denial and ascetism when they determined that it would no longer help them achieve enlightenment. This led to both men turning to a normal life style that was neither lavish living or poverty. After some time in this state both Siddhartha and Buddha decided that focusing on physical possessions would not allow them to be free of themselves.4

Despite the Siddhartha in the book only had Govinda following him at the beginning of his journey both of these men were seen as intelligent people who were to be followed. They also both believed that you must reach enlightenment on your own. People may guide you and teach you ways to further your knowledge in becoming enlightened but cannot physically take you there.

Even though Hermann Hesse created the character Siddhartha to parallel Buddha in the ways of his upbringings these two men were different in many points of their journey. They both grew up in rich environments and were loved by everyone surrounding them however when Buddha left he left the palace without the knowledge of anyone. The fictional character Siddhartha asked his father if he could leave and when he was rejected he patiently stayed in one position till his father agreed to his wishes. Instead of going against his father’s wishes he got his father to approve of his travels unlike Buddha who believed he had to run away from his duties. This could have been due to the fact that everyone in Buddha’s life tried to keep the reality of the world away from him. Siddhartha’s father stated that he should go into the world and if he finds a path of enlightenment to come back and to teach it to him but if it doesn’t work that he may always return and follow the teaching that he used to perform.

These two men initial left for different reasons but their end goal was the same. The character Siddhartha left his home in hopes to find new teachings and new knowledge. He believed that he could no longer learn anything and that there were different paths to be taken. Buddha left his home in attempt to find a way to prevent suffering and to find serenity. Buddha was inspired to find enlightenment after coming into contact with aging, sickness, and death. He wanted to learn of a way to escape the suffering people experience so he began to search for a path. Despite them initially wanting enlightenment for different reasons they both ended up reaching their goal.

These two men reached Enlightenment in different stages in their lives and through different means. Siddhartha had passed through his life seeking knowledge and experienced a great deal of it. He became an old man and was being weighed down by the sadness of his son leaving him and by the memory of his father. He reached enlightenment after hearing the river for what it was. His predecessor, Vasudeva, encouraged him to still alongside him and to listen to everything around him for what they truly are. Through this form of meditation and acceptance he reached enlightenment. 5 Buddha had reached enlightenment around the age of thirty-five when he decided to meditate until he understood the mind’s true nature. He spent six days and nights going through every obstacle, misunderstanding, and complication before all veils of feelings and ideas dissolved. He understood the all-encompassing here and now and understood everything for what is was not what it was previously perceived to be. 6

After reaching enlightenment, Siddhartha did not proceed to teach his knowledge and wisdom. He explained to friend that throughout his life he had many teachers and masters but he did not believe that they specifically lead him to enlightenment. When explaining to Govinda why he will not pass his widom to him he says “Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish.” Meaning that he is not going to teach people the way of becoming enlightened because it is not something that can be taught. 7 On the other hand Buddha taught for forty five years after becoming enlightened. He did not believe that he could guide everyone to enlightenment but he did believe that his teachings could assist someone to finding the path of becoming enlightened. He explained that he has given people every teaching and piece of knowledge he knows but that they have to be their own guiding light when it comes to achieving what they want. He had given them everything that is useful and that they could confirm them through their own experiences and paths.8

These differences between the fictional character Siddhartha and Buddha are important because they show that despite their lives being structured the same they reached enlightenment in their own ways. This is important because it shows that to reach enlightenment you must follow your own path with the knowledge and teachings of others. By showing the difficulties that Siddhartha had to go through and all of the teachings and experiences he had, readers could understand the path that Buddha similarly went through when he was finding enlightenment himself. The differences like the initial intention for wanting enlightenment is important because there can be many reasons for seeking enlightenment but to actually reach the goal of enlightenment must be truly what is wanted even with other intentions in mind.

Following the fictional character, Siddhartha, would be challenging as he decided that he himself would not become a teacher. Siddhartha moved from teacher to teacher and learned knowledge from people who weren’t seeking enlightenment. If someone wanted to go through a life time of knowledge and new experience without a teacher than following Siddhartha would be a good choice. Siddhartha would pass on small pieces of knowledge that he had learned from his life but he wouldn’t guide you to enlightenment. Following Siddhartha would be more like following a friend or someone who is deemed as an intelligent figure.

By following the teachings of Buddha, one is given every piece of knowledge needed to become enlightened, but they’re also encouraged to follow their own path. Buddha became a teacher after he became enlightened and encouraged others to seek enlightenment. His teachings surrounded the ideas of the four noble truths. When following the teachings of Buddha, people learn about suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path. With experiences of their own people would learn the proper path to enlightenment.

Buddha taught about how to practice meditation and the importance of developing wisdom. Throughout his journey in becoming enlightened he had seen and experienced many things. By following him in his teachings, people would understand what suffering is and how to end their own suffering. Through the teachings of Buddha one would understand the mental suffering that occurs when we try to hold onto encounters or objects. Every follower would understand the steps of understanding what suffering is. Through meditation and peaceful teachings followers would begin to take steps in changing their cravings and attachment to materialistic thoughts. Buddha teaches about the end of suffering and the understanding of life as it is.

The fictional Siddhartha did not want to teach his wisdom to others once he became enlightened. He believed that each person had to find enlightenment for themselves. He would pass knowledge that he had learned in his adventure to become enlightened but would not tell each individual how to become enlightened. Siddhartha’s teaching style is more of an encourager and a guide. He would aide you on to the right path but would encourage you to truly find enlightenment for yourself through your own means. The difference between the two teachers is the focus of the reason for becoming enlightened and the means to reaching the goal of enlightenment.

Buddha’s reasons for becoming enlightened are to understand suffering and end suffering for all. Siddhartha’s reasons were to seek more wisdom and to become at peace. He searched for means to fully accept things for what they were now and the understanding of what will not be but what can be. Buddha teaches his followers of the four noble truths and the eight-path journey to becoming enlightened. While Siddhartha dictates how to hear things for what they are and to contemplate the teachings of others. Despite both Siddhartha and Buddha believing that every individual must find enlightenment by themselves, Buddha encourages people to listen to his teachings and to become a follower. When the two men meet Siddhartha partially reject’s Buddha’s teachings. He respects Buddha’s wisdom and knowledge but believes that by following in his path he himself will not become enlightened.

My sister and I traveled to Thailand with my family for a vacation. My parents wanted to spend time on beaches or exploring the cities and other beautiful attractions for visitors. My sister and I wanted to explore more of the cultural and religious aspect of Thailand. We visited many temples and teaching grounds. Throughout our two-month stay we learned about the traditions, teachings, and ways of the historical Buddha. I learned about suffering, self-discipline, pure thought and deed, and the path of the enlightenment of the individual. I learned about Buddha’s life before and after becoming enlightened and I learned about the origins of Theravada Buddhism and how one can become enlightened.

My sister and I also traveled to Tibet and learned about Mahayana Buddhism. This was an enriching experience because Mahayana despite still being Buddhism follows different beliefs. While I was there we learned about the path to enlightenment, discouraging attachments, and meditation. Mahayana was cool to learn because it can be accommodated to local religions and adapted in ways. I learned how Mahayana Buddhism encompasses philosophy metaphysical beliefs and practical meditative disciplines. Mahayana Buddhism taught me that through meditation and preventing myself from attaching to materialistic things I could began to seek enlightenment. Another difference between these two paths of Buddhism is that Theravada Buddhism allows for monks and the elders to become enlightened however in Mahayana Buddhism anyone who seeks enlightenment can succeed as long as they follow the teachings and paths themselves.

After taking this trip I wanted to learn even more about Buddhism so I read many books including Siddhartha. Between these two branches of Buddhism I felt more connected with Mahayana Buddhism and wanted to begin to follow its teachings. Between the fictional character Siddhartha’s teachings and the teachings of the historical Buddha I would follow Buddha’s path. Learning Buddhism from monks who passed on their knowledge and the teachings of the Buddha was an amazing experience that has changed my perspective on many things. I think the lessons and knowledge that I received would most similarly mimic the historical teaching of the Buddha rather than Siddhartha, despite Mahayana Buddhism being seen as not the most true form of Buddha’s teachings like Theravada is.

  1. “Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – Reading Guide.” PenguinRandomhouse.com. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/286568/siddhartha-by-hermann-hesse/9780142437186/readers-guide/.
  2. Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha ( New York: New Directions Publishing Corporations, 1951), 30.
  3. “Who Was Buddha? A Short Life Story of Buddha Shakyamuni.” Diamond Way Buddhism. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/buddhism/buddha/.
  4. “Religions – Buddhism: The Buddha.” BBC. October 02, 2002. Accessed October 20, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/history/history.shtml.
  5. Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha,129-136.
  6. “Who Was Buddha? A Short Life Story of Buddha Shakyamuni.” Diamond Way Buddhism. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/buddhism/buddha/.
  7. Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha,142.
  8. “Who Was Buddha? A Short Life Story of Buddha Shakyamuni.” Diamond Way Buddhism. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018. https://www.diamondway-buddhism.org/buddhism/buddha/.
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