Siddartha (H. Hesse)

The Siddhartha Effect


Siddhartha is a book about enlightenment.

What is enlightenment? I don’t know, because a blind man is unable to describe colors. Still, a book is not what it is but what it does to you.

The first time I read Siddhartha I was 20 years old and I firmly believed that to be enlightened meant to become someone special, different, unique, a chosen one. I read it sitting on a bench in a park, during an afternoon that ended only when I had turned the last page and shed embarrassed tears in front of some boys who were playing ball.

Siddhartha pursues wisdom, truth, the essence that hides behind the useful façade of our lives. Is enlightenment something you can pursue? I think that behind our search for a healthier and more harmonious life lies the secret ambition of reaching the Promised Land: the holy awareness of feeling again that we are part of a whole and thus able to return to God’s table.

Throughout history Siddhartha awakens, is enlightened and, despite his considerable efforts to dull the bright light that glows and radiates from his inner self, at the end of his life becomes a beacon of shining and everlasting wisdom. To reach this state, Siddhartha puts aside the senseless games we adults like to play and decides to surrender his will and his existence to that river that never ceases to flow and is witness to his transformation and that of all others. But a boatman comes to his rescue and helps him put a stop to the whims of his ego without having to end his life and thus recover the freedom of his being.

Will I surrender to the flow of events? How can I enrich my awareness so that I can watch grow the seeds of a new mortal and everlasting life? I know the answer. It’s as simple as it is heart breaking. But I’m still not ready to say goodbye to him who brought me to this point and had the courage to let me ask these questions.

I often found myself surrounded by friends and remembering my experience with Siddhartha. Almost inevitably they referred to other books written by Hesse, like “Demian” “Steppenwolf” or “Narcissus and Goldmund”. But it wasn’t the same, I didn’t want to share a literary attribute, I wished to communicate the experience of having touched the bark of a thousand-year-old tree and feel the energy of a saint flowing inside me.

Siddhartha travels on paths paved with the difficulties we’re all exposed to: loss of love (sweet Kamala), estrangement from father and son, the death of loved ones, mistakes, attitudes of greed and betrayal.

Do I want this destiny?

I recently read Siddhartha for a second time. I’m already forty and quite some time ago I started to feel what only adults know: that years go by like months, months like days and life happens like a dream from which we will wake up any moment.

This time I read Siddhartha at home. While I was reading it, an electrician who was doing some repairs saw me and enquired about my field of work; I said I was a writer and he then wanted to tell me his idea for a story (everybody has an idea for a story). I had to hide in my room to be able to continue reading my book and while I went over Siddharta’s life once again, I felt that the things that had occurred in his life were not events that happened to him (I believed that to be so when I was twenty, there in the park) but rather events that were closely related to his way of breathing, walking, living and interacting with the world. His life was his choice.

I chose this life, I chose to feel what I feel and to be what I am. I am my spermatozoid fecundated by my ovule. I am that DNA chain that reproduces and is expressed. I am he who, aware of my unawareness, chooses to continue, always to continue, never to stop.

The gardener passed in front of my window with his mowing machine and I had to draw the curtains so that he wouldn’t see me cry and tremble when I realized that Siddhartha, and me and you and all of us are what we chose to be and that death is sometimes the only way to get some rest. A necessary pause in the endless struggle we engage in to resist the flow that inevitably will end up carrying us to that infinite ocean from which we never emerged.

I choose to honor you with this memory, Siddhartha, you who are the son of Brahman but  decide to follow your own path. You, who fast and meditate and hope that in the course of your search you will find yourself. You, beloved Siddhartha, he who confronts with Buddha. Beware of your intelligence, Gautama warns him.

Beware of your mind, is the Buddha’s warning to all of us who once thought we could find the shortcut that would avoid us the pain of being alive.

Must we read the same essential books over and over again? Will they be the judges and witnesses of our growth and our decline?

Meditation, fasting and patience are the three virtues proclaimed by Siddhartha. Truth, pain and beauty: the three pillars of a life beyond time and space, regal palace of awareness that Herman Hesse kindly invites us to visit.

Remember: Whether you want it or not, the river will always flow.



Brief biography of the author


Herman Hesse (1877 –1962) was born to a couple of Baltic missionaries. From 1890 to 1891 he attended a school of Latin to prepare for the Würtemberg examination, a necessary requirement for his free admission at a Foundation to study Protestant Theology. In 1891 he escaped from the seminary, where he felt totally repressed at both a personal and emotional level and thwarted in his desire to pursue his talent as a poet. He was accused of being possessed and subjected to enormous pressure, all of which drove him to a frustrated suicide attempt, after which he entered a Center of Neuropathy and Mental Disorders. In 1893 he finished his secondary studies and from 1894 to 1985 he worked at a clock-making factory. He learned the bookselling trade with JJ Heckenhauer. His brilliant career as a writer began in 1899, when he took his first steps as a journalist. He made his first trip to Italy in 1901; in 1902 he published some poems he had dedicated to his mother, who died shortly after. In 1903 he abandoned his job at the bookstore and traveled for a second time to Italy. In 1904 he published Peter Carmezind and married Maria Bernoulli. In 1911 he visited India. During the First World War he stood up for his pacifist and liberal ideas. On the ground of his beliefs he was identified with the National Socialist occupation forces. He was the object of envious attacks and criticism by some of the intellectuals of his time. Hesse at all moments remained true to his beliefs and independence of thought. Later he settled in Switzerland obtaining his Swiss citizenship in 1923. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. He died in his sleep of a brain stroke at the age of 85.


Main works



Links of interest


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Biography and fragments of his texts: