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An allegorical novel by Hermann Hesse.

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How the Buddha Came to Be: Siddhartha and the Path to Enlightenment

  • Jul 1, 2010

Don't expect to get much out of reading this book unless you take it slowly and seriously. It is a short book, all in all, and it's densely packed with allegory and spiritual transition. Like the lead character of the book, you will be taken through many different ways of life, ways of responding to life; unlike the character, you can step outside of what you are reading and decide if you can feel what he is feeling, become what he is becoming... or if you really want to take that journey at all.

Like a great many "required" books in high school, Siddhartha is thrust violently into the hands of the unwilling and unprepared, and is almost always kept at arm's distance, viewed only through Cliff's Notes and (frequently, alas) through the interpretation of a dispassionate teacher who is only too aware that s/he might be "teaching religion" if the book is examined "the wrong way." Don't let that experience keep you from discovering the book for yourself.

Despite the brevity of the work, it took me a few weeks to go through it. At each change in Siddhartha's life, I looked at my own life to see how much of it held true for me, at what level, to what degree. To discuss that directly would fill a few books on its own! Here, I will only say that the thoughts that I examined were those of roads not traveled, roads abandoned, roads that just plain didn't look interesting at the time... and where and why am I now.

It's difficult to discuss this work of fiction in the same way as we might discuss, for example, Dickens or Chandler or Fforde. This may start a flame war, but I mean it respectfully: This fictional description of the Buddha's enlightenment should be considered along with other fictional accounts of great philosophers and religious leaders, of many religions, and thus the value of the work is not its historical accuracy but its teaching through example and storytelling. In the end, all philosophical works best teach their messages through storytelling, sometimes called sermons, or gospels, or koans, or even histories. In all cases, they are meant to make us think, and feel, and decide who and what we really are.

My advice is to approach this book with the intention of reading slowly, pausing between junctures in the narrative in order to reflect and consider your experience and feelings with those about which you have just read. This is a book to be taken very personally, as all paths to enlightenment must be personal. Put aside notes and literary criticism and just see how you, as a human in this world, relate to Siddhartha, also a human in this world. It's that simple. From there, you can formulate your own opinions.

A final note: There's little in this review about the structure, character(s), plot, and so forth. My apologies; for me, this book is experienced much too viscerally to be quite so critically undone from itself. Don't read it. Experience it, slowly. Enjoy the changes it makes in you.

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July 06, 2010
Very informative review!
July 06, 2010
Why, thank you! Most kind!
More Siddhartha (novel) reviews
review by . July 01, 2010
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is a novel seeking answers to profound questions of self, individuality, love, friendship, happiness, and more. Themes abound in this tale. The message sent is fairly clear and accessible, yet considerable in both breadth and depth. The book made me question many things in my life and the world. It made me wonder. It made me think. It made me see things in a different light. That is the joy I love most after reading a great book; I have grown in some direction; my time …
review by . June 29, 2010
I had read this book based on a recommendation from a High School teacher whom I respected. He let me borrow his copy and it honestly took me two years to finally read it. I had been told that it would be life changing and illuminating, but I felt let down when I finally finished it. I found the language to be simplistic and not particularly engaging. What bothered me most was that I didn’t feel challenged by the text, yes the book was straightforward, but the surface value of the themes was …
review by . June 13, 2010
I read this book when I was thirteen and it made an immense impact on me, because I was on a spiritual journey of my own in practicing yoga. The author, Herman Hesse, was an existentialist author who was attempting to portray the existince of a man searching for spiritual enlightenemnet and happiness. He begins the journey explaining the prince's life and all the temptations that he pursued, because his father did not want him to be a monk. It discusses how he wanted to be enlightened and traveled …
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
I just finished this book. It is great, I can relate to the main character's search for his own way in life. I really like it, but the very end, like all Hesse's books was a bit mysterious.
Quick Tip by . July 07, 2010
Love this timeless book, relevant to everyone of any era. Life lessons for all worldwide!
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
great book!
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
This was a required reading in school, and just never caught my interest.
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
Amazing, philosophical, thought-provoking.
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
One of my favorite soul-searching books. A great read for those looking for answers to the really big question.
About the reviewer
Tristan MacAvery ()
Ranked #598
   Master of all trades and jack of none. Published author (novels, collections, screenplays, articles, etc.), actor/improvist, director, trainer/coach, certified mediator, and reader of Tarot. … more
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About this book


Siddhartha is an allegorical novel by Hermann Hesse which deals with the spiritual journey of a boy known as Siddhartha from the Indian Subcontinent during the time of the Buddha.

The book, Hesse's ninth novel, was written in German, in a simple yet powerful and lyrical style. It was first published in 1922, after Hesse had spent some time in India in the 1910s. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s. Hesse dedicated Siddhartha to Romain Rolland, "my dear friend".

The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (meaning or wealth). The two words together mean "he who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals". The Buddha's name, before his renunciation, was Prince Siddhartha Gautama. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama".

The story takes place in ancient India around the time of Gautama Buddha (likely between the fifth and seventh centuries BCE). 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 ...
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