Siddhartha – Background Information on the Novel, Buddhism, Hinduism, Religious Allegory, and Herman Hesse



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Siddhartha – Background Information on the Novel, Buddhism, Hinduism, Religious Allegory, and Herman Hesse

NOVEL BACKGROUND - Setting

  • SETTING - The setting is India, as Siddhartha encounters the Buddha (563 BC – 483 BC)
  • The caste system in India has kept social changes to a minimum, making this story as possible today as it was almost 2500 years ago.
  • The immediate setting changes several times as Siddhartha moves throughout civilization as a member of most of the castes.
  • The major settings are the city, the river, the desert and his parents’ home.

The Structure of Siddhartha

  • I. The Awakening and Rebirth
  • Siddhartha’s “Awakening” in Chapter Four is that no one can teach him the way to himself. Siddhartha feels “like a newborn baby”.
  • In Chapter Eight, in desperation, Siddhartha lets himself fall into the river just as he hears the word, “Om.” As a result, he becomes “awakened” and is like “a little child.”
  • Both mark turning points in Siddhartha’s development. Siddhartha experiences an “awakening” and is symbolically young again.

The Structure of Siddhartha

  • II. The River
  • Siddhartha was born “in the sun of the riverbank.” He leaves home and joins the Samanas, representing an extreme in religious asceticism.
  • In Chapter Four, Siddhartha crosses the river at another turning point in his life. He has just left his best friend and the best teacher with the best teaching (the Buddha).
  • At Chapter Eight, Siddhartha returns to the river and begins to lead a modest life in which he avoids both extremes.

The Structure of Siddhartha

  • III. Govinda
  • In Chapter 4, Govinda and Siddhartha part
  • In Chapter8, Govinda finds Siddhartha by the river.
  • Govinda returns again in Chapter Twelve to confirm Siddhartha’s change.
  • Govinda serves a structural reminder, returning every four chapters to acknowledge Siddhartha’s attainment of a new level.

HINDUISM AND THE NOVEL

  • Possibly the oldest religion in the world.
  • The concept of “perfection” can be related to the idea of reincarnation, which according to Hinduism is a series of births and deaths.
  • During these successive lives, you accumulate good karma by doing good; being hurtful and selfish accumulates bad karma. Your karma determines your “placement” in the next life.
  • Upon reincarnation, you will be higher or lower on the karmic ladder. The farther up the karmic ladder, the closer you are to perfection or Nirvana.

HINDUISM AND THE NOVEL

  • One of the structures of Hinduism is the caste system which divides people into social classes.
  • Castes are strict and hereditary. People are born into a caste and remain there throughout their lives. There are five classes:
  • 1. Brahmin—the priest class
  • 2. Nobility—royalty
  • 3. Merchants—those who engage in trade
  • 4. Servants
  • 5. Untouchables—those who deal with any type of human waste, disposal of carcasses, etc.

HINDUISM AND THE NOVEL

  • The Four Life Stages
  • 1. the student – this stage is characterized by the individual being engaged in learning.
  • 2. the householder – thhe individual engages in the domestic duties of maintaining a household.
  • 3. the retired person – When an individual is at or near the end of his life. He has already been a householder and a student.
  • 4. the ascetic – this is a stage wherein the individual dedicates all his energy to spiritual
  • goals and rejects worldly pleasures.

HINDUISM AND THE NOVEL

  • The Four Life Goals
  • 1.DHARMA - the practice of virtue. What is virtuous depends most on your caste and your stage in life.
  • 2. ARTHA is the goal of success and achieving success. This is also relative to caste. It is spiritually significant for you to be successful at your craft or trade. Seen in his work with Kamaswami.
  • 3. KAMA - the pursuit of pleasure. Siddhartha pursues this goal with “Kamala.”
  • 4. MOKSHA - is a rejection of all the life-affirming goals and a pursuit of release from life.

HINDUISM AND THE NOVEL

  • The Four Life Goals and Stages – Meaning
  • Like the first three life stages, the first three life goals are life-affirming goals, and the last in both groups is life-negating.
  • The first three (in both sets) celebrate life and confirm the participation in certain life duties as necessary to spiritual development.
  • The last item in each set, the life-negating item, typically is a rejection of worldly pleasures and goals.

BUDDHISM

  • The story of Hesse’s Siddhartha is similar to what is known about Siddhartha Gotama, the man who came to be known as the Buddha.
  • The real man was born an Indian prince in approximately 623 BC.
  • He was born a Hindu, and many of his teachings have their roots in that religion.
  • Near age 29, Siddhartha Gotama left his family and the comforts of wealth and walked the world for six years as an ascetic where he practiced extreme self-denial and self-mortification

BUDDHISM

  • He decided that there were no known ways that
  • could lead him to himself.
  • He began his own individual path that avoided both extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence, often referred to as the middle way.
  • Siddhartha Gotama found enlightenment while meditating under the fabled Banyan tree.

BUDDHISM

  • In short, the teachings of Siddhartha challenged Hinduism in the following ways:
  • Questioned the authority of the Brahmin class
  • Rejected all caste divisions
  • Condemned the developing philosophies regarding “religion” (it is only what one does, not what one believes, that matters).
  • No God, nor any specific ritual, can bring enlightenment

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

  • 1. Suffering Exists (Life is Suffering): Humans are self-centered which only leads to pain, misery, sorrow, and unfulfillment.
  • 2. Desire Causes Suffering: The need to refer all things to ourselves causes suffering. We suffer because our ego dupes us into believing that we need that which is not permanent (body, perspective, emotion, feeling, impulse are all very real – it is our linking of these realities to a “self” that is incorrect).

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism

  • 3. Cessation of Desire Brings the Cessation of Suffering: One must see things as they really are, not simply as they are for ourselves. Rather than absorb everything into the ego for our own pleasure, we must allow our connection with reality to cause an outward flow – a universal compassion toward all living creatures.
  • a. This is not a belief, it is an action.
  • 4. The Cessation of Desire Is Found Through the Eightfold Path: The observance of the truths of the Eightfold Path is the heart of Buddhist life.

The Eight Fold Path of Buddhism

  • A. Wisdom
  • 1) Right View – know the truth
  • 2) Right Intention – resist self-centeredness
  • B. Ethical Conduct
  • 3) Right Speech – refrain from unkind, negative speech
  • 4) Right Action – respect all life
  • 5) Right Livelihood – work for the good of others

The Eight Fold Path of Buddhism

  • C. Mental Discipline
  • 6) Right Effort – exert oneself in freeing the mind of evil (egocentric thought)
  • 7) Right Awareness – elevate one’s thoughts beyond the haze of emotion and mood
  • 8) Right Meditation – practice the discipline of meditation
  • D. GOAL = Nirvana (enlightenment) – an end to the cycle of rebirths, release of the Earth-bound self and the Buddhist equivalent of salvation.

Relation of Hinduism and Buddhism to the Novel

  • Allegory - a story that represents abstract ideas or morals; both a literal and symbolic meaning.
    • For purposes of Hinduism and Buddhism, it operates as a religious allegory.
    • For Hinduism – the novel and Siddhartha’s journey mirror:
      • The four life stages
      • Four life goals
      • Journey of Siddhartha and Gita begins in innocence, followed by knowledge ("sin"), which, together, lead to a higher state of innocence accompanied by increased awareness and consciousness.

Relation of Hinduism and Buddhism to the Novel

  • 3. For Buddhism – the novel and Siddhartha’s journey mirror in Buddhism:
  • a. Four Noble Truths and 8 Fold path
  • b. Both Siddhartha and Buddha are logical, scientific, and rational in their approach.
  • c. They do not speak of supernatural phenomena or an afterlife, and dismiss the possibility of miracles.
  • d. Both taught self-reliance.
  • e. love and a deep attachment to anyone or anything was wrong, since it leads to suffering.
  • f. Life Journey was similar – from wealth to poverty to wealth and then understanding.

Herman Hesse

  • His Life:
    • Born in Germany on July 2, 1877
    • Both parents were Christian missionaries in India
    • Same religious fate was expected of Hesse; he joined seminary
    • Left the seminary in 1892; rebelled against parents’ strict religious upbringing
    • Due to death of his father and other pressures, underwent psychoanalysis in 1915. Became serious student of psychology (Freud & Jung) and Eastern religions and philosophy.

Influence of Carl Jung

  • Jung’s theories of archetypes and collective unconscious influenced Hesse’s works
  • Archetypes are symbols/patterns we contact through art. These archetypes are part of our collective unconscious: a uniting, primal memory.
    • Siddhartha contains several archetypal characters.
    • Siddhartha’s journey shares many characteristics of the archetypal hero’s journey


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