Course Hero. "Siddhartha Study Guide." Course Hero. 24 Feb. 2018. Web. 19 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Siddhartha/>.
Course Hero. (2018, February 24). Siddhartha Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Siddhartha/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Siddhartha Study Guide." February 24, 2018. Accessed September 19, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Siddhartha/.
Course Hero, "Siddhartha Study Guide," February 24, 2018, accessed September 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Siddhartha/.
Most scholars agree that the Buddha was a real man, Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in the 6th century BCE in Nepal. His story is often interwoven with folk tales or fables, blurring the lines between history and hearsay, realism and mysticism. Gautama was a royal prince who was sheltered as a child, raised in a palace, and protected from seeing life's harsh realities. During his time in the palace, Gautama married at age 16 and had a son. In his late 20s Gautama began venturing outside his royal lifestyle, where he learned of the sufferings of others for the first time—in viewing what later became known as the "Four Passing Sights." He witnessed old age, sickness, and a rotting corpse, and also encountered an ascetic monk who urged him to adopt a similar life of self-denial. Gautama realized he could no longer be content in his pampered life, so he left behind his wife and son and went out into the world. He spent the next six years fasting, meditating, and studying the religious teachings of others to seek enlightenment. These years of extreme deprivation did not lead him to the spiritual liberation he was seeking. Gautama then chose to follow a new path: the Middle Way. This path focused on achieving balance in life, neither indulging in great wealth nor wallowing in miserable poverty, while purifying the mind through meditation.
Gautama then began a long meditation, seated beneath the Bodhi tree for many days without moving. He reviewed his life, seeking an end to suffering. Legend holds that as he meditated, he was visited by Mara, a demon who seeks to lure humans from their spiritual paths. This demon may be viewed as a personification of death, evil, or human delusion, and the ensuing struggle as a battle in Gautama's own mind. Mara first tempted Gautama with beautiful women. When Gautama resisted their charms, the demon sent a horde of monsters against him. Gautama knew these creatures could do him no harm, and their arrows turned to flowers when they attacked him. Finally, Mara mocked Gautama in the hope that he would give up his quest for enlightenment. Mara taunted Gautama that since he was alone beneath the tree, no one would witness his enlightenment, and therefore it was worth nothing. Gautama replied that the earth would be his witness. The earth trembled in acknowledgment, and Mara vanished. Gautama reached enlightenment as the sun rose, freed from his former sufferings and attachments through the purification of the mind and the attainment of knowledge. Gautama then developed and preached the doctrines of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to help others reach enlightenment. He spent more than four decades traveling and teaching others, gaining followers wherever he went.
Hesse cleverly weaves the story of the Buddha into not one but two characters in the story: Siddhartha and Gotama. The life events of Siddhartha (the character) are quite similar to those of the historic Buddha, although Hesse takes liberties with the timeline of historic events. For example, the historic Buddha was married and had a son before leaving the palace. The character Siddhartha, though, doesn't have sex for many years after he leaves home, and he doesn't know he has a son—by his mistress, Kamala—until the boy is 11. The character Gotama represents what Siddhartha will one day become: an enlightened holy man and spiritual leader of others. By offering two versions of the Buddha in Siddhartha, Hesse plays with concepts or themes introduced in the story, such as the fluidity of time. The character Siddhartha discovers from the river that there is no such thing as time: past, present, and future all exist concurrently. Similarly, his present self (Siddhartha) and his future self (Gotama) can exist at the same time in the story.
The reader may question what is real—a concept the character Govinda grapples with in the final chapter. He has been taught that the physical world is an illusion, and physical appearances can be deceiving. In such a world, could not two versions of the same man exist at one time? The life of Gautama himself and the lines of historic fact and fable are blurred in Hesse's narrative reimagining of the Buddha's life.
The text of Siddhartha is inseparable from Buddhism, since it follows the story of the Buddha. Buddhism developed from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddha was not a god, and, in fact, Buddhism recognizes no gods. Gautama was called "the Buddha," meaning "awakened one," a reference to his enlightenment on the nature of life at age 35. The holy man of that time period spent decades teaching others how to reach enlightenment through their own direct experience.
Buddhism is a religion of thought, though many would call it a philosophy rather than a religion because it is not a system of faith that worships a supernatural being. Rather than accepting existing beliefs or doctrines, the Buddha taught people to examine life deeply and find the truth for themselves. In the novel Gotama asks Siddhartha questions to provoke thought, rather than simply offering a lecture or teachings. The character Vasudeva, too, encourages Siddhartha to listen to and learn from a river, rather than revealing lessons to be learned from the river directly to Siddhartha. Buddhism involves understanding and practicing the teachings, rather than passively believing in them without taking action. It is about using the mind to reach deeper understanding of the human condition and to overcome suffering through conscious choice.
Buddhism incorporates the Four Noble Truths, which state:
Many aspects of Indian culture are present in Siddhartha: