Literature Study GuidesSiddharthaPart 1 The Brahmins Son Summary

Siddhartha | Study Guide

Hermann Hesse

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Siddhartha | Part 1, The Brahmin's Son | Summary

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Siddhartha is divided into two parts, reflecting his experiences before and after his awakening to the idea that life is filled with meaning. Each part has chapters that are named but not numbered.

Summary

Siddhartha, a handsome Brahmin's son who is thirsty for knowledge, has grown up in ease with a loving family. His education has been one of intellectual debate, deep thought, and meditation on spiritual matters. Siddhartha already knows the sound of Om and the feel of Atman—the universal divine—inside himself, and his father is very proud of him for these achievements. Everyone loves Siddhartha, but none more than his friend Govinda, who "loved him more than anybody else." Govinda believes Siddhartha will someday achieve spiritual greatness, perhaps even become "a god," and Govinda aspires only to serve and follow his beloved friend.

Siddhartha, though, is not happy. His placid life feels stagnant, and he suspects he has learned all he can from his father and the local Brahmins. Siddhartha begins to question all he has been taught, wondering whether he should offer sacrifices to the gods beyond Atman, "the Only One." He contemplates the nature of Self (more universal and interconnected than individual ego), wondering where Self comes from, and how to find Atman within by seeking to know the Self. This is "the only important thing" to Siddhartha, and a question the Brahmins cannot answer. Despite their vast learning and noble qualities, the Brahmins themselves have not achieved enlightenment through study, ablutions, and sacrifice. They, too, are still seekers—not at peace, not living in bliss as would be expected after so many years of spiritual practice. Siddhartha decides, "One must find the source within one's own Self ... everything else was seeking—a detour, error." Later, Siddhartha and Govinda practice meditation under a banyan tree, and Siddhartha becomes "lost in mediation, thinking Om."

The narrator tells of how one day in the recent past, a group of Samanas visited town. In the present, Siddhartha decides he will join them. Govinda is upset by the news because the wandering holy men live a life of extreme deprivation, "of still passion, of devastating service, of unpitying self-denial." Govinda knows his friend has made up his mind, though. Siddhartha asks his father for permission to leave. When his father initially refuses, Siddhartha remains standing all night, exactly as he was when his father left the room. From this, his father recognizes how important joining the Samanas is to his son, and gives his permission. As the young man leaves town at daybreak, Govinda joins him on the road.

Analysis

Two important concepts in this chapter are Om and Atman. Om is a holy word used during meditation to represent and connect with the essence of the universe. Many spiritual seekers such as Siddhartha repeat Om during meditation as a way to transcend the Self and unite with the divine. In Siddhartha's Brahmin tradition, an individual's divinity is called Atman. Atman is the highest essence of the individual—his "supreme universal self." (Some would call Atman a person's "soul.") Each person's Atman is one part of the larger whole, and together, all people's Atmans merge into unity. Siddhartha later experiences this unity at his moment of enlightenment. Throughout the story Siddhartha's quest to reach enlightenment and to discover his own divine nature drives the action. Here, he is stirred to take action when he feels his progress reaching Atman is stalled among the Brahmins (priests). He chooses to join the Samanas, who follow an entirely different approach to attaining enlightenment. The Samanas try to destroy the ego (Self) through self-denial in order to uncover the Atman (divine Self) within.

In everything he undertakes, Siddhartha seems to have enormous success, starting with the Brahmins' teachings. The text makes the point again and again that Siddhartha does not search for enlightenment out of desperation or a sense of failure; on the contrary, he repeatedly achieves the things that many people seek, only to find them unsatisfying.

Govinda apparently views himself and Siddhartha very differently. While he sees Siddhartha as someone who may achieve spiritual greatness one day, he doesn't seem to believe he is capable of the same. He seems content to follow the lead of others rather than forging his own path as Siddhartha does. (Even during the final chapter, when Govinda is an old man, he is still seeking for a teacher or doctrine that can help him reach enlightenment.) Govinda would probably have been content to remain at home among the Brahmins had his dear friend not decided to leave. His initial reaction to Siddhartha joining the Samanas is a negative one, for they live a harsh life and are seen by others as "solitary, strange and hostile—lean jackals in the world of men." However, Govinda loves Siddhartha above all others, and it is perhaps this brotherly love that motivates him to take action in joining his friend.

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