Siddhartha

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Themes and Colors
The Path to Spiritual Enlightenment Theme Icon
Nature and the Spirit Theme Icon
Direction and Indirection Theme Icon
Truth and Illusion Theme Icon
Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Siddhartha, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature and the Spirit Theme Icon

Siddhartha’s environment, from his birth to his enlightenment, plays an important role in guiding and inspiring his spiritual journey. Nature provides the physical and spiritual sustenance while he is a samana. And when he is suicidal from his excursion into the world of wealth and anxiety, it is the river that saves him, and which becomes not just a metaphor for the idea of enlightenment but the source of Siddhartha’s revelation. Being all places at once, the river shows that time is an illusion and that all things are natural and never-ending. This recognition of nature is a big step towards Siddhartha’s spirit being raised towards enlightenment.

Just as the river brings together the possibility of Siddhartha ‘snuffing himself out’ with his own reflection and the holy word ‘om’, nature brings together birth and death and spiritual enlightenment, and in so doing shows the oneness of the world. When Siddhartha is describing his sadness, he likens it to the death of a bird, his inner voice. Nature is both within and without Siddhartha, and when he realizes this, death seems not to be the end that he thought it was.

Nature also brings together the unity of Siddhartha’s experiences. His eventual philosophy relates to all the trials he has put himself through, from a samana to a merchant. On one hand, ascetism showed him the denial of physical needs, which is an attempt to overcome the natural world. On the other is the materialism of business and sex, which Siddhartha found in the town, centers on the other extreme: what you can get from and enjoy from the natural world. Finally, Siddhartha's ultimate philosophy, like the vision of the stone’s many incarnations, involves learning from the natural world and realizing its fundamental unity.

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Nature and the Spirit Quotes in Siddhartha

Below you will find the important quotes in Siddhartha related to the theme of Nature and the Spirit.
Part One, Chapter 2 – Among the Samanas Quotes

Siddhartha had a goal, a single one: to become empty – empty of thirst, empty of desire, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha, driven by his dissatisfaction with his Brahmin life, joins the Samanas, an ascetic and nomadic sect that renounces material possessions. He is attracted to the extremity of the Samana lifestyle – they wander naked, fasting and renouncing the self. To Siddhartha, this signifies a devotion to enlightenment that the Brahmins, who are comfortable with their possessions, seem to lack.

In addition, Siddhartha is attracted to the experiential nature of Samana wisdom. Instead of just hearing about enlightenment, Siddhartha wants to be asked to make sacrifices for it and to experience heightened states brought on by asceticism. His goal in joining the Samanas, as he states it to himself here, is to empty himself. He is rejecting the self, hoping to purge himself of "self," in order to experience enlightenment. His subsequent time with the Samanas will be colored by this goal, and it will lead him to valuable lessons, though just as he rejected the Brahmin's ideas about the best way to achieve enlightenment he will ultimately come to believe that the Samanas beliefs and methods are similarly lacking. 

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Part One, Chapter 3 – Gautama Quotes

On all paths of the glorious grove, monks in yellow cloaks were walking; they sat here and there under the trees, absorbed in contemplation or in spiritual conversation; the shady gardens looked like a city, filled with people swarming like bees.

Related Characters: Gautama
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

As with each new stage of Siddhartha's journey, the grove where he and Govinda go to find Gautama seems to promise that it will be a truer path to enlightenment than the last path they tried. Gautama is important and compelling enough to have attracted many monks, who make pilgrimages to the grove and devote their lives to following Gautama's teachings. It's an impressive sight to see all these people, and Siddhartha and Govinda are hopeful that this will be the right set of teachings for them, even though they have not yet seen Gautama.

It's important to note that, in the grove, nature seems to be celebrated; the monks are not in conflict with the natural world, but they seem part of it, like bees in a garden. With the Samanas, Siddhartha struggled with the disjunction between nature and his body – he would open himself to nature, but he would always return to the self and body he had tried to reject. The imagery Hesse uses here sets up the possibility that Gautama and his followers might present a more nuanced solution than the Samanas to the problem of disjunction between body and nature. 

I have never seen anyone gaze and smile like that, sit and stride like that, he thought. Truly, I wish I could gaze and smile, sit and stride like that, so free, so venerable, so concealed, so open, so childlike and mysterious.

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Gautama
Related Symbols: The Smile
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage describes Siddhartha's and Govinda's first sighting of Gautama, in which they simply see him walking and immediately know by his presence who he is. Here, Hesse drives home the point that enlightenment has a kind of unspoken radiance. This seems to corroborate Siddhartha's suspicion of the teachings of those who lacked this radiance. Gautama is clearly the most special spiritual being Siddhartha and Govinda have yet encountered and they are inspired by him.

It is significant that Hesse focuses on Gautama's smile, because it is pursuit of that smile – a symbol of achieved enlightenment – that Siddhartha will seek for the remainder of the book. In Gautama's smile enlightenment is, in a sense, made concrete in a way that is surprising – enlightenment is not teachings or practices as much as it is a presence that is open and happy and even childlike. This smile gestures towards the unity between the body and the world that Siddhartha seeks, though he does not yet know how to attain it. 

Part One, Chapter 4 – Awakening Quotes

He looked around as if seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful was the world, colorful was the world, bizarre and enigmatic was the world! There was blue, there was yellow, there was green. Sky flowed and river, forest jutted and mountain: everything beautiful, everything enigmatic and magical. And in the midst of it he, Siddhartha, the awakening man, was on the way to himself.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

By this point, Siddhartha has met Gautama and seen in him a model for the kind of enlightenment he wants to attain. However, Siddhartha has an intuition that he will not be able to attain enlightenment by following teachings, even teachings of someone who has achieved what Siddhartha wants most. Because of this, Siddhartha leaves Gautama to make his own path.

In making this choice, Siddhartha indicates that he has realized that he cannot attain enlightenment without knowing himself, and he doesn't yet know himself at all because in following the Brahmins and Samanas he was too busy trying to reject the self and empty himself to the world. Once he accepts this realization, the world seems to bloom before him; he begins to see nature in all its splendor, examining the different colors and textures and forms instead of ignoring them for the sake of "spirituality." Now he experiences a new kind of spirituality, one in which he realizes the importance of not overlooking individual parts of the world simply because he is seeking unity. 

Part Two, Chapter 6 – Among the Child People Quotes

At times he heard, deep in his breast, a soft and dying voice that admonished softly, lamented softly, barely audible. Then for an hour he was aware that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing all sorts of things that were merely a game, that he was cheerful, granted, and sometimes felt joy, but that a real life was flowing past him and not touching him.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

For a long time, Siddhartha has lived with Kamaswami among the "child people" in town and has felt separate from them because of his past. For a while, this separation seemed true – Siddhartha had different, more spiritual concerns from the townspeople and was not moved by their material concerns. However, after a long time of living this life as though it were a game, Siddhartha begins to understand that it is not a game – that whether or not he fully believes in what he's doing, it is actually the life he's living.

The inner voice that has guided him his whole life is faint now; he can barely hear it when it tells him that he has strayed from the real life he was meant for. The inner voice is nearly synonymous with Siddhartha's dissatisfaction, and it is generally dissatisfaction that is his best guide for when his life is not matching up with his potential. However, it seems that the petty materialism of his life as a merchant has dulled his sense of dissatisfaction dangerously, making him believe he is satisfied with something less than what he truly wants. This passage is important for the way it suggests how material comfort can blind one to the possibilities of a more fulfilling life, and because it definitively confirms that something is deeply wrong with Siddhartha's life, but Siddhartha is, at this point, unable to do anything about it. This is an important conflict for him to endure.

Part Two, Chapter 7 – Samsara Quotes

Like a veil, like a thin mist, weariness descended on Siddhartha, slowly, a bit denser each day, a bit dimmer each month, a bit heavier each year. A new garment grows old with time, loses its lovely color with time, gets stains, gets wrinkles, frays out at the hems, starts showing awkward, threadbare areas.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

For a long time as he has lived in the town and pursued a merchant life of material possessions, Siddhartha has been aware of the stifling of his inner voice that has, throughout his life before moving to the town, guided him from experience to experience. At this point in the book, he is struggling because he has been lulled into a comfortable but unfulfilling life, and the longer he ignores his dissatisfaction, the less likely he is to actually pull himself out of this life and find one that will allow him to achieve his potential and be true to his spiritual values.

Until this experience in the town, Siddhartha's inner voice has guided him has been an unerring guide. It has guided him to follow his own thoughts and needs in contrast to simply following the behavior and ideas of those around him, such as the Brahmins or Samanas. By contrast, this passage after his longtime spent in business in the town presents Siddhartha as having a true internal conflict, in which his inner voices is battling his own impulses that push him to just relax and enjoy his material comfort, and he seems to be losing. Hesse describes Siddhartha's vitality and vibrancy as a coat that fades and wears thin with each passing month. We get the strong sense that Siddhartha must break out of this life in order to get back his vitality, but it's not clear anymore that he will be able to do so.

Part Two, Chapter 8 – By the River Quotes

With a twisted face he stared into the water, saw his face reflected, and he spat at it. In deep fatigue, he loosened his arm from the tree trunk and turned slightly in order to plunge in a sheer drop, to go under at last. Closing his eyes, he leaned toward death.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Siddhartha has definitively realized his mistake; he stayed too long in the town and allowed his inner voice to fall silent. By living for the desires of the child people while knowing that their desires were not spiritually sufficient, Siddhartha feels that he has become even worse than the child people, since they, at least, seem happy. As a result of this realization, he abandons his possessions and flees the town, but worries that this action is not enough since his voice has not come back to him and without it he has nothing to push him forward and no reason to live.

This sense is amplified by his proximity to the river, which is always moving forward and changing and adapting to the riverbed in which it runs. Siddhartha longs to be more like the river, but he fears that he has betrayed himself to the extent that his self no longer exists as it once did. The thought of this brings him to consider suicide – he hangs over the river ready to plunge himself in. He does not yet recognize that the frustration he is feeling with his missing inner voice is itself dissatisfaction, is itself the inner voice. Though his despair feels like his true condition at that moment, it is actually an indication that he is breaking out of the false satisfaction with his merchant life. Siddhartha is finally seeking out the life he is meant for, even though it is deeply painful. 

“Where,” he asked his heart, “where do you get this merriment? Does it come from that long, fine sleep, that did me so much good? Or from the word ‘om’ that I uttered? Or was it that I ran away, that my flight is completed, that I am finally free again and standing under the sky like a child?”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha has just awakened from his restorative nap by the river. He had been close to drowning himself in despair over the inner voice he thought he had lost, but when he leaned over the river, he heard the word "om" and was reminded of the spiritual purpose of his life. He then fell asleep, and, upon waking, felt born anew. This moment restores Siddhartha to nature, much like his experience in the grove with Gautama did after he left the Samanas.

In a sense, the novel is structured around Siddhartha straying from nature to learn more about one facet of human experience, then devoting himself too much to that facet (like fasting with the Samanas, or pursuing wealth as a merchant), and then needing to be restored to the natural world again. These restorations drive home the point that a life of intellect, theology, or human compassion must be unified with nature, not at odds with it. By now it should be obvious that in order to attain enlightenment Siddhartha must devote himself as much to the natural world as to anything else.

Part Two, Chapter 9 – The Ferryman Quotes

He learned incessantly from the river. Above all, it taught him how to listen, to listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion.

Related Characters: Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha, at this point, has apprenticed himself to the ferryman, Vasudeva. The ferryman is not an official spiritual leader, but Siddhartha senses that he has important spiritual knowledge and wisdom that Siddhartha needs. Importantly, instead of trying to get this knowledge from the ferryman, Siddhartha tries to get it by learning from the river itself, which is how the ferryman came to his own spirituality. This is another instance of the importance of experiential knowledge (gained from the river) rather than received wisdom (the knowledge of the river relayed by the ferryman).

Here, Siddhartha finally seems to have found a kind of unity with nature, embodied in his seeking human wisdom in the natural world. The river, because it is a feature of nature, proves a much better teacher than any human being could be because it is never dogmatic. The river never teaches a single "right way," instead it inspires contemplation within the individual who seeks after enlightenment. In this sense, nature is the best teacher for someone like Siddhartha because all it can do is challenge and push him to learn and think for himself – it can't lead him astray. 

Part Two, Chapter 10 – The Son Quotes

He felt deep love in his heart for the runaway. It was like a wound; and he also felt that the wound was not for wallowing, that it must become a blossom and shine.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Young Siddhartha
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Siddhartha does not relent and allow his son to make his own path, so his son defies him and runs away, humiliating his father in the process by stealing the ferryman's boat and money. While he and the ferryman search for his son (at the ferryman's insistence this is only to get the boat back), Siddhartha finds himself in Kamala's grove and he remembers every step of his own journey. This memory forces him to acknowledge that he cannot change his son – only his son's experiences and choices can do that. As Siddhartha learned from the river, all he can do is wait for his son's journey to play out as it will.

This realization is another step on Siddhartha's own path to enlightenment. He has never experienced the kind of love before that he feels for his son, and it made him vulnerable to the possessiveness and warped behavior that he judged in the child people. After having had this experience with his son, he can now accept the child people, and by letting his son go, he is gaining all the benefits of giving love and transcending its limitations. This is what Siddhartha means when he describes the wound of his son as one that would become a blossom. It is only this heartbreak with his son that can allow him to attain enlightenment.

Part Two, Chapter 11 – Om Quotes

Radiant was Vasudeva’s smile, it hovered, luminous, over all the wrinkles in his old face just as the om hovered over all the voices of the river. Bright shone his smile when he looked at his friend, and bright now glowed the very same smile on Siddhartha’s face.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Vasudeva
Related Symbols: The Smile, The River
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Siddhartha has accepted that his son is gone and he cannot change him, he still feels bitterness and hurt. He is jealous of people who have loving father-son relationships, and wonders if the child people were wiser than he was all along for prioritizing their loved ones. Siddhartha is mostly happy and at peace, but the wound from his son is the only thing bothering him. Finally, after a climactic moment of feeling the river laughing at him for his silliness about his son, Siddhartha, at Vasudeva's urging, looks into the river and demands more than he ever has.

The river gives him a vision of unity, in which all voices are one, all times are one, all emotions are one, and he is one with all of it. Looking back up from the river, Siddhartha finally has the smile – symbolizing enlightenment – that Gautama and Vasudeva have. That Siddhartha attains this enlightenment as an old person – Hesse is careful to point out the wrinkles in his face – is important. The path to enlightenment was long and arduous and there are no shortcuts. Siddhartha had to earn every bit of wisdom through experience and through listening to himself rather than others. Finally, it's important that this final knowledge comes from the river, which symbolizes the unity into which Siddhartha has entered.

“I am going into the forest, I am going into the oneness,” said Vasudeva, radiant.

Related Characters: Vasudeva (speaker), Vasudeva
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

After Siddhartha experiences his vision unity when looking in the river, Vasudeva reveals that his role in Siddhartha's life is complete. He has pointed Siddhartha to the wisdom of the river, and Siddhartha has successfully learned from it. The two no longer need one another, and Vasudeva decides to go to the forest. This parting is not sad or even ambivalent – both men have learned that, like the river, they cannot control others and they cannot control fate. Further, they know that things seem to come and go, but in reality everything is part of the same unity. Because of this understanding, Vasudeva's leaving does not feel like a parting, but rather a moment of spiritual radiance.

However, the fact Vasudeva seems to have been liberated by having passed his own knowledge to Siddhartha points to one last thing that Siddhartha needs to do. To be implicated in the chain of spiritual enlightenment, he must do what he can to steer someone else into the kinds of experiences that provide enlightenment. 

Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda Quotes

He no longer saw his friend Siddhartha’s face; instead he saw other faces, many, a long row, a streaming river of faces, hundreds, thousands, which all came and faded and yet seemed all to be there at once, which kept changing and being renewed, and yet which all were Siddhartha.

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Govinda
Related Symbols: The Smile
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Govinda is about to leave the river just as confused and anxious as before. He is impressed by Siddhartha's presence, but finds his words confusing and unhelpful. Before he goes, Siddhartha kisses his friend and in this moment Govinda has a vision. It is significant that it is an act, not an explanation, that pushes Govinda into challenging his ideas about the world. It is also significant that Govinda has a vision of the river that is similar to the one Siddhartha had; he sees a river of faces that are different but still all one. In this vision he sees good and evil and many other supposed opposites unified in the river, and the unity he sees is visualized by the smile Siddhartha wears.

Siddhartha, like Vasudeva, has now helped someone else take steps towards finding unity. Like Vasudeva, this has occurred in the form of a natural vision that conjured the same peaceful smile that the enlightened wear. Govinda's vision indicates that Siddhartha has become truly enlightened.