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.
Truth and Illusion Theme Icon

Enlightenment, sought by all the spiritual characters in the book, is not just a feeling of peace with the world, but a kind of wisdom, an absolute knowledge and acceptance of the way things are. But this truth eludes most of those who seek for it. Some search within the teachings of other wiser people, like Govinda. But such devotees are always in the shadow of someone else’s enlightenment, and never seem to reach their own.

Real truth turns out to be found at moments of connection and realization with the natural world. At each critical moment of his journey, Siddhartha finds some piece of truth. The nature of the self, comprised of his ancestors, his father, the many faces of human kind, appears like a vision before him. The connectedness of all things also occurs to him as pure and true, like the image of the stone being at once soil, animal, and all its incarnations.

This finding of truth also means avoiding illusion. Many things are labeled as illusion and tricks in Siddhartha’s world: love, wealth, and desire, and especially thoughts and opinions. Siddhartha tells Govinda at the end of the book not to take the explanations of his philosophy literally but to try to understand them with his own experience, because explanations are made of words, and there is always some foolishness and embarrassment that comes of trying to explain something through words. The real truth comes not from seeking knowledge or avoiding illusion but accepting both things. When looking at natural forms, and realizing the unity of the world, Siddhartha knows that there can be no trickery about anything he sees.

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Truth and Illusion Quotes in Siddhartha

Below you will find the important quotes in Siddhartha related to the theme of Truth and Illusion.
Part One, Chapter 1 – The Brahmin's Son Quotes

He had begun to sense that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmins, had already imparted to him the bulk and the best of their knowledge, that they had already poured their fullness into his waiting vessel, and the vessel was not full, his mind was not contented…

Related Characters: Siddhartha, Siddhartha’s father
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

As a Brahmin's son, Siddhartha has been raised in an atmosphere of people seeking enlightenment in wisdom passed down through the community. Siddhartha has been a model student – he is very good at meditation, he is a quick learner, and he has an aura of success and charisma that makes him much admired. However, while his community assumes that he will be successful in the traditional ways they have defined for him, Siddhartha instinctively knows that the life that he has been born into is not enough.

Though he, like his community, seeks enlightenment, he is suspicious that he can attain enlightenment through received wisdom from elders who, frankly, seem not to have achieved enlightenment themselves. Siddhartha feels that he has already learned from them what they are able to offer, and to remain in his community would not continue to move him towards enlightenment. This is a first instance of the dissatisfaction that will propel Siddhartha throughout the book. This dissatisfaction is presented in the novel not as a negative emotion, but as an indication and result of Siddhartha's intuition about experiences that are not contributing to enlightenment. This quote also marks the beginning of Siddhartha's skepticism towards received wisdom, and initiates his journey to gain experiential knowledge from the world. 

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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. 

“I do not desire to walk on water,” said Siddhartha. “Let old samanas content themselves with such tricks.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Govinda
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha, now disillusioned with the Samanas, has decided to leave them. In order to go, he must inform the leader of his intent to leave, and the leader is furious about it until Siddhartha hypnotizes him and he acquiesces. The hypnosis proves that Siddhartha has learned a lot from the Samanas and, much like he could have been successful within the traditional path of the Brahmins, he could have become a powerful Samana.

Siddhartha distrusts this kind of straightforward path to success and enlightenment, though – to be able to overpower the Samana leader so quickly shows Siddhartha that maybe he has learned enough from the Samanas and he might be able to push his gifts further in different circumstances. In this exchange, Govinda tells Siddhartha that he could be a great Samana and learn to walk on water, and Siddhartha informs him that this is besides the point. He doesn't want to learn powerful tricks, he wants enlightenment, and he doesn't think the Samanas can get him there. This is one of many examples of Siddhartha distrusting anything that seems too easy and straightforward. He seems to think that enlightenment must come from challenging oneself even if that means rejecting received wisdom.

Part One, Chapter 3 – Gautama Quotes

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

Siddhartha replied: “Stop scolding, dear friend! Scolding has never achieved anything. If there has been a loss, then let me bear the burden. I am very content with this trip. I have met all sorts of people, a Brahmin has become my friend, children have ridden on my lap, farmers have shown me their fields. No one took me for a merchant.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Kamaswami
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha has just returned from a trip to a rice plantation. Though he found that the rice had already been sold to another merchant, Siddhartha decided to stay anyway and mingle with the people who lived there. Kamaswami scolds him for not prioritizing business and coming home immediately, but Siddhartha brushes him off. This passage shows the differences between Siddhartha's values and Kamaswami's values; Kamaswami thinks that business is of paramount importance, while Siddhartha is willing to take business losses without complaint in exchange for having good experiences with other people. Siddhartha is seeking experiences, while Kamaswami is seeking money.

This passage is important because something Siddhartha needed to learn from living in town with Kamaswami and being with Kamala was the importance of human relationships, and this is the first time that Siddhartha has expressed the value of making friends with others. This passage shows that Siddhartha is gaining the experience he needs from living in the town, and it has not yet begun to corrupt him.

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 10 – The Son Quotes

“Can I part with him?” he asked softly, embarrassed. “Give me more time, dear friend! Look, I am fighting for him, I am wooing his heart, I want to capture it with love and friendly patience. Let the river speak to him too someday; he too is called.”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Vasudeva, Young Siddhartha
Related Symbols: The River
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Siddhartha debates the ferryman about how to handle his young son who has come to live with them. The son grew up in the town with Kamala, and has many of the values from the town that Siddhartha and the ferryman reject. The ferryman, who has learned from the river to let things be as they are, gently prods Siddhartha to allow the boy to go back to the town like he wants, but Siddhartha wants more time with the boy, rationalizing that this time could instill better values in his son. Obviously, this echoes the beginning of the book in which Siddhartha wants to abandon his own father's way of life and his father attempts to prevent him from going before finally relenting to Siddhartha's stubborn insistence.

In a sense, then, Siddhartha's experience with his son marks a cyclical reunification with one of the early trials of Siddhartha's journey to enlightenment, only this time it is inverted. Instead of breaking out from his father's way of life, Siddhartha has to now recognize the importance of allowing his son to take his own path, even if it is counter to the one Siddhartha wants for him. Furthermore, Siddhartha cannot himself instill wisdom in his son; as his own journey has taught him, knowledge has to be earned experientially. There is nothing Siddhartha can tell his son that would be as valuable as allowing him to make his own mistakes and discoveries.

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.

Part Two, Chapter 12 – Govinda Quotes

“I have found a thought, Govinda, that you will again take as a joke or as folly, but it is my best thought. This is it: The opposite of every truth is just as true!”

Related Characters: Siddhartha (speaker), Siddhartha, Govinda
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

As Vasudeva's parting foreshadowed the necessity of those who have achieved enlightenment to teach others, Govinda comes to seek out the wise ferryman (who is now Siddhartha), just as Siddhartha once sought out Vasudeva. Govinda has been following Gautama's teachings, but has not yet achieved enlightenment and is still seeking it.

Govinda, as he always has, is looking for a shortcut to enlightenment through hearing the wisdom learned by others. Siddhartha knows that the experiential truths he has learned cannot be communicated in words, so he tells Govinda this, saying that every truth is two-sided, and that speaking the truth would eliminate one of the sides. Siddhartha has learned from the river that all things are true at once because all things are the same – life is unity, it only has the illusion of being broken into discrete parts and truths because of time. He tries to steer Govinda into an understanding that Govinda's search for a single truth will always leave him empty handed because it is contrary to the nature of the universe. Instead of seeking something, Govinda must open himself to everything.

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.