Hermann Hesse wrote Siddhartha during a period in his life in which he suffered what he described as a “sickness with life.” He claimed to be unable to complete the book because he had not experienced the kind of nirvana that Siddhartha, the main character, wants to achieve—so Hesse surrounded himself with sacred Buddhist and Hindu teachings and lived as a recluse in order to complete this work.
Siddhartha is a short, simple tale of a man’s quest to achieve enlightenment and happiness. Over twelve short chapters the reader follows Siddhartha through his time as a young adult, to his exploration of spirituality as a traveling ascetic, to his delvings in lust, business, and greed, to his time as an old man. At each stage of his life Siddhartha yearns for nirvana, finally achieving it only after realizing that it’s all of life’s experiences that form it, not the teachings of any one man.
Today Siddhartha remains an influential text in new Western spirituality.
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Siddhartha: An Indian Poem is a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse that deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha. The book, Hesse's 9th novel, was written in German, in a simple, lyrical style. It was published in the U.S. in 1951 and became influential during the 1960s. Hesse dedicated the first part of it to Romain Rolland and the second part to Wilhelm Gundert, his cousin.
The word Siddhartha is made up of two words in Sanskrit language, siddha (achieved) + artha (what was searched for), which together means "he who has found meaning (of existence)" or "he who has attained his goals". In fact, the Buddha's own name, before his renunciation, was Siddhartha Gautama, prince of Kapilavastu. In this book, the Buddha is referred to as "Gotama."
The story takes place in the ancient Nepalese kingdom of Kapilavastu. Siddhartha decides to leave his home in the hope of gaining spiritual illumination by becoming an ascetic wandering beggar of the Śamaṇa. Joined by his best friend Govinda, Siddhartha fasts, becomes homeless, renounces all personal possessions, and intensely meditates, eventually seeking and personally speaking with Gautama, the famous Buddha, or Enlightened One.
Another version of the audiobook (with an American accent) is available from Librivox here.
Another English translation by is available from Project Gutenberghere.