The childhood of Herman Hesse was best characterized by turbulence, rebellion, and a crisis of identity. In reaction to this, it comes as no surprise that, in adulthood, his novels are preoccupied with themes of spiritual striving, self-knowledge, and personal authenticity. Hesse’s later novels explore these themes through the lens of Eastern philosophy and Buddhist precepts. This is particularly true of Hesse’s celebrated novel, Siddartha. In Siddartha, Hesse chronicles the protagonist’s search for spiritual truth. His protagonist, Siddartha, along with his childhood friend, Govinda, abandon their worldly goods and choose a life of renunciation in place of a life of material comfort. This Books That Grow excerpt highlights a pivotal moment in Siddartha’s spiritual development, a moment that qualitatively changes his mode of thinking. In this excerpt, Siddartha and Govinda encounter Guatama, a Buddha who has found a way to transcended earthly woes and attain an immutable state of inner peace. Although Guatama appears like any other monk, Siddartha can sense from his every action that this is a man at peace with himself and the world around him. Govinda, recognizing the monk’s perfection, quickly embraces his teachings, and expresses his interest in joining the ranks of his loyal followers; the Samanas, or monks devoted to the ascetic lifestyle. Despite also recognizing, incontrovertibly, the inherent rightness of Guatama’s teachings, Siddartha remains skeptical of their effectiveness to achieve enlightenment. In a remarkable conversation with the Buddha himself, Siddartha tactfully expresses his doubts. Siddartha’s qualms with the Buddha’s teachings have nothing to do with their intellectual content, but in the failure of this content to actually convey the experiential component of enlightenment. This doubt is coupled with the fear that by following the Buddha’s teachings--in his quest to lose his self--Siddartha will only end up replacing his self with the teachings. For this reason, Siddartha expresses his desire to set out on his own, not to seek out new teachings, but to experience the culmination of these teachings himself: enlightenment. This piece is perfect for an introductory lesson on Herman Hesse, and modernism. Because of its Eastern influences, this excerpt is also ideal as part of a lesson on Buddhism or world religions.

Standards Addressed



Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


Before Reading

What comes to mind when you hear the word Buddhism? How about Enlightenment? In your own words, how would you define enlightenment, and why?


During Reading

What is the best description of Siddhartha’s attitude towards the Buddha’s teachings? Use examples from the text to support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1)

Although he is sad to part ways with his friend, why is Siddartha overjoyed by Govinda’s decision to follow the Buddha? Use examples from the text to support your answer.


After Reading

In Siddartha’s conversation with the Buddha, the two men discuss different ways of achieving enlightenment: one is through inner guidance, while the other is through exterior guidance, or through the teachings of another. Which method is preferred by Siddartha? Support your answer with details from the text. 


Connections in Text

Many portrayals of buddhist monks, and other religious figures, in literature and film emphasize the practice of fasting. Find an example of a fasting monk in a movie or book, and try to find an explanation for their motivation. In other words, what is the relationship between fasting and heightened spiritual awareness?


Further Readings

For Teachers:

This link provides teachers with a number of ideas for teaching Herman Hesse’s  Siddartha. Written by a teacher, this essay provides educators with a number of effective ways to make Siddartha more relatable for teenagers.


For Students:

This link provides students with an introduction to the key concepts and terminology of Buddhism. 


Domain-Specific Vocabulary: Buddha, eightfold path, enlightenment

G8 Challenging Vocabulary: venerated (8) breach (8) abstain (7) bearing (6) enlightened (6) 

G6 Challenging Vocabulary: expedition (6) forlorn (6) humane (6) enlightened (6) devotion (6) attained (6) converse (6) bearing (6) hovered (5) patiently (5) bustle (5) retiring/retired (5) cherish/cherished (5) contents (5) monks (5) sequence (5) essential (5) desire (4) adapted (4) attentively (4) glistened (4) refuge (4) mockery (4) aware (4) contented (4) criticize (4) departed (4)

G4 Challenging Vocabulary: wailed (4) desire (4) adapted (4) attentively (4) glistened (4) refuge (4) mockery (4) aware (4) contented (4) criticize (4) departed (4) published (3) realize/realizations (3) precise (3) appetite (3) relieve (3) obtain (3) praised (3) summon (3) privileged (3) afar (3) invaded (3) opinion (3) discard (3) must (3) novel (2) time (2) instantly (2) recognized (2) robe (2) observed (2) rule (2) dangling (2) expressed (2) peace (2) town

G2 Challenging Vocabulary: silently (2) novel (2) time (2) instantly (2) recognized (2) robe (2) observed (2) rule (2) dangling (2) expressed (2) peace (2) town (2) glance (1) open/openess (1) part (1) kind/kindly/kindness (1) thought (1) moment (1) argue (1) clear/clearly (1) people (1) start/started (1) friend (0) given (0) talk (0) walk/walking/walked (0) man (0) alone (0) brothers (0) trees (0) again (0) every (0)