I discovered this book as it is mentioned on several podcasts and in Tim Ferris' Tools of Titans.
Siddhartha is a beautifully written 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. Originally written in German, in a simple, lyrical style it has since been translated into other languages.
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".
In Hesse’s novel, experience, the totality of conscious events of a human life, is shown as the best way to approach understanding of reality and attain enlightenment—Hesse’s crafting of Siddhartha’s journey shows that understanding is attained not through intellectual methods, nor through immersing oneself in the carnal pleasures of the world and the accompanying pain of samsara. It is the completeness of these experiences that allows Siddhartha to attain understanding.
Extract taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhartha_(novel)
Siddhartha, is the handsome and respected son of a Brahmin (high priest caste in Indian culture). Set in ancient India, everyone in the village expects Siddhartha to be a successful Brahmin like his father. Siddhartha enjoys a comfortable existence with his best friend, Govinda, but he is unforfilled. He studies and practices all the rituals of his religion, and he does everything he should to bring him happiness and peace. Nonetheless, he feels empty. His father and the other elders have still not achieved enlightenment, and he feels that staying with them will not settle the questions he has about the nature of his existence. Siddhartha believes he has learnt everything he can in his village and looks to seek more.
Siddhartha continues his life journey of self discovery meeting various mentors that teach him a different perspective for lie.
A group of wanders called Samana, they are starved and almost naked and have come to beg for food. They believe enlightenment can be reached through asceticism, a rejection of the body and physical desire. Siddhartha learns how to free himself from the traditional trappings of life, and so loses his desire for property, clothing, sexuality, and all things except for that which is required to live. His goal is to find enlightenment by eliminating his Self, and he successfully renounces the pleasures of the world.
Siddhartha hears about a new holy man named Gotama the Buddha who has attained the total spiritual enlightenment called Nirvana. Govinda convinces Siddhartha they both should leave seek out Gotama. Siddhartha meets Gotama but decides to embark on a life free from meditation and the spiritual quests he has been pursuing, and to instead learn from the pleasures of the body and the material world.
On his journey, Siddhartha crosses the ferryman’s river and comes to a city. Here, a beautiful courtesan named Kamala draws his attentions. He knows she would be the best one to teach him about the world of love and lust, but Kamala will not have him unless he proves he can fit into the material world.
Siddhartha soon finds employment with a merchant named Kamaswami and begins to learn art of business. While Siddhartha learns the wisdom of the business world and begins to master the skills Kamaswami teaches him, Kamala becomes his lover and teaches him what she knows about love and lust.
The material world causes Siddhartha into a depressed mindset, causing him to seek out the same content ferryman he met years before. The ferryman, who introduces himself as Vasudeva, radiates an inner peace that Siddhartha wishes to attain. Siddhartha studies the river and begins to take from it a spiritual enlightenment unlike any he has ever known. While sitting by the river, he contemplates the unity of all life.
One day Kamala the courtesan approaches the ferry along with her son on a pilgrimage to visit Gotama. This boy whom is identified as Siddhartha's. Siddhartha tries to provide for his son, but the boy is spoiled and cynical. Siddhartha’s son dislikes life with the two ferrymen and wishes to return to his familiar city and wealth. Siddhartha awakens to find his son has run away and stolen all of his and Vasudeva’s money. Siddhartha chases after the boy, but as he reaches the city he realizes the chase is futile. Siddhartha soothes the pain of losing his son by listening to the river.
Just as the water of the river flows into the ocean and is returned by rain, all forms of life are interconnected in a cycle without beginning or end. Birth and death are all part of a timeless unity. Life and death, joy and sorrow, good and evil are all parts of the whole and are necessary to understand the meaning of life. By the time Siddhartha has learned all the river’s lessons, Vasudeva announces that he is through with his life at the river. He retires into the forest, leaving Siddhartha to be the ferryman.
The novel ends with Govinda returning to the river to seek enlightenment by meeting with a wise man who lives there. When Govinda arrives, he does not recognize that the wise man is Siddhartha himself. Govinda is still a follower of Gotama but has yet to attain the kind of enlightenment that Siddhartha now radiates, and he asks Siddhartha to teach him what he knows. Siddhartha explains that neither he nor anyone can teach the wisdom to Govinda, because verbal explanations are limited and can never communicate the entirety of enlightenment. Instead, he asks Govinda to kiss him on the forehead, and when Govinda does, the vision of unity that Siddhartha has experienced is communicated instantly to Govinda. Govinda and Siddhartha have both finally achieved the enlightenment they set out to find in the days of their youth.
Conclusion: I enjoyed this book, as in our own lives we wear different hats at different periods of our journey. Those periods of growth and challenges prepare us for our next chapter teaching and equipping us with the tools for what lies ahead. This book beautifully encapsulates this narrative.
Extracts taken from https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/siddhartha/summary/