Siddhartha is a man who looks at the world and is eager to learn more about everything and anything he has his eyes set on. Out of the many experiences that he encounters on his journey, one major encounter that he often faces is about the divide between spirituality and religion. Not only does he encounter this divide himself, but it is also seen upon different characters throughout different settings and times within the book. These encounters provide us deeper information about Siddhartha and other characters as well. This essay explains if there is a difference between religion and spirituality in Hesse’s novel.
Within the novel, Siddhartha one of the characters that contain connections to religion is Siddhartha’s father. Siddhartha’s father is one of the characters that we the readers are introduced to at the beginning of the book with a strong tie to Hinduism being a brahmin. When Siddhartha introduces the idea of becoming a shramana and his father instantly tells Siddhartha “It is not fitting for a brahmin to speak hard and angry words, yet in my heart I cannot accept this. Do not let this request cross your lips a second time” (Hesse 11). Siddhartha’s father deals with his son not being able to achieve happiness and realizes that for him to find everything he is looking for; he will need to become a shramana. After he allows his son to leave, he immediately goes back to his ablutions. Siddhartha’s father is a very devoted brahmin who makes decisions and plans his life out because of his religion and what his religion entails him to do.
Govinda was one of Siddhartha’s dearest friends, one who thought Siddhartha would “never become an ordinary brahmin, a lazy purveyor of rituals … become a mindless good sheep in the common heard” (Hesse 4). He was dedicated to following Siddhartha through from beginning to end, even going as far as referring himself to Siddhartha’s shadow. Govinda when he listens to the Exalted One takes refuge in his teachings about the Buddha. His taking refuge in the Buddha and standing with his newfound belief lead to him making his own dedicated choices. His own decision to follow the Buddha allowed Siddhartha to see that Govinda would do fine down his path with him no longer a shadow and being a free spirit.
Another character that we have the opportunity of meeting in Siddhartha is a ferryman whose name is Vasudeva. He and Siddhartha have the pleasure of becoming friends over a ferry ride across the river. Vasudeva does not really consider himself religious but rather someone who is spiritually connected to his surroundings. Vasudeva describes himself as to having connected with the river. A great example of him being connected to the river is when Vasudeva states that “I have often listened to it speak, I have often looked it in the eye, and I have always learned from it. One can learn a lot from the river” (Hesse 55). One of the many lessons he learned from the river is that “everything comes back again” which is a lesson that can be applied to many if not all situations.
At the beginning of the book when Siddhartha was still with Govinda and the shramanas, he felt as if he was not getting any teachings and his desire for knowledge was only growing. This was realized when Siddhartha told Govinda “I suffer thirst, O Govinda, and on this long path of a shramana, my thirst has not grown any less. I have always thirsted for understanding; I have always been full of questions” (Hesse 22). Siddhartha knows that this religion does not fit what he is ultimately searching for. When he leaves Govinda and the shramanas that is when Siddhartha starts to look to fill the void that has existed.
With the help of Vasudeva later in his life, Siddhartha and his son stay with him in his hut once Kamala passes away from a snake bite. This is where Siddhartha starts to become more in tune with his spiritual side. After the passing of Kamala and the loss of his son, Siddhartha starts to see the world in a new perspective which opens a door he has had trouble opening. “But there was something unusual about its voice. It was laughing, it was clearly laughing! The river was laughing, loudly and painfully laughing at the old ferryman. Siddhartha stopped, bent over the water to hear better and in the quietly moving water he saw the reflection of his face” (Hesse 143). Once he became a listener, he started to understand that there was more than him trying to set his own life the way he wanted. In an article written by H. Elizabeth Smith she states, “There he also experiences within himself a spirit of love and the wholeness of life; he learns to accept human separateness, and achieves Nirvana, which completes his search for self-realization” (Smith). The statement that Smith makes goes along perfectly with the understanding that Siddhartha’s long search has finally come to an end.
Religion versus Spirituality is not only something that we find within Siddhartha, but it is also found within our own lives. Religions against other religions or the diversity between religion and spirituality making them two entirely different belief systems that are common with our world. The biggest difference between religion and spirituality is that with religion you can devote your life to it and still never find the answer that you are looking for. Spirituality is more of a connecting bridge one that allows you to have peace of mind with your beliefs and still allows you to be open to many possibilities.
- Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. 1922. Trans. Sherab Codzin Kohn. Boulder: Shambhala, 2018. Print.
- Smith, H. Elizabeth. “The Search for Emancipation in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.” Bloom’s
- Literary Themes: Enslavement and Emancipation, Chelsea House, 2020. Bloom’s
- Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=103455&itemid=WE54&articleId=2625. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.