Herman Hesse describes knowledge in Siddhartha as something that can only be obtained through self-discoveries and experiences. Throughout Siddhartha’s learning experiences he denounces teachers and their ways of teaching. Hesse traces Siddhartha’s enlightenment through his own experiences and through the people he meets along his journey. Siddhartha’s quest of the Self is developed by three major events including his meeting with Buddha, his attempted suicide, and his arrival and departure of his son. These three events contributed to his self-discoveries and individuality.
Siddhartha’s meeting with Gautama, the Buddha, is the first major experience in his journey that affected his learning process. After several unmotivating years of living an ascetic life of a Samana, Siddhartha began his journey and sought out Gautama, known as “The Illustrious One.” Siddhartha hoped that Gautama could assist him in his journey to find his inner self. Gautama’s advise and teachings were a disappointment to Siddhartha. He felt that the Buddha’s methods would only teach him spirituality in a logical way when he was searching for ways to realize his spirituality in a more natural, metaphysical way. This interaction between Gautama and Siddhartha demonstrates the theme that knowledge cannot be taught. Siddhartha feels he cannot learn by just hearing Guatama’s experiences. He believes he needs to experience these things himself to truly reach his inner self.
The next event that moves Siddhartha forward in his quest for self-discovery is his attempted suicide. Before he contemplates suicide, Siddhartha has become a completely different man. He indulges in many of the material pleasures that most people delve into. He becomes Kamala’s lover, and desires money, which he gets through being a merchant and a gambler. Siddhartha begins to change and becomes self centered, greedy, and loses much of his spiritual gains because of his exploration of the material world. Siddhartha realizes what the life he is living has become and is disgusted with himself. He leaves the village as soon as he realizes what he has turned into, demonstrating his growth. At the time of his attempted suicide, Siddhartha has realized the ways of both the secular and spiritual lifestyles and had a choice of which path best suited him.
The final experience that gave Siddhartha the most important knowledge was the discovery of his son, Young Siddhartha. Siddhartha was given the responsibility to raise Young Siddhartha, whom he had never known existed, after Kamala’s death. Young Siddhartha was very difficult to raise. Unlike Siddhartha, he was very rude and spoiled. Siddhartha wasn’t able to communicate with his son so he let him do whatever he wanted to do. Young Siddhartha was very unappreciative and ran away, never to be seen again. After a period of deep suffering, Siddhartha realized that the pain he was feeling was caused by the heartfelt, yet unrequited, love he felt for his son. By experiencing this horrible pain, Siddhartha had learned how to love. By loving then letting go, Siddhartha gained more knowledge of the secular and spiritual world than he thought was possible.
Siddhartha’s growing maturity throughout the book can be traced to events that led to his knowledge of individuality. His meeting with the Buddha allowed him to realize that he must make his own discoveries and experiences. His attempted suicide and experience in the village allowed Siddhartha to see a side of himself he had never seen before. And last, the time with his son gave him the chance to extend himself in love. His maturation was developed by the effects of both the good and bad consequences of the choices he made.