Hesse1s Siddhartha Several parallels can be drawn between the psychologist Abraham Maslow1s theoretical hierarchy of needs and the spiritual journey of Siddhartha, the eponymous main character in Herman Hesse1s novel. Maslow1s hierarchy of needs is somewhat of a pyramid that is divided into eight stages of need through which one progresses throughout one1s entire life. During the course of his lifetime, Siddhartha1s personality develops in a manner congruent with the stages of Maslow1s hierarchy.
Siddhartha1s progress from each of the major sections of the hierarchy is marked by a sharp change in his life or behavior. Siddhartha is the story of a young man1s journey in search of truth. Early in life, Siddhartha and his friend Govinda hear the teachings of the Buddha. Govinda is convinced of the validity of the Buddha1s teachings and becomes one of his followers.
Siddhartha, on the other hand, was not satisfied with the Buddha1s teachings because he believed that it was not possible to obtain true enlightenment through the words of others but that it must be experienced empirically. Siddhartha therefore rejects the life of a Brahmin to become a Samana (a wandering person who gives up material possessions for his faith). After he tires of this life, he moves on to learn the art of love from a woman named Kamala and the art of business from a man named Kamaswami.
He lives his new life for many years but then begins to feel that his mind has become stagnant and that he needs something new in his life. He abandons the surroundings he now finds decadent and becomes friends and lives with a ferry-man who he met years before. He spends the rest of his life with his friend learning about the nature of things from the river and seeking contentment. Abraham Maslow was a leading American psychologist of the twentieth century. He specialized in the study of human personality and development. One of his major contributions was the development of a theoretical hierarchy of needs as a model for understanding the development of an individual1s personality. The eight steps in Maslow1s hierarchy of needs, from the most basic requirements for survival to the most abstract, are as follows: Group One E Physiological needs: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc E Safety/security: out of danger E Belongingness and love: affiliate with others, be accepted E Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval Group Two E Cognitive: to know, to understand, and explore E Aesthetic: symmetry, order, and beauty Group Three E Self-actualization: to find self-fulfillment and realize one1s potential E Transcendence: to help others find self-fulfillment and realize their potential Not every individual, according to Maslow, will progress through every stage, nor will an individual necessarily work through each stage in sequence or only once. Siddhartha rose through the early stages of development early in life. In fact, the book begins with Siddhartha already having mastered the first four stages. Because Siddhartha was born into a well-to-do upper caste family, he was able to satisfy such physiological needs as hunger, thirst, and bodily comfort quickly and with relative ease. Also because of his supportive and stable family life, he had little cause for fear or lack of security. He had always been loved and accepted. A paragraph early in the book illustrates this when Hesse says: Siddhartha had already long taken part in the learned men1s conversations, had engaged in debate with Govinda and had practiced the art of contemplation and meditation with him. Already he knew how to pronounce Om silently this word of words, to say it inwardly with the intake of breath, when breathing out with all his soul, his brow radiated the glow of pure spirit. Already he knew how to recognize Atman within the depth of his being, indestructible, at one with the universe. (3-4) Clearly a young man engaged in conversations with learned men has had physiological needs met and must feel safe in his environment. This quote also shows how Siddhartha had reached level three belongingness and level four esteem needs, i.e. the need for love and acceptance, the need to achieve, be competent, and to gain recognition and approval. The quote illustrates this when Hesse states, 3Siddhartha had already long taken part in learned men1s conversations…2 The fact that educated men included a youth in their conversations indicated that they held him in high esteem and didn1t think of him as just a child. Later on in the book, Siddhartha must struggle to escape his natural desires for belonging and love to pursue his more lofty goal of enlightenment. He spends many years of his life learning the arts of love from a woman named Kamala. From her he learns how to love and be loved. She becomes a very important person in his life and he eventually has a son with her. He spends those same years learning the art of business from a man named Kamaswami. It is during this stage of Siddhartha1s life that he masters the cognitive and aesthetic needs that Maslow places in group two. At first Siddhartha maintains his abilities to contemplate and meditate and views business and love as hobbies. But, over time, he begins to sink into his material life and become like common 3unenlightened2 folk. He starts to take business seriously and gamble recklessly. He no longer views material things with mere curiosity but becomes consumed by them. He loses his ability to meditate and forgets his old ways. This point is illustrated perfectly when Hesse writes: Like a veil, like a thin mist, a weariness settled on Siddhartha, slowly, every day a little thicker, every month a little darker, every year a little heavier. As a new dress grows old with time, loses its bright color, becomes stained and creased, the hems frayed, and here and there weak and threadbare places, so had Siddhartha1s new life which he had begun after his parting from Govinda, become old. In the same way it lost its color and sheen with the passing of the years: creases and stains accumulated, and hidden in the depths, here and there already appearing, waited disillusionment and nausea. Siddhartha did not notice it. He only noticed that the bright and clear inward voice, that had once awakened in him and had always guided him in his finest hours, had become silent. (79-80) It was after this that Siddhartha realized his plight and made the decision to make a drastic change in his life. He knew that it was time for him to leave his current life and once again find his inner self. The reader is informed of Siddhartha1s decision to work toward self actualization (Maslow1s seventh stage) when the narrator says: He had finished with that. That also died in him. He rose, said farewell to the mango tree and the pleasure garden. As he had not had any food that day he felt extremely hungry, and thought of his house in the town, of his room and bed, of the table with food. He smiled wearily, shook his head and said goodbye to these things. (86) Having made his decision, Siddhartha promptly leaves the town without stopping to say goodbyes as these would only add to the difficulty of his departure. It is now that Siddhartha faces the most trying and difficult period of his life. For several days he wandered in the woods with no particular destination. The narrator says, 3He wished passionately for oblivion, to be at rest, to be dead.2 So deep were his troubles that he sought death at the banks of a river. The scene takes place with Siddhartha leaning out over the river from a coconut tree by one arm when the narrator says: With a distorted countenance he stared into the water. He saw his face reflected, and spat at it; he took his arm away from the tree trunk and turned a little, so that he could fall headlong and finally go under. He bent, with closed eyes towards death. Then from a remote part of his soul, from the past of his tired life, he heard a sound. It was one word, one syllable, which without thinking he spoke indistinctly, the ancient beginning and ending of all Brahmin prayers, the holy Om, which had the meaning of 3the Perfect One2 or 3Perfection.2 At that moment, when the sound of Om reached Siddhartha1s ears, his slumbering soul suddenly awakened and he recognized the folly of his action. (90) Hearing the sound of Om made Siddhartha realize how rash and jumbled his feelings had been. The author says that Siddhartha was 3deeply horrified.2 After the shock had sunk in, Siddhartha slid down next to the tree and slept for several hours. In those several hours he made a leap from the old Siddhartha to the new revitalized Siddhartha who recognized the principle of Brahman, the unity indestructibleness of life. Siddhartha eventually reaches the final group of Maslow1s hierarchy when he attains self-actualization, which is to find self-fulfillment and realize one1s potential. He learns the secret of self-actualization from his most important teacher, the river. Siddhartha has become partners with a ferry boatman. As the two are sitting together one day, he asks Vausdeva, the boatman, 3Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?2 And Vasudeva replies: Yes, Siddhartha. Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean, and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?2 (109) 3That is it,2 replies Siddhartha. It is then that Siddhartha realizes that to achieve fulfillment he must abandon his desires and do only what he was destined to do and not what others do. He also realizes that one cannot achieve fulfillment by following the paths of others. Siddhartha had finally reached the top level of the pyramid. He was free of material wants and was truly happy just to exist. He realized his potential and found wonder in the world around him. At some time during life, everyone must face Siddhartha1s challenge. Everyone spends their life trying to attain self fulfillment and true contentment. And during that time, one must remember the importance of the journey itself, not only the actual achievement. Although not everyone reaches that goal, it is that goal which motivates people to strive to be their very best, knowing that lasting happiness sits shining atop the pyramid.
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. New York: New Directions Publishing Company, 1951. Glenn, Jerry. Monarch Notes.
The Major Works of Herman Hesse. New York: Monarch Press, 1973. Schultz, Duane
Theories of Personality. Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1976.