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Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is an excellent book and is written with the spirit of mystery and wonder that also permeates most Buddhist teachings.

At the end of the book, Siddhartha has attained what appears to be Nirvana. He is sitting with his friend Govinda.

Govinda has spent the entirety of his adult life seeking Nirvana, and he is lamenting about this to Siddhartha; practically begging for some guidance and teaching.

Siddhartha, feeling great compassion for his friend's suffering, instructs him to kiss his [Siddhartha's] forehead. Govinda finds this odd, but is compelled by a great love of Siddhartha to accept. As he does this; he attains some kind of enlightenment - and though it's always seemed to me to be less 'significant' or permanent than what Siddhartha has attained - it is still a profound and magical moment of transformation.

Does anyone know what Hesse intended us to derive from this sequence? Specifically, has he spoken upon this issue, or written about it? It's always been completely mysterious to me.

I'm looking for something more solid than unverified speculation. I'm not opposed to opinions, but I'd like that any opinion be informed by some source - either Hesse, or another writing about Hesse's works.

  • Interesting question but I think it might lead to primarily opinion-based answers. – Lanka Jan 6 '17 at 19:29
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    @Lanka - Does my edit bring it closer to the appropriate guidelines for questions? – dgo Jan 6 '17 at 20:04
  • I have not come across any comments that Hermann Hesse has made on his novel “Siddhartha. The interesting thing about this book is that the same person reading this book at different times of his/her life see different truths / insights. So as @Lanka has said you will only get primarily opinion-based answers to this OP. – Saptha Visuddhi Jan 7 '17 at 15:11
  • @SapthaVisuddhi - I agree completely about reading at different times in life. – dgo Jan 11 '17 at 5:03
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    @user1167442, If there is one last book that a person (of another faith or one who has not seen the Saddhamma) should read in his/her life, it is this booklet “Siddhartha”. Nearly 25 years ago I gave it to my father to read – seven days before his untimely death. He was very much at peace after reading it – and that must have helped him to a good birth in his next life in one day seeing the light. – Saptha Visuddhi Jan 11 '17 at 14:13
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The paper titled "Between reverence and revolt: Hesse and the two faces of religion" suggests that Hesse was primarily a (Christian) Protestant.

It says for example that in his 1921 diary he wrote:

“And now the whole of Buddhism increasingly appears to me to be a kind of Indian Reformation, an exact equivalent of the Christian one”

So far as I know, a primary Protestant belief is that people are saved by God (maybe by their love of God and/or by God's love): a Christian's duty (to God) is faith and obediance, which God rewards with salvation (perhaps miraculous salvation).

I think it's also (especially in contrast with pre-Reformation Catholicism) something to do with a personal relationship, unmediated by clergy (and perhaps by ritual), between each person and God.

I guess that influences this sentence:

But while Govinda with astonishment, and yet drawn by great love and expectation, obeyed his words, bent down closely to him and touched his forehead with his lips, something miraculous happened to him.

You wrote, " It's always been completely mysterious to me." Perhaps that's because it's so Christian-influenced.

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    I'll have to read that article, but that is a very interesting answer. I've read a lot of Buddhism into the book - particularly in relationship to Samsara - but I've not considered any of it from a Christian context. Good excuse to read it again. – dgo Jan 11 '17 at 5:02
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Siddhartha asks Govinda to kiss him on the forehead. As he does so, for Govinda "a certain contempt for his friends's words conflicted with a tremendous love...for him ." Govinda then goes through a kind of mystical experience, as Siddhartha's face somehow merges with and contains a continuous stream of thousands of other faces, which he appreciates in each of their specificity. Govinda emerges from the kiss with tears uncontrollably trickling down his face and an overwhelming feeling of great love for his friend, and through him [quote] "of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life."

"So in the end Siddhartha is not only capable of love himself, but of spreading it powerfully to others."
WAS HESSE'S SIDDHARTHA CAPABLE OF LOVE? A Sermon by Dean Scotty McLennan University Public Worship Stanford Memorial Church July 11, 2004

  • Thanks. I gave it an upvote - but apart from the link doesn't really add anything that can't be grasped from reading the book itself. – dgo Jan 7 '17 at 23:32
  • It just what you have asked actually is "Does anyone know what Hesse intended us to derive from this sequence? Specifically, has he spoken upon this issue, or written about it? It's always been completely mysterious to me. I'm looking for something more solid than unverified speculation. I'm not opposed to opinions, but I'd like that any opinion be informed by some source - either Hesse, or another writing about Hesse's works." then obvious need to read book to know more than that. I thanks to you because of you we got about it. I was curious to know about it. Thank you @-}-- – Swapnil Jan 8 '17 at 6:45
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This represents the practice of one of the brahmaviharas, namely compassion.

Practicing any of these "divine abodes" is enough to enlighten a person if practiced deeply enough.

In this case, Govinda, who had spent most of his life stuck in a state of "wanting Nirvana" (and thus being all the more distant from Nirvana) finally comes closer to it by kissing the forehead of someone who is Enlightened--symbolic of accepting one's innate Nirvana rather than being stuck in wanting.

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Having read five of his books I can tell you they are nearly all about spirituality,Knowledge and credibility. He believed in god and remarked that Christianity lived not preached made him most of what he was. He could be regarded as a pantheist (although I never read he stated that) as he saw god in nature and felt man was getting to far away from nature and therefore god. At least one of his wives was Jewish and he had various other religion exposures. Narcissus and Goldmund was the parallel Christian version to Siddhartha. Siddhartha is the Buddha.

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    This does not answer the question which is: "Does anyone know what Hesse intended us to derive from this sequence? Specifically, has he spoken upon this issue, or written about it?". Please address the question. – Lanka Jan 16 '17 at 15:07

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