Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha: The Convergence of Ego and Self Development During Adolescence

Dreaming assures a person actively engages his or her future goals. As the bible states, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1 Corinthians 13:11)” The childhood psyche gives way to adult existence in order for individuation to continue. Children dream about the person they will one day become, and this is a normal phenomenon. It is not to be likened to childhood pathological conditions such as ADHD, which oftentimes views a child’s propensity to dream as being pathological, not part of the normal childhood developmental sequence.

In the story, Siddhartha sought perfection, but had no means to judge what perfection entailed. No one “had attained the heavenly realm completely, none had entirely quenched the eternal thirst” (Hesse, 2002, p. 8). Because no living example amongst the elders achieved the goal Siddhartha sought, he turned his back on all lessons taught by the elders of his community. However, in turn, a new legend arose about a perfect being, the Buddha, whom achieved the goal Siddhartha sought to emulate. A convergence occurred during this era, and the wayfaring Siddhartha met the unmovable being, the person he emulated, the one who achieved Nirvana.

After parting ways with the ascetics, Siddhartha and Govinda sought to hear the lessons of the Buddha. While Siddhartha doubted that the lessons taught by the Buddha would have any significance, the protagonist was destined to meet with the antagonist whom achieved perfection. Perfection came to the culture and era of Siddhartha’s time, allowing a sense of hope that the imperfections of the world would one day cease. The Buddha had achieved perfection. He was a living example of an individual who achieved the transcendent level of consciousness associated with Jung’s idea of the coniunctio, a level of existence in which all polarities common to consciousness are transcended. This was the goal that young Siddhartha sought, a goal worthy of his attention.

As a child, Siddhartha thought with a child’s mind. He sought perfection, but had no idol to emulate. Siddhartha needed to develop an adult psyche to attain the perfection he sought, but lacked directions. Corinthians tells of the development the psyche undertakes as it seeks perfection through faith, hope, love, and the drive to leave childhood psychology behind.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians, 13:8-13, New International Version)

This passage, although not linked to the tenets of Buddhist philosophy, suggests that all opposites cease with the perfection of consciousness. Prophecies and their antithesis are true. In essence, prophecy helps the psyche to develop hope. Tongues in this passage suggest differences that exist between cultures, and predetermined knowledge of one sort always suggests an antithetical opinion exists elsewhere. The Buddha is said to have transcended normal consciousness. A convergence of the polarized notion of the opposites that govern consciousness took place during his lifetime. This provided hope for those who also sought to exit the drudgery associated with conscious living during his time. People developed hope because the Buddha underwent a process of perfecting himself. The Buddha also gave Siddhartha hope that he could transcend the ego to attain a higher state of being associated with the “heavenly realm” (Hesse, 2002, p. 8).

Siddhartha developed faith in his path after he realized its goal was attainable. He hoped to achieve perfection and unite with the divine, but failed to develop love for anyone but himself. Because Siddhartha sought what the Buddha had achieved, he was able to identify him out of hundreds of other monks who wore the same attire.

Siddhartha saw him and recognized him instantly, as though he had been pointed out by a god. He saw a man in a yellow habit, walking silently with his begging bowl in his hand… All eyes, Govinda looked at the monk in the yellow habit, who seemed in no way distinct from the hundreds of other monks. But soon Govinda saw it too: It was him. And they followed and watched. (Hesse, 2002, p. 30)

The shramanas and other monks waited through the heat of the day to hear the Buddha’s lesson. However, Siddhartha doubted the efficacy of the training he received. Instead, Siddhartha was more interested in the Buddha’s eternal essence.

Siddhartha did not reply. He was little interested in the teaching; he doubted it would contain anything new to him, since, like Govinda, he had repeatedly heard the content of this Buddhadharma, even if only second- or thirdhand. But he kept his eye attentively on the Buddha’s head, his shoulders, his feet, on his still, loose hand; and it seemed to him that every joint on every finger of this hand was a teaching, that it spoke truth. This man, this Buddha, was in truth who he was even in the movements of his little fingers. This man was holy. Never had Siddhartha so venerated anyone, never had he loved a person as he loved this one. (Hesse, 2002, p. 31)

For Siddhartha, the Buddha’s body breathed truth. Every cell of his body represented something holy. The meeting between the Buddha and Siddhartha was part of Siddhartha’s destiny because the protagonist idolized that which the antagonist attained. Siddhartha saw his future mirrored by a man who achieved what he wanted to become.

Adolescence is a developmental period when a child begins to look up to adults that partake in paths similar to those the child wishes to undertake. Children dream about the person they will one day become. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. I looked up to the professional athletes that I wanted to be like. These dreams continually shifted to include different professions that suited my personality. This was no different for Siddhartha, who as an adolescent idolized the perfection the Buddha attained. While the Buddha did not directly initiate Siddhartha, his presence provided the protagonist with proof of his goal’s attainability.

The Buddha represented a figure of hope to a culture and era that had yet to see what the attainment of Nirvana entailed. He is a savior archetype, one of a few individuals that transcended the split nature of consciousness associated with samsara. People emulated the Buddha because of this achievement, and he subsequently became the exemplar of a major world religion. Other individuals associated with this level of consciousness are Mohammad and Jesus of Nazareth. Siddhartha realized the Buddha as different from the other monks that surrounded him, and idolized him, even though he turned his back on the lessons the Buddha taught. Siddhartha was an individual, who undertook his own hero’s quest trying to attain Nirvana his way or die trying.

The storyline shows that Siddhartha met the Buddha. Siddhartha’s meeting with the Buddha represented a meeting with a higher aspect of Self. The protagonist of the story met the antagonist who had achieved the individuated state the protagonist sought. People dream life forward by emulating the actions of others. Dreams such as becoming a police officer, a firefighter, a professional sports star, a doctor, or a veterinarian are common amongst children; the processes that underlie our ability to dream also assures that the environment will expose the psyche to an array of possibilities that will ultimately foster its development. Siddhartha realized that the Buddha was perfect, but questioned the validity of his teaching. Siddhartha would not seek refuge in the teaching; instead sougt the goal he wished to attain on his own terms.

“Please do not be angry with me, Exalted One,” the youth said. “It was not to contend with you, not to fight with you over words, that I spoke the way I did. You are indeed right; opinions are worth little. But allow me to say one thing more: Not for a moment have I doubted you. I have not doubted for a moment that you are a Buddha, that you have attained the goal, the supreme goal, toward which so many thousands of brahmins and brahmin’s sons strive. You have found liberation from death. This came to you as a result of your own seeking on your own path, through thought, through meditation, through realization, through enlightenment. It did not come to you through a teaching! And that is my idea, O Exalted One—nobody attains enlightenment through teaching… But there is one thing that this so clear and so venerable teaching does not contain; it does not contain the mystery of what the Exalted One himself experienced, he alone among hundreds of thousands. This is the reason I am going to continue my wandering—not to find another or a better teaching, for I know that one does not exist, but in order to leave behind all teachings and all teachers and to attain my goal on my own or die. (Hesse, 2002, pp. 37-38)

The wayfarer archetype possessed Siddhartha. His psychological need to be independent from everyone foretold the destiny that awaited him. He needed only to stumble upon the destiny that was his upon birth. This represents the power of the trickster archetype as it unfolds during the life sequence of the hero’s quest. The environment allows the psyche to grow into that which it will eventually become. Siddhartha wanted to wander through life with no connection. The environments that he chose to take part in were primarily solitary, and offered no to be dependent upon others in finding realized state of Self. Siddhartha showed resolve to follow this path to its end or die trying. Siddhartha chose the life of a wayfarer, thus abandoning traditional adult undertakings.

Indecisiveness is a common occurrence during adolescence. Indecisiveness about one’s path represents a key factor for engaging the environment to formulate further self-knowledge (Germeijs, Verschueren, & Soenens, 2006). While Germeijs, Verschueren, and Soenens (2006) have shown that indecisiveness accounts for future anxieties concerning one’s ability to cope with career decisions, career choice anxiety also mediates between this indecisiveness and the emergent personality, which prompts an adolescent to partake in personal and environmental exploration needed to master adult-life. Siddhartha knew the lessons associated with self-absorption, meditative contemplation, ascetic devotion, and the ritual practices of the brahmin caste. This represented the industry taught to Siddhartha during his childhood development. However, Siddhartha also needed to learn how to relate to other individuals. Relating to others represented one component of the shadow work Siddhartha needed to undertake to individuate.

The wandering associated with adolescence and young adult-life represents a developmental task that primes the psyche to assume an intact identity. In order for Self to emerge, the ego must dissolve as a means to allow new identity formations to take place. This rounds out the personality, which in turn allows us to relate with others. When Siddhartha confronted the Buddha, his boyhood psychology confronted a transcendent psyche. By confronting a person he idolized, the protagonist stood up to the antagonist who had achieved the goal he sought; this allowed him to learn about life. Experimentation in one’s cultural industry, education, and love occurs during adolescence and young adult development. While Siddhartha showed that he was ready to leave his childhood lessons behind, he had yet to consummate his adult psyche through the development of an intimate relationship with another individual. Siddhartha had learned of his childhood psyche, but did not understand himself through the eyes of another person.

Golden woman. Beauty fashion model girl with golden make up, hair and jewellery on black background

Siddhartha continued to stand there motionless, and for the period of a heartbeat and a breath his heart went cold; he felt it go cold in his breast like a small animal—a bird or a rabbit—when he realized how alone he was. For years he had been homeless and not felt it. Now he felt it. Up till now, even in his deepest meditative absorption, he had been his father’s son… Now he was only Siddhartha, the awakened one, and nothing else… No one was as alone as he was… (Hesse, 2002, p. 45)

This passage gives many references to potency, the emergent possibility of sexuality, and rebirth. In the pagan religions, the rabbit was associated with fertility. The vernal equinox represents the renewal of life that occurs after the deadness of winter transcends upon the land. The rabbit was a pagan symbol of fertility that gave eggs, another symbol of fertility. Siddhartha’s heart went cold, like a small animal, because he sought to satiate the loneliness he felt after he had realized he had no human connection. While Siddhartha transcended his boyhood psychology and saw the world as an adult, he had yet to experience the beauty of an intimate relationship with another person.

Early adult development hinges upon the development of intimate relationships. This construct will be explored further in the next article of this series.


Germeijs, V., Verschueren, K., & Soenens, B. (2006). Indecisiveness and high school students’ career decission making process: Longitudinal associations and the mediational role of anxiety. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 397-410. doi:10.1037/0022.53.4.397

Hesse, H. (2002). Siddhartha: A new translation with an introduction by Paul W. Morris. (C. S. Kohn, Trans.) Boston, MA: Shambhala. (Original work published 1922)



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