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Thomas Maples

The shadow and self: An exploration of Siddhartha’s middle life development.

After Siddhartha left the tutelage of the ascetics and confronted the efficacy of the Buddha’s teaching, he courted a woman to learn the pleasures of an adult relationship. While there is no clear demarcation between developmental stages, the life events that Siddhartha undertook after he won over Kamala transitioned to more adult-like themes.

Siddhartha cut off his hair and beard so that he could become more physically attractive. This transition also made the protagonist more socially acceptable, which is an unwritten requirement for finding and maintaining a social position within the community. In order for Siddhartha to attract the mistress Kamala, he needed to show that he was capable maintaining a stable life. This is evident in the interest that the mistress had in the brahmin’s capability of producing material wealth.

Never before has it happened to me that a shramana came to me out of the forest and wanted to become my student! Never has it happened to me that a shramana with long hair and in an old tattered loincloth came to me. Many youths come to me, and brahmin’s sons are among them, but they come in beautiful clothes, they come in fine shoes, they have perfume in their hair and money in their purses. That is the quality of the youths, shramana, who come to me… I am already beginning to learn from you. Yesterday, too, I learned something. I have gotten rid of the beard and had my hair combed and oiled. I only still lack a little bit, excellent lady: fine clothes, fine shoes, and money in my purse. Know that Siddhartha has undertaken more difficult things than these trifles and achieved them. How shall I not achieve what I set myself as a goal yesterday: to be your friend and to learn the joys of love from you!

Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp. 58-59

Siddhartha was of a noble caste of spiritual practitioners; however, he lacked material wealth because he spent his youth pursuing ascetic ventures. Kamala wanted material wealth, which led Siddhartha to partake in work activities geared to accumulate the wealth the mistress desired. However, Siddhartha was ignorant about the means by which he could attain material wealth.

So then, dear Kamala, advise me: Where should I go to find those three things the fastest? Friend, that is a thing many people would like to know. You must do what you have learned to do, and get money and clothes and shoes for it. There is no other way for a poor man to get money. What can you do?” “I can think, I can wait, and I can fast.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 61

The cultural industries available to a person are dependent on the learning experiences a person attains during his or her formative years. Siddhartha stated that he could think, wait, and fast. These skills indicate that the protagonist has learned a degree of patience. While patience is a positive virtue of personality, it could not produce the wealth that Kamala desired. However, through their conversation Siddhartha realized that he possessed a skill that was highly in demand.

“I also know the sacrificial liturgy,” Siddhartha said, “but I do not want to chant it anymore. I also know magic incantations, but I no longer wish to pronounce them. I have read the scriptures.” Enough! Kamala interrupted him. “You can read and write?” [Siddhartha] “I can certainly do that. A lot of people can.” [Kamala] “Most people cannot. I cannot do so myself. It is very good that you can read and write, very good. And the magic incantations—you will be able to use those too.”

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 63

The law of supply and demand governs the ability that any commodity has to generate material wealth. Siddhartha is literate in a primarily illiterate society. This example shows that particular skill sets can produce wealth when only a few people possess that same skill. However, to produce wealth, Siddhartha needed to sell his particular skill set to a person that was willing to pay for the services he offered.

Siddhartha sought employment from an aging merchant, Kamaswami, who Kamala believed would teach him the art of making money. Siddhartha was able to impress this merchant with his quick wit and literacy skills. The protagonist utilized circular reasoning with the elder to attain the goal he sought. Impressed with his quick wit, intelligence, and the ability he had to read and write, Kamaswami offered Siddhartha a partnership in his business. Collaborating with Kamaswami allowed Siddhartha to begin building the material wealth needed to attract his mate. However, by pursuing the life of a merchant, Siddhartha turned his back on the two identities that led him to this point in life.

Siddhartha was first a Brahmin and secondarily an ascetic. Both social positions pursued matters of spirit and finding the Self as it exists within a higher entity. However, the life of a merchant is very different from the spiritual enlightenment Siddhartha sought. Siddhartha’s middle-life pursuits as a merchant represent the means that allowed him to pursue matters of lust.  

During middle adult-life, Siddhartha pursued wealth to attain sexual favors from Kamala. He wanted to learn how to love another individual. However, Siddhartha learned that love intertwines with materialism; both allow a person to support other individuals, including the next generation in their life pursuits. Siddhartha interviewed with the merchant to pursue lust with his mistress.

He was not in Kamaswami’s house long before he began to take part in his landlord’s business. But every day, at the time she told him, he visited the beautiful Kamala, wearing handsome clothes and fine shoes, and soon he was bringing her gifts too. He learned much from her red, intelligent mouth. He learned much from her soft, supple hand. He was still a mere boy in matters of love and tended to throw himself blindly and insatiably into his pleasures as though into a bottomless pit, but she introduced him from the beginning to the doctrine that one cannot take pleasure without giving it, and that each gesture, each caress, each touch, each glance, each smallest part of the body has its own secret, which brings happiness to the one who knows how to draw it into the open… Here with Kamala lay at this time the value and meaning of his life, not in Kamaswami’s business.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 71

While Siddhartha found meaning in games of love, he also began to understand that people’s lives slowly slip away from them as they participate in the monotony associated with adult affairs.

In truth his heart was not in the business. His business deals had the virtue of producing money for Kamala, and they produced a lot more than he needed for that. Aside from that, Siddhartha’s only interest and curiosity was for the people whose business dealings, handwork, cares, pleasures, and follies had formerly been as alien and remote to him as the moon. As easy as it was for him to talk to everyone, to that very extent there was something that separated him from these people, this was clear to him. And this thing that set him apart was his being a shramana. He saw people going through their lives in the manner of a child or an animal, and he both loved and disdained this at the same time. He saw them striving—and suffering and getting gray—over things that seemed to him completely unworthy of this price: over money, over small pleasures, over a little respect.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp.74-75
Buddhist Monk

This passage shows the objective perspective that Siddhartha assumed towards other individuals. However, by assuming this position completely, he failed to subjectively participate in his own middle-life experience. In Siddhartha’s mind, he represented the sole adult in the childish world that surrounded him. Narcissism isolated Siddhartha from taking part in his life experience during middle adult-life. Siddhartha realized the despair associated with how quickly life passes one by if that person does not actively engage its course. Instead of introspecting about his Self during middle-life, Siddhartha pursued matters of material significance.

Now and then he sensed, deep in his breast, a faint, moribund voice, which faintly warned, softly complained—he could barely hear it. Then one day it came to his mind that he was leading a strange life, that the things he was occupied with were purely a game, that though he was in a cheerful frame of mind and sometimes felt happy, real life was passing him by without touching him. He was playing with his business dealings the way a juggler plays with balls; in the same way he played with the people around him, watched them, was amused by them. But he was not present to all this with his heart, with the wellspring of his being. That spring was running somewhere far away, running on unseen, and had nothing to do with his life anymore. More than once he recoiled from these thoughts, wishing it were possible for him to take part wholeheartedly and enthusiastically in the childish goings-on of everyday life, to be able really to live, really to act, really to enjoy life instead of merely being an observer watching it go by.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 76

Siddhartha found shelter from his growing sense of isolation by developing vices that distracted his inner voice from becoming too problematic.

Siddhartha’s narcissism caused him to believe that he was above other individuals. He sought to understand the plight of other individuals without understanding his course of development. In an elegant allegory spoken to Kamala, Siddhartha compared most individuals to fallen leaves that whirl about life, propelled by the chaotic force of the wind, while he represented the stars, an entity that had a fixed course.

Siddhartha, like all individuals was set on a fixed course the moment he was conceived. If the a-priori nature of the archetype is correct, and a divine plan exists that propagates the life sequence forward, Siddhartha’s destiny was foretold the moment that life began to take root on this planet. Siddhartha was a fallen leaf during his middle-life. He fell to the pressure the shadow exerted on his awaiting vessel. As a child, Siddhartha left the luxurious lifestyle afforded him by his brahmin lineage, only to revisit this lifestyle during middle-life.

Life, like the leaves of a tree withers away during fall, becomes weak, and eventually descends back to the Earth in order to nurture the future generation that will follow through the rebirth process associated with spring. Siddhartha is like the leaf, but is also on a fixed course to the heavens where the stars are located. People exist in unison with the Earth, and eventually descend to its grasps while at the same time ascend towards the heavens to take their place amongst the stars. Siddhartha felt the paradoxical pull of heaven below and heaven above, the haven within that exists from the outside. Siddhartha’s narcissism caused him to believe that he and Kamala were special amongst those child-people. He was blind to the fact that he threw his entire life-force into the pursuit of similar goals he detested. His complete objectivity and indifference towards himself also blinded him. While Siddhartha believed he was different, the only difference that existed centered on his pursuit of life from a removed and objective position. Siddhartha actively watched life pass him by, without ever having taken part in the true nature of its beauty. After playing an extended game of lovemaking, the protagonist understood that he could not find the Self-love he sought through the eyes of another individual.

“You are the best lover I have ever encountered,” she said thoughtfully. “You are stronger than the others, more supple, more willing. You have learned my art well, Siddhartha. Some day, when I am older, I would like to have a child of yours. But in spite of all that, my dear, you have remained a shramana and you do not love me. You love no one, is that not so?”

“That may well be,” Siddhartha said tiredly. “I am like you. You too do not love; otherwise how could you practice love as an art? People of your type are perhaps incapable of love. The child people are capable of it; that is their secret.”

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 78

Siddhartha’s life slipped away as he was unable to find love; the protagonist entered the continual death and rebirth cycle associated with Samsara.

A priest once informed me that hell is a world in which a person denies God’s love. Siddhartha participated in the acts associated with love, but failed to feel its presence. By participating in life from an objective and removed perspective, Siddhartha trapped himself in the daily monotonies associated with Samsara. In the chapter entitled “Samsara,” Hesse (2002) portrayed Siddhartha’s life from a perspective of middle-life stagnation.

The sublime, brilliant wakefulness he had once known—in the prime of his youth, in the days following Gotama’s discourse, following the separation from Govinda—the taut expectancy, that proud independence beyond learning and doctrine, that adaptable readiness to hear the divine voice in his own heart, had gradually become a memory, something transient… Much that had remained in him, but one after the other those things had sunk from view and become covered with dust. Like a potters wheel, which once set in motion continues to turn for a long time, only slowly losing momentum and winding down, in Siddhartha’s soul the wheel of asceticism, the wheel of thinking, the wheel of discrimination, continued to turn for a long time. In fact that wheel was still turning, but slowly and haltingly, and was close to stopping. Slowly, as when moisture forces its way into a dying tree trunk, gradually filling it and causing it to rot, worldliness and lethargy were pushing into Siddhartha’s soul, slowly filling it, making it heavy and tired, reducing it to torpor. On the other hand, his senses had come alive and were learning and experiencing a great deal.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp. 79-80

An old proverb states that the darkest hour of the night occurs just before dawn. Siddhartha actively participated in the shadow aspects of life, the key archetype that drives middle-life development. Siddhartha partook in vices to understand the nature of Samsara. During middle-life, Siddhartha faced the shadow to find the redemptive qualities of his soul.

Siddhartha Gautama
Buddha meditation by orange night – 3D render

Siddhartha’s middle-life consisted of making wealth in order to squander it away. The ascetic gave way to the wealthy man during his middle-life, and Siddhartha felt the trappings that wealth and age had on his soul.

His face was still more intelligent and more spiritual than others’, but it seldom laughed and it took on one after another those qualities one finds so often in the faces of the rich—discontent, petulance, ill temper, lethargy, lovelessness. Gradually the soul sickness of the rich was taking over him. Like a veil, like a thin mist, fatigue settled over Siddhartha, slowly, each day a bit thicker, each month a bit drearier, each year a bit heavier. As a new garment gets old with time, loses its vivid color, gets spotted, wrinkled, worn at the seams, and here and there begins to show weak, threadbare spots, in the same way Siddhartha’s new life, which he had begun after his separation from Govinda, had grown old with the passing years and lost its color and luster, accumulated spots and wrinkles; and here and there, already poking through in an ugly fashion, waited the disappointment and revulsion that lay hidden beneath.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, p. 82

Siddhartha felt the weight of ashes that assure shadow development takes place. While he had yet to feel the full despair the shadow promotes within the Self, he did partake in vices that prompted the shadow to take hold of his soul. In this passage, Siddhartha appears caught between the mentality of youth and the pull of old age.  Siddhartha engaged the shadow archetype during his middle-adult years. In this passage, Hesse (2002) portrayed how the dreams of childhood, like life, slowly begin to slip away from a person when he or she engages the shadow.

Siddhartha had learned to do business, exercise power over people, take pleasure with women; he had learned to wear beautiful clothes, to command servants, and to bathe in perfumed water. He had learned to eat delicately and painstakingly prepared dishes—including fish, meat, and fowl, spices and sweets—and to drink the wine that leads to lethargy and oblivion. He had learned to play dice and chess, to have women dance for him, to have himself carried in a litter, and to sleep in a soft bed. But nonetheless he had continued to feel different from the others and superior to them. He had always looked at them with a touch of disdain, with disdainful contempt, with just that contempt that a shramana always feels towards worldly people… Only gradually and imperceptibly, with the passing of harvests and rainy seasons, did his disdain begin to slacken and his sense of superiority begin to become quiescent.

Hermann Hesse, 2002, pp. 80-81

Siddhartha’s disdain turned to superiority, a complete reversal from the youth who sought to leave the luxury provided by the title he inherited from his family lineage.

During middle-life, Siddhartha worked to pursue the physical pleasures associated with love. Siddhartha learned to generate wealth within a cultural industry. Accumulating wealth was a means to an end for the protagonist; Siddhartha needed wealth to learn Kamala’s loving games. The shadow also consumed Siddhartha’s middle-life development.

Samsara lies at the foundation of Siddhartha’s shadow work; Hesse (2002) showed the shadow work as a never ending cycle of gluttony, greed, ambition, squander, and lavishness from which the protagonist was incapable of feeling love for another individual. While this period represented a crisis within Siddhartha’s soul, it set forward the means by which Siddhartha found redemption.

Chinese House


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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