Siddhartha and Archetypal Themes of Early Childhood Development

The story Siddhartha written by the Nobel Laureate author Herman Hesse has differences from the true life of Siddhartha Gautama, the prince that would eventually become the Buddha. Hesse presents Siddhartha as born to the Brahman caste, and having grew up in an intact family who lived near a riverbank situated by a forest. In reality, the Buddha lost his mother as an infant, and was raised by his father as a prince. In Hesse’s story, Siddhartha’s father and the teachers of his community expose him to intense spiritual training, while his mother exposes him to aesthetic pleasures. This differs greatly from the true life of Siddhartha Gautama, who was denied the capacity to leave the palace gates for fear his father had that he would be exposed to spiritual practice.

Shadows flowed in his dark eyes in the mango grove as he played his boy’s games, as his mother sang, during the sacred sacrifices, while is father, the scholar, taught, and during the discourses of wise men. For a long time now Siddhartha had taken part in the discourses of the wise men, training in debate… training in the art of contemplation… in the practice of meditative absorption. (Hesse, 2002, p. 3)

In Hesse’s story, he presents Siddhartha’s upbringing as rather typical. Siddhartha was born and raised by a loving mother and father and was taught and guided by the traditions important to his family. However, the passage alludes to there being something shadowy present in his life, something he yearned to take part in.

In the story, Siddhartha is a brahmin. The brahmins were a group of spiritual practitioners and religious figureheads that adhered to the spiritual teachings and traditions of the Vedas. During childhood, Siddhartha’s education consisted of learning to perform ritual ablutions, offering sacrifices to the Gods, and sitting in meditative contemplation. However, “shadows flowed in his dark eyes” as he watched his childhood life pass bye.

The Archetypal Shadow.

As was shown above, the beginning of Hesse’s story presents a number of themes that correlate the shadow and the protagonist’s emergent ego. While enlightenment is what Siddhartha achieved, the paradox between the light and shadow introduced in the beginning of the story centers on Siddhartha’s search for a home within himself. Hermann Hesse (2002) wrote the beginning of the story from an omniscient perspective, and the passage above alludes to the main character letting his life pass by; it is apparent that the protagonist in the above citation does not actively engage his life. Instead, he allows shadows of reality to flow like consciousness through his dark eyes.

The polarities common to the conscious and unconscious, the shadow and enlightenment, are precursors to the story that will unfold upon itself. In this passage, Siddhartha appears to not yet be conscious of the path he will engage; instead, the lessons he learns from the brahmins instantly pass into the shadow material of his unconscious. This will eventually become the driving force from which he began his journey to understand his true nature.

Like all children, Siddhartha began life in a perfect state.

He already knew how to say the OM without a sound, the word of words, to speak it soundlessly inward with the in-breath and soundlessly outward with the out-breath, with his mind collected, his brow aglow with the radiance of a clear-thinking intellect. He already knew how to see his being’s atman within him, indestructible, one with the universe. (Hesse, 2002, p. 3)

Early childhood represents a perfect state of development. Consciousness is open during childhood to all possibilities because it has no means by which to make conscious judgment about an event’s positive or negative attributes. The psyche, governed by archetypes can only be open to the possibilities of the polarities that come online during the development of the conscious. In this passage, Siddhartha exists in a state of perfection. Knowing atman, “indestructible, one with the universe,” represents a type of consciousness that is associated with paradise, before the development of the conscious forces it to fall.

Bug Boy Child with Glowing Butterfly at Night

Childhood Innocence. The age where we truly allow our dreams to flourish.

Like other children, Siddhartha spent his early developmental years under the tutelage, rules, moral commandments, and prohibitions adhered to by his parents, teachers, and the elders of the community. Siddhartha grew up in a social caste system common to the Indian subcontinent during the 5th century BCE. Siddhartha grew up in a culture where a strict class system governed the economic and professional opportunities available to any person. Siddhartha was of the brahmin caste.

While the caste system in Indian culture is much less prevalent now than it was in Siddhartha’s time, it continues as a socially sanctioned economic and professional class system employed in smaller Indian villages. Siddhartha’s father and mother viewed him to be a prince amongst the brahmins, the highest caste in India during this historical period. As a child, Siddhartha grew up around material wealth. This wealth and the spiritual training he received provided the impetus from which he lashed out against the inheritance provided him by his family lineage.

The brahmin caste consists primarily of teachers, sages, scholars, and priests. The second rung of the Indian caste system is the Kshatriyas, who represent the ruler and warrior classes. While this particular caste had a majority of the political power during Siddhartha’s time, the brahmins shared this power by advising the ruling parties of the Indian subcontinent (Brahman, 2010). The third caste, the Vaishyas provided work as agriculturalists and traders and the fourth caste, the Shudras were service providers and artisans. While the caste system of India represents a socially sanctioned cultural practice common to Siddhartha’s time, it was more of an economical practice rather than a religious dogma. While Siddhartha was born in the highest caste, his journey to understand his personal nature led him to disavow his brahmin heritage.

To his father, Siddhartha represented his lineage of spiritual devotion. Siddhartha was destined to perform the same sacrifices and ablutions practiced amongst the priests of India.

Joy leaped in his father’s heart over his brilliant son, so thirsty for knowledge. He saw a great sage and a priest growing in him, a prince among brahmins. (Hesse, 2002, p. 4)

Siddhartha’s mother loved her son with the passion any mother engages her son as a means to help them grow into their own being.

Bliss leaped in his mother’s bosom as she watched him—watched him walking, watched him sitting and standing—Siddhartha, the strong, the beautiful, moving with his lithe-limbed walk, greeting her with perfect grace. (Hesse, 2002, p. 4)

Siddhartha also acquired the attention of the young girls of his community, as well as the love and devotion of one particular friend, Govinda. Both parents had dreams for their son; however, the dreams a parent has for their child do not always coincide with the dreams a child has for him or herself. Siddhartha fought his parent’s expectations, which initiated an Oedipal conflict shown in the dynamics of the story.

Siddhartha’s father expected him to carry on the family lineage of scholarship and priestly duties common to the brahmin caste. Although Hesse (2002) did not directly list his mother’s expectations, inference is apparent in the sentence following the explanation of the personal dynamics Siddhartha’s mother had with him. “Love stirred in the hearts of the young daughters of the brahmins when Siddhartha passed through the city streets, with his radiant brow, with his imperial glance, with his slender hips” (Hesse, 2002, p. 4).

Siddhartha’s mother focuses on his physical prowess. She focuses on the physical mannerisms he presents to the women of their community. His mother shows that she wishes her son to acquire an appropriate mate and learn the arts of love from a woman. While both parents showed active involvement in their son’s development, Siddhartha grew discontent with following the path of his parents expectations; this eventually led to the development of enough shadow material that would eventually force the protagonist to seek his own path. While Siddhartha was destined to live his own course, he was also required to learn cultural industry he would need as a child to assure his survival into adult life.

Childhood consists of learning the customs, traditions, and social expectations common to one’s culture. Siddhartha’s father was his first teacher. He taught him the practices and beliefs common to the brahmins. Great sages also taught Siddhartha about the Vedas, the ontology and epistemology of acquiring knowledge, and the art of meditative contemplation. However, like many growing children, Siddhartha’s developing mind began to view that the lessons taught by others were erroneous. Siddhartha’s mind developed the ability to formulate knowledge for itself; because he became a conscious being capable of formulating his own opinions, he became despondent to the teachings his community imparted upon him, and instead sought to learn of the world for himself.

Siddhartha realized that he could not understand Atman through the teachings of other individuals.

But Siddhartha was no joy to himself; he brought no pleasure to himself. Walking on the rosy paths of the fig garden, sitting in the bluish shadows of the meditation grove, washing his limbs in his daily baths of purification, performing sacrifices in the deep shade of the mango wood, perfect in grace of his gestures, he was beloved of everyone, a joy to all–but still there was no joy in his heart. Dreams came to him and restless thoughts. They flowed into him from the water of the river, glittered from the night stars, melted out of the rays of the sun. Dreams came and a restless mind, rising in the smoke of the offerings, wafting from the verses of the Rigveda, seeping into him from the teachings of the old brahmins. Siddhartha had begun to breed discontent within himself. He had begun to feel that his father’s love and his mother’s love… would not bring him contentment and satisfaction, would not be sufficient to his needs. (Hesse, 2002, p. 5)

In this passage, Hesse presents a young Brahmin undergoing a depressive state. Siddhartha became conscious of the world that surrounded him, and actively engaged the daily duties prescribed by his culture to take part in its industry. Siddhartha was “perfect in grace of his gestures.” He knew how to go through the daily motions of life with perfect mannerisms, but showed no ability to take heart felt pride in the work he undertook. He showed the makings of a spoiled child in this passage; he was beloved by all, but this was not enough for his emerging ego. Siddhartha “felt no joy in his heart.” His heart bred discontent within itself as his ego grew to encapsulate the innocent Self from which his shadow material arose.

Siddhartha shows negative qualities in this passage. In many ways, he shows aspects common to the negative aspect of the divine child archetype. He bred discontent with all the lessons imparted to him as a child. While a natural developmental phenomena, as children tend to breed discontent for the stagnant exercises they must participate in, Siddhartha began to loathe all aspects of the values he was taught during childhood. Moore and Gillette (1990) believed that the shadow form of the divine child archetype was the high chair tyrant. Siddhartha was spoiled, consumed by what he wanted, and offered nothing in return for the nurturing gifts he was given during childhood. While he had parents that loved him, Siddhartha did not reciprocate their love. Instead, he believed that the love they imparted on him was not good enough to fill his awaiting vessel.

The discontent felt by Siddhartha represents an aspect of what drives a person to begin separating from their parents. However, Siddhartha never really accepted the love of either his parents or friends in Hesse’s story. Instead, Hesse presented his protagonist as reclusive, staying to himself, and dreaming of a life of grandeur that would fill his awaiting psyche; however, he remained aloof to many of the social parental expectations he was subjected too. Siddhartha’s discontent represents a crisis point in the story. Hesse engages the reader to take part in the general angst the protagonist feels for the social lessons he was taught, which would eventually lead him to separate from his parents. Siddhartha’s adolescence emerged when he separated from his family lineage and his social position; however, these themes will be further explored in a chapter that deals with the archetypal themes that effect adolescent development.


Brahman. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 04, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:

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

Moore, R., & Gillette, D. (1990). King, warrior, magician, lover: Rediscovering the archetypes of the mature masculine. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins.

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