Every spiritual quest is ultimately a quest for meaning. Most people are contented with readymade meanings provided by religions because personal quests are arduous and even hazardous. Religions and other readymade meanings fail to make sense to some people and such people have to undertake the torturous path themselves. Herman Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha, tells the story of one such quest.
Siddhartha is a young Brahmin of ancient India who is not contented with the truths and meanings given by his religion. He happens to listen to the Samanas (wandering ascetics) and chooses to join them. His friend Govinda too joins him. From the ascetics he learns to liberate the self from its traditional trappings like family, property and sensuality. But Siddhartha is still discontented. Self-denial is not enlightenment, he learns.
Both Siddhartha and his friend Govinda leave the ascetics after they listen to Gotama Buddha’s teachings about the Eightfold Path for enlightenment. The Buddha too fails to satisfy Siddhartha. There are no formulas for enlightenment, he understands. The Buddha’s enlightenment is his. Siddhartha has to find his own. Govind, however, is happy with the Buddha and sticks while Siddhartha goes away on his quest.
He crosses a river and walks into a beautiful woman called Kamala who is a courtesan. He decides to try a new path to enlightenment. Kamala laughs at him. He is an impecunious monk who has nothing to offer her while her lovers are all wealthy people who come with a lot of precious gifts. He decides to create the wealth required to learn love from Kamala and she helps him get a job with a wealthy trader. Eventually Kamala teaches him the world’s pleasures. He gambles and drinks apart from having a lot of exquisite sex with Kamala.
Disillusionment strikes him again sooner than later and he is back at the river which he had crossed a few years ago. The ferryman tells him to learn lessons from the river. While he is doing that over the next many years, one day Kamala arrives there with a boy who is actually Siddhartha’s son with her. She is on the way to visit the dying Gotama. But she is bitten by a snake and just before her death she entrusts the eleven-year-old boy to Siddhartha. The boy soon abandons Siddhartha and runs away to the city. He has to learn life in his own way just as Siddhartha has been doing, the ferryman says.
The river enlightens Siddhartha on how life and death, joy and pain, good and evil are all parts of a complex whole. Nobody can teach you wisdom; it has to be found. Don’t seek, but find. Seeking implies a goal and you will see that goal. Finding is a discovery of what there is, not what you create with your imagination, fancy or anything else. “Wisdom cannot be imparted,” as the novel says. “Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else… Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom.”
Siddhartha’s life has been a painful quest all along until in his old age he learnt the essential oneness of everything: the earth and the stars, light and darkness, man and beast… It is not a theoretical knowledge, however; it is an experience. The only enlightenment worth its name is an experience.
Unless your religion becomes your experience it is meaningless. Rules and Rubrics are not religion. Prayers are not. Scriptures are not. Then what is religion? Your experience of the profundity of life. An experience of a joy and peace that tranquilises your being by connecting it with the entire cosmos. You feel that like a creature in an ocean, an ocean of grace, swimming in eternal bliss, surrounded by love, light and lightness.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
14. No Exit
16. The Plague
18. The Rebel
Tomorrow: To Kill a Mockingbird