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Siddhartha



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:
14. No Exit
17. Quixote
18. The Rebel
Tomorrow: To Kill a Mockingbird

Comments

  1. Have heard a lot about this book and it's insights about the spiritual journey of self-discovery! I have it on my Kindle, will read it one of these days. Thanks for the nudge!

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    1. My pleasure, Shilpa. You'll definitely enjoy this book.

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    2. All this while, I used to think that this book was about the Buddha Himself. ��

      Thank you for the summary. :)

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    3. The title can mislead. Siddhartha in the novel is also a buddha in the end, an enlightened person.

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  2. Revisiting the story of Siddhartha and his enlightenment was very pleasant and inspirational. Didn't know about the book. Would definitely include in my wish-list. Thank you for this post.

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    Replies
    1. Hesse is a Nobel laureate. Most of his novels excite.

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  3. Such an insightful piece of writing !! Brings to mind many questions that one seeks answers for !!

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    1. Thanks Ektaa. The book is highly inspirational. A movie was made by Hollywood on this novel with Sasi Kapoor playing the lead role.

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  4. This book is already on my bookshelf but I am surprised it never came down from there. Definitely will be interested in knowing more about his journey to spiritual enlightenment.

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    1. Once you begin reading it, you won't put it down, I think.

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  5. Each person's journey of self-discovery is their own. Nobody can help them with it. This book has some inspiring thoughts.

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    1. Books and experienced people may help in the process. But ultimately the discovery is personal.

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  6. Truly the series put out by you gives us the thirst for reading and what better time than the lockdown. Thanks a million sir.

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  7. When I first read this book, I found it blasphemous because I am a Buddhist. However much later when I re-read it, I enjoyed it a lot more.

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    1. We should not let religion interpret literature. Anyway, Hesse never wrote anything against Buddhism, as you realises eventually.

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  8. I love the way you simplify these profound texts for your readers. Siddhartha is beautiful but not everyone's cup of tea. Once we took it up as a project for a new edition and it was one of the most difficult texts for me. I also find your concluding words leaving a subtle lesson very inspiring. But as you said, we each seek...No find our own wisdom.

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    1. My intention is to create a general interest in these classics. I feel as long as people don't read the classics, they remain shallow in thinking.

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  9. To each their own. Paths can be many so would be the experiences and so would be wisdom gathered, towards enlightenment. The book appears to me very philosophical, profound. Going by the narrative, I think I am not ready yet to absorb the depths of insights from the book.

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    1. Hesse was immensely interested in Indian philosophy. The book is thoroughly influenced by Indian philosophy.

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  10. Loved the part where it says you need to find wisdom and not seek it. It's like a personal quest and allowing that quest to be the destination. I also feel it requires a certain sense of surrender that you may never find the answer you're looking for.

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    1. Yes, surrender is vital. Hesse wouldn't ask you to look for the answer, the answer reveals itself. But maybe - as you imply - there is no such answer: the quest is the end.

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  11. Have heard of this book.... I love the message of this book. Wisdom when imparted does sound foolish to another person. Wisdom cannot be imparted indeed. One has to learn life on his own. But yes, I thought wisdom is something you need to seek... But if that means it's like seeing it as a goal... Then well, I am not sure wisdom can be found ever. I feel it just grows and there is no end to it. It's a life long process!!

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    1. Wisdom is about keeping our heart and mind open. The moment we let a religion or scripture or convention or anything fixed take over, we lose the way to wisdom. These things can be guidelines. In the end, the light is always personal. We see it. It reveals itself.

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