Author: Hermann Hesse
Bookhad Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
“What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”
The biggest mistake people make immediately when they pick this book is to believe that it’s on Gautama Buddha. The mistake is legitimate; after all, even Buddha was named Siddhartha and any reader who isn’t aware of Hesse’s powerful book would naturally believe it to be so.
That said, the book does have a lot to do with Buddha. Siddhartha, our protagonist is also, very much like Buddha, a being in search of Salvation. The two even cross paths halfway through the book, and Buddha does play a strong hand in the basic structure of the novel.
Siddhartha is a Brahmin who is looking for a deeper meaning to life. Atman, or the Soul. Despite the procedural and regularity of his daily practices Siddhartha does not experience the Emptiness inside of him. He decides that the life of daily ablutions and meditation is not the path that he would like to go on. He decides to join the the group of wandering ascetics, The Samanas much against the wishes of his father. Govinda, his friend and follower joins him on the path that they believe will lead them to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasures and sorrow – to let the Self die!
“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”
One fine day, the two friends hear that The Enlightened One, who calls himself Buddha has shown himself and has gathered a large following. Govinda and Siddhartha take permission from the elder Samana and leave for further learning. They meet Buddha and accept the elegance and far reaching philosophy of his teachings, but Siddhartha has doubts about its path. Govinda decides to part ways with Siddhartha when the latter respectfully disagrees that teachings from another being, no matter how great, can quench the thirst of his life’s mission.
“Words do not express thoughts very well. they always become a little different immediately they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.”
Siddhartha believes that nobody would find salvation without experiencing the myriad confluences of life’s teachings. Mere teachings from another being will never banish the Self and Emptiness will never be attained.
From here onward, Siddhartha leaves the path of ascetics and enters Sansara, the social life.
This is where I stop writing about the book’s meanderings and begin with my own. Up till this point, the Part One, as it’s called the life of Siddhartha is revolving around him trying harder than even the wandering Samanas and the Brahmins of his villages and elders to attain the emptiness and to let go off Atman or the Soul so that he could attain Salvation.
But Part Two of Hermann Hess’s book deals with society. He tells us how Siddhartha, disenchanted with the failure of his attaining Emptiness walk on without Govinda to a village. He realises that not until he tastes the different flavours of Self can he completely understand it; not unless he knows what Self is will he be able to reject it and attain Emptiness. The new Siddhartha falls in love with a courtesan; attains riches by doing business and slowly becomes trenched in the life of a businessman. He plays dice, he drinks wine, he gambles his riches and he forgets his life’s journey.
The last part of the book, the latter part of Part Two when Siddhartha leaves Kamala, the courtesan, to go back to his old life is when the books takes the flavour to its zenith. Every sentence is quotable, every line is wet with meaning and dripping with philosophy.
Reading this book was a learning experience. It reinforces the age old beliefs of attaining harmony and rejects the blatant use of overtly zealous and pretentious acts of attaining completeness by means of rituals and pointless meditations. Metaphors aside, the book goes deep in to advocating the use of experience instead of blind followings. Siddhartha learns this the hard way. His son is not exactly to his liking and runs away from the slow and poor life of an ascetic. Vasudev, a ferryman and sage, tells him this:
“Do you really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them?”
Although, personally speaking, I refuse to believe the possibility of attaining anything worthwhile in today’s life that we lead (because short attention span), but the word is relativity. It is about how the simpleness of the everyday is the magic of the higher powers itself.
I wouldn’t readily suggest this book to a reader who hasn’t been a reader for long. It is like a slow digesting pill that only the veteran can digest. Not that I am not a fan of this kind of persuasive writing, but few have the stomach of reading a book that is so poetic in its flavour, that metaphors and literal motifs fuse as one and have far reaching ramifications in the reader’s mind.
Siddhartha has a gestation period depending upon the reader’s ability to look through the long paragraphs and discover gems in languages that hide in plain sight!