Saturday, October 20, 2007

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

"Life is the only real counselor; wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissue".

Edith Wharton

This book is about the transition of a boy from his teens to his old age and the different experiences that he goes through in his life to reach that perfect state of enlightenment. Siddhartha was the handsome son of the Brahman. He was a seeker for knowledge. He did not believe in teachers. He felt that life is the best teacher. His parents were very proud of their son. His best friend Govinda worshipped him and followed him. Intelligent, handsome, good mannered, ideal son, sweet voice, perfect decency in movements, ardent will - these were some of his qualities. He was a source of joy for everybody and was loved by everyone. But he was unhappy with himself, with his dreams, restless thoughts and disturbed soul. He felt that the love of his loved ones was not enough to satisfy him. He had started to suspect the teachings of his father and his teachers. He felt that the wisdom passed on by them was not enough as his spirit was not content. He felt that the wisdom was just passed on without really living it. He felt his father and teachers were not at peace with themselves despite being so knowledgeable. He found something missing. The religious acts did not satisfy his atman (soul). He did not feel that state of blissfulness by performing those rituals of daily ablutions and sacrificing acts. Therefore, one day he made the decision of leaving his home and go with the Samanas - the monks who live in the woods under difficult circumstances. While he was leaving the monks, he felt that the world tasted bitter and life was torture. He left with a goal to become empty of all emotions,to become completely disconnected with himself,to find tranquility with an emptied heart,to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts. After exposing himself for three years to the most rigorous acts of self torture, he felt unsatisfied. He left with Govinda to meet Gautam Buddha. He found that Buddha's teachings were perfect but still lacked something, and so he decided to give up his ascetic life and re-enter the other world. He left the place leaving Govinda with the Buddhist monks who now trusted Buddha more than his friend Siddhartha. Siddhartha left in search of himself.Siddhartha now found the world to be a beautiful place to live in. He goes to the city and there he comes across a beautiful woman called Kamala. He falls in love with Kamala and to win her love he starts working with a man called Kamaswami. At first, he tries to remain detached with worldly material pursuits and is intersted only in Kamala but as time advances he falls into the trap of worldly pleasures and starts indulging excessively in gratifying his senses , till one day he realizes that he is ruining himself in an empty game of distractions and this is not what he wanted. He leaves the city feeling unhappy and comes upon a river and decides to drown himself in it. Just when he decides to give up his life, he hears in the river's murmurring a sound "Om" and his sucidal thoughts vanish. After a spiritually as well as physically refreshing sleep, Siddhartha meets for the second time the enlightened ferryman, Vasudeva, and decides to stay with him. The two work together as ferrymen and live for years in peace and content. Together, they listen to the many voices of the river, united in the sacred sound: "Om."
On the other side, Kamala, had given birth to Siddhatha's son. When she received news about the dying Buddha, she set on a pilgrimage with her son in tow to see the dying Buddha, Kamala gets bitten by a snake near the river. Vasudeva finds her and brings her to the hut he shares with Siddhartha. Before she dies, she tells Siddhartha that the boy is his son.
Siddhartha takes care of the spoiled child and tries to instill appreciation of the simple life into him. He fails in this act and becomes disheartened when his son runs away, back to the town. Siddhartha, worried, searches for him. Vasudeva cautions that a father has to let go, has to let his son experience his own suffering--just like Siddhartha's father once had to let go. He realized that he was experiencing the same pain that he had given his father. Life is a circle where you get back what you give. Now Siddhartha is truly enlightened. Recognizing this, Vasudeva goes off into the woods to die in peace. Siddhartha's friend of his youth, Govinda, comes by the river, still a Buddhist monk and still searching for enlightenment. When he asks about the teachings that have brought Siddhartha peace, Siddhartha replies that too much searching can preclude finding, that time is an illusion, that all things are one, and that love for all things is the most important thing in the world. Then Siddhartha asks his still skeptical friend to kiss him on the forehead. After complying, Govinda no longer sees his friend Siddhartha, but rather a sea of people, animals, plants, and other objects of the world. Thus, Govinda discovers the oneness of the universe, just as Gotama, Vasudeva, and Siddhartha had before him. Govinda realizes the perfect truth of Siddhartha's wisdom, and, weeping with wonder, bows down before him.

Knowledge can be acquired but wisdom comes from living and experiencing that knowledge.
About The Author
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was born into a family of Pietist missionaries and religious publishers in the Black Forest town of Calw, in the German state of Wüttenberg. Johannes Hesse, his father, was born a Russian citizen in Weissenstein, Estonia. Hesse's mother, Marie Gundert, was born in Talatscheri, India, as the daughter of the Pietist missionary and Indologist, Hermann Gundert. His parents expected him to follow the family tradition in theology - they had served as missionaries in India. Hesse entered the Protestant seminary at Maulbronn in 1891, but he was expelled from the school. After unhappy experiences at a secular school, Hesse left his studies. He worked a bookshop clerk, a mechanic, and a book dealer in Tübingen, where he joined literary circle called Le Petit Cénacle. During this period Hesse read voluminously and determined the become a writer.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is one of my favorite books, among many others here. We both have a taste for good books.:>

You have written an excellent summary of the book and of Sidddhartha's spiritual journey through denying pleasure, indulging pleasure, depression,fulfilling worldly obligations towards his son, realising the circle of life, ferrying people to happiness and finally knowing all life is one, thus becoming enlightened.

Thanks for the excellent book review!

Sav's Book Club