Sunday, January 15, 2017

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Thanks Alexia and thanks Brian (briansbabblingbooks.com) for recommending Siddartha by Herman Hesse.  I may have read a short story by Hesse when I was in high school but never got around to reading his classic novel Siddartha about a man's search for enlightment and I am happy to have finally done so. This review will contain spoilers.

Siddartha is a beautifully written poetic novel published in 1922 and set in India around the 6th to 4th century BC.  When we meet Siddartha he is a young man, the son of a Brahmin which is a priestly caste in Hinduism. Everyone in Siddartha's village including his parents admire him greatly for his piety, his knowledge.  But Siddartha decides to leave his village because he does not feel his father and the Brahman elders have the answers he seeks.  He notices that after all their years of studying, making offerings and praying they have not found peace and enlightment. They have not reached nirvana.

So accompanied by his best friend Govinda, Siddartha joins the Samanas who practice lives of extreme self denial, fasting and meditation.  Siddartha at first takes very well to this ascetic life but he becomes disillusioned once again because after fasting and meditating  he can't maintain the altered state and he awakens back into the material world with all its pain, suffering and complexities. Siddartha and Govinda leave the Samanas and decide next to follow Gotama, the historic Buddha. Siddartha admires this great man but comes to the realization that the Buddha has achieved enlightment not by learning it from teachers but rather by going on his own journey which cannot be taught.

Govinda though decides to stay with the community of Buddhist monks while Siddartha leaves to continue his search.  Siddartha also makes the decision to have no more teachers and that rather than trying to negate the self in an attempt to reach enlightenment he will try to find out who he is and listen to his own voice for instructions on how to proceed in life. Siddartha also decides he must embrace not only the world of thought and meditation but also the physical world, the world of the senses which he has shunned up to now.

Siddartha armed with this insight moves to the city.  He finds love and wealth.  He lives in a beautiful house, eating rich foods, drinking fine wines, gambling.  Years go by.  He forgets what he learned from the Samanas, the Buddhists and the Brahmans. Siddartha becomes disgusted with himself and leaves the city.  Now, no longer a young man, Siddartha very depressed about how his life has turned out decides to end it all by drowning himself in the river.  But something stops him, the Brahman faith and the holy word "Om" return to him in his hour of need and rather than drown himself, Siddartha goes into a deep sleep by the side of the river with the word "Om" in his thoughts and he awakens no longer depressed but at peace.

Siddartha continues his journey for enlightment for a bit longer. There are still a few more lessons to learn and experiences to be had but it will ultimately be reuniting with an elderly ferryman named Vasudeva who has been ferrying people across the river for most of his life who will teach Siddartha some eternal truths. Siddartha also meets his old friend Govinda who has not had an easy life either possibly because unlike Siddartha who took part in the world and experienced heartbreak, love and all that life has to offer, Govinda stayed in a rather sheltered life with the monks all these years and never got a chance to go on his own journey which is needed to come to a realization of what life is about.

My summary cannot match the experience of reading Siddartha.  Its written in a beautiful and understandable style.  There are many truths to be found in its pages. Siddartha is a book that I feel needs to be read more than once and throughout one's life because as one's life changes what you take away from the book will change as well.  So thanks again to Alexia and Brian for recommending Siddartha which I too highly recommend.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the mention.

    This is one of my all time favorite book. The "Om" moment is such a powerful passage.

    I agree that this is a book to read during various stages of life. It is time that I reread this again.

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    1. Hi Brian

      I remember what you wrote about Siddartha being a good book for stressful times and boy do we have them now. My cousin Alexia also recommended Hesse's novel Narccicus and Goldmund very highly so I might place that book on my list as well.

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