Monday, 31 October 2016

Siddartha - Hermann Hesse


Hermann Hesse goes into the Mystic and returns clutching a tale about searching for the only One. It's a divine light mission in the proper sense, once again mining themes familiar to all his works.
Essentially, all of Hesse's books are vehicles to convey his thoughts, his ideas and his beliefs; Siddartha being one of the most popular he's ever written. There's no real reason why it should be one of his best received books as there's nothing particularly unusual about it or anything that makes it particularly better than any of his others, though that's not to say it isn't any good, and in fact - it's very good indeed.

It's the story of a young man by the name of Siddartha, the son of a Brahmin, who leaves his family home to venture out into the world in a search for enlightenment. He spends a period of his life in absolute poverty, living in the woods with no roof over his head, no possessions and hardly any clothes to stand up in. A total ascetic.
From this period in his life he learns to think, wait and fast; though he comes to understand also that by continuing down this path of denial of all worldly matters he will still not attain Nirvana and a return to Godhead.

He gets to meet a living Buddha who many seekers after the Truth are following but sees that if he was to follow him too, still he would not become a living Buddha himself but would remain a disciple. He chooses instead to take a completely opposite path and throws himself headlong into the world of pleasure and material gain. After some years, however, he discovers that wealth is a ghetto leading ultimately to the extinguishing of the soul.

Where then might lay the answer? Battered and bruised by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and contemplating suicide, he rests by a river and it is here he has a revelation: 'The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future.'
He sees his life also as a river where Siddartha the boy, Siddartha the mature man and Siddartha the old man are only separated by shadows, not through reality. He sees his previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and return to Brahma not in the future. 'Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence'.
So he becomes a ferryman, spending the remainder of his days learning from the river and listening to its many voices, which when heard in totality becomes just the one voice and the one word: Om.

Hesse concludes that there is such a thing as an Ultimate Truth but that there's no single path to it, and that it isn't anything that can actually be taught, only realised. Everyone must be allowed to live their own life and to follow their own path even if it might cause them harm, though with the proviso that it shouldn't cause harm to others.
Siddartha concludes that 'love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.'

Siddartha is a good book and Hermann Hesse was a very good storyteller. For further reading on the subjects he writes about here I'd recommend anyone to go to the primary sources, those being the Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads. For all that, however, Siddartha by Hermann Hesse is a good place to start.

John Serpico

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