by Herman Hesse
Date: Feb 3, 2021
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha, Sakyamuni, the enlightened one; The man, the myth, the legend. I've been fascinated by stories of Buddha for as long as I can remember. His journey always felt ethereal and other-worldly.
"Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.
- The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell"
True to this quote, the book is about the journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha. Herman Hesse's genius lies in naming his protagonist Siddhartha and placing him during the time of the Buddha. While the Buddha's journey was possibly very different, they both seem to have converged upon the same capital-T Truth. This book has given me something of great value, it has affirmed my suspicion, a gnawing feeling that the Truth cannot be taught or conveyed solely through words. Rather one has to find it, live it, experience it.
As a young man, Siddhartha embarks on a lifelong journey, seeks different experiences in life, and learns more about himself and the world in the process. Similar to the allegory in this book, I think we all need to follow our own pathm if we choose a quest for peace and enlightenment. This is one of those books where you can glean what you can glean only when you're ready to glean what you are ready to glean. I think I'll revisit it from time to time, just to understand the underlying theme and insights from a different perspective.
N.B: I was named Gautham as an homage to the Buddha. I was told that my father wanted to name me Siddharth, but an astrologer advised my parents not to. Hindu astrological rules dictated that the first letter of my name should be G. My mom was delighted that her firstborn wouldn't named after an ascetic who discarded familial bonds and duties in search of enlightenment. But sensing a loophole, my Dad pounced on the name Gautham. Given this history and my Indian origin, it feels almost pre-destined that I'd be drawn to Buddhism. I found it fitting and quite sardonically funny that I'd chance upon this book when I'm going through yet another existential crisis, pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Maybe, just myabe, I would find the same capital-T Truth, albeit on a different path :)
“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”
“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.”
“So she thoroughly taught him that one cannot take pleasure without giving pleasure, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every last bit of the body has its secret, which brings happiness to the person who knows how to wake it. She taught him that after a celebration of love the lovers should not part without admiring each other, without being conquered or having conquered, so that neither is bleak or glutted or has the bad feeling of being used or misused.”
“When someone seeks," said Siddhartha, "then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?" That 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.”
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else ... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
“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.”