Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Siddhartha - Herman Hesse

Reread the classic again to see if it was anything different. As with all these books, it did make much more sense now. I do not remember what I took from the book fifteen years ago when I first read it, but now I am blown away by the simplicity of presenting such a complex thought, the meaning of life itself, from the perspective of a Indian youth not too different from Gautama Buddha really.

Siddhartha is the son of a Brahmin and as he grows up he is seized by the need to seek knowledge. He leaves his home against the wishes of his father and joins the Samanas, who live in the forest and live almost like wild men with no clothes. Accompanied by his friend Govinda, Siddhartha seeks knowledge, trying out different philosophies austerities, rituals and penances but finds it not. He does not join the fold of the Buddha whom he meets though Govinda does. Instead Siddhartha goes out seeking knowledge on his own, just as Buddha had done. Knowledge can be taught, wisdom must be experienced he feels.

In his quest he realises that perhaps his route need not come from renouncing life. So he embraces life and its pleasures, meets Kamala the courtesan who tells him that she will teach him the art of pleasure and love if he earns riches and comes in fine clothes. Siddhartha does that, using the three things he knows - I can think, I can wait and I can fast. He earns much, loses his focus, loses interest in life and leaves the life of Samsara. As he wanders he meets Vasudeva the ferry man who knows the art of listening and nothing else, who knows the river better than anyone else.  Siddhartha joins him and the two old men ferry people across the river and learn about life from the river. Kamala, who has now given up her job as a courtesan, brings her son with Siddhartha and leaves him with his father. Siddhartha goes through the cycle of suffering for his child again, wishes to protect him, and finally learns to let go. When he lets go, he allows wisdom to flow.

As the book draws to a close there is a great energy that builds with it, great knowledge seeping through the words and acts.

'You seek too much, and as a result you cannot find. Seeking is to have a goal, finding is to have no goal, to be free, to be receptive.' 

'The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source, at the mouth...' 

It is a wonderful piece of work and I cannot help but think how Herman Hesse thought so clearly as he told the story firmly placed in such a rigid structure as that of our lives. Wonderful. Must read every once in five years.


Rajendra said...

I agree. Nothing to beat it for brevity AND clarity- very rare.

Harimohan said...

Raja, I agree. That's where even the Old Man and the Sea scores. But one cannot miss the great amount of knowledge that must have been processed before such clearly articulated thought expresses itself.