May 20, 2011

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

There are some books which are light and heavy and the same time; the grammar is simple and words and the sentences are easy to read but the thoughts are prolix and pertinent. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is one such book. Rating this book would be a sin, and i would instead recommend it to all; especially to those who are confused - confused about spiritualism. And even if you do not believe in spiritualism, read this book, for it explains some of the most beautiful things which are fundamental to many relationships in our life.

This book tries to reflect on certain facets of life and spiritualism, without directly providing solutions to them, it does not sound very pedantic or didactic at the same time; and hence is one of the MUST reads. The story is NOT about BUDDHA; dont be mistaken by the title. The plot is that of a young boy who tries to discover himself and things around him and in the due course, like a snake shedding its skin, keeps transforming and experiencing different phases in his life.

Born in a brahman family, he leaves his parents searching for the 'TRUTH' in his life:
A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal. Once all of my self was overcome and had died, once every desire and every urge was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer my self, the great secret.
His pal Govinda joins him in his journey and they leave together. He spends his adolescence with the samanas in the forests. The curious and restless mind of Siddhartha questions everything and they also question the life of the samanas and their path towards achieving the TRUTH.
He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find.
Siddharta meets Gotama(Buddha) during his journey and questions him on his teachings with utmost respect:
but the uniformity of the world, that everything which happens is connected, that the great and the small things are all encompassed by the same forces of time, by the same law of causes, of coming into being and of dying, this is what shines brightly out of your exalted teachings, oh perfected one. But according to your very own teachings, this unity and necessary sequence of all things is nevertheless broken in one place, through a small gap, this world of unity is invaded by something alien, something new, something which had not been there before, and which cannot be demonstrated and cannot be proven: these are your teachings of overcoming the world, of salvation. But with this small gap, with this small breach, the entire eternal and uniform law of the world is breaking apart again and becomes void. Please forgive me for expressing this objection.
Gotama does reply to him as a true teacher and informs him of true intentions of his teachings and their goal.
But be warned, oh seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of opinions and of arguing about words. There is nothing to opinions, they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, everyone can support them or discard them. But the teachings, you've heard from me, are no opinion, and their goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is what Gotama teaches, nothing else.
Siddhartha and Govinda part ways ; Govida decides to stay with Gotama whereas Siddhartha proceeds to discover more. Here comes the crucial phase in Siddhartha's life wherein he meets Kamala, a courtesan in a city with whom he spends a few years in the riches and also has a son.  Siddhartha leaves Kamala again and spends the rest of the years with the ferryman in the river. The ferryman is the second most important character in this story, who teaches many aspects to Siddhartha by adopting the River as the source of inspiration; the river manifesting itself as a teacher and guide from time to time. 

The Last chapter of the book, aptly titled Govida, who is the protaganist's pal, is probably the crescendo of the entire performance. Siddharta meets his pal and the dialogue is very intense sprouting different thought processes in the reader's mind. Every paragraph in this chapter is a box of gems; and i would like to quote a few of them here.
"When someone is searching," said Siddhartha, "then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there are many things you don't see, which are directly in front of your eyes."
Siddharta goes onto explain about the 'Truth' in the life to Govinda:
he opposite of every truth is just as true! That's like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with words, it's all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness.

When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. It cannot be done differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. A person or an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never entirely holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this, because we are subject to deception, as if time was something real.
And here comes the 'Anbe Sivam'(Love is God) moment, wherein Siddhartha hints at Buddha(God) in each one of us:
The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous, and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman.
I have always believed in symbolism and Siddhartha uses the same instrument to teach Govinda on the essence of the different spiritual paths and goals.
I did it without any specific intention. Or perhaps what I meant was, that love this very stone, and the river, and all these things we are looking at and from which we can learn. I can love a stone, Govinda, and also a tree or a piece of bark. This are things, and things can be loved. But I cannot love words. Therefore, teachings are no good for me, they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no smell, no taste, they have nothing but words. Perhaps it are these which keep you from finding peace, perhaps it are the many words. Because salvation and virtue as well, Sansara and Nirvana as well, are mere words, Govinda. There is no thing which would be Nirvana; there is just the word Nirvana.

Quoth Govinda: "Not just a word, my friend, is Nirvana. It is a thought."
Siddhartha continued: "A thought, it might be so. I must confess to you, my dear: I don't differentiate much between thoughts and words. To be honest, I also have no high opinion of thoughts. I have a better opinion of things.
To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I'm only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.
Do read this amazing book and let me know of your comments. The book is also available in Gutenberg.