Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
I was curious about this book since this was supposed to be a favorite of Vishal Sikka, he quoted from this couple of times before. It was an interesting read – but cannot say I understood much. It is a problem with such writing which borders on spiritual/philosophy – it is so vague that sometime I think whether the author is springing a trick to see how many people recognize that this is all made up. But then they may know something which cannot be put into words or as the book says wisdom that could not be taught.
Premise was interesting – a man called Siddhartha goes through a similar journey of discovery as the Gautama Buddha, in the same timeframe as Buddha. That premise allows to present an alternate version of the journey and a different perspective. It reminds of “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl, though drastically different circumstances.
Few quotes I had noted down. Author talks about “Childlike person” to refer to us mere mortals. Siddhartha goes through a tryst with worldly life and comes out of it -
I had to spend many years losing my spirit, to unlearn thinking again, to forget oneness of things. Isn't it just as if I had turned slowly and on a long detour from a man into a child, from a thinker into a childlike person? And yet, this path has been very good, and yet, the bird in my chest has not died. But what a path this has been! I had to pass through so much stupidity, through so much vice, through so many error, through so much disgust and disappointment and woe, just to become a child again and to be able to start over again. But it was right, so my heart says "Yes" to it, my eyes smile to it. I've had to experience despair, I've had to sink down to the most foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly and awake properly again.
He becomes apprentice of a ferry boatman at one point and learns to listen. Good one about really, truly listening – suspending judgment..
He was taught by the river. Continuously, learned from it. Most of all, he learned from it to listen, to pay close attention with a quiet heart, with a waiting, opened soul, without passion, without a wish, without judgment, without an opinion.
He loses himself over his love for his son and goes through another “childlike person” episode..
"You cannot love", she had said to him, and he had agreed with her and had compared himself with a star, while comparing the childlike people with falling leaves, and nevertheless he had also sensed an accusation in that line. Indeed, he had never been able to lose or devote himself completely to another person, to forget himself, to commit foolish acts for the love of another person, never had he been able to do this, and this was, as it had seemed to him at that time, the great distinction which set him apart from the childlike people. But now, since his son was here, now he, Siddhartha, had also become completely a childlike person, suffering for the sake of another person, loving another person, lost to a love, having become a fool on account of love. Now he too felt, so late, for once in his life, this strongest and strangest of all passions, suffered from it, suffered miserably, and was nevertheless in bliss, was nevertheless renewed in one respect, enriched by one thing.
He did sense very well that this love, this blind love for his son, was a passion, something very human, that it was Sansara, a murky source, dark waters. Nevertheless, he felt at the same time, it was not worthless, it was necessary, came from the essence of his own being. This pleasure also had to be atoned for, this pain also had to be endured, and these foolish acts also had to be committed.
Eventually realizing the concept of “oneness” – one of those vague ones which cannot be taught..
Everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world. All of it together was the flow events, was the music of life. In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering. On his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge, which is no longer opposed by any will, which knows perfection, which is in agreement with the flow of events, with the current of life, full of sympathy for the pain of others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of others, devoted to the flow, belonging to the oneness.
About knowledge, wisdom, variations of truth and futility of words and meanings..
Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and taught. This was what I, even as a young man, sometimes suspected, what has driven me away from the teachers.
The opposite of every truth is just as true! It is 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 is 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 holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this, because we are subject to deception, as if time was something real. Time is not real, Govinda, I have experienced this often and often again. And if time is not real, then the gap which seems to be between the world and the eternity, between suffering and blissfulness, between evil and good, is also a deception.
Let me speak no more of this. The words are not good for the secret meaning, everything always becomes a bit different, as soon as it is put into words, gets distorted a bit, a bit silly - yes, and this is also very good, and I like it a lot, I also very much agree with this, that what is one man's treasure and wisdom always sounds like foolishness to another person.