Friday, October 14, 2011

Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse



This is a book that appears to be about Gautama Buddha or based on Buddha’s life. But it is not. The only thing in this story that bears any semblance to Buddha’s life is the way it begins. With a seeker. The paths traversed by the two and the ends reached have nothing in common.

Siddhartha, a seeker, leaves the comfort of his home to find.
He follows different paths thereon; paths that are divergent, even conflicting.
He becomes an ascetic and leads a life of self denial, he indulges in a beautiful courtesan, he becomes associated with a rich merchant and works for him, he plays dice...

In the end he realizes (and this redeems the story that is otherwise nothing remarkable, nothing novel) that seeking in itself is a folly, even if it is Nirvana that you are seeking.
Most of us agree that seeking money, seeking power, seeking pleasure lead to misery. And we believe that seeking Nirvana/Salvation/Deliverance must be the purpose of our lives.
But we are mistaken in believing so. Even when we seek Nirvana, we are still ‘seeking’ and seeking itself leads to misery and most of the time, leads to nowhere.
The answer to our quest lies in Being. Simply Being. And not seeking.
This idea of the author, appearing at the very end of the book, strikes you as novel. It is convincing and it is this in the end that redeems the book.

GOING OVERBOARD

This is the trouble with most people attempting to introduce a change and novelty to mankind, to the society.
Instead of changing or replacing the one thing that is wrong, they categorically dismiss the prevailing theory and practise in their enthusiasm to embrace the new. They rush headlong towards the new and go overboard.

Champions of women’s liberation rushed headlong in their sympathy for women and created laws that were overly in favour of women with the result that too many men have become victims of false dowry cases.
Champions of the ‘Untouchables’ rushed headlong and created the reservation policy with the result that men of merit remained unemployed while offices began to be filled with incompetent rustics.
Champions of the minorities in this country rushed headlong to protect them with the result that the Hindu is a victim of pseudo-secularism today with no one to voice his cause.

This book too, I feel goes overboard at places.

The very first one being ‘Brahmin beating’.
“...He knew that he would not become an ordinary Brahmin, a lazy sacrificial official, an avaricious dealer in magic sayings, a conceited worthless orator, a wicked sly priest, or just a good stupid sheep amongst a large herd...”
A nonsensical generalization.

“Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish. Knowledge can be communicated but not wisdom. One can find it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one can’t communicate and teach it.
I suspected this and this drove me away from teachers“
The first few lines make sense, the conclusion is where he goes overboard. There is no need to dismiss teachers and teaching. There are only a handful of people in this world who learn on their own or, learn from life. Most of them need the handholding of a teacher.

“I can love a stone, a tree or a piece of bark. These are things and one can love things. But one cannot love words. Therefore teachings are of no use to me; they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, corners, smell, taste – they have nothing but words...”
His advises you to ‘accept everything’ elsewhere and here he rejects words and teachings. Is it good, is it necessary to resent or reject something?

“I do not attach importance to thoughts either. I attach importance to things”
It would have sufficed to say that one should not be entangled in thoughts, that one should transcend thoughts; it was not necessary to say thoughts were not important.

These are a few examples. There are a few more in the book.

The popularity of the book is perhaps owing to its success with western readers. I don’t mean to be jingoistic but there isn’t anything in the book that should blow away us Indians. I felt this way when I finished reading Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist too.

Read it anyway.

LINES THAT APPEALED TO ME...

...One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking – a detour, error...

...Om is the bow, the arrow is the soul,
Brahman is the arrow’s goal,
At which one aims unflinchingly...

...He travelled the way of self denial through meditation, through the emptying of the mind of all images...

...What is meditation? What is abandonment of the body? What is fasting? What is the holding of breath? It is a flight from the Self, it is a temporary escape from the torment of Self. It is a temporary palliative against the pain and folly of life. A driver of oxen drinking wine makes this same flight...

...One can learn nothing.
In the essence of everything, there is something that we cannot call learning. There is only a knowledge – that is everywhere, that is Atman, that is in me and you and in every creature, and this knowledge has no worse enemy than the man of knowledge, than learning...

...Let me warn you, you who are thirsty for knowledge, against the thicket of opinions and the conflict of words...

...Through thought alone, feelings become knowledge and are not lost, but become real and begin to mature...

...Meaning and reality are not hidden somewhere behind things, they are in them, in all of them...

...When anyone reads anything he wishes to study, he does not despise the letters and punctuation marks, and call them illusion, chance and worthless shells, but he reads them, he studies and loves them, letter by letter. To call the world of appearances, illusion is similar...

...To go through the world like a child, so awakened, so concerned with the immediate, without any distrust...

...He had never found his Self, because he wanted to trap it in the net of thoughts...

...The art of love in which, more than anything else, giving and taking become one...

...Most people are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them; they have within themselves their guide and path...

...River’s secret - the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new...

...He learned to listen – with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions...

...A secret from the river – there is no such thing as time – 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...

...The river has very many voices – voice of a king, of a warrior, of a bull, of a nightbird, of a pregnant woman and sighing man, more...

...The voice of river was the voice of life, of being, of perpetual becoming...

...Gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force...

...When he answered his rudeness with a smile, every insult with friendliness, every naughtiness with kindness, that was the most hateful cunning of the old fox...

...All the simple, foolish, but tremendously strong, vital passionate urges and desires no longer seemed trivial to Siddhratha. For their sake, he saw people live and do great things, travel, conduct wars, suffer and endure immensely...

...the goal of seeking – a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life...

...Disclosing his wound to his listener was the same as bathing it in the river, until it became cool and one with the river...

...When Siddhartha listened to this song of thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om – perfection...

...perhaps you seek too much and as a result of your seeking you cannot find...

...When someone is seeking, he only sees the thing that he is seeking; he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means to have a goal but finding means to be free to be receptive to have no goal. In striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose...

...When Buddha taught about the world, he divided it into Sansara and nirvana, illusions and truth, suffering and salvation. The world is never one sided. Never is a man wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana, never wholly saint or wholly sinner. This seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is real. Time is not real. If time isn’t real then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity suffering and bliss, good and evil is also an illusion.
I am a sinner and someday sinner will be Brahma again, someday attain Nirvana, someday become a Buddha. This someday is an illusion. The sinner is not on the way to a Buddha like state; he is not evolving, although our thinking cannot conceive things otherwise. No, the potential Buddha already exists in the sinner; his future is already there. The potential hidden Buddha must be recognized in him. The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection. It is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them and all dying people – eternal life...

...therefore everything that exists is good – death life, sin, holiness, wisdom and folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me...

‘...this is a stone, and after sometime it will become soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man. Previously, I would have said, ‘this is just a stone; it has no value, it belongs to the world of Maya, but perhaps because within the cycle of change it can also become man and spirit, it is also of importance.’ But now I think. ‘this stone is stone; it is also animal, god and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything. I love it just because it is a stone. I see value and meaning in each one of its fine markings and cavities...’

...“I can love a stone, a tree or a piece of bark. These are things and one can love things. But one cannot love words. Therefore teachings are of no use to me; they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, corners, smell, taste – they have nothing but words...I do not attach importance to thoughts either. I attach importance to things”
‘What you call a thing, is it not Maya?’
‘If it is illusion, then I also am illusion, and so they are always of the same nature as myself‘...

...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 it is only important to love the world...

...I distrust words for their contradiction is also an illusion...


4 comments:

Srinivas_kini said...

Thanks for the blog.
After reading the book "Siddhartha" by Hermann Hesse, I was very confused with what exactly was the message of this novel... I agree with you possibly it is the "Being" than "Seeking" seems to be the answer to the quest called Life.
I feel the description given in the book at most of the places (One which you are mentioning with "Going Overboard") have some meaning attached to it. Though it appears like it is conflicting at first.

Thiagarajan R said...

Nice post and passionate review.Few examples that you have chosen on "Going overboard' are probably "ideological"!
Women Vs men or "Untouchables" Vs Elite had always been historically unequal fight which needed drastic relief/remedies in favour of the weaker side..yes at the cost of contemporary equity.I have seen manual scavengers myself just about 25 years ago and imagine generations it would take for them to shed their stigma,equal or better merit with elite and fill govt offices with no reservation.

BTW I am not from "untouchable" nor a Woman!

Shivdas Yenkikar said...

Siddhartha (1972) is a film based on the novel of the same name by Herman Hesse, directed by Conrad Rooks.

The film tells the story of the young Siddhartha (played by Shashi Kapoor), born in a rich family, and his search for a meaningful way of life. This search takes him through periods of harsh asceticism, sensual pleasures, material wealth, then self-revulsion and eventually to the oneness and harmony with himself that he had been seeking. Siddhartha learns that the secret of life cannot be passed on from one person to another, but must be achieved through inner experience.

Shivdas Yenkikar said...

Slower, he walked along in his thoughts and asked himself: But what is this, what you have sought to learn from teachings and from teachers, and what they, who have taught you much, were still unable to teach you?? And he found:

It was the self, the purpose and essence of which I sought to learn. It was the self, I wanted to free myself from, which I sought to overcome. But I was not able to overcome it, could only deceive it, could only flee from it, only hide from it. Truly, no thing in this world has kept my thoughts thus busy, as this my very own self, this mystery of me being alive, of me being one and being separated and isolated from all others, of me being Siddhartha! And there is no thing in this world I know less about than about me, about Siddhartha!