Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rootless Lit: Siddhartha

Credit: Shambala Classics
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse.

Sandy, a TLG colleague, read this book while we were in Georgia. Her description of the plot piqued my interest.

It's an easy read. Spare language. Straightforward in ideas.

The young man, Siddhartha, has a searching spirit, asking universal questions:

They knew everything, the Brahmans and their holy books, they knew everything, they had taken care of everything and of more than everything, the creation of the world, the origin of speech, of food, of inhaling, of exhaling, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods, they knew infinitely much - but was it valuable to know all of this, not knowing that one and only thing, the most important thing, the solely important thing? 

... His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow  but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources ... why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day?

Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine source in own's own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost. 

Siddhartha left his comfortable circumstances at home to live the rootless life of an ascetic, met "the" Buddha (fka Siddhartha Gautama) along the way, slowly built a life rooted in attachments, discovered suffering, and .... [don't want to spoil the ending].

Mr. Hesse lets his Siddhartha express directly the ideas relating to how one's attachment to feelings, outcomes, and things do not bring peace and, indeed, can detract from it. His Siddhartha is also explicit about suffering and its relationship to understanding and compassion.

Mr. Hesse more indirectly reveals what Siddhartha doesn't see about himself - the arrogance and intolerance toward others that he possesses, a malady shared by many of us who are "enlightened" in some manner, whether it be by a certain theology, yoga, what to eat, how to travel, or otherwise live or think.

It's a good reminder that, as some say less elegantly than Mr. Hesse, "we're all bozos on the bus."

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