Silent Whispers

Chasing Illusionary Butterflies!

Siddhartha – Book 25 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 23, 2018

The book “Siddhartha” has got quite a cult status among the literature aficionados.  And rightfully so. This book makes sense on so many levels. Though not all answers are given and perhaps you are meant to find your own direction but it does give you a sneak view of what Hindu dharma philosophizes. For an Indian and a Hindu, there might be nothing new in stages leading up to Siddhartha’s quest for self-actualization but for a western reader, it is a great introduction to the concept of Hinduism. I remember reading “Autobiography of a Yogi” for the first time back in college and I was most taken in by the early chapters – the parts where the title character is running away from home and seeking Truth with a bunch of crazy half-starved monks. College kid inside me was obsessed with esoteric. There was this unquenchable thirst for meaning of life, who am I, what am I, what am I destined to etc etc though the answers of these still evade me. But unlike the teen years, I have made my peace with not knowing answers of great many questions. They just reveal themselves when they have to.

Herman Hesse’s mysterious novelette about Eastern religion rings true to the unsolved mystery of desire and calling. When you read a spiritual book in your mid-thirties, your broken ideals and consolidated cynicism either gets a boost or you try to see things in a totally new perspective. So many of us can somewhere identify with middle aged Siddhartha making his way in the outside world, finding a woman and attaining a measure of material success and the same time, a hidden part of us remains tethered to the spiritual musings. Don’t we all get an occasional urge of throwing away all our worldly goods and become a hermit meditating in some caves in Himalayas or turn into a ferryman on some remote river like Siddhartha did? But then a cliché of family, kids, world, responsibility and what not prevents us from going to the same extremes or ever approach a state of Nirvana, but the basic arch of a human life is there for each of us to follow. Somewhere Herman Hesse’s treatise will resonate with you. The pattern of our childhood when every word uttered by our parents is a holy hymn, in our youth we break away looking for independence and self-understanding then process of settling down in adulthood, trying to make a living while fulfilling our responsibilities and finally if we are lucky, our last couple of decades on earth will give us enough spare time to once again reflect on life’s eternal questions.

Siddhartha-Hermann-HesseHermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Siddhartha is his masterpiece, a “continually rising trajectory of an idea, the fundamentally religious idea of how to ‘live more abundantly’. His basic question pertains to ‘what should we do with our lives?’ As Siddhartha says- I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions. As you dig deeper into the book you will get acquainted with philosophical understanding and spiritual insight dripping effortlessly from each of its pages. It makes you desire a more natural and direct engagement with life. The book possess no adorned style and though there is linguistic and conceptual density but with an almost fable like air. Simpler a thing, greater the sense it imparts. As the author says, ““Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

Have you ever heard of a saying that “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” now don’t take it literally. It simply exhorts you to value your own experiential understanding prioritizing it above formerly conceived philosophies or institutions of organised religion when it comes to the search for spiritual liberation and enlightenment. This is the central tenet of Buddhism and was exemplified by the Buddha himself from initial renunciation of his princely life and his subsequent experimentation with, and ultimate rejection of, all the doctrines popular in India at the time. He developed his own understanding and subsequently knew himself to have attained Nirvana. However, Siddhartha is not about the Buddha himself though everything inside it will suggest you otherwise. It is primarily a fictional representation of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism. There are many parallels between the Buddha and Siddhartha our protagonist in the book and at best, it can be termed as a metaphor of what all you need to think and realize in order to attain self-fulfilment.

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.” Path of true enlightenment is paved with quiet determination and rigorous personal honesty. There is no shortcut. The path is always lonesome but such is the method that enlightenment can only be achieved by an individual’s own understanding and that this personal road is littered with the bodies of the many Buddhas it is necessary to “kill”. Written in the third person perspective, Siddhartha has a meditative and poetic style. Compressed in 120 odd pages, the book packs a heavy punch. It sings to you provided you are willing to listen to it. Like Siddhartha, we can search wherever we want but ultimately we need to remain our own pupil.  While the questions will keep coming to me, I will continue listening with an open mind to the rants of any Shaman. Do read it.

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.

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