Herman Hesse has written some great books that revolve around the theme of self-discovery and the search for meaning.
Siddhartha is a story that you can keep returning to at different points in life and glean new lessons from depending on your development.
I took it with me on my recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon and some of the messages I revisited were so powerful that they influenced my ayahuasca journey and helped make it more effective. This books resounds with my own experiences and mirrors a lot of what I have been through in life.
The story revolves around a young man who was born with talent for deep understanding, a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for truth. Not only is his mind predisposed for a life of advancement, but his family structure and religious background encourage and reinforce his growth and education. Its the perfect storm for the creation of a seer.
A theme that connects me to the book the most is that Siddhartha is a man of fierce independence. He needs to carve his own path in life because its the only way he can find true understanding. Every experience is a lesson and interpreted through his own focused and unique way of seeing the world.
At a young age he leaves his family and religion to travel, lose his ego through meditation, pain and exploration–but soon comes to realize that these pursuits are just as pointless as drinking himself into a stupor at the local tavern. He still learns from his search and uses it to grow through his early 20s.
After living a minimalist life, he seeks out a Master Buddah–the greatest teacher in all of the land. When he does meet him, he realizes that he cannot learn from teachers anymore, he must get to know himself before any truth will manifest itself. He tells the Buddah in a private conversation:
You have reached the highest goal (enlightenment)…you have done so through your own seeking, in your own way, through thought, through meditation, through knowledge, through enlightenment. You have learned nothing through teaching…nobody finds salvation through teaching…I am going my own way–not to seek another or better doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and reach my goal alone–or die.
As in many books and stories about awakening, as soon as Siddhartha has his eyes opened and path cleared, he notices all of the true beauty in the world for the first time. Everything from the sun, plants, animals, landscapes, and of course, women. He is enthralled by all of these and when he meets a beautiful girl named Kamala, he wants her to teach him the art of love.
*There is some fantastic, direct meta-game that is described in their first encounter together and they way its written reminds me of when I meet a truly beautiful women who stirs me from deep within and everything happens to flow perfectly.
Its also hilarious to hear Hesse describe through Kamala just how much women desire status and money in men. She won’t give Siddhartha anything serious until he proves himself in those regards (although a passionate fling is not off the table–god bless the true nature of women).
He is taught how to become a great lover:
one cannot have pleasure without giving it, every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure–to one who can understand. She taught him that lovers should not separate after making love without admiring each other.
Their conversations also revolve around what makes two people strongly attracted to one another and how thinking ability and purpose matter more than intelligence:
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 withing themselves their guide and path.
And the downfalls of the life of a seer:
Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can–that is their secret.
In order to keep Kamalas favor, Siddhartha works hard to become rich, using his knowledge of human nature and charm to succeed in business. He indulges in luxury and excess while all the time laughing at how fickle and fleeting the pursuit of money is. Success and failure both amuse him and he finds the most joy in squandering his riches and gambling away his profits. He dulls his mind with wine, gets lazy, and allows his body to become weak and fat off of his new found gluttony.
One night he has a realization that he has become miserable, just like everyone else who indulges in excess. He ends up walking away from everything he built to go learn from the poor once again.
It was one of the ferryman’s greatest virtues that, like few people, he knew how to listen. Without his saying a word, the speaker felt he took in every word, quietly, expectantly, that he missed nothing. He did not await anything with impatience and gave neither praise nor blame–he only listened.
He spends the next few years working along the banks of a river and learning from the flowing water that never stops running.
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, live it, be fortified through it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.
Siddhartha is a quick but powerful read that is essential for anyone searching for their place in the world. Proving doubts by going out on your own to find answers is the most effective way to learn–and its also a perfect path to self-knowledge. If you have an independent mind and have found it difficult to learn from others or follow orders, this story will hit very close to home.
I also review more books here, including another one of Hesse’s classics–Narcissus and Goldmund–which is based on another character searching for truth through women, art, travel, and nature. Its also where my penname comes from–notice any connections here?