Book Reviews - Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
by Arun Ganapathy
Here is a book that will make you ponder – deep into the night.
‘Siddhartha’ by Herman Hesse is the classic story of a young brahmin in search of himself. Starting in the manner of a traditional seeker, the young brown- skinned , supple bodied Siddhartha sets off with his friend Govinda and becomes a Samana. The next few years are the classical life of ascetic penance ; Siddhartha fasts and meditates; he stands in the rain, he controls his breath , Govinda and he meet the Buddha and listen to his teachings, - but has be progressed on the spiritual path? No.
The next part of Siddhartha’s journey is a roller coaster ride through the material world.
Siddharta meets, Kamala the courtesan who teaches him to kiss and makes him want pleasure. To keep this going Siddhartha takes employment with Kamaswami a rich merchant, and through Kamaswami he sinks more and more into the ways of the world, the once near- naked samana is now the well -heeled man about town, gambling at will, pleasing women and learning through it all. Hesse makes you stop and think whether Hinduism is true; Buddhism , true; the worldly life, true, or whether indeed all these are necessary experiences on the journey to realization.
And then one day the game is over. “A shudder passed through his body’ writes Hesse,. “He felt as if something had died, the bird in his breast began to sing again.”
Siddhartha becomes a wanderer again. He arrives at the river and meets Vasudeva the boatman who ferried him across when he was a samana. It is Vasudeva who teaches him to bend his ear to the river and learn its wisdom.
‘Siddhartha listened attentively, he saw his father, his own picture, kamala’s picture and he heard their voices laughing lamenting, sorrowful , all of them together was the stream of events, the music of life. ---when Siddharta listened attentively to the river , when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his soul but heard them all, the whole unity , they consisted of one word , om, perfection.’
From that moment Siddhartha ceases to fight against his destiny and in that “let go and surrender” finds the wisdom he has been seeking all his life.
In the final epiphany, Hesse presents his view that such wisdom is not easily communicable.
Govinda returns and pleads with Siddhartha to share his wisdom. Siddhartha tries through words but fails. So he pulls Govinda closer and touches his forehead with his lips. At that moment everything: Krishna, the face of the murderer, dying fish, birds, and elephants, flash before Govinda as in the continuous frames of a movie.
Behind it all like thin glass is the smiling face of Siddhartha - exactly the same as the calm impenetrable gracious smile of Gotama the Buddha.
Govinda bows in reverence; for he too has now beheld the unity behind things.
Uncontrollable tears trickle down his old face ---And so too will it down yours.
Siddharta is a book that distils wisdom in stunningly simple language and is a book of great beauty.
It is a book you will want to read again and again and again.
Life Positive October 2008
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