“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
I read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse when I was a sophomore in high school. A good age to be a seeker. It is a small and simple story and has become a classic. You could read it in a day or a weekend, but I would suggest that you read it slower. Pause between chapters.Read in a quiet place. Perhaps you should read this boo late at night or early in the morning or at the point that is not quite night or morning.
“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books. I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me. My story is not a pleasant one; it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams — like the lives of all men who stop deceiving themselves.”
Siddhartha is set in India and in it we meet the Buddha. It is a novel about a young man, Siddhartha, who leaves his family to have a contemplative life. But that journey doesn’t work. He becomes restless again.
He leaves that life and follows a life of the flesh. He gets a woman pregnant and has a son. His life bores him. He becomes sick of the lust and greed that surrounds and captures him.
Siddhartha arrives at a river. He hears a sound that signals the true beginning of his life.
“One can beg, buy, be presented with and find love in the streets, but it can never be stolen.”
What made this book popular in the 1960s was its blend of Eastern mysticism and Western culture. Lines like “I am much inclined to live from my rucksack, and let my trousers fray as they like,” fit right in to the lifestyle of the decade.
Of course, the themes are much more timeless – the soul’s journey to liberation, suffering, rejection, peace and wisdom.
My next book by Hesse was Steppenwolf which somehow seemed like the logical next book, although it is not at all a sequel.
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was born in Germany and later became a citizen of Switzerland. As a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought, he wrote many novels, stories, and essays that contain the spiritual force that caught his imagination. In 1946, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Glass Bead Game.
In Steppenwolf, Harry Haller is a sad, lonely, reclusive intellectual. His life is joyless. He sees in himself a wild primeval wolf and a rational man. Like Siddhartha, he has trouble dealing with the bourgeois values he lives with and despises.
Rather than a river and a sound, Harry’s life changes when he meets a woman who is his opposite. Hermine is carefree and elusive.
Hesse lost me on first reading as the story rolled into the surreal Magic Theater.
“There is, in fact, no way back either to the wolf or to the child. From the very start there is no innocence and no singleness. Every created thing, even the simplest, is already guilty, already multiple. It has been thrown into the muddy stream of being and may never more swim back again to its source. The way to innocence, to the uncreated and to God leads on, not back to the wolf or to the child, but ever further into sin, ever deeper into human life. Nor will suicide really solve your problem […] You will, instead, embark on the longer and wearier and harder road of life. You will have to multiply many times your two-fold being and complicate your complexities still further. Instead of narrowing your world and simplifying your soul, you will have to absorb more and more of the world and at last take all of it up in your painfully expanded soul, if you are ever to find peace. This is the road that Buddha and every great man has gone, whether consciously or not, insofar as fortune has favored his quest.”
It made me want to walk again with Siddhartha.
For many years, I have been scribbling quotations in blank books. Nowadays, I often pass them on via the Internet. I have a number of them from Hesse and most are from Siddhartha.
Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.
Often it is the most deserving people who cannot help loving those who destroy them.
I live in my dreams — that’s what you sense. Other people live in dreams, but not in their own.
That’s the difference. (from Demian)
You are willing to die, you coward, but not to live.”
It is not for me to judge another man’s life.
I must judge, I must choose, I must spurn, purely for myself. For myself, alone.
Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.
I have always been a great dreamer. In dreams I have always been more active than in my real life,
and these shadows sapped me of my health and energy.
Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart
and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell. (from Narcissus and Goldmund)
If I know what love is, it’s because of you.
He lost his Self a thousand times and for days on end he dwelt in non-being. But although the paths took him away from Self, in the end they always led back to it. Although Siddhartha fled from the Self a thousand times, dwelt in nothing, dwelt in animal and stone, the return was inevitable; the hour was inevitable when he would again find himself in sunshine or in moonlight, in shadow or in rain, and was again Self and Siddhartha, again felt the torment of the onerous life cycle.
The river is everywhere.
Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.