April 8 is the day Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha. Gautama Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama, Prince of Kapilavastu in India in the sixth-century B.C.E.
I first encountered his story when in Siddhartha. a novel by Herman Hesse. (In the novel, the Buddha is referred to as “Gotama.”) Though it is a novel and not a religious tract, it put me on a path to learn about this man who is revered as the founder of Buddhism and his teachings.
He is worshipped by most Buddhist schools as the Enlightened One because he transcended Karma and escaped the cycle of birth and rebirth.
He taught for around 45 years and built a large following of both monastics and laypeople.
What I learned through Hesse’s novel was that the Prince was raised in luxury with no view of suffering. He married. He fathered a son. It was a normal life for a Prince in India at the time.
When he was 29 he decided he wanted to see the world outside the palace walls. In some short trips outside the palace, he encountered suffering for the first time. It shocked him to see people starving, ill, or crippled. It also amazed him that people often seemed to be calm in the midst of all their pain and sickness.
He left his palace life, wife, and child and for six years he traveled the country. He studied meditation. He lived the life of an ascetic with severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence.
At age 35, he outlined the basic tenets of Buddhism. He wrote that the Four Noble Truths are: the nature of life is suffering; suffering is caused by human cravings and desire; there is relief from suffering in the state of Nirvana; and Nirvana is attainable by following an eightfold path to self-improvement. But a philosophy or a religion cannot be reduced to a few paragraphs or even to one book.
The word Siddhartha is from Sanskrit siddha (achieved) + artha (what was searched for) and is translated as “he who has found the meaning of existence” or “he who has attained his goals.”
It was several centuries after his death that he came to be known by the title Buddha, which means “Awakened or Enlightened One” His teachings were compiled by the Buddhist community in the Suttas. They contain his discourses and the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community (sangha).
I recommend Hesse’s novel to people not because it will turn you toward Buddhism but because following Gotama’s path with him may bring you some insights. It won’t bring you enlightenment.
Actually, Hesse deliberately tries to through you off the path. No spoilers here his fictional Siddhartha disrespects Gotama but achieves enlightenment because he does not worship Gotama like a god. I find that people who know of the novel but haven’t read it think it is a historical novel about the origins of the Buddha. It is not.
Much of Hesse’s writing is West meets East. He was a Western man changed by the mysticism of Eastern thought, and it became a guiding force in his books. In 1946, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Glass Bead Game.
The Moon will be full today in Paradelle at 5:42 pm. It is probably best known as the Corn Moon, Planting Moon, and the Hare’s Moon. The Arapaho Indians referred to this Full Moon as “when the ponies shed their shaggy hair.” It is the Flower Moon in Algonquian.
I chose one of its lesser known names, the Milk Moon. During May cows, goats, and sheep (at least they did and may still if they are free to do so) get to enjoy the newly-sprouting weeds, grasses, and herbs in the pastures and so produce very rich milk.
The exact moment at which the moon is fullest — when the sun, Earth and moon align — won’t be visible to observers in North America, because the moon will be below the horizon. On the U.S. East Coast observers will see the moon rise a few minutes before 8 p.m., 2 hours after the full moon’s peak. (Find out what time the moon will be visible at your location with this moonrise and moonset calculator.)
According to folklore, it is lucky to hold a moonstone, a gemstone that looks like a milky moon, in your mouth at the full moon. It is said that it will reveal the future.
Folklore also says that a the eyes of a cat will be open wider during a full moon than at any other time.
Though the term “moon struck” usually means mentally deranged, crazed or dreamily romantic or bemused, it originally meant a person was chosen by the Goddess and the person was said to be blessed.
Vesak Day is one of the biggest days of the year in the Buddhist calendar and is celebrated by Buddhists all over the world on the day of the full moon in May. Sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”, it commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Buddhahood), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition.
“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.