#Book Review: Siddhartha, A Journey Of Self Discovery

Posted on May 2, 2013

By Spandan Ghose Chowdhury:

It was raining cats and dogs and I picked up a book called ‘Siddhartha‘ with a picture of Buddha on its cover, from the last shelf of my school library. Siddhartha was written by Hermann Hesse, a German writer, in 1922 even before my parents were born. Upon opening the book, the central character, Siddhartha, the Brahmin’s son, begins his journey to appease his restless soul towards achieving the answer, what he felt missing in his life and in the world around him. Giving up everything — his wealth, his family and most importantly his friend Govinda who admired him most — the young man embarks on his journey of Samana with a tenor — ‘Life is pain’. And his friend Govinda joins him.

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The book starts in the same parlance as the journey of Buddha started and that further gets supported by the cover-page layout. But, the saga shatters in a span of a few pages when Siddhartha and Govinda come upon Buddha — the Holy One. Listening to his teachings, Govinda settles on becoming a monk. But Siddhartha concludes that even the Buddha himself does not have the answers he seeks and hence he leaves Buddha saying “You have learned nothing through teachings, and so I think, O Illustrious One, that nobody finds salvation through teachings“.

The boy grows into man and keeps on walking in search of his answers. He meets new people and learns new things in every turn and twist of his journey; but he knew it had always been there in the first place. Years pass by. The detachment from the world – where he felt out of place — comes to an end when he meets Kamala who educates him about love. But Hesse’s Siddhartha still thinks like a Samana and hence wishes his death to come. He comes back to his world of non-attachment. He feels new again and learns that to find what you are seeking, sometimes, means going backwards. Siddhartha meets the ferryman Vasudeva again, who ferried him across without any cost when he was a man without money. Vasudeva believed that river would teach Siddhartha everything he needed. He learned to be a ferryman and also learned from the river, “that there was no such thing as time“, that it spoke in many voices and was wise in its teachings. Time passed for both Siddhartha and Vasudeva, but life was happy and full of positive elements.

One day Siddartha meets Kamala and a boy. Kamala somehow gets bitten by a black snake. Siddhartha comes to her aid, and recognizes that the boy is his son, and Kamala tells him that this was true. Kamala dies of the snake’s bite. His son not being happy living a ferryman’s life keep on hurting him every day, showing no love back. Finally, one day the son runs away, Siddhartha hunts for him but does not find him. He becomes sad and realizes that he had put his father through the same thing when he had left home in his youth and that his father probably missed him and was worried about him, just like he was doing over little Siddhartha. He finds the thing he sought, the meaning to life and this world, though it is not the same thing that he always wanted — detachment. And he does not find it through torturing himself with extremes, but with loving someone and seeing life as something that is needed for learning. He shares this new truth with his old friend Govinda, with whom he reunited for a little while at the end of the story. Govinda believed that his old friend Siddhartha, had become wise like the Buddha, and had entered Nirvana.

The fictional Siddhartha in Hesse’s novel — which has been adopted into a film as well — has a spiritual quest like the real Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. He goes through many spiritual quests, much like Hesse’s Siddhartha, until he finds truth in what Buddhists call the ‘Middle Way’, which teaches one to not go to extremes in either way. The masterpiece speaks of the human experience we all go through in life, whether it is our career, education, love or spirituality through astute symbolism like the river, the ferryman and the smile. You get to a point of your life’s quest or journey, whatever it may be, and you feel it’s the wrong path or isn’t enough and you want a change, you want more. To try something new, to follow another bliss, (though the whole case of torturing oneself is a bit extreme), and sometimes the search takes you right back to the same place you started. And that’s the critical learning that Hesse made me believe through the journey of non-attachment and attachment of the hero of his book — Siddhartha.

By the time the rain stops pouring in. It is the time to detach myself from the fictional world and to re-attach myself with the factual world. Though it was an easy read but the leitmotif and erudition will certainly keep lingering in the minds of the readers for an elongated period of time.

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