In this lockdown, I read the book named – “Siddhartha” written by Hermeann Hesse. I took this opportunity to reflect my life with the main protagonist of the book – Siddhartha. I was motivated to find my truth and wisdom. With this quest, I am reviewing this book and reflecting my life, my truth and my wisdom.
It is a story of discovering oneself – a spiritual quest. The main protagonist of the story, Siddhartha, actually resembles all of us who at some point of time will definitely have a series of questions that Siddhartha had, in order to know oneself. Many a time we ignore it by saying, “Don’t think too much.” or we really ponder on those questions and try to find the answer. Many a time we get those answers many a time we get engrossed in our life so much that we park those questions to reflect some other time but the time never comes and naturally they evaporate from our conscious.
In the story, Siddhartha had ‘discontent in himself‘. He started to feel that people and materials around him ‘would not bring him joy forever and ever, would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy him.’ In our lifetime, we are exposed to the most and best of the wisdom that is documented by wise people. But like Siddhartha, many a time we don’t find meaning in them. We just listen and keep these pearls of wisdom in a high platform with a clear understanding that they cannot be practised in this world. We get into our life and gain our own knowledge but many a time we fail to reflect on them. These knowledge need to be hard-pressed like we do to a mustard seed in order to to take out the oil from it. These ‘hard-pressed’ is the process of getting wisdom out of our knowledge. The mustard seeds are our knowledge. Ultimately the seeds are gone but the oil remains. The oil is wisdom. The same way the knowledge is necessary to get the wisdom out of it but ultimately the wisdom makes us relevant and takes life forward in a meaningful way.
Siddhartha in the story puts it very nicely to Govinda at the end that, ‘…wisdom cannot be passed on. (The) wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness.‘ It’s so true. He further goes to tell, ‘Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom‘. I feel the story of Siddhartha gives a strong message that if we are only a seeker of knowledge we may only be a follower. But when we are a seeker of wisdom, we will be driven away from our teachers, religion and such things which imparts knowledge. Seeking wisdom makes us in charge of our life and help us to constantly reflect on the knowledge that we gather from our life and take out inference from it which is wisdom. I feel the quest for life leads us to collect wisdom.
In the end, Siddhartha shared beautiful wisdom. He says that the world is not imperfect or on a slow path of perfection. The world is already perfect in every moment. What a great reflection and great wisdom. He continues to say that everyone is a creator. Everything is within oneself. All good and bad, all sin and bliss are existing in everything. So love and venerate everything for the potential that it has in itself. But these are all wisdom that Siddhartha had. It is meaningful to him but can be foolishness to others. Hence wisdom is very personal to oneself. This quest for wisdom will lead you in life.
This quest for wisdom, made Siddhartha and his friend Govinda, leave their home to join the ascetics, fast, pray and meditate intensely and yet Siddhartha cannot find his peace. They hear of Gautam Buddha and Govinda decides to join his followers. But Siddhartha wants his own discovery for himself. He moves ahead, meets Kamala, driven towards material pleasures but after some time abandons this life too. Eventually, all his experiences, all the events in his life help him to meet his spiritual guide and he has his own awakening. Siddhartha’s life changes when he begins to question what he’s been taught. He wonders if Gods are not just human constructs and if anyone but Atman (whom he calls the “Only One”) should receive honour and sacrifice. He’s desperate to find the path to this deepest part of himself. Despite his father’s objections, Siddhartha leaves his village and joins a group of wandering ascetics called the “samanas“. Siddhartha learns to fast. He wears a loincloth, and his hair and nails grow as his stomach shrinks. His goal is to empty himself of every dream and desire, to become “un-selfed.” He meditates and takes on the forms of various animals and other natural formations. His voluntary suffering enables him to overcome hunger, pain, thirst, and fatigue and to linger in the “nonself” for a time. But eventually, he always comes back to himself and feels the torments of living. He notes even the oldest samana has not reached nirvana (or liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death). Siddhartha theorizes that words and learning are the enemies of true knowledge. Knowledge itself is all around and within the soul.
Although Siddhartha met and spoke to the Buddha and feels truth emanating from him, he still decides he must carry on in his search for Atman alone. This quest for wisdom was so strong in Siddhartha, that in spite of him believing Buddha, he still feels no amount of teaching can bring about the deliverance of a person’s soul. Meeting the Buddha shows him the only way one can discover the depths of his soul is through personal experience.
At one point of time, Siddhartha shuns the rituals and self-sacrifice that previously guided him and get sunk into worldly pleasure, sex, gambling. After a while, even these things can’t keep him from feeling sluggish and discontented with life. Loathing himself and feeling like something has died inside of him, he abruptly leaves this life behind. Siddhartha hangs over a tree near the river, contemplating suicide. He hears the “om” within himself that once reminded him to seek perfection and completeness. He sinks into a deep sleep and awakens refreshed and joyful. Siddhartha begins to find a particular beauty in the river. Once again, he encounters the ferryman, Vasudeva, who listens well as Siddhartha bears his soul. Siddhartha sees the ferryman’s joy and peace and realizes he can learn much by spending time in this man’s presence. He stays on to work for and live with the ferryman and to listen to the river speaking to him.
Siddhartha continues to learn from the river, and Vasudeva helps him see a vision that changes him. He sees and hears the faces and sounds of all people, sees their goodness and evil, tears and joy, all coming together at once. Within this, he discovers a wholeness that could be summed up in the word “om.” The last climax wherein Govinda and Siddhartha have a final meeting summarises the quest which started in the beginning. Siddhartha reiterates that experiences rather than the teachings of man have led him to this place. He says time itself is a human construct, and he now sees how the past, present and future flow together all at once.
He says he believes the key to all things is the ability to love oneself and all beings with awe and admiration. He asks Govinda to kiss his forehead, and the man sees a vision of his own, filled with all of the good and evil, pain and beauty of life in faces, actions, and animals. He sees the perfect peace in Siddhartha that he once saw in the Buddha’s eyes, and he falls to his knees feeling deep love.
The story with a strong metaphor of river and ferryman explains that life is like the river which if heard with silence and patience will give you a lot of answers and points of reflection. It will connect you to your past, as it did to Siddhartha when it reminded him of his father’s feeling when he was unable to handle his anxiety with regard to his son’s future. And the ferryman resembles a guide that you need in your life who can give you direction. This guide can be you yourself but you should have your oars to guide yourself. If you do not have oars you can definitely borrow it for sometimes from someone.
The story in a simple language conveyed a very profound message for all seekers that wisdom is one’s own truth. It made me understand life and seek my own wisdom.