Sunday, January 29, 2012

Siddhartha

Siddhartha
© 1922 Hermann Hesse
119 pages




Once in India there lived a young man whose life was everything one might dream of. Not only did he come from a wealthy family, but people loved him for who he was; a handsome, kind, and wise personality in their lives. Despite all this, young Siddhartha felt a yearning for more -- and so he left everything behind him to search for enlightenment. Becoming a penniless ascetic, Siddhartha journeys throughout the land, among the poor and the rich alike, befriending the craven and the spiritual, always looking for answers to the meaning of life and suffering. Originally written in German, this translation by Sherab Chödzin Kohn is both spellbinding in content as well as in style.

There are few novels which have placed me so intimately inside the head of a character as this. It follows Siddhartha's story throughout his life, as he attempts to learn from the teachings and practices of others, and from the circumstances of his own life.  Siddhartha is a deeply introspective individual with an intense hunger for ultimate release from himself, from his ego. His years spent with the monks does not satisfy, and he cannot help but note the age of some of the monks present, who have spent decades living their doctrines but seem as constricted as he is. Even the words of Gautama Buddha, the great teacher of the age,  seem flawed. Ultimately, as his life wears on, Siddhartha finds the answers he once searched for...from an unexpected corner. Without spoiling anything, he realizes the preeminent importance of experience: even those who have found enlightenment cannot readily pass it on to students, because enlightenment comes not from books but from living life and responding to it. As each person's mind and life are unique, only we ourselves can learn the path particular to us; only we can plumb our own depths.

I found the book provocative and centering; definitely one worth mulling over.

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