Lauren Cono, 129 TCCS
Author: Herman Hesse
Published: Germany, 1922
“Based on the early life of Buddha, this novel is about the search for self-realization by a young Brahman, Siddhartha. Realizing the contradictions between reality and what he has been taught, he abandons his comfortable life to wander. His goal is to find the serenity that will enable him to defeat fear and to experience with equanimity the contrasts of life, including joy and sorrow, life and death. Asceticism, including fasting, does not prove satisfying, nor do wealth, sensuality, and the attentions of a lovely courtesan. Despairing of finding fulfillment, he goes to the river and there learns simply to listen. He discovers within himself a spirit of love and learns to accept human separateness. In the end, Siddhartha grasps the wholeness of life and achieves a state of bliss and highest wisdom.” ~ Encyclopedia Britannica
Personal Connections and Reflections:
I read this book about 1 year ago, at the start of my Peace Corps service. I could relate to the main character, Siddhartha, in many ways: he chooses to leave home and follow a path of experiential learning rather than what is expected of him; he is very much a philosopher, inquisitive and constantly thinking, yet works on stilling the mind and just being.
Just being. Not an easy state to obtain, whether in this fast-paced technological age of today or thousands of years ago in the time of the Buddha.
While this novel starts piggy-backing off the spiritual path of Buddha, it deviates down a stream that makes the idea of spiritual growth more accessible to the layperson. Siddhartha finds his enlightenment not by sitting under a bodi tree, which he finds unfulfilling, but after experiencing all of the sins of the world for himself. Only then, after experiencing all that life has to offer, does he see the path to peace within the flow and flux of the river. The river is a symbol reminding Siddhartha and his readers that clinging to any one moment, one thought or any one identity is useless because there is a constant continuum, a collective spirit, a oneness like the flowing river of water molecules that are here and there and everywhere all at once.
“All of this had always existed, and he had not seen it; he had not been with it. Now he was with it, he was part of it. Light and shadow ran through his eyes, stars and moon ran through his heart.”
This book is so special because it allows readers to accompany Siddhartha through his growth of mind and spirit, and emerge at the close with a piece of the same enlightenment. The lesson I take away from Siddhartha’s journey, is that there is no single path to self-growth, there is, however, power in the connection between all things – our inner and outer world as one ecosystem and not as separate entities which we often feel.
Living in Thailand, this book is not only a personal reflection on life, but a helpful historical and cultural understanding. The river, or meh-naam (mother-water) is of large significance to Thai people. It is its life vein, its symbolic mother and its spiritual reminder of inter-connection. While the idealisms of Buddhism seem to be lost in the everyday selfie-taking populous or the formal ceremonies, the connection to water at the heart of most Thai-Buddhist holidays is the continuous reminder of a river’s life lessons.
For all of its philosophical meanderings, this is not a book to be intimidated by. It reminds me of other inspirational and highly relatable books like The Alchemist. This novel is a must-read for those who value self-reflection and/or philosophical discussion. Download it for free at Project Gutenberg or on your Kindle.