How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

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Location: India

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

'Siddhartha'

My friend recommended Herman Hesse to me a few days ago, and so I decided to read this most famous of his novels. I read it online (the Project Gutenberg link is here). It is a very small book and I completed it in two days.

The book is sub-titled 'An Indian Tale' and is divided into two parts, with the first part dedicated to Romain Rolland. Set in Buddhist times, the book explores the life of Siddhartha (not the one who became the Buddha), the son of a Brahman. Siddhartha's life, moving in cycles of wisdom and worldliness, is depicted.

Siddhartha has a brilliant mind and early on, he develops the longing to search for the key to peace and an end to the suffering and pain of life. His learning of the Vedas at home leaves him unsatisfied. So he leaves his house with a friend called Govinda and becomes a Samana (ascetic), living a nomadic life practising self-denial and learning from older Samanas various yogic practices. He learns to live in extreme conditions, subject to great hunger, thirst, physical pain, etc. After a few years of such a life, he finds that he is as far from his goal as when he started.
At this point, Siddhartha and Govinda decide to visit the Buddha, whose teachings have reached them. They do meet the Buddha and Govinda joins the monastic order there. But Siddhartha has developed an aversion to all teaching. He tells the Buddha, "You teach us to live according to your guidelines and we will live a good life, no doubt. But can you put into words what you went through when you became enlightened? That is the real knowledge I want from you, how can you give me that?"

Thus he leaves his friend and wanders around. He develops a distrust of words and a love for 'things' themselves, as he realises that everything is godly, from the stone to the human beings. But this leads him to reach a town where he sheds his Samana garb and becomes a worldly person conducting business and indulging in all kinds of pleasures. Once again, disenchanted after living such a life for about two decades, he leaves everything and sets out one night and reaches a river, where he realizes some fundamental things from its flow. He stays with a ferryman on the bank of the river and becomes his companion. Living a pure life here, he yet again falls into worldliness when he accidentally finds his son from the time when he was a businessman. But after long and futile efforts to be with his son, he comes back to the river.
In the end, his friend Govinda comes across him and finds that he seems to have the same calm and tranquillity that the Buddha had, while he himself is left searching for his goal still.

Siddhartha's peace is found in the realization that the passage of time is not real, but only a construct of our minds. Each and every thing has its whole essence, its whole 'past' and 'future' embedded in itself at any moment. The book is an easy read in terms of language, but some thought must be expended on its message.

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