Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – Book Review

Siddhartha — In pursuit of Enlightenment

Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. Wisdom cannot be passed on. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and taught.” Vishal Sikka quoted this line from the book Siddhartha by Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse during his key note lecture in the SAP TechEd conference. The lines quite impressed me. When I read the book for the first time I could not comprehend it fully. But recently I read it again, with a fresh appreciation I realized that the book renders a much needed spiritual insight to our digressed mundane life.

Siddhartha & Govinda

The book is not about Buddha, but of a young Indian Brahman, Siddhartha, who along with his friend Govinda is in pursuit of enlightenment. Siddhartha at his young age nurses discontent and starts to feel that the love of his parent or love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy forever. Siddhartha tells Govinda one day that he wants to become Samanas (ascetic) in search of spiritual illumination. Siddhartha seeks permission from his father to leave the house but his father refuses. Adamant on his decision Siddhartha stands whole night without moving an inch.

Cognizant that his son’s mind has already left him, with a heavy heart his father gives him consent to leave. Siddhartha and Govinda then lead the life of Samanas indulging in the routine of sacrifice, chanting, and meditation. Siddhartha realizes that even with this he is not going to attain the salvation he is seeking. Then they hear about Gotama, the exalted one, and his teachings. Longing to hear Gotama’s teaching they leave the Samanas.

Buddha

It is fascinating to see how beautifully Hesse handles the rendezvous of Gotama and Siddhartha. Siddhartha and Govinda meet Gotama in a village and are blessed to hear his teaching from Gotama himself. Govinda realizes that he has reached his destination, decides to join Gotama and requests Siddhartha also to join along with him. But Siddhartha doubts whether Gotama’s teaching is of much help to him. Siddhartha meets Gotama and the conversation between them is one of the very interesting sections of the book.

Siddhartha says to Gotama” You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And — thus is my thought, oh exalted one, — nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings! Gotama acknowledges Siddhartha’s concern and gives his consent to leave with a message “You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!” Excited that he has met someone who has reached the helm of enlightenment and knows that is the state of mind he wants to achieve Siddhartha moves on.

Awakening

As Siddhartha walks through, he ponders a new sensation. A feel of high, a proud state of standing along without teaching and without teachers, a supple willingness to listen to the divine voice in his own heart and suddenly Siddhartha realizes that he has reached a bright state of being awake. He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. The world around him seemed beautiful and colorful and Siddhartha emerged more a self than before.

But each time Siddhartha obtains a new knowledge it only kindles a new thirst in him and this time was no different.

Siddhartha tries a new path and this time he had to pay the price.

Sansara

Siddhartha falls in love with a courtesan Kamala and had to become a merchant to suit the lifestyle of Kamala. Though initially lust, richness, money doesn’t affect Siddhartha but eventually he succumbs to the vicious circle of Sansara. Slowly the disease of the soul, which rich people have, grabbed hold of him.

OM

With the help a ferryman, Vasudeva, Siddhartha gets back in the path of enlightenment again. It was a daunting task for Siddhartha whose mind was week and in depraved condition. Vasudeva steers Siddhartha in the right direction and ask him to just listen to the river. Siddhartha become nothing but a listener .And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection. Siddhartha gets enlightened.

Siddhartha & Govinda

Towards the end of the book, Govinda meets his friend Siddhartha, both old now, asks him what his findings of life was. Siddhartha express his thoughts as mentioned below.

Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else…

The opposite of every truth is just as true! That’s like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided…

To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect…”

Why should you read this book?

What I have written above is not even a glimpse of the book. The book is aesthetically written and definitely going to impress you. Vishal Sikka quoted the lines from the book in the context of using technology. According to him the great purpose of technology should be to achieve wisdom, to transcend our abilities, our senses and get closer to our potential and limits of humanity. This is just an illustration of how enriching the book is. There is this part in the book where Siddhartha gets into the ordinary life but fully detached from the fruits of his deeds which is a fascinating read. In the last episode Govinda gets a cosmic vision in Siddhartha which is equivalent to Arjuna’s vision of the cosmic form of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita. Throughout the course of the novel using various facets of life of the protagonist, Siddhartha, the writer passes on very simple but profound messages to the reader which is why I recommend this to be in your reading list.

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