Day 15: A book that should be on college/high school required reading list
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
THOUGHTS ABOUT “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse
(Bantam Books Edition, Translated by Hilda Rosner)
NOTE: My apologies, this is brimming with spoilers. Please do keep in mind that I do not guarantee the accuracy of my interpretations because I have no degree in literature whatsoever. These are just, after all, my opinions. “There is nothing to opinions, they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, and everyone can support them or discard them.”
I actually bought a copy of this book for my mother because she said she read it decades ago - way before she was married and I was born. But she doesn’t want to bother herself and read the novel again so I decided to read it for myself and know why she recommended the book to me. I spent months on reading this book. I don’t want to rush things like I do with most chick lit and young adult fiction – I devour them one chapter at a time just for the sake of entertainment, without much reflection. But for Hesse’ novel, I wanted to chew everything carefully and finally digest it.
According to Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor, one must recognize a quest in analyzing literature. In the first chapter, Every Trip is a Quest (Except When It’s Not), Foster strategically made it easier for the reader by giving a structured outline of a quest: (a) a quester, (b) a place to go, (c) a stated reason to go there, (d) challenges and trials en route, and (e) a real reason to go there.
And viola! Siddhartha is also a quest like any other children’s literature: Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and others.
(a) a quester
As the title itself suggests, we have Siddhartha. He is a son of a learned and religious man – a Brahmin. He was taught to make offerings and sacrifices to the gods and to read the sacred texts, the Upanishads and Vedas. But deep inside, he knew that it wasn’t enough and that he needs to seek. He thirsted for peace and wanted to conquer his own Self in order to find Atman deep within him.
(b) a place to go
In order to quench his thirst for wisdom, he decided to join the ascetics in the forest, together with his loyal friend Govinda.
(c) a stated reason to go there
Siddhartha wanted to learn the art of conquering and destroying his Self, silencing one’s desires and passions in this transitory world of illusion in order for him to unleash the Divine Being within his innermost.
(d) challenges and trials en route
Although he learned a great deal of things with the Samanas in the forest, he is still bothered by the thirst for peace and salvation so he left the Samanas. He then met Gotoma, the Buddha and heard his teachings. But then he refuses to accept the Buddha’s teachings because he believes that one cannot learn by listening to others teachings – one must learn from oneself. And just when he was awakened and was finally nearer to the truth he seeks, he was led astray by the fleeting pleasures of this world. He had an affair with a woman named Kamala who taught him that money and clothes are things of great importance and value. He then plunges into a sinful life of a merchant, and he finally gets the money and clothes that is of high value to Kamala. Tired of his life, he finally leaves the town and moves on again but still continued to face trials and frustrations.
(e) a real reason to go there
It turned out that he does not need to destroy his Self, but to know himself – Siddhartha, to appreciate the world he calls a transitory world of illusions, and to understand ordinary people – their desires, fears, and longings and to finally be at peace. In short, the reason is to gain self-knowledge.
And perhaps, Foster was right when he wrote: The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.
Why I hate Kamala / Darn that woman!
Ever since I encountered Kamala in the Part Two of this book, I immediately thought that she is not an ideal female character although she is indeed, beautiful and stunning to the point that Siddhartha compared her lips to a freshly cut fig. Through her, women were portrayed as temptation, and this does not – in any way – empower feminism. I was greatly disappointed by this.
And I was even more frustrated when Siddhartha actually listened to her teachings. I was like: Why is he even listening to this Kamala? He is a learned Samana; he should know better. But I guess it’s essential to the storyline. Even though Kamala was not a good embodiment of a strong and great woman, she still played a significant part in the development of Siddhartha’s spiritual quest. (But I still don’t like her.)
Why I thought Kamala was a vampire / Kamala and her vampirism
Yes, Kamala was a vampire. (For more information about vampirism in literature, refer the third chapter of Foster’s How to Read Literature like a Professor. SORRY, THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MEYER’S TWILIGHT.) Of course, I did not connote that in the literal sense; it’s more of a metaphor. Kamala was the one who lured Siddhartha to the village that made him turn astray from his goal.
So why vampire? Like a vampire that consumes someone’s blood to remain undead, Kamala also consumed Siddhartha – robbed Siddhartha of his innocence, and consequently gained the pleasures of love and sexual desire. Siddhartha lost the inner voice that had once prevented him from going through path of temptation because he was blindly engaged in his game with Kamala. He also forgot the art of thinking, fasting, and waiting, which he had learned during Samana days. And finally, he lost his superiority, his advantage over others, and became just an “ordinary” man bothered by worldly desires and pleasures.
Siddhartha and David + Intertextuality
Siddhartha and David are perhaps poles apart – of different cultures and countries, of different beliefs and religions, and of different times. But Siddhartha’s detour kind of reminds of King David’s fall from grace. King David, although chosen by God, greatly sinned when he met a beautiful woman named Bathsheba. He committed adultery and ordered to let Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, be killed in the battle. What triggered their detour from the righteous path is both a woman of great beauty. And hey, I just realized that it was also Eve who told Adam to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree. Why does it always have to be women? Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or perhaps it’s intertextuality. Forgive me, but I am going to cite Foster’s book once again: …intertextuality, the ongoing interaction between poems or stories. This intertextual dialogue deepens and enriches the reading experience, bringing multiple layers of meaning to the text…The more we become aware of the possibility that our text is speaking to other texts, the more similarities and correspondences we begin to notice, and the more alive the text becomes.
It quite astonished me that such learned and wise men could be lured to wrongdoings. Everyone is susceptible after all. They are humans too. Siddhartha was right when he said, “I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear Om again, to sleep deeply again and to awaken refreshed again. I had to become a fool again in order to find Atman in myself. I had to sin in order to live again.”
My thoughts about his thoughts / My attempts to link the book with Christianity
“Wisdom is not communicable….Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
This reminds me of what I read from Our Daily Bread, April 25 Devotion: “While receiving spiritual food from preachers and teachers is good, spiritual growth and survival also depend on knowing how to feed ourselves.” (Julie Ackerman Link) In short, enlightenment should come from yourself.
“The sinner is not on the way to a Buddha-like state; he is not evolving, although our thinking cannot conceive things otherwise. No, the potential Buddha already exists in the sinner…”
The phrase “The potential Buddha already exists in the sinner” pertains to a teaching of Eastern Philosophy regarding the aspects of man. The seven aspects of man, according to Yogi Ramacharaka to order of decreasing density are: 1.) physical body 2.) astral body 3.) prana or vital force 4.) instinctive mind 5.) intellect 6.) spiritual mind 7.) spirit. (For comprehensive information about the Eastern Philosophy and the psychic plane of existence, refer to Understanding the Psychic Powers of Man by Jaime T. Licauco) The Buddha-like state that Siddhartha talks about is the seventh aspect of man, the spirit. It is the innermost divine essence inside a man that unfolds as one approaches Nirvana – the state of perfection. “It is the soul of the soul” (Ramacharaka) which somehow fits together with what Siddhartha quoted from the Hindi sacred texts, “Your soul is the whole world.”
“Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good – death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary; everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding…”
Experience has thought me that there is a reason for everything that happens and for everything that exists. I believe that everything in this world is here for a reason and that it is a crucial part of the Lord’s plan. Suffering and burden are necessary to strengthen our faith. “If the agony on the Cross had not happened, the truth that God is Love would have been unfounded.” (“Why Does God Tolerate Suffering?” Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Pope John Paul II)
“…love is the most important thing in the world…. I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.
It surprised me that a book that seems to be concerned about Buddhism reverberates a Christian-like teaching – to love. The bible says that of faith, hope, and love, love is greatest (I Cor 13:13). The Ten Commandments is even wholly centered on love – to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbors. And it is love that distinguishes Christ’s followers from others.
And somehow, it baffles me that Siddhartha talks about loving the world and such. Buddhism, founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (Not the same Siddhartha in the book) is mainly centered on the “Four Noble Truths”: There is suffering in the world; the cause of suffering is desire; suffering can be ended by following the Eightfold Path. In order attain enlightenment, one must break free from the world of suffering and from worldly desires and pleasures. Perhaps Siddhartha’s thoughts dare to diverge from such teachings and it is evident in his contradiction of Gotoma’s teachings.
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It is a good read and I recommend this philosophical and thought-provoking book.