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Siddartha by Hermann Hesse

 
 
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 04:37 pm
Siddartha is probably the book which influenced my life more than any other single book I can name.

I'd like this thread to be one where people can discuss any and all topics, comments, opinions, insights, visions, whatever, wise or not, related to Siddartha. All things Siddartha.

Please share any thoughts you have on the subject.
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extra medium
 
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Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 04:46 pm
Some think Siddartha is the story of Buddha's life, but while there are similarities, that is not really precisely it.

In fact, Siddartha meets Buddha in the book.

One central theme of the book that I find fairly fascinating is that Siddartha actually follows Buddha and his group, in the forest for a time. But he realizes that while Buddha has a lot of valuable truths for him, its not really the complete answer for him. Its a great solution, but it seems there is something still sort of missing from it. He needs to leave Buddha and find something different.
That. That is the aspect I find fascinating.

This feeling that while Buddhism is great, and it does seem to be an answer or The Answer--its still missing slightly something.

Hesse must have felt this. What is this? What is this something that Siddartha had to leave Buddha to go find, so that his particular path would be complete?

What was Buddhism missing in Siddartha's eyes?

_________

Here's a summary and study of the book:

http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/siddhartha/shortsumm.html

Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin, a Hindu Priest, and his best friend, Govinda, have grown up learning the ways of the Brahmins. Everyone in their village loves Siddhartha. But although he brings joy to everyone's life, Siddhartha feels little joy himself. He is troubled by restless dreams and begins to suspect that he has learned all that his father and the other Brahmins can teach him. Siddhartha's search for a new path leads him to seek out and join the ascetic Samanas. As a faithful friend and kindred spirit, Govinda accompanies him.

As Samanas, the pair of friends relinquish all of their possessions and practice mortification of the flesh, especially through fasting. Siddhartha sought out pain because when pain looses its power over one's body, the Self fades into oblivion and peace is attained. But while pain soon becomes a memory, peace does not come. Ultimately, Siddhartha reasons that one cannot really learn anything from teachers or the doctrines they espouse. The knowledge he seek lies within, in Atman, the element of the divine within him.

Three years after joining the Samanas, Siddhartha and Govinda hear rumors of a great man, Goatama, the Illustrious, the Buddha, who wanders the country preaching the way to enlightenment. Siddhartha and Govinda travel to Savathi, where they discover that the Buddha is staying in Jetavana, in the garden of Anathapindika. The two men hear Gotama's sermon, after which Govinda announces his intention to join in Goatama's discipleship. Siddhartha commends Govinda for his decision, but refuses to join himself.

The next day, Govinda takes his monk's robe and bids Siddhartha a sad farewell. As Siddhartha is leaving, he runs into Goatama in the woods. Despite his awe, Siddhartha gathers the courage to speak to the Buddha. Siddhartha compliments the theoretical coherence of Gotama's worldview, the ultimate unity of creation and the incessant chain of causes and effects, but argues that Goatama's doctrine of salvation, the transcendence of causation, calls into question the consistency of his position. Goatama responds that he does not seek to explain the world but to achieve salvation from suffering. Judging it by the former standard is inappropriate. Siddhartha says he must find salvation on his own, and the Buddha wishes him well in his quest.

As Siddhartha leaves the Buddha, he realizes that a change has overcome him. Whereas he formerly reviled the world as a painful illusion, a distraction from a submerged, unitary reality, he now sees that reality resides in the world as it is, in the wondrous diversity of shapes and colors which surround him. This realization setz him apart from all of his previous associations. He is no longer a Brahmin or a Samansa, and he has resisted following his friend Govinda into the Buddha's discipleship. He more alone, yet more himself than ever.

Having left Govinda and the Buddha, Siddhartha spends the night in a Ferryman's hut. The next morning he meets the Ferryman and crosses the river. Siddhartha admits to having no money to pay for the voyage, but the Ferryman says that friendship is payment enough. Siddhartha continues on to a large town where he sees a beautiful woman being carried on a sedan chair by her servants. Smitten by her, Siddhartha determines to make her acquaintance and enters town to make himself presentable. A couple of days later, Siddhartha returns to the grove he saw the beautiful woman‹he learns in town that she is a courtesan named Kamala‹and begs to meet her. Making her acquaintance, he asks Kamala to teach him the art of love. Kamala responds that she will only do so when Siddhartha obtains nice clothes, shoes, and money with which to buy her gifts.

At Kamala's request, Siddhartha goes to see Kamaswami, the merchant. Siddhartha moves into the merchant's house and learns about business. Soon he is living on his own and visiting Kamala for his love lessons. After interacting with the ordinary people of the town for some time, Siddhartha realizes that his past as a Samana has driven a wedge between them and him. He possesses a distance from his emotions and behaviors that ordinary people do not possess. The only aspect of his life that he does feel truly involved in is the time he spends with Kamala, who he admits knows him better than anyone ever

Eventually, Siddhartha begins to feel a great attachment to his ordinary life. This transition was not easy, though. While he excites his senses and lessens the distance between himself and his daily activities, Siddhartha does not possess the sense of importance with which ordinary people live their lives, and for this he envied them. He gives himself completely to his acquisitiveness and his insatiable desire to consume. He begins gambling as a way to show his contempt for riches, but soon the thrill of the game becomes its own reward; the higher the stakes, the more potent the intoxication. This downward spiral is finally arrested by a dream Siddhartha has of Kamala's songbird. Upon waking, Siddhartha realizes that he is tired of his present life, his hedonistic routine, and his possessions. Siddhartha then leaves the town, never to return.

After leaving town, Siddhartha returns to the river where had met the Ferryman earlier. Disillusioned with himself and the world, he contemplates suicide. Overwhelmed, Siddhartha falls into a deep sleep. When he awakes he feels refreshed and happy, and sees that his old friend Govinda is near him. They two friends speak briefly, and then Govinda returns to the Buddha. Siddhartha sits by the river for a while and considers his life. He concludes that although his recent existence has almost pressed him to suicide, it was good for him to have lived it. He is now ready to complete his life's journey.

Intrigued by the river's beauty and silent wisdom, Siddhartha decides to stay by the river. Siddhartha soon meets the Ferryman Vasuveda, the same man who took him across the river earlier. Siddhartha offers to be Vasuveda's apprentice, an offer which the Ferryman graciously accepts. The two grow together as Siddhartha begins to learn the river's wisdom, and soon Siddhartha begins to emulate Vasuveda's demeanor, expressing a contented peace in the routine of daily life. Years pass. One day, the two Ferrymen hear that the Buddha is dying. Kamala, on hearing the news as well, travels with her son to be near Goatama. As she passes near the river, she is bitten by a snake and dies, but not before she is taken by Vasuveda to Siddhartha.

After Kamala dies, Siddhartha keeps his son with him by the river. The boy, though, refuses to accept Siddhartha as his father and consequently does nothing he is told. Many months pass, but the boy remains intransigent. Eventually the boy runs away. Vasuveda tells Siddhartha to let him go, but Siddhartha follows him. Upon reaching the town, Siddhartha recalls his own experiences there and admits to himself what he knew all along, that he could not help the boy. Siddhartha feels a great sorrow at this loss, and the happiness he had known as a Ferryman leaves him. Vasuveda soon arrives and leads the despondent Siddhartha to back to the river.

The pain of losing his son was long-lasting for Siddhartha. It enabled him, however, to identify with ordinary people more than ever before. Though Siddhartha was beginning to understand what wisdom really is, the thought of son did not leave him. One day he sets off in search of his son, but stops as he heard the river laughing at him. He looks into the river, sees his own father whom he had left, and turns back. Siddhartha tells Vasuveda all of what he had thought, but as he does, Siddhartha notices a change in the old man. Vasuveda leads Siddhartha back to the river, imploring him to listen deeply. At first Siddhartha hears only the voices of sorrow, but these voices are soon joined by voices of joy, and at last all the voices are subsumed under the great sound of "Om." Realizing the unity of these voices, Siddhartha's pain fades away. He finds salvation. Recognizing his friend's achievement, Vasuveda departs into the woods to die, thereby joining the unity he has helped Siddhartha find at last.

Not long after Vasuveda's departure, Govinda hears rumors of a Ferryman who is a sage. Still restless and unsatisfied after all his years of searching, Govinda goes to speak to the Ferryman. The Ferryman, Siddhartha, recognizes Govinda immediately, though Govinda does not recognize him. When Siddhartha finally addresses Govinda by name, Govinda recognizes him. Happy to have reunited after so long, Govinda spends the night at Siddhartha's hut. Govinda asks Siddhartha what are the doctrines by which he lives. Siddhartha repeats his oft mentioned refrain that he eschews teachers and doctrines, arguing that while knowledge is communicable, wisdom is not. He says that expressign love and admiration toward all things is the most important thing in the world. Govinda is confused by most of what Siddhartha says, but he feels certain that his old friend is a holy man. Preparing to leave, Govinda asks Siddhartha for something to help him along his path. Siddhartha tells Govinda to kiss his forehead. Doing so causes Govinda to see a continuous stream of different faces in place of Siddhartha's. Overwhelmed by this display of unity and timelessness, Govinda falls to ground, tears flowing uncontrollably.
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Mills75
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:00 pm
It's been years since I've read Siddhartha, but doesn't he leave the Buddha because he realizes that one must experience and learn from the world to attain enlightenment? That while he learned much from the Buddha, he also learned that he couldn't simply learn the Buddha's understanding from the Buddha. I recall that Siddhartha's enlightenment is marked by him actually hearing the river...
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spendius
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:03 pm
E.M.:-

I read the first bit and the last bit and I have an idea what was missing.But I'm not telling you because you will use whatever advantages you possess to cut me out and I will be left howling at the moon.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:11 pm
I agree, Mills. Buddhism (the non-popular sort) requires a deep level of personal responsibility for one's own enlightenment; you cannot depend on the Buddha's achievement to save you from the suffering of your delusions. I read Siddartha long ago, in 1990 (actually, I heard the tape while driving from Phoenix to Austin), but I think you are right about Hesse's interpretation. Note that Hesse was a great appreciator of Nietzsche who also stressed that no-one should ever be a Nietzschean; he must be himself.
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:22 pm
spendius wrote:
E.M.:-

I read the first bit and the last bit and I have an idea what was missing.But I'm not telling you because you will use whatever advantages you possess to cut me out and I will be left howling at the moon.


ooo boy, who is paranoid around here? How could I learn anything from Siddartha to cut you out? I would never do that. The karma of an act that despicable would be like equivalent to sinning against the Holy Spirit: the unforgiveable sin.

JL & Mills: excellent. Thank you. Yes, that must be getting at what it is.
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:23 pm
spendius wrote:
E.M.:-

I read the first bit and the last bit and I have an idea what was missing.But I'm not telling you because you will use whatever advantages you possess to cut me out and I will be left howling at the moon.


ooo boy, who is paranoid around here? How could I learn anything from Siddartha to cut you out? I would never do that. The karma of an act that despicable would be like equivalent to sinning against the Holy Spirit: the unforgiveable sin.

JL & Mills: excellent. Thank you. Yes, that must be getting at what it is.
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spendius
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:33 pm
E.M.

We agree for once.They are good aren't they?
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:49 pm
Yes they are good. They can probably answer all my questions right here.
___

Another interesting part of the story is that after he leaves Buddha, Siddartha goes to live in the city to experience "carnal learning" with apparently a high class call girl of sorts.

I found this interesting also. I mean, Siddartha leaves Buddha. And part of his spiritual journey was to be with this lady of the evening? She would teach him important things that he couldn't learn from Buddha?

What is that? To go take up with a prostitute instead of learn with Buddha?

How does that fit into Siddartha's spiritual journey? How does that make sense to you? Does it make sense?
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spendius
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:57 pm
Well it makes sense to me but on second thoughts maybe it doesn't.On one level one can see the point of both positions but on another one can't see the point of either.It probably depends on the call girl,the economic situation of the punter and whether the air conditioning was on the right setting.
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 05:59 pm
Well maybe you'd like it better if he was hung on a cross so he could tell jokes to Buddha or something?
___

um, sir did you read the book? Please do, its very thin, should only take you an hour or 4. They had no air conditioning! Peace pipe and that, perhaps. Opium is hinted.

Actually, you remind me of another Hessian character: Steppenwolf. Yeah and that pub you go to every day is like the Madman's Theater in that book. Have you read it? Highly recommended to one in your electric field, sir. Read it. Perhaps after Siddartha.

Give me some Hesse-speak to prove you are qualified to post here.

Answer a Hesse riddle: In Journey to the East, who was the secret Master of the traveling group?
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CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:00 pm
It is part of the journey. How can he appreciate the
subtile things (like hearing the river) if he hadn't experienced all the other things.

I liked Siddhartha a lot.
0 Replies
 
extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:10 pm
CalamityJane wrote:
It is part of the journey. How can he appreciate the
subtile things (like hearing the river) if he hadn't experienced all the other things.

I liked Siddartha a lot.


CJ,

Lets take an example. Interested in your thoughts on this, I've never asked a woman about it.

Do you think that a person can be on a spiritual journey, and part of that journey is to spend some years with a high class call girl (or guy, if they are a female).

I know the above might sound like I'm joking, but I'm serious. I mean, I think it might be possible.

Hell, sometimes thats what I tell myself I'm doing, sort of.

Living out the plots of these books and the plots of Beatles songs, in no particular order.

___

But not to digress: Question: Do you think that a person can be on a spiritual journey, and part of that journey is to spend some years with a high class call girl (or guy, if they are a female)? To the point that they'd need to leave a Buddha figure to go do that?
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spendius
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:16 pm
I would abandon the Buddah to go figure anything.If it was a high class prostitute so be it.I would probably take a chance with a low class one if push comes to shove.
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:20 pm
CJ,

There was a movie made of Siddartha. Kind of old now--perhaps 1972 or so. I saw it at a film festival in Hawaii a couple years ago. Interesting. The book was much better than the film, but the film did have a unique interest of its own. Kind of arty-philo-trippy. Long-haired guys living down by the riverbanks, smoking some stuff. The funny part about the movie is they were dressed in like cool 60s hippie clothes. Yet they were supposed to be these ancient Indians or something. I thought that was fairly hilarious. At the time the movie was made, it probably seemed normal. But now it just looks bizarre. Siddartha type monks meditating down by the river in vintage 60s clothes that you can't even find anymore. The costume designer wasn't that great--it was just a bit to contrived. The movie is almost worth seeing just for these scenes.

But as for the message and feel, the book is much better.
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:25 pm
spendius wrote:
I would abandon the Buddah to go figure anything.If it was a high class prostitute so be it.I would probably take a chance with a low class one if push comes to shove.


Sir,

Your wit is becoming opaque.

Tell us what you know about Buddhism. We do have a dress code, you know.
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:25 pm
XM - I think Siddartha make a huge impact on my life, but I don't recall so many details and I know I never analyzed the novel so deeply.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:30 pm
Thanks, Extra. I'll watch out for it (as in be wary of it). During the 60s I was over 30 and a college student. While I was not "square", I still saw the hippie "culture" as hokey. They meant so well, love, pacifism and all. But the whole thing was so self-conscious, affected and contrived. Not a REAL culture; it was an ideology. Cultures have great time depth; theirs was more of a fad (or an instant culture, as one author called it).
0 Replies
 
HofT
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:31 pm
Is there some mystical purpose to this consistent misspelling of the subject's name - an apocryphal convention of sorts, like inverted syllables in cockney?

As to the journey eastwards, even I know that - password is "if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"
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extra medium
 
  1  
Reply Fri 10 Jun, 2005 06:32 pm
littlek wrote:
XM - I think Siddartha make a huge impact on my life, but I don't recall so many details and I know I never analyzed the novel so deeply.


Yes.

This is a classic case of a book that can be read on many levels and it works on many levels.

I consider it a masterpiece.

Its relatively short.

The average 8th grader could read it and get an interesting story out of it.

On the other hand, each page has been dissected sentence by sentence by literary experts, Ph.Ds in literature, etc., and there is no doubt the entire thing

is utterly threaded and woven through with symbolism, subconscious themes, Jungian ideas (Hesse & he were in the same areas of thought a lot), and more...

Hesse put this one together like a tight fitting masterpiece painting. A first it looks rather simple. As you look into it, it just gets deeper and deeper.

I re-read the book at the pace of 2 pages per day. Blew my mind. A study group I was in suggested to do that. At the end, I felt like I had read 10 books or something.

The symbolism interests me.

For example, some say the River-man that Siddartha meets toward the end--many analysts make the case that man is Krishna. And Siddartha needed Krishna, or at least more of a Hindu influenced Buddhism, to take him across that final "river" that he was at in life.
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