by Herman Hesse, pg. 9 - 11
“But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself, he found no delight in himself. Walking the rosy paths of the fig tree garden, sitting in the bluish shade of the grove of contemplation, washing his limbs daily in the bath of repentance, sacrificing in the dim shade of the mango forest, his gestures of perfect decency, everyone’s love and joy, he still lacked all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind, flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night, melting from the beams of the sun, dreams came to him and a restlessness of the soul, fuming from the sacrifices, breathing forth from the verses of the Rig-Veda, being infused into him, drop by drop,
from the teachings of the old Brahmans.
Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself, he had started to feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother, and also the love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever, would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy him. He had started to suspect that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmans had already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom, that they had already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was not full, the spirit was not content, the soul was not calm, the heart was not satisfied. The
ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit’s thirst, they did not relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent—but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? . . .
And where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one’s own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! . . .
Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow—but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day? Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine source in one’s own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost.
Thus were Siddhartha’s thoughts, this was his thirst, this was his suffering.”
Today's post is the result of a process that began around three weeks ago. A good friend of mine, Maria, posted a discussion of Herman Hesse's classic “Siddhartha” on her own excellent travel blog (“Life and Lessons in Ecuador,” – I highly recommend you check it out at http://). I found the ebook and was immediately sucked in. It is a short but dense read, a dialogue on zen philosophy told via the journey of a Brahmin youth in the time of the Buddha, Siddhartha. After reading it through a few times, I began a response to her blog post that quickly ballooned into a full-fledged blog entry.
Anyway, one of the reasons the book has captivated me so fully is the above selection. This is from the first few pages when we are meeting Siddhartha as a youth. He comes from a loving family, with a wise and benevolent father and a caring and tender mother. He is an intelligent, pious, confident youth who enjoys debate with the elders of his community about all matters religious and philosophical. By all rights he should mature into a leading member of the community, settle down, and make his parents proud.
This is not what happens, however. Despite the love and wisdom of his parents, despite all the benefits of his caste and background, he feels an unrest in his soul that will not be quieted. I, too, feel this thirst. I also grew up sheltered from hardship in a loving family and should be happy with what I have. But I'm not; I can't help feeling that there is something more, and that this something is the most important thing there is. Is this thing what they call achieving peace?
Have you ever met someone who has achieved peace? I have not. Everyone I know has conflict, internal and external. My mother and father are both very wise, but they still have conflict. The leading religious figures in my life have conflict. My teachers, professors, peers, role models, co-workers, and friends all have conflict. Everyone I know spends their lives mired in conflict, spinning in circles around one another until their years are expended and they pass away. I am deeply dissatisfied with the vision of a life that follows the same pattern.
So what can I do? Kenny Werner says that “the meaningful path is the path of action.” But what action?