I carried four books with me on my University of Chicago visit, and managed to finish three between airports, planes, and free time. Actually, one was not really a book—it was The Aims of Education, a 208-page publication by the University of Chicago on an orientation speech that is by tradition on the aims of education. The second was On Writing Well by William Zinsser, which I had started prior to the trip. Third was this book, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Fourth, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: this was assigned for school, and was ironically (or not) the one that I did not finish.
Anyways, Siddhartha (1922) is the life story of a boy who goes on an adventure to find his spiritual destiny. The protagonist has the same name as Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, but is in fact a different person—Siddhartha (from now on the name Siddhartha will refer to the fictional character) meets Gautama in the tale.
Siddhartha is born the son of a Brahmin, the exalted class in Hindu society. He is smart, lovable, and kind, but also curious, curious about the world, about the soul, about the Soul One, Atman. When he is young a group of shramanas pass through Siddhartha’s city on a pilgrimage, and Siddhartha resolves to join their ascetic ways. His friend Govinda knows this: “Now it is beginning, now Siddhartha is going his own way, now a seed has been planted, and as his fate sprouts, so does mine.”
His chief strength is his sense of self direction; that is, he seeks spiritual meaning on his own. This is seen no clearer than when Siddhartha meets with Gautama, and even though all the holy men around him are becoming Gautama’s disciples, Siddhartha rejects Gautama’s teachings—not so much the content, but the teaching itself, for Siddhartha realizes that the spiritual truth he is searching for cannot be taught, it must be experienced.
Siddhartha had a single goal before him, one and one only: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of desire, empty of dreams, empty of joy and pain. To die away from himself, no longer to be I, to find the peace of the emptied heart, by thinking away from the self to stand open to the miraculous: this was his goal.
Another profound passage:
“Most people, Kamala, are like falling leaves, which blow and turn in the air, and stagger and tumble to the ground. But others, fewer, are like stars, they travel in a fixed orbit, no wind reaches them, in themselves they have their law and their course. Among all the scholars and shramanas, of whom I knew many, was one of this type, a Perfect One, I can never forget him. That is the one called Gautama, the Exalted One, the prophet of the teachings. A thousand disciples hear his teaching every day, every hour they follow his precepts, but they are all falling leaves, in themselves they do not have the teachings and the law.”
Such are the personal and yet universal thoughts of the enlightened. I would encourage anyone who is seeking the truth, no matter of what religion or opinion, to read this book.