July 2014

A couple of days ago I read Herman Hesse’s Siddharta. I read it on one sitting in three hours because it was so catchy I couldn’t stop. I usually think that catchy books are like bubbles, there’s a point when it explodes and you forget about that book really quickly, once it’s over it doesn’t leave any trace in you, but definitely, this is not the case. Siddharta has impressed me. At the bottom, the book plot is just one of the paradigm in modern literature, rewritten thousands of times: the young man who leaves his family and home to wander around the world to go his own way and find a place for him, facing all the new problems that comes from the development of individualism and a society that opens the door to many possibilities. What a person can become is anymore determined by the social stratum in which is born, and that leads to new questions.

Siddharta isn’t different, it tells exactly the same story, just maybe its Oriental background make things a bit more different and interesting, but that’s all. So the plot is not what have impressed me, what has caught my attention is the way Hesse manage to describe feelings so vague and complex, and ideas that I’d experimented and hadn’t identified them until I’ve read about them in the book. For me, it’d have been impossible to describe them so concisely as the author.

The awakening of youth: as all sons, Siddharta comes to realize that the love and the knowledge his parents can give him isn’t enough to feel satisfied. The seed of this finding may be in the feeling of contempt and superiority over the parents and their generation, the need of differentiation that supposes the end of childhood. It’s something unfair to the people who raised you, but must be accepted by both parties as inevitable. After all, when someone decides to have children, one of his goals is that his children become better than him, and the only way to get that is to let them go and create something new by themselves. So Siddharta’s father finally let him abandon home.

Escapism: in his search, Siddharta, greatly influenced by the education he received in his home and not prepared yet to break away with it, first experiments with ascetism. In this phase, the passage that caught my attention was when Siddharta compared the exercises that he practiced with the samanas with the effects of drugs: for a while you can forget yourself and your pain, but just temporaly, sooner or later have to come back to reality. So he was wrong in his first approach to wisdom.

Reflecting on this, I don’t think it can be possible to find spiritual peace the way Siddhartha tried first, through denial or disregard of the body and senses, as forming an important part of self and experience, existence is impossible outside them, and therefore, much as samanas aim to get away from them for as long as possible, they have always to returned. In a way, this kind of idea shares with Christianity the contempt of the body and the material world in pursuit of a higher existence, a way of thinking that can ultimately bring despair and pain because of  the dissapointment that brings the world around us since it is not as perfect as we could have wanted. While it is a way of thinking that focuses on spirituality, doesn’t produce a vacuum in the soul, but fails to calm it completely, because it is still suffering, unable to move on. When Siddharta realized that the doctrine of samanas is just absurd masoquism and not a way to get real answers (in the case they exist), he decides to move on.

Where will I belong?:  this is one of my favorites moments of the story. Once Siddharta has left behind his boyhood friend Govinda (which can symbolize the ultimate and final break with past, family and the education received) and has decided not to join any other movements or listened to teachers, led by the arrogance of his youth, he feels completely liberated and suddenly the world seems a wonderful place for him and not a valley of pain anymore. Whit this thought, he begins to revalue senses. And what is more important, he becomes the ‘overman‘ (I’m thinking about Nietzsche), because from now he will be the creator of his own values, he will look for wisdom in his own way and won’t let anybody (teachers, gods or superior beings) to tell him what’s good or bad. At the same time he feels all this, also notices that cold has gotten to his heart, because now his completely alone in his search, no one will go along with him, and suddenly he hasn’t got a home anymore, any place to return. Realizing this, he could just turn away and come back to Govinda, but he stays strong and accept his fate with fear, but also with resolution. Maybe by that moment he’d just reached the twenties, time to experiment. Definetely, he doesn’t belong to anywhere and since then he’ll spend years trying to get that kind of connection with the world and people around him but this time his own way,

The awakening to Earth: Siddhartha  wanders while looking for ways to give a new direction to his life, suddenly runs into it in the figure of a woman and the desire she arouses in him. Used to despise those kinds of impulses, since being that the first time he experienced something as basic and instinctive as that (the animal glow in her eyes, devoid of any spirituality) can only cause an immediate and severe rejection, and pushes the woman away from him. However, those feelings leave a mark in his heart, awakening the shadow of doubt and the flame of curiosity, and since that time the passenger decides to seek beauty, stop seeing the world as suffering and away from the traditional morality that had embraced until then, explore that virgin land, the world of the body, “the meaning of the earth.”

Opulence: so, after too much time living as an ascetic, Siddharta decides to walk the opposite way.. He joins the city and there he experiences all about sex, money and power. However, since the beginning, distruts this kind of life and only approach it with an informative purpose, in my opinion. He always feels like a stranger in it, and nothing of what it can offer him really gets into his heart. The prove is that he’s unable to love Kamala and is always laughing at Kamaswami concerns. As he has a deep vision of life, understand that all those issues are transient and meaningless. Anyway, although it isn’t enough to fill his soul, it’s a comfortable and easy life, and Siddharta makes the mistake of settle down until he’s trapped.

 Into the sunset: finally, Siddhartha cannot resist the charm of worldly life, which ends trapping him. As his youth passes and becomes more mature, the idealistic spirit within him turns weak, and it cries of warning are quiet by the opulence in which they drow. The protagonist succumb to luxury, wealth and vice, losing his deep looking at the world, and ends up being one of many, his life now full of worries and worldly businesses. This life seems complete for him during several decades, but at the moment he understands that he’s not so young, when he beholds Kamala’s face and notes she has lost some of its seemingly eternal beauty, it’s time to take stock of his life and realizes he is ashamed. He has failed, betrayed all the ideals of his youth, the teachings of his family. Everything he owns and what has achieved throughout his life will perish, will be left behind when the time comes to die in terrible remorse. Losing all his wealth overwhelms him, losing himself in pleasures now just alleviates him for some time, like the samanas exercises, but then he feels even worse. He was wrong: taking just the path of “Earth” wasn’t enough and now suffers its consequences: an empty life. What was to be an informative stop along the way became a matter of decades. The difference now is that he hasn’t got so much time left.

What good is his life? What alternative can he take? It’s too late to fix it and decides to take the road to self-destruction. Although samanas also conducted exercises to flee themselves, they respected some limits and did it to improve, destruction wasn’t the end of their actions. However, taking his own life, Siddhartha commits an act whose only goal is death, releasing him from an unbearable life and person, himself, a heinous act that symbolizes the high point of desperation and the complete failure of a life away from spirituality.

Balance: at the end, his old conscience wakes up after years buried by his easy life, and Siddharta survives to his attempt to end this life. He stays with the boatman, who hosts him by the river. Little by little Siddharta rediscovers the calm of a simple life, and the value of humility, reflection and restraint, all of them he had hold during his youth, but back them he was too audacious to stick to them due to his early age. All the way he’s walked and just to get to the old aristotelian conclusion that virtue is at the midpoint of two extremes, that a lifestyle that denies a part of reality (soul or body and sense) cannot lead to a complete experience of existence. Maybe Hesse could just put an end to this story here, however he didn’t. Why? Well, Siddharta is lacking one of the most influential, powerful and memorable episode in a person’s life, something essential to gain wisdom. So, before reaching the end, Siddharta will have to face it.

To have loved and lost: as I posted here one day, love is a wild animal, a double-edged knife, a perfect storm that sweeps away everything  with overwhelming force and drags you with it. It is such a deep and rich in nuances feeling, a look outside, to the object of love, and within oneself so deep, that a life without have loved is almost equivalent to say that you haven’t lived at all. And the protagonist of our book could never have achieved wisdom without feeling something so fundamental to humans.
Throughout his life, Siddhartha has managed to avoid being stalked by this restless animal love is. He never felt true love for any of the people he met on his way, just for Govinda, but in terms of friendship. He was unable to love Kamala, although he desired her and  practically lived with her, the distance doesn’t hurt him, either do the fact she’s not completely his. However, love unexpectedly enters the quiet life of the protagonist in his son. Why choose to embody the experience of love in the figure of the child and not in the couple? In my opinion I think that the author would think that romantic love can have a beginning and end, is subject to conditions and may be replaceable with varying difficulty. It is a kind of love that binds to a certain extent, but not entirely. However, love professed to one’s children is absolute, unconditional, unending and arises spontaneously, “naturally”, doesn’t matter how much it dims or the child moves away from home, the heart of the parents will be marked forever. It is love for one’s blood, for that improved version of oneself, linked to the primitive instinct of protection that made ​​and makes the species perpetuate.

Unfortunately for Siddharta, he’ll have to look into the eyes of the bitter face of love, as his son rejects all his attempts to take care of him and give him an education. Raised in the city, among luxury, the child’s soul will always belong to the material world, it’s been caught by it, he’s radically opposite to Siddharta. Hence, he has to bear all the possibles ways of rejection: violence, rage, disregard, indifference… which he tries over and over to fight with patience and affect. But living the agony of letting go someone you know is worst than that. Anyway, making the situation last is only to pospone a goodbye, and finally, Siddharta must resign and let his son come back to the city, away from him.

After that, he enters a period of deep sorrow where petty thoughts and feelings take over him (this seems obvious when he sees families crossing the river happily with sons and daughters and he wonders why can’t he and his child be like that), which are the same anyone who has ever been left by someone has experimented. For me, it’s pretty notable that a person as experienced and wise as Siddharta, keeps being vulnerable to the power of love and its effects, feeling them for the first time in his life. This is a good point where the author shows that his character is not such a lofty, he’s still a human being with a beating heart, same as the rest of us. With this passage, Siddharta is somehow humanized.

One: reaching the end of his life, with his life time friend Govinda by his side, Siddharta finnaly got wisdom and he experiments the union with the world around him, a concept all people can imagine but instead is hard to experiment. Watching the waters of the river flowing, he is able to break through our stiff concept of time and how we divide it into past, present and future and contemplate the continuum of his life and feelings, and himself, all at once, making an unity, like the rest of cratures also make. And when he comes back from that state, can’t help but recognize the other, the different, symbolize in his friend Govinda, as an equal, like a part of himself, and so kisses him in the forehead expressing his love.


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