Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I just finished the book Siddharta by Nobel Laureate, Hermann Hesse. For a book that’s only 150 pages or so, this book sure packs a punch. If you are at all interested in Eastern thought or Buddhism, I highly recommend this book. It brings up so many great ideas, some of which I’ll discuss below.

Seekers never take the ‘Easy Way’

Siddharta is not the Buddha in this story, but he also goes on a journey of enlightenment. The funny thing is that he actually meets the Buddha early in his life. He agrees with the Buddha’s teachings, but he cannot accept them. This illogical behavior seems to be commonplace among seekers. Truth seeking has conditioned them to believe that anything valuable must be earned; as a result, anything that comes easily feels ‘false’ or ‘cheap.’ Even if they are told the Truth, they still must learn it for themselves.

Wisdom cannot be taught, only knowledge

Wisdom is the combination of experience and knowledge to form insights. Your students might know what to do, but they won’t really understand until they experience it themselves. Despite your best effects as teacher or parent, you cannot ‘save’ your children and students from all their painful mistakes. Does this mean that teaching is a waste of time? No, it still helps. At some point, the light bulb may go off in their heads, and your principles will save them some trouble going forward. They can also pass them on, beginning the cycle anew.

True meaning is beyond all teaching

Toward the end of the book, Siddharta becomes enlightened. Govinda, an old friend and devout Buddhist, asks how he became enlightened when so many devout Buddhists had not. Siddharta explains that the problem was not with the Buddha’s teachings, but with all teachings. Teachings are imperfect vessels. They are tools meant to give you guidance and structure, but for true meaning, you must go beyond them � sometimes even ‘break’ them. Some religions are about obedience, but Buddhism is ultimately about transcending everything. If you follow teachings to a tee, you will always stand in the teacher’s shadow. To see the light as he sees it, you must step out into the radiant sun.

3 thoughts on “Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

  1. A good work of art.

    Philosophically, the thermodynamics-like postulation of justice is questionable.

    Justice, a concept related to the advantages and disadvantages of individual and/or groups, is self serving.

    Knowledge does not guarantee wisdom.

    True understanding requires both understanding and experience. Read “The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims,” Arthur Schopenhauer.

  2. Thanks for you comments. Justice is a often debated term, and people’s reactions to it depend on the definition they use. It could be self serving, but it need not. For example, if you take justice to be “the natural order” of things, then it is a function of people’s adv/disadv. It just “is,” despite people’s grumbling.

    Also, the concept of justice and its application can be two different things. People may agree on the same concept yet disagree on its application in society.

    I agree with you about wisdom. To me, wisdom is the synthesis of knowledge and experience into understanding.

  3. Thanks for the correspondence.

    Existentially, human seek acknowledgement in different ways, as pointed out by Sartre. Be it the altruistic, power-hungry, aesthetics, innovative, etc. modes of living. None who lives in the real world could be satisfied without engaging another being (Heidegger’s Dasein).

    Justice-a human conjecture-could be interpreted in many ways. Through a human-being, the element of acknowledgement seeking applies.

    Quoting Kierkegaard’s The Sickness unto Death, “The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself.” Therefore, all human experiences relates back to itself, its being. It’s rooted in one’s advantages/disadvantages, depending on one’s mode of acknowledgement seeking.

    It is impossible for a being to express themselves without being.

Comments welcome!