Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Siddhartha (Novel) [Hermann Hesses]

Siddhartha is a novel by Hermann Hesse that deals with the spiritual journey of a man named Siddhartha during the time of Gautama Buddha. This book is Hermann Hesse’s ninth novel written in German language and published in the year 1922.  His best known works include “Demian, “Steppenwolf, “Siddhartha” and “The Glass Bead Game”. All these novels explore an individual’s search for identity, authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946 Hermann Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. His parents served in India under the auspices of the Basel Mission, a Protestant Christian missionary society. The word ‘Siddhartha’ is made up of two words in the Sanskrit language ‘siddha’ means ‘achieved’ and ‘artha’ means ‘what was searched for’ which together means ‘one who has found meaning of life’ or one who has attained his goals’. In fact, the Buddha’s own name, before his renunciation was ‘Siddartha Gautama’, Prince of Kapilavasthu, Nepal. In this novel the author refers Buddha as “Gotama”.
Siddhartha is a young Brahmin and his childhood friend is Govinda. They together make a spiritual journey and join the Samanas, a wandering, ascetic beggars group and live in jungle, doing fasting and meditating, become homeless, renounces all personal possessions. The Samanas believe that they can attain salvation (enlightenment) in this way of acetic life. Siddhartha learned a lot when he was with the Samanas, many ways leading away from the self he learned to go. He went the way of self-denial by means of pain, through voluntarily suffering and overcoming pain, hunger, thirst and tiredness. Thus three years passed by when they heard about Gotama, the exalted one, the Buddha, he had overcome the suffering of the world and stopped the cycles of rebirth.
 So Siddhartha left the Samanas and Govinda followed like his shadow. They reached the town of Savathi. They walked to Jetavana, in the garden of Ananthapindika where the exalted one lives. But Siddhartha did not want to be a disciple of Gotama and told Gotama about it. Siddhatha told Gotama that he found salvation from death in the course of his own individual search and Siddhartha also wanted to do the same search in his own way and his teachings are not enough for him. Siddhartha also would seek to reach the innermost part of his self and he went away. Govinda became a disciple of Gotama and stayed with him at Savathi.
The meeting with Gotama was a turning point in the life of Siddhartha. He began to enjoy the beauty of Nature. He looked around as if he was seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful, colourful, strange and mysterious was the world for him! Siddhartha reached the straw hut of a ferryman by the river. He slept in the hut. In the morning the ferryman got him across the river on his bamboo-raft. Siddhartha remarked that the river was beautiful. The ferryman said that he loved the river more than anything else because he learned much from the river by listening to the silence of it. Siddhartha had no money to pay the ferryman. But he said that Siddhartha would come back and pay him next time and it surprised Siddhartha.
 At about noon Siddhartha came to a village and saw a young woman washing clothes by the side of a stream. They talked and she initiated sexual pleasure with him which the text books call ‘climbing tree’. He bent down, kissed her but the voice from his innermost-self advised him “NO”. Suddenly she seemed to him an ugly female animal in heat and he walked away.
 He reached the city and met Kamala, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life.  She was a courtesan and she went to her pleasure garden sitting on a sedan-chair carried by a group of servants. She liked him because he was handsome even in his dirty appearance with long hair and beard, looked like a beggar. He told her that he was a Samana and lived in jungle, but now he wanted to learn the art of love and lust and she demanded money gifts in return. He said he could write beautiful poem about her beauty and he has learned the art of thinking, waiting and fasting. Kamala began to teach him the lessons of love. She also sent him to the rich merchant Kamaswamy who is a regular visitor of Kamala. Kamaswamy took Siddhartha as his equal in business. This was the instruction of Kamala and Kamaswamy could not refuse her order. Thus Siddhartha becomes rich and Kamala’s ardent lover. He begins to enjoy the luxury of life in the city. Siddhartha’s experience as an ascetic helps him much in the business and even Kamaswami is shocked to see the progress made by Siddhartha in the trade. His policy of waiting, fasting and thinking helps him in every field of life, whereas Kamaswami put his soul and heart in the trade but does not yield much profit. Siddhartha goes through all vices such as love lust, wealth, pleasure but they don’t touch his heart and soul.
 For a long time Siddhartha had lived the life of the world and of lust, though without being a part of it. His sense, which he had killed off in the years as a Samana, had awoken again, he had tasted riches, had tasted lust, had tasted power; nevertheless he had still remained in his heart for a long time a Samana; Kamala, being smart, had realized this truth. It was still the art of thinking, of waiting, of fasting, which guided his life; still the people of the world, the childlike people, animal like people had remained strange and alien to him as he was alien to them.
 But after some years of city life, Siddhartha is tired of this wealthy, luxurious life. He begins to spend his time in gambling such as chess and throw away wealth. He begins to drink wine, eat meat and does all sorts of vices. He knows that he is getting old and tired. Kamala gets a son in the love affair with Siddhartha. Siddhartha left his garden, his palace, left the city and never came back. Kamaswami and Kamala looked for him but not found out.
When Kamala received the first news of Siddhartha’s disappearance, she went to the window, where she kept a rare singing bird in a golden cage. She opened the door of the cage, took the bird out and let it fly. For a long time, she gazed after it, the flying bird to far distant horizon of the blue. From this day on wards, she received no more visitors and kept her house locked. But after some time, she became aware that she was pregnant from the last time she was together with Siddhartha.
  He walked through the forest, and reached the large river in the forest, the same river over which a long time ago, when he had still be a young man and came from the town of Gotama, a ferryman had conducted him. By the river he stopped, because tiredness and hunger had weakened him and he leaned against the lone coconut tree with his shoulder, embraced the tree with one arm and looked into the green water and wished to drown in the river. Then he heard a voice, it spoke to himself. The old word, which is the beginning and the end of all prayers of the Brahmans, the holy “Om”, which means “that what is perfect” or “the completion”. At that moment he woke up and realized the foolishness of his actions and fell into deep sleep on the root of the tree. When he woke up he was refreshed and saw a monk sitting beside him. It was Govinda. Siddhartha talked with him for some time and Govinda went away with other Buddhist monks.
 Siddhartha walked to the ferry and saw the old ferryman Vasudeva. Thus, finally Siddhartha runs away from the city life to the river where he had met the ferryman Vasudeva. Once again they are united.
Years passed by and Kamala, now a Buddhist follower, is travelling to see the Buddha, the exalted one, at his deathbed, accompanied by her son young Siddhartha. When she reached the river, she was bitten by a snake and Siddhartha took her to the straw hut of Vasudeva and they nursed her, but it was in vain and she breathed her last. Vasudava and Siddhartha made funeral pyre for her on the bank of the river. Siddhartha took care of his son but he was disobedient and made his father a slave and servant of his likes and dislikes. Siddhartha was not angry with him, but loved him and cared for his needs. Yet he grew up a prodigal son and one night he ran away from his father Siddhartha. He was very sad that his beloved son ran away from him. Although Siddhartha ran after him through the forest, it was in vain and Vasudeva told Siddhartha to let the boy find his own path, as many years ago Siddhartha ran away from his own father and found his own path.
 Listening to the river, Siddhartha realizes that time is an illusion and that all of his feelings and experiences, even those of suffering are part of a great fellowship of all things connected in the cyclical unity of Nature. One day he tried to search for his lost son and ferried across the river. The river flowed swiftly and silently, but its voice sounded strange: it laughed! Laughed clearly at the old ferry man Siddhartha and he bent over the water and saw his face reflected in the moving waters. Suddenly he remembered the forgotten truth. This face resembled another face. It was the face of his father the Brahman. And he remembered how he, a long time ago, as a young man, had forced his father to let him go to the Samanas in the jungle and how sad his father was!  Siddhartha looked into the water, and images appeared to him in the moving water: his father appeared lonely, weeping for his son; he himself appeared, lonely, also being tied with the bondage of yearning to his distant son; his son appeared, lonely as well, the boy greedily rushing along the burning course of his young wishes, each one heading for his goal, each one obsessed by the goal, each one suffering. The river sang with a voice of suffering, longingly it sang. Kamala’s image also appeared and the image of Govinda and other images, and they merged with each other turned all into the river, headed all, being the river, for the goal, longing, desiring, suffering and the river’s  voice sounded full of yearning, full of burning sorrow, full of futile desire. Finally Siddhartha knew that he whole voices are one - it is the oneness and it all consisted of a single word, which was ‘Om’ :the perfection. Om was floating in the air over all the voices of the river. In this hour Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering. On his face reflected the joy of a knowledge which knows perfection, full of sympathy for the pain of others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of others, devoted to the flows, belonging to the oneness.
 On seeing the joy reflected on the face of Siddhartha, Vasudeva was happy and he said that all these years, he had been waiting for this hour. “Now it has come, my dear, let me leave. For a long time I’ve been Vasudeva the ferryman. Now it’s enough. Farewell, hut, farewell, river, farewell, Siddhartha!”
With deep joy, with deep solemnity, Siddhartha watched him leave in full of peace, full of light. After a few days, his childhood friend Govinda came to Siddhartha with his Buddhist monks. Siddhartha talked to him about his new thoughts. Siddhartha said that we are all sinners; but within the sinner is now and today already the future Buddha, his future is already there. The world is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. The stone on the floor will after some time, perhaps turn into soil, and will turn from soil into a plant or animal or human being. This is why I love everything including the stone”. Siddhartha says that Nature works in a self-sustaining cycle, everything carries in it the potential for its opposite and so the world must always be considered complete. Siddhartha urges people to identify and love the world in its completeness (oneness). Siddhartha then requests Govinda to kiss his forehead and, when Govinda does, he experiences the visions of timelessness that Siddhartha himself saw with Vasudeva by the river. Govinda bows to his wise friend and Siddhartha smiles radiantly, having found enlightenment.


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