At that moment, when the world around him melted away, when he stood alone like a star in the heavens, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of icy despair, but he was more firmly himself than ever. That was the last shudder of his awakening, the last pains of his birth. Immediately he moved on again and began to walk quickly and impatiently... no longer looking backwards.
That was Siddhartha, the atypical Indian youth in Herman Hesse's celebrated novel, whose soul searching journeys take him on a spiritual roller-coaster, through twists of fate, sometimes opening his eyes to new illuminating truths, sometimes opening his heart to new benevolent worlds, yet almost always leaving him yearning for more.
This book reminded me of vodka, as it has a similar effect of giving a 'kick' long after its consumption. Its narrative carries a depth in multiple dimensions, sometimes caressing and sometimes pricking the conscience. It removes masks of comfort and brings out reality in all its nakedness. Its compelling insights need more than one reading to percolate, and guess that's what inspired me write this blog post, as a pretext to feel its after-taste for myself.
The book takes a deeply insightful look of both the spiritual and material sides of life, both Sansara and Nirvana, it digs a skeptical view of the great illustrious Buddha himself (when it says "Wisdom cannot be communicated"), it touches upon the core of Indian philosophy with Atman and Brahman. Love is also dealt with comprehensively - the sensual part, the affectionate part, the blindly possessive part, the inalienable love towards the self, and finally the follies of love in all these forms. The plot transitions beautifully, first taking Siddhartha from an immature spiritual ardor condescendingly into the depths of sensuality and then elevating him back into the spiritual estate.
The river occupies a prime place in the story. When Siddhartha "saw that the water continually flowed... yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new" it reminds one of the mild Ephesian Heraclitus, and made me realize how ancient Greek philosophy could blend with Indian thought. The river is both at the source and sea at the same time. It meanders lazily through the woods, while also dancing over the waterfalls. It speaks a thousand voices. It swells and roars during the rains, and delightfully trickles into the fields during summer. It is at the river, and with the help of an old ferryman Vasudeva, that Siddhartha finds his ultimate peace.
A book like this happens once in a lifetime, not for the reader but for its author. Herman Hesse may have won a Literature Nobel for his works but the joy of penning Siddhartha, I strongly feel, should have given him an immense fulfillment.