I would have never picked up this book had I not know how incredibly popular it is. The first time I had heard of this book was while I was reading Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris, where four of the people he talked to cited Siddhartha as their go-to book for wisdom and guidance.
Reading Siddhartha (written by Herman Hesse, German-Swiss in 1951) felt like reading The Alchemist (by Coelho, a Brazilian, written in 1988). Both fictional books deals with a protagonist searching for enlightenment and undergo a process of self-discovery.
Siddhartha is a story about two friends, Siddhartha and Govinda. Set in the fictional Indian kingdom of Kapilavastu, Siddhartha and Govinda leave their homes to search out for spiritual enlightenment. Siddhartha renounces all personal possessions and somewhat becomes a homeless. His father deems himself a failure for not being able to help his son find what he is seeking for.
Soon enough, both Siddhartha and Govinda encounter Gautama, a Buddhist. Govinda finds solace with Gautama and adapts himself to the Buddhist teachings. However, Siddhartha isn’t convinced that Buddhist teachings at this point fulfils his thirst for enlightenment, and so leaves Govinda and ventures out on his own. He feels that every individual is meant to have a unique spiritual experience for themselves, in other words, we cannot all succumb to Buddhist teachings collectively.
Siddhartha crosses a river, where he meets with the Ferryman, and unable to pay him for his service, the Ferryman predicts that Siddhartha will eventually come back one day to pay the river.
Siddhartha meets Kamala, a beautiful courtesan. He is so heads over heels for her, that he follows her request for Siddhartha to be wealthy to win her affections. Even though he doesn’t like it, he starts to gain material wealth just to be with her, leaving him to not feel any spiritual enlightenment. He feels a great sense of emptiness in his soul. He eventually leaves Kamala, all disillusioned with life, and returns to the river, where he falls into depression. The only thing that gets him out of his misery is the constant humming of Om.
The river becomes an important source of enlightenment for Siddhartha. He learns to listen to the river, for the river can convey messages to him. Many years later, he sees Kamala with a child, who turns out to be his son, on their way to see the dying Buddha. Kamala is killed by a snake bite, and so Siddhartha takes it upon himself to take his son. However, the son is defiant and eventually leaves Siddhartha, mirroring Siddhartha’s own childhood experience of leaving his own father.
This is the point where Siddhartha realizes that time is an illusion, and that all what he experiences is part of the cyclical nature. He meets with his old friend Govinda later on, and they both reconnect. Siddhartha realizes that one attains spiritual enlightenment through living his life and experiencing all what life has to offer. “Because nature works in a self-sustaining cycle, every entity carries in it the potential for its opposite and so the world must always be considered complete. Siddhartha simply urges people to identify and love the world in its completeness.”
As I said earlier, I felt like I was reading The Alchemist, although The Alchemist was written much later than Siddhartha. Everyone one of us are seeking something in our lives, a purpose, a meaning. Some may find it in religion, others may find it elsewhere. The point is that we all embark on a personal journey. As in the case of Siddhartha, it meant leaving behind a material life, and even though he does get back into it for the sake of a woman, he realizes how empty and hollow it is. There are many people who do just this: venture out on their own.
The book doesn’t feel preachy at all and I didn’t feel like as if the writer wants to purport the idea of Buddhism or its teaching on to us. Instead, we are merely observers into Siddharta’s life. We witness his journey. There is no right or wrong way to seek such kind of enlightenment. But the message of the book at the end is something I could resonate with.
Perhaps its the act of surrendering to nature that allows us to experience life fully. Whether that means we endure happiness and sadness, gain and and loss, or pleasure or pain, we will attain enlightenment once we go through all these emotions. It is a tough world we live in- modernization and technological advances takes us away from nature and from finding enlightenment. However, as Siddharta shows, one can attain enlightment if they really set out passionately.