“Your soul is the whole world”
A lot of people for the longest time recommended me this book. I have to say I’m slightly disappointed with the experience of reading it, maybe because my expectations were so high, as all of the wise and profound people I know seem to admire it. When I was younger (high school) I’ve read Steppenwolf and I was in complete awe of Hesse’s writing, and I regarded him as one of most sagacious writers I’ve ever come across. Later on (in college) I attempted to read The Glass Bead Game, equally adored it but haven’t had enough time to finish it.
Theme-wise this book is right up my alley - combining psychological development with spiritual path of Buddhism - sign me up.
However, I wasn’t as enchanted with Hesse’s writing in this one, I found it to be less profound than in his other books, even though it is thematic in a similar niche of self-discovery. Maybe that’s due to my evolution as a reader as I have already read a number of books exploring the same matter or Hesse's writing really is a bit uneven. I would like to attempt some of his other books again to test those theories.
This book has high quality ideas but for some reason they didn’t sit with me as well. I think the main reson is I couldn’t connect to the main character and found him self-conceived, arrogant, almost without ability to love, and hugely disliked the underlying storyline of his predetermined extra ordinance and specialty, as his superiority to the other ‘’ordinary’’ men is established early on. In my opinion, the division between preordained chosen ones and regular people is malignant (any separation that makes us think there are inherently two kinds of people), and can cause inferiority complex in common people that don’t view themselves in that way, and grandiosity in others that think to be special means not being a true self but establishing difference (basically meaning superiority) to others.
''But still he had felt different from and superior to the others; always he had watched them with some mockery, some mocking disdain, with the same disdain which a Samana constantly feels for the people of the world.''
It’s of great importance to establish that there are no two kinds of people, and every person in the core self is special, chosen to be alive, and called to the path of maturation and individuation. In some way, Siddartha comes to shift of perspective as he learns to appreciate ‘’common’’ people, but for me, it was too little too late, as he already displayed too much annoying narcissism, maybe characteristic to everybody who perceives themselves as woken.
Especially Siddartha's relationship with Govinda displayed inequality, as Govinda always was a subordinate, bland, and unspecial character. I, in contrast to Govinda, didn't project numinous characteristics onto Siddharta, my feelings were more similar to this statement: But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself, he found no delight in himself.
Glad we agree on this Siddharta. I really haven’t found any delight in him as a character, no matter how hard I tried to, but maybe that was Hesse’s intention to invoke in a reader similar feelings and perception as Siddhartha had of himself? I know that in the storyline he reached his true inner self, but for me, that wasn’t the most convincing process even though there were real moments of transcendence. Maybe that is also the point, that the meaning of life is reachable not in the continuity but only in small fragments of time, as these moments are worth being alive for. I would say I like the whole narrative if all of the other characters are regarded as symbolic, representing inner archetypes in Siddhartha. I highly appreciate and agree with the main idea - that one can’t regain true wisdom and authenticity just through following spiritual teaching and religious practices.
''To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs!''
Siddartha comes to this realization early on, as he observes that a lot of people follow Buddha, comprehend and adhere to his teaching, but the end result of their path differs greatly, as they don’t have the equal charisma, influence or awakeness.
''Thousands of followers are listening to his teachings every day, follow his instructions every hour, but they are all falling leaves, not in themselves they have teachings and a law.''
Ideas of Buddhism are intelligently incorporated but also blended with Jungian individuation and excerpts of Nietzschean philosophy. Different concepts are not pushed into the character (or readers), as Siddartha discovers them from his own experience rather than an understanding of others. So the path that we follow should always be just ours, personal, individual, as there is no teaching in this world that can give us true wisdom without authentic intrapersonal transformational process. Subjective truth acquainted by experience is valued more than memorized knowledge containing the insight of others.
''Look, my dear Govinda, this is one of my thoughts, which I have found: wisdom cannot be passed on. Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness.''
''Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and taught.''
In the beginning, Siddharta through his dissatisfaction both with himself and his environment comes to the realization that the world is a mere stage, theatre of masks, full of personas living a false, inauthentic life, even the wisest and spiritual people are no strangers to this kind of deceit. He experiences an existential crisis facing the reality of life that returns to him in circles. His crises are a good example of painful events that are an inherent part of psychological maturation, as deeply questioning one’s life leads to freedom. Buddist path to eliminate suffering, that has some elements which I don’t agree on, leads the main character to the exploration of oneself and having a more balanced perspective that transcends the limits of thinking in black and white colors. Traditionally Buddhist attempt to eliminate ego and desire is transformed in acceptance and integration of wholeness of oneself, as all parts have an important role in attaining self-knowledge and wisdom, more of a Jungian and Nietzschean viewpoint. Siddartha’s process of engagement goes through different phases - hedonistic, nihilistic, mystic, rational, relational and meaningful ones. In every stage, he explores an archetype/complex that is part of himself - Brahman, Shaman, rich man, gambler, ferryman. I like that Siddartha’s spiritual revelations were not ground-breaking, as he often struggled after them as before. I am also fond of the fact he explored vastly different aspects of himself - dark, vein, lustful sides, in order to reach his ultimate, true Self. The good and bad experiences, progression and regression both play an immense part in enlightenment and the big cycle of life. No stage in life is futile or isolated, and no person is merely evil or virtuous. This book can be a good example for both individuation and spiritual journey but I would recommend it to people who are beginners in the exploration of psychology or/and spiritually as I see it as a more of an introduction, maybe not for someone deeply engaged in the topics. I can see myself reading this book 10 years ago and being completely fascinated with it, and I would say then the book would have a much greater impact on me. But in this day and age, I already read a lot of material of this kind so the ideas are not new to me. But I will humble myself and admit this book is still a great accomplishment and a lot of people would benefit from it greatly! Always look inward as nor Hesse, nor Budda/Jung/Nietzsche can give you enlightenment, only point in the direction of it.
“You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!”