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12 Jul 2022

Hesse // Siddhartha

I was talking to someone recently how I still feel I’m seeking, but I have no idea what it is I am seeking. Meaning maybe if I had to put some sort of name too it, which is vague, but also feels more prescriptive than how I feel.

I decided to reread Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.

It’s a Westerner’s story about Buddhism, mixing in a bunch of psychology (stuff about the ego, and such).

It is a story about seeking.

130 Many verses of the holy books, above all the Upanishads of Samaveda, spoke of this innermost thing. It is written: ‘Your soul is the whole world.’ It says that when a man is asleep, he penetrates his innermost and dwells in Atman. There was wonderful wisdom in these verses; all the knowledge of the sages was told here in enchanting language, pure as honey collected by the bees. No, this tremendous amount of knowledge, collected and preserved by successive generations of wise Brahmins, could not be easily overlooked. But where were the Brahmins, the priests, the wise men, who were successful not only in having this most profound knowledge, but in experiencing it? Where were the initiated who, attaining Atman in sleep, could retain it in consciousness, in life, everywhere, in speech and in action? Siddhartha knew many worthy Brahmins, above all his father — holy, learned, of highest esteem. His father was worthy of admiration; his manner was quiet and noble. He lived a good life, his words were wise; fine and noble thoughts dwelt in his head — but even he who knew so much, did he live in bliss, was he at peace? Was he not also a seeker, insatiable? Did he not go continually to the holy springs with an insatiable thirst, to the sacrifices, to books, to the Brahmins’ discourses? Why must he, the blameless one, wash away his sins and endeavour to cleanse himself anew each day? Was Atman then not within him? Was not then the source within his own heart? One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking — a detour, error.

These were Siddhartha’s thoughts; this was his thirst, his sorrow.


The Buddha says this to Siddhartha, a riff on Rumi’s “trade your cleverness for bewilderment.”

414 ‘You are clever, O Samana,’ said the Illustrious One; ‘you know how to speak cleverly, my friend. Be on your guard against too much cleverness.’


770 This whole world of the Kamaswami people had only been a game to him, a dance, a comedy which one watches. Only Kamala was dear to him — had been of value to him — but was she still? Did he still need her — and did she still need him? Were they not playing a game without an end? Was it necessary to live for it? No. This game was called Sansara, a game for children, a game which was perhaps enjoyable played once, twice, ten times — but was it worth playing continually?


879 So he praised himself, was pleased with himself and listened curiously to his stomach which rumbled from hunger. He felt he had thoroughly tasted and ejected a portion of sorrow, a portion of misery during those past times, that he had consumed them up to a point of despair and death. But all was well. He could have remained much longer with Kamaswami, made and squandered money, fed his body and neglected his soul; he could have dwelt for a long time yet in that soft, well-upholstered hell, if this had not happened, this moment of complete hopelessness and despair and the tense moment when he had bent over the flowing water, ready to commit suicide. This despair, this extreme nausea which he had experienced had not overpowered him. The bird, the clear spring and voice within him was still alive — that was why he rejoiced, that was why he laughed, that was why his face was radiant under his grey hair.


970 Siddhartha spoke with delight. This discovery had made him very happy. Was then not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time? He had spoken with delight, but Vasudeva just smiled radiantly at him and nodded his agreement. He stroked Siddhartha’s shoulder and returned to his work.


1199 Siddhartha said: ‘What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.’

‘How is that?’ asked Govinda.

‘When someone is seeking,’ said Siddhartha, ‘it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.’

1227 ‘No, I am telling you what I have discovered. Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it. I suspected this when I was still a youth and it was this that drove me away from teachers. There is one thought I have had, Govinda, which you will again think is a jest or folly: that is, in every truth the opposite is equally true. For example, a truth can only be expressed and enveloped in words if it is one-sided. Everything that is thought and expressed in words is one-sided, only half the truth; it all lacks totality, completeness, unity. When the Illustrious Buddha taught about the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into illusion and truth, into suffering and salvation. One cannot do otherwise, there is no other method for those who teach. But the world itself, being in and around us, is never one-sided. Never is a man or a deed wholly Sansara or wholly Nirvana; never is a man wholly a saint or a sinner. This only seems so because we suffer the illusion that time is something real. Time is not real, Govinda. I have realized this repeatedly. And if time is not real, then the dividing line that seems to lie between this world and eternity, between suffering and bliss, between good and evil, is also an illusion.’


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