David A. Antler


By Hermann Hesse

Read: 2017-02-21
Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 978-0553208849

Novel about a Brahmin’s search for truth, understanding, and tranquility. Siddhartha’s only superpowers are thinking, waiting, and fasting. Interesting parallels to mindfulness and meditation.

my notes

[An intro joke]. Later, he also spurns an opportunity to hang with Gautama (the Sublime One, himself), obviously not knowing—or not caring—which side his bread is buddhaed on.

but was there value in knowing all these things without knowing the One, the Only thing, that which was important above all else, that was, indeed, the sole matter of importance?

[Siddhartha] observed merchants doing business, princes on their way to hunt, the bereaved mourning their dead, whores soliciting, doctors tending to patients, priests choosing the day when the seeds would be sown, lovers making love, mothers nursing their infants—and all these things were unworthy of being looked upon by him; it was all a lie, it all stank, stank of lies, it all gave the illusion of meaning and happiness and beauty, and all of it was just putrefaction that no one would admit to. Bitter was the taste of the world. Life was a torment.

Siddhartha spoke softly, as if speaking to himself. “What is meditation? What is leaving the body? What is fasting? What is holding the breath? It is all an escape from Self, it is a brief respite from the torment of being Self, a brief numbing of the pain and senselessness of life. This is the same escape, the same numbness the ox driver finds at the inn when he drinks a few bowls of rice wine or fermented coconut milk. Then he no longer feels his Self, he no longer feels the pain of life; he briefly finds numbness. Dozing off over his bowl of rice wine, he finds just the same thing that Siddhartha and Govinda find when they manage to flee their bodies with the help of lengthy exercises so as to linger in that-which-is-not-Self This is how it is, Govinda.”

Immersed in deep contemplation of this feeling, which had taken hold of him completely, he walked slowly away, allowing himself to sink to the bottom of this feeling as if through deep water, down to where the causes lay. Recognizing the causes, it seemed to him, was just what thought was; it was only in this way that feelings gave rise to insights and, rather than being lost, took on substance and began to radiate what was within them.

Even the most obscure hermit in the forest was not utterly alone; he too was enfolded in belonging, he too belonged to a class that was his home. Govinda had become a monk, and a thousand monks were his brothers, wore his habit, believed his beliefs, spoke his tongue. But he, Siddhartha: Where did he belong? Whose life would he share? Whose tongue would he speak? From this moment when the world around him melted away and left him as solitary as a star in the sky, from this moment of cold and despondency, Siddhartha emerged, more firmly Self than before, solidified. This, he felt, had been the final shiver of awakening, the final pangs of birth. And at once he began to walk again, striding quickly and impatiently, no longer in the direction of home, no longer toward his father, no longer back.

no longer was it in search of Being, no longer were its efforts directed toward the Beyond. How beautiful the world was when one looked at it without searching, just looked, simply and innocently.

Smiling, Siddhartha felt happiness at the friendship and friendliness of the ferryman. He is like Govinda, he thought, smiling. All the people I meet upon my way are like Govinda. All of them are grateful, though they themselves have cause to expect gratitude. All of them are deferential, all are eager to be a friend, to obey and think little. People are children.

Love can be begged, bought, or received as a gift, one can find it in the street, but one cannot steal it.

Simple is the life one leads here in the world, Siddhartha thought. There are no difficulties. Everything was difficult, laborious, and in the end hopeless when I was still a Samana.

If, for example, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would be compelled to take up some service or other straightaway, be it with you or wherever else, for his hunger would force him to do so. But Siddhartha can wait calmly. He knows no impatience, no urgent hardship; hunger can besiege him for a long time and just make him laugh. This, sir, is the usefulness of fasting.”

He—who in matters of love was still a boy and tended to hurl himself blindly and insatiably into pleasure as into an abyss—was now being instructed methodically in this doctrine: that one cannot receive pleasure without giving pleasure; that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every inch of the body had its secret; and that awakening this secret brought happiness to the one who held this knowledge.

And if ever I should return to this place, perhaps to buy some future harvest or for whatever other purpose, I shall be greeted happily and in friendship by friendly people and I shall praise myself for not having displayed haste and displeasure on my first visit.

At once he would become conscious for an hour that he was living a strange life, that all the things he was doing here were but a game, and that, while he was in good spirits and at times felt joy, life itself was nonetheless rushing by without touching him.

Perhaps people of our sort are incapable of love. The child people can love; that is their secret.”

Always the arts of thinking, waiting, and fasting had guided him in his life, and those who lived a worldly existence—the child people—had remained foreign to him, as he was to them.

Slowly, as moisture seeps into the dying tree trunk, slowly filling it up and making it rot, worldliness and lethargy had crept into Siddhartha’s soul, filling it slowly, making it heavy, making it weary, putting it to sleep. At the same time, however, his senses had come to life; they had learned many things, experienced many things.

He envied them the one thing they possessed that he was lacking: the importance they were capable of attaching to their lives, their passionate joys and fears, the happiness, uneasy but sweet, of their eternal infatuations.

Siddhartha started gambling. In no other way could he have shown his contempt for wealth, the idol of the merchants, more clearly and with more pronounced scorn.

Kamala kept a rare little songbird in a golden cage; he dreamed about this bird. He dreamed the bird, which always used to sing at dawn, had fallen silent, and since the silence struck him, he went over to the cage and looked inside; the little bird lay dead and still on the bottom. He took it out, weighed it for a moment in his hand, and then tossed it aside, into the street, and at the same moment he was seized with fear and horror and his heart hurt, as if with this dead bird he had thrust aside everything that had worth and value.

Only Kamala had been dear to him, only she was of value—but was she still? Did he still need her, or she him? Were they not playing a game that had no end? Was it necessary to live for that? No, it was not necessary! This game was called Sansara, a game for children, a game to be played sweetly perhaps, once, twice, ten times—but again and again?

he recalled, he had boasted of three things before Kamala, the three noble and unassailable arts he had mastered: fasting—waiting—thinking. These had been his possessions, his power and strength, his sturdy staff; it was these three arts he had studied in the assiduous, laborious years of his youth, to the exclusion of all else. And now they had abandoned him; not one of them remained, not fasting, not waiting, not thinking. He had sacrificed them for the most miserable of things, the most transitory: for sensual pleasure, for luxury, for wealth! How strangely things had gone with him. And now, it appeared, he had truly become one of the child people.

I had to spend many years losing my spirit, unlearning how to think, forgetting the great Oneness. Is it not as if I were slowly and circuitously turning from a man into a child, from a thinker into one of the child people? And still this path has been very good, and still the bird in my breast has not died. But what a path it has been!

It is good, he thought, to taste for oneself all that it is necessary to know. Already as a child I learned that worldly desires and wealth were not good things. I have known this for a long time but have only now experienced it. And now I do know it, know it not only with my memory but with my eyes, with my heart, and with my stomach. How glad I am to know it!

He saw that this water flowed and flowed, it was constantly flowing, and yet it was always there; it was always eternally the same and yet new at every moment!

this enlightenment had made him profoundly happy. Oh, was not then all suffering time, was not all self-torment and fear time, did not everything difficult, everything hostile in the world vanish, was it not overcome as soon as one had overcome time, as soon as one could think it out of existence?

No, a true seeker could not accept doctrine, not a seeker who truly wished to find. But the one who had found what he was seeking could give his approval to any teaching, any discipline at all, to any path, any goal—there was no longer anything separating him from the thousand others who were living in the Eternal and breathing the Divine.

Siddhartha began to understand that it was not happiness and peace that had come to him with his son but, rather, sorrow and worry. But he loved him and preferred the sorrow and worry of love to the happiness and peace he had known without the boy.

this blind love for his son was a passion, something very human, that it was Sansara, a muddy spring, dark water. Yet at the same time he felt that it was not without value—it was necessary, it came out of his own being. This too was pleasure that had to be atoned for; this too, pain to be experienced; these too, follies to be committed.

So many, many thousands enjoy this most precious sort of happiness; why can’t I? Even wicked people, even thieves and robbers have children and love them and are loved by them; I alone do not. How simple his thoughts had now become, how lacking in understanding. That’s how greatly he had come to resemble the child people.

Slowly blossoming, slowly ripening within Siddhartha, was the realization and knowledge of what wisdom and the goal of his long search really was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, a capacity, the secret art of being able at every moment, without ceasing to live, to think the thought of Oneness, to feel Oneness and breathe it in.

One can pass on knowledge but not wisdom. One can find wisdom, one can live it, one can be supported by it, one can work wonders with it, but one cannot speak it or teach it.

The opposite of every truth is just as true! For this is so: A truth can always only be uttered and cloaked in words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided that can be thought in thoughts and said with words, everything one-sided, everything half, everything is lacking wholeness, roundness, oneness.

I experienced by observing my own body and my own soul that I sorely needed sin, sorely needed concupiscence, needed greed, vanity, and the most shameful despair to learn to stop resisting, to learn to love the world and stop comparing it to some world I only wished for and imagined, some sort of perfection I myself had dreamed up, but instead to let it be as it was and to love it and be happy to belong to it.

one person’s treasure and wisdom always sounds like foolishness to others.”

Love, O Govinda, appears to me more important than all other matters. To see through the world, to explain it, to scorn it—this may be the business of great thinkers. But what interests me is being able to love the world, not scorn it, not to hate it and hate myself, but to look at it and myself and all beings with love and admiration and reverence.”

he was silently smiling, smiling quietly and gently, very kindly perhaps, perhaps mockingly, precisely as he had smiled, the Sublime One.