Reference: Pursuit of Understanding
2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
This book is one of my favorite novels of all time; it is right up there with the likes of East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird. I first read Siddhartha when I was seventeen years old. It was an important part of my own spiritual journey then and has served the same purpose more recently.
Having read it again this year, I wondered how on earth I could have spent twenty-seven years effectively donning a yellow robe and devoting my life to a cult. Alas, perhaps that path served the same purpose as Siddhartha’s several decade journey.
During his early spiritual seeking years, Siddhartha comes into contact with the Buddha, referred to as the Glorious One. Siddhartha can find nothing wrong with the Glorious One or his fledgling philosophy and practice. But something holds Siddhartha back from donning the yellow robe of devotees even when the Glorious One pitches his way directly to Siddhartha. His fellow seeker and friend Govinda opts for the robes.
Hesse provides a concise, accurate summation of the Buddha’s teachings and the Vedic scripture that precedes and influences their origination. He has Siddhartha offer no criticism of them because he finds no fault with them. But as his own life plays out, in many ways paralleling the journey of the Buddha’s own life, he comes to his own realization of the goal of the Buddha’s path. Not through practice, but instead through living.
In a sublime, lyrical sort of manner Hesse demonstrates how Govinda, who chose to don the robes when Siddhartha declined, and who spent his life as a dedicated follower of the Glorious One, could never attain that realization. While Govinda attained a high level of awareness and exemplary conduct, it was precisely because Govinda chose to follow and devote himself to a teacher that made enlightenment unattainable.
One moral of the story is that one doesn’t attain to enlightenment by simply following an enlightened one’s path. Perhaps even, the very act of becoming a devoted follower ultimately bars the path.
At some point, if one wants to transcend, one is going to have to blaze some trail on his own.