Apr 16

Siddhartha

By Kenneth Feucht books Add comments

16APR2009 Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse ????

This is a dual-language book, with one side of the page in the original German, and the other side in a reasonably good English translation. I was able to read first the German, and then to check whether I properly caught the original meaning (assuming a good translation). Hesse was certainly deserving of the Nobel Prize in literature, as he writes well, and it is a shame for those that can only read this text in English. It is the story of  Siddartha, a boy from a well-to-do Indian family, who decides to become an ascetic. He leaves home with his friend Govinda, practicing meditation and fasting according to the style of Hindu ascetics. After 3 years, he goes to meet the Buddha, but abandons his friend Govinda and runs off to live a life of luxury, with plentiful wealth and sex. He is successful, but the voices of the past call him back to the ascetic life. He is discovered by the river by his old friend Govinda, who goes on. Siddartha ends up living with a ferryman. Ultimately, the main courtesan that he was seeing in times of wealth comes to him, bringing an 11 year old son, but dying on the spot from a snake bite (a little bit Hollywood-ish). The son ends up being a total brat that eventually runs away. Siddartha’s ferryman companion dies, and Siddartha soon becomes known as the sage of the river. This fame leads Govinda to seek out this sage and getting advice from him. The advice ends up being the opposite of what the Buddha had taught him, and the book ends.

Not being a Hindu/Buddhist scholar, it would be difficult for me to ascertain how closely Siddartha follows eastern teaching. Hesse did grow up in India, so that there is reason to believe that there might be moderate corollary in teaching. If so, eastern philosophy seems to be a total contradiction of truth. Thus, there is given no ground for belief in morals, for belief in objectivity, or, for belief in anything. Yet, the religion produces sages that speak profoundly, or behave profoundly. This seems to be a total contradiction, since, if truth is non-existent, to possibility of profound thought or action is impossible. Thus, it becomes a self-defeating religion.

Regarding criticism of the book, Hesse writes beautifully, though he does produce a rather contrived tale. It is a delightful story with abundant philosophical thought, though Hesse misses the mark oof making something inane into something profound. Thus, one star off from a five.

 

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