“I can think, I can wait, I can fast”
Gist (No Spoilers)
Siddhartha is a story of a boy and his spiritual journey towards finding “Atman” (Inner-Self). Siddhartha, son of a Brahman experiences life from all dimensions, in all roles. While searching for Atman (Enlightenment) Siddhartha gradually passes through all stages of life.
At first, he experiences life through the eyes of a pious brahmin. Then he sees the world by becoming a Samana (ascetic wanderer). He explores what being rich is like, how enjoyable being in love is, what being a father means. Lastly, sacrificing everything and becoming an ordinary ferryman, and learning the most about life.
Finally, Siddhartha finds peace after Vasudev (Siddhartha’s partner) renunciates everything and returns to the forest. Vasudev shares his knowledge with Siddhartha that he learned from the “river.” Siddhartha too learns a lot from the “river” and finally understands that Nirvana and Sansara are one.
As Siddhartha belonged to an affluent family, everything was provided to him without any struggles. His every wish was granted. Still, Siddhartha felt unhappy and incomplete in his gut. He felt as though some element was missing from his life. Therefore, to start his spiritual journey with Samanas, he had to take permission from his father.
But, Siddhartha’s father was adamant as he knew Samans lived a life of deprivation and sacrifice. In the novel this sequence is beautifully exhibited:
Siddhartha comes to his father asking for permission and stands in one corner of the room with his head bowed down. His father instantly declines his request and asks him to return to his room. Hours go by, day turns to night but Siddhartha is unmoved. He stands in the same position not moving an inch.
His father slowly becomes restless as night is turning to dawn and still Siddhartha is standing rigidly in his spot, determined. The old brahman looks at his son from his bedroom window standing stubbornly. As the dawn eventually turns to early morning Siddhartha’s father comes out of his room and watches Siddhartha’s leg shiver a bit. But the expressions on his face are definitive. The helpless father finally agrees to his son’s wish and lets him go.
Life lesson: You’ll have to remain unbending and stubborn in situations where you know you are making the right decision. But you need someone’s authorization for that decision to be made. The authorizer will not be able to see the world from your perspective even if you try to explain to them the reason. Siddhartha’s way of handling the situation with an amalgamation of silence but uncompromising attitude will open a lot of gates for you.
Siddhartha and his devotion/dedication to the process.
After Siddhartha and his companion Govinda reach the place of Samanas, they are accepted by the eldest Samana of the group. They learn a huge amount of practices from Samanas. They spend 3 years with Samanas rigorously practicing the activities Samanas taught them to reach their destination i.e enlightenment.
“Siddhartha, silently exposes himself to burning rays of the sun directly above, glowing with pain, glowing with thirst and stood there, until he neither felt any pain nor any thirst anymore.”
Both of them learned to stop their breathing voluntarily, numb their senses to eliminate the feeling of pain. Blood dropped from their burning skin and pus dripped from their festering wounds. Both of them practiced self-denial, practiced meditation, practiced all the techniques Samanas ordered them to master.
These guys immersed themselves in those teachings of Samanas. They were deteriorating slowly but their valor and absolute resolve kept them going. So that one day all of these will come to fruition.
Life lesson: Results are a part of your voyage, they form only a small portion of your experience. The major part of your safari is your devotion to the course of action, to the process. Siddhartha spends 3 years with Samanas but he dedicates himself whole and soul to the preparation. He doesn’t focus on results but focuses on “how can I do the job in my hand in the best way possible so that results will have to be good?”
Focus on doing the errand you have been appointed within the best and simplest way possible. Your end target will be marvelous no matter what.
Siddhartha constantly questions himself.
During the time Siddhartha and Govinda lived with Samanas, both squeeze out all the effort they can put in to attain what they want. But Siddhartha in his mind is always questioning these rituals and customs that Samanas have ordered them to practice. All the time he’s questioning Samanas’s teachings.
He thinks that even the oldest and most respected Samana has not found Atman then why are they teaching what they are teaching. He ponders to himself whether some kind of teachings is needed to find Atman, there should be no teachings. No amount of teachings can help you obtain Atman. He has no doubt about Samanas abilities, but he doubts his course.
He shares his thoughts with Govinda. Both of them finally decide to leave the Samanas and take a different approach to their journey. After leaving Samanas, Govinda and Siddhartha parted their ways. Govinda takes refuge in old Gotama’s camp and Siddhartha heads to the city. To explain in brief, both of them at the end, find Atman sitting in shade on the banks of the river.
Life lesson: It’s fundamental to question yourself at every stage of life. Don’t get accustomed to doing what others tell you to do. Finding your way is of utmost significance, you won’t be able to understand the essence of life if you do what others are doing. To acknowledge the true nature of your life analyze yourself day in and day out. Start from the very basic stage,” Who am I?”
You’ll not find a definite answer but the ABCs you’ll find along your way will prove to be a boon for you.
Whatever has to happen will happen.
After the two-part their ways, Siddhartha goes through a sudden phase of self-realization. He starts hearing a voice from inside of him, “OM.” Siddhartha realizes that “OM” is the key to the universe, the perfect sound, that all other sounds originate from this sound. For a very short phase, Siddhartha goes through actual realization.
After that, he reaches the city and finds Kamala. the most beautiful woman in the city. He asks her to teach him the art of love. Kamala at first denies his request to see the condition of Samana. His wounds, dusty body, scrambled hair don’t appeal to her. She orders him to get rich and then come back to her, she recommends he meet the merchant of the city.
As time passes, Siddhartha meets the merchant, gets involved in the city affairs, trade and business. Simultaneously, he learns the art of love from Kamala. He becomes wealthy and powerful and gets addicted to all kinds of mechanisms. He drinks wine, eats meat, gets involved in lust, starts gambling, he loses his wealth in games but wins it again. His servants give him a rose water bath every day. In short, Siddhartha forgets his purpose and gets habituated to all the materialistic and petty things in life. Siddhartha acknowledges he is going wrong but still he has no control over his lifestyle now.
Until one fine day, he runs away from the city leaving his lover Kamala and all the addictions behind him.
Life lesson: You do not have control over anything that happens to you. Whatever has to happen will surely happen. You can’t stop it, what you can do is to go with the flow. Don’t bother too much over the future. Siddhartha even while knowing the higher purpose of life gets stuck in the rathole of capital, power, lust, addictions. Nobody knows your future, nobody can control your future (not even you). Let go of the things out of your control.
Learning from the simple beings.
Siddhartha his whole life didn’t believe in teachings and words.
Finally, at the end of the novel when Siddhartha renunciates everything and runs away from the city. He meets the ferryman who had ferried him across the river many years ago when Siddhartha was going to the city. Stays with the ferryman for the rest of his life in his hut.
He learns the most about life from the simple old ferryman. Ferryman tells him to listen to the river every day as everything he had gained was because of the river. Ferryman tells him, wisdom cannot be passed, knowledge can be passed on. Wisdom is the by-product of your experiences.
Siddhartha absorbs much more knowledge from Vasudev (ferryman) than he absorbed from the Samanas, the merchant, Gotama, and Sansara.
Life lesson: He understands that to attain Atman he has to pay attention to the basic elements of life. There’s no need for any teachings, words, wounds, sacrifices, skills, religions, and endeavors. You just need to focus on subtle things that you think don’t matter but contradictory matter a lot. Observe your surroundings, environment, activities happening, people, knowledge, and lastly your mind. Learn to still your mind. Cause stillness is the key.
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Illustration Credits: Prithvi Sawant