There has never been anything to attain in this life we pursue as humans. Every achievement and discovery at the close of day is yet another head to the totem, another piece of information to fill up our endlessly expanding libraries, databases, and clouds.  What then does it mean to achieve, and who is to evaluate the achievement?


    I knew not Herman Hesse before reading Siddhartha, and I do not know what possessed a man to write such a tale. Still, I do know that Hesse must have seen and tasted the ultimate achievement, the so-called enlightenment. He so eloquently walks us through the life of Siddhartha from a young man in search of spirit and meaning to his eventual enlightenment, defamation, then penances leading to a true oneness of self. Do we, as readers, believe such stories to be entirely myth?
    Certainly, I do not. The story of Siddhartha's life seems to be a message to souls who be willing to listen. In Zen Buddhism, we are taught that enlightenment is no destination or achievement. Furthermore, practicing meditation with any ideas of goal or destination is faulty practice. We can only arrive, we can not attempt to arrive. As Shakespeare puts it - To be, or not to be, is the question. Hesse also makes it known that we can indeed fall from grace. We are all victim to the deceptive sweetness of material reality and fall prey to its superficial splendor. None of us are safe. This shouldn't frighten you, no, rather know it and let it be known. There exist a space, the oneness or eternal existence, as Siddhartha pointed out, beyond mind and consciousness, where we can be. We may describe it as the infinite now, the hum, the calm, or "Om," and it is very much 'there.' How may we arrive there is for every individual to decipher on their own for it can not be taught or learned, only walked into. And that place, however sacred and majestic, is here and now all along. That place can, in fact, be moved out of just as quickly as it is moved into.

    There is a vicious predator that many of those seeking a higher self will easily fall prey. The self-supremacism and voluntary separation from the common person [common here meaning the person not on a direct path for enlightenment - although this language is dicey because all people are on their own eternal search for a higher self despite their level of self-awareness and conscious commitment - common man being any other man not partaking in an apparent journey through the self]. As Siddhartha distinguishes himself early in life by wishing not to be a "decent, stupid sheep in the heard of many" (pp.08). We later see these ideas morph into intense contempt for both his fellow man along with self-hate in chapters 'With the Childlike People' and 'Sansara.' What broke these delusions is that Siddhartha "..saw mankind go through life in childlike or animal-like behavior, which he loved and also despised at the same time" (pp. 73). Perhaps we should all understand that no matter our disposition, within body or mind, we can easily be dethroned and return to such childlike behaviors. The lives people live are their lives, whether intelligent or submissive, childlike or wise, conscious or unconscious, and each experience is valuable, indestructible, and infinite. Late in life, Siddhartha finally understands that he is not sanctified when "he saw people living for their sake, saw them achieving infinitely much for their sake, traveling, conducting wars, suffering infinitely much, bearing infinitely much, and he could love them for it, he saw life, that what is alive, the indestructible, the Brahman in each of their passions, each of their acts." Knowing this, we realize that we are no different from any other human, because we are still very much profoundly flawed and endlessly, hopelessly human. There has never been a separation. No holier than thou. Those are only ideas, and by now, we should all know the destructive powers of supremacist ideology regardless of color or creed.
    In the book, Siddhartha is instructed to listen to the river so that he may learn everything there is to know. So he listens, and the river opens the door for him to the oneness of all, to enlightenment. Perhaps, we can all within ourselves discover a river of life to turn our ear. Listen to the river of life, all ye people, and you too will learn all there is to know. Why wait when you can experience it now? When the river speaks we may find, similarly to Siddhartha, the voice in all "he could no longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times. And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world" (pp. 139). In listening to the river of life, we may find the continuum, the endless now that surrounds us so presently. For everything that was, is - and what will be, was.

    Perhaps the way of enlightenment is to forget about an idea of enlightenment altogether. Herman Hesse seems to have constructed this beautiful story as his own pathway and understanding of opening up the heart to nirvana. Yet, as Siddhartha remarked - nirvana is only a word. Perfectly can this be summarized in the lines spoken to his friend Govinda near the end of the book "wisdom can not be passed on. wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone else always sounds like foolishness." (pp. 146). We cultures are continually attempting to pass wisdom to one another in the form of knowledge, words, and language. Yet, to distill the concepts of the author, in our attempts, we are lost. For us, there is no salvation because there has never been anything to be saved from. We are here now, eternally now, until one day, we are not. If this is true, you and I have already reached nirvana, and there is no enlightenment. Only keep in mind that you are here now. When reading Siddhartha, many times, I returned to the moment on a flight some years ago, where I listen to the audiobook of "zen mind, beginners mind" by Shunryu Suzuki. Again, in that book, this idea of our inability to attain anything at all surfaces. To quote Suzuki, "and there is no beginning or end to the track: beginningless and endless track. There is no starting point nor goal, nothing to attain. Just to run on the track is our way. This is the nature of our Zen practice" (pp. 54).
    I love these lines that young Siddhartha writes for the merchant Kamaswami. "Writing is good, thinking is better. Being smart is good, being patient is better". Although, I must disagree with the first line, oh Siddhartha, for thinking could not be organized without writing.

For those who may be interested in the book discussed, i‘ve included links to the PDF’s.