Saturday, June 11, 2011

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

If you find yourself sitting at an airport departure gate, learning that your flight has been delayed from 8:35 pm to 1:00 am, reading a book is a good way to pass the time.   A book that covers some concepts of Buddhism is an even better idea.   And a free (Kindle) book -- perfect.   Hence, Siddhartha.

Our hero is of a wealthy class, becomes bored and leaves home to join a group of ascetics, Samanas, to wander about without any material goods, fasting and thinking.  He meets folks, falls in lust, becomes a materialist, returns to a simpler near-ascetic life, discovers attachment when he meets his son and the pain of separation, and becomes Buddha -like (or perhaps a Bodhisattva).

I particularly enjoyed Siddhartha's conversation with his friend Govinda about wisdom:  "...wisdom cannot be passed on.  Wisdom which a wise man tries to pass on to someone always sounds like foolishness. ... Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom."

Many aspects of Siddhartha's life seem unappealing, even wrong.   He leaves his family without a second glance, and hardly thinks of them again for decades.   Buddhist teaching warns to avoid unrealistic romanticization of loved ones; this goes to far in my view.   The idea of avoiding attachment is, more or less, since things are not permanent and are always changing, what we are attached to will not live up to an initial illusion.  So the additional illusion that attachment brings happiness will lead to suffering.    The Buddha said:

"If you desire joy,

Completely forsake all attachment.

By forsaking completely all attachment

A most excellent ecstasy is found.

So long as (you) follow attachment

Satisfaction is never found.

Who ever reverses attachment

With wisdom attains satisfaction."

As with all such things, your mileage will vary.

By the way, that delayed flight finally took off at 2:40 am; a three hour evening flight home became a red-eye that arrived at 5:00 am.   But, as the Buddha said, life is dukkha.  So why get upset.

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