Monday, December 15, 2008


Yesterday I read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha in a single sitting. It was a moving book. I'll attempt to record my initial thoughts here.

At various points I felt like I was reading the prose form of Ecclesiastes.

I often felt myself agreeing with the concepts described. In general, I am deeply moved by story, and find myself thinking like the main character(s), or whomever I most easily identify with. The tone of a book can easily affect the tone with which I live my life. This is one of the reasons I like to read a book in a single sitting, if possible. That way it doesn't mess with my life too much. Not to say that I don't want books to change my life -- I do -- but I don't want them to affect my regular social interactions without my consent, which is what happens when I get lost inside a story. I think that is also why I've found it increasingly difficult to write any of the novels that are swirling around in my head. To write well, I have to live in the story. That escape from our world is impractical for any length of time.

That aside, Siddhartha [the character for whom the book is titled] in his early years attempted to do away with self completely in order to find some deeper truth, or soul, or Atman. He became an ascetic (which is a very different thing than an aesthetic). But he was only able to temporarily kill the self. It always returned. When the revelation comes that he was destroying the desires of the physical self to satisfy the intellectual self, he experiences the joy of discovering and reveling in the beauty of the the created, physical world, experiencing it with body and mind, and so in some way through these two touches the spirit. Perhaps that's not it at all, but that is how I understood the story. This is the same sort of experience C. S. Lewis labels "Joy," and arises on the same principle that I've been more and more aware of in recent days: that body and mind and emotion and spirit are one, or in the least that they make one person, that person being incomplete without all four.

The man without a body is no man at all. We call him a ghost.
The man without a mind is a pity and danger. We call him insane if he is young, or blame Alzheimer's when he is old.
The man without emotion is a robot. There are some hardhearted men whom we claim are emotionless. They were not always so, and are the worst enemies of civilization.
The man without a spirit is no man at all. He is an animal, soulless, perhaps inanimate altogether, lacking connection to the eternity for which all men long.

There is more to say about Siddhartha, but my thoughts have strayed far, and this post is already long.

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