Review: Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Life of Pi I wanted another book with a spiritual theme but a non-traditional philosophy. Well, non-traditional by Western standards. Siddhartha had been needling me for a while, but I thought I’d already read it back in my college days. I was wrong. Not sure what I read back then, but it wasn’t this.

For most of this book I didn’t find the moving story or inspirational prose I was looking for. There was too much narrator telling us Siddhartha did this and Siddhartha did that without letting us really get into Siddhartha’s skin and feel what he was feeling. And then I got to the part where Siddhartha had to deal with his son. Suddenly the book became extremely relevant. Not because of an issue with either of my sons, but a daughter, and the observations of a trusted student.

My oldest daughter has not done what I hoped she would do the past few years. It’s been a disappointment because I have tried repeatedly to point out why my advice is good and why she should do what I say, but then she goes and does her own thing, anyway. Then a student who is almost like a daughter to me told me that my expectations are ridiculously high and no one can live up to them. Then I found this lesson from Vasudeva the ferryman:

“Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to it, laugh about it! Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them? Can you then protect your son from Samsara? How? Through instruction, through prayers, through exhortation? My dear friend, have you forgotten that instructive story about Siddhartha, the Brahmin’s son, which you once told me here? Who protected Siddhartha the Samana from Samsara, from sin, greed and folly? Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Which father, which teacher, could prevent him from living his own life, from soiling himself with life, from loading himself with sin, from swallowing the bitter drink himself, from finding his own path? Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path? Perhaps your little son, because you would like to see him spared sorrow and pain and disillusionment? But if you were to die ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest.”

Talk about the right book at the right time! That lesson alone was enough to bump my review up to four stars. Had Hesse allowed us to really get into Siddhartha’s mind I would have given it five stars. The book is short and it has many lessons in it, one of which may be right for you. I do highly recommend it.

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