‘Lost eternally in the forest, is a musk, in search of the sweet scent of life.’ The timeless, tormenting, beautiful anxiety the musk deer suffers from is an elegant analogy for Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, bellied beneath the 21st-century commoner, lost in the dense absurdity of life, looking for the meaning behind every breath he draws. It is in this conflict of perfumery, that you find the beauty of Hesse’s seminal work Siddhartha.
With truth comes a certain vanity. Mankind is condemned to find it, to embrace it, to revel in it. Maybe because we arrive at the truth and not acquire it. The crown of vanity enshrines the legacy of truth worthy of suffering. The question of ‘the question‘ bears enormous influence here; after all, it is by understanding what a man chooses to suffer for, one can understand the man itself. It should therefore be a joyous occasion to declare that a man’s arrival at the musky inquiry of ‘existence’ marks a time in his life when he truly comes of age. There is a long lineage of thinkers who had practically devoted their lives to understanding what it means to exist. It is indeed a huge undertaking that demands patience to become abled and shrewd enough to weave intricacies of life in premises; premises that I don’t even fully understand. Yet, this knowledge is least discouraging to interfere with my random, unstructured, fuzzy argumentative thinking. On the contrary, I believe, this is one question that every man should dare to attempt within his scope of intellect. Atheism is my one overbearing truth. My vanity is my indiscreet denial of any body of knowledge that claims to resolve this inquiry using religious tools or mythological symbols or metaphysical terms. I went for Siddhartha as a cautious, self-righteous, critical reader to understand if, as an atheist, I can still mock or come to agree with or even learn from the popular narrative that exploits the ferocious spiritual instinct of a man to come to terms with his existence. Before I pour out my reader-temperament, I must confess, that Siddhartha is either a yet another spiritual self-help book to ease you in difficult times or a radical undertaking by Herman Hesse—contrary to the populist mythical impression—counteracting the conventional image of enlightenment. It is thus consequential for the reader to understand that between reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and arriving at it lies an enormous gulf. This dark abyss is one of the rare junctures where the causality between truth and vanity severs.
The story of Siddhartha is the story of a profound, intricate instinct borne by mankind. Philosophers identify this stubborn, nagging instinct as an elementary inquiry into man’s existence. Thinkers and intellectuals associate with it as spirituality. An atheist deals with it as an absurd phenomenon. Herman Hesse understands it as Siddhartha, a man in search of wholesome truth. It isn’t clear, tangible, or objectively drawn by Hesse as to what he means exactly by ‘truth’. Perhaps, because he doesn’t have to. Eastern philosophy is endowed with folklore dedicated to such pursuits and its followers are conditioned with the word and its connotation. Moreover, its vague, unintelligible quality not only lends Siddhartha a character the modern commoner can relate to but also allows the reader to interpret, personate, and internalize the protagonist while being fixated and attached to his world. I find it safe to say that Siddhartha is any man and every man. On grounds of similarities between Siddhartha who has abandoned the comforts and pleasures of life and the one who finds himself mentally in the same space unable to find joy in life, the reader is well placed. It is however in their differences where one of the charming propositions of the book lies. The most prominent difference between the literal Siddhartha and the other one (reader) is mobility. The idea, or rather, the conjecture of mobility presents an interesting opportunity for the author to compartmentalize Siddhartha from the circumstantial reality. In conventional understanding, it is easy to brand it as the best possible precautionary measure against attachment; what is deadly subtle and thus easy to miss about mobility as a phenomenon is that it is essentially what can validate Siddhartha’s journey. The detachment, the literal movement, the ever-increasing physical distance between a man and the world he builds—mobility acts as a powerful instrument and perhaps the only one to externalize a certain truth, likewise, legitimizing man’s quest to find it.
One should think about how sustainable this divine mobility is? If eternal, the hypothetical placement of a man devoted to mobility only renders Siddhartha unable to experience the human conflict in its glory. Would it then not be impeccably hard to resist drawing a parallel between an ordinary Samana and Siddhartha since they navigate through a strikingly similar environment, defeating the very purpose itself. I don’t know if it is wondersome or exhausting and futile to assume that in such an acute absence of the world, how and exactly on what would Siddhartha’s agencies would operate and process. Being a staunch existentialist, it is beyond me to imagine Siddhartha in such a possibility and much more reasonably convenient to imagine his mobility being put on hold as the book delivers. For how long can a man deny the urge to give in to the world he creates by being in it? It is imperative to understand why Siddhartha, after all the efforts, is still not elusive to Sansara? Now is when our inquiry becomes relevant and serviceable. Sansara eventually catches up with the wiser but ultimately humane Siddhartha; through Kamala representing a man’s surrender to the biological impulse of sex; through Kamaswami portraying a man’s yielding to the intellectual impulse of learning; through his son representing a man’s resignation to the parental impulse of control. By identifying these three basal instincts Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha narrates the story of a man suffering irrespectively—rooted or mobile. He can be the legendary samana or a 21st-century confused, geeky commoner exhibiting the same symptoms of existential crisis. One would benefit immensely from his reader acumen if he dares to ask what is so fascinating about these three instincts that Hesse chose to tell a tale of finding tranquility in turbulence. For it is on the account of three-faced inquiry, that one can understand the underlying pattern behind Siddhartha’s troubles. It is in the pitfall of existential crisis, that one becomes miserable and willful enough to acknowledge the biological genesis of his impulses as these instincts are nothing but the infrastructural elements of human life. Siddhartha understands that to exist is to express one’s sense of self and to express is what pushes a man nearer to the truth. Nearer though, not arrived, not yet!
What would you do with a revelatory truth that doesn’t deliver to your vanity? What service can a fragile, hollow, unsustainable truth found in the vacuum of human experience deliver? Is it possible to find enlightenment between the extremities of ‘stationary’ and ‘mobile’? Such is the quality of conflict Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha brews inside the reader. The rest is for the reader to arrive at! If it’s any hint, Herman Hesse begins this story with a Samana called Siddhartha and he ends it with the enlightened one called Siddhartha. Siddhartha, not Buddha!
A great deal of Siddhartha book review revolves around my interpretation of a man’s existence and the absurdity that comes from a realization that it’s practically meaningless. It is also why I believe that the question of existence can not be studied in the vacuum of existential crisis. It might be interesting for the reader to observe or think about how meaninglessness occurs as a leveler in Siddhartha’s pursuit of truth; how he equates a rock with the flesh of human life; how this term resonates with the ever-persisting time. I am forced to imagine if there was, by any virtue, existed an objective meaning behind man’s existence, would it not create spiritual hierarchies, classes, and ranks and trifle with the larger nature itself. It is my pleasure to share that reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse only reasserted my reasoning acumen behind what I understand as human’s absurd existence. Siddhartha can be seen as an alive inquiry (and with a good chance) witnessing a pursuit about life becoming larger than the life itself. But thanks to Hesse’s wise, tactical acumen, it doesn’t.