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Siddhartha slowly loses touch with his inner voice while experiencing the sensual and material world. Could have Siddhartha attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara?” Was the sensual and material world an essential component to his obtaining enlightenment, or was it an unnecessary detour?
Herman Hesse was born on July 2, 1877 in Calw, Germany to a Baltic German father and a Swabian mother (Hesse, para. 1). Herman studied Theology, Latin, and Greek before becoming an apprentice to a mechanic, and at the age of nineteen, he worked in book and antique shops in Tubingen and Basle. Hesse published several novels, which include Siddhartha (1922), Der Steppenwolf, Narziss and Goldmund (1930), Demian (1930), and Die Morgenlandfahrt (1932) (para.8). Siddhartha is an Indian tale about Siddhartha, a man who makes a goal to seek enlightenment. The name “Siddhartha” means “one who has attained his goals.” Siddhartha presents a spiritual journey of self-discovery. A person who wants to attain enlightenment must listen to his or her inner voice and search within for salvation.
Siddhartha slowly loses touch with his inner voice while experiencing the sensual and material world. Could have Siddhartha attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara?” Was the sensual and material world an essential component to his obtaining enlightenment, or was it an unnecessary detour? Siddhartha could not have attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara”. The sensual and material world was an essential component to his obtaining enlightenment. Firstly, the experience was necessary to attain enlightenment because Siddhartha was not satisfied with his life. Moreover, Siddhartha refused to become like the rest of the people. In the chapter, “The Son of the Brahman”, Hesse gives a glimpse of Siddhartha’s thoughts through Govinda, his friend. Hesse writes, “Govinda knew: he would not become a common Brahman, not a lazy official in charge of offerings; not a greedy merchant with magic spells; and also, not a decent, stupid sheep in the herd of the many.” (Hesse 8). The statement means Siddhartha had already set a goal of not becoming like the rest of the people. He was determined to find his own path. Since experience is the best teacher, he decided to travel his own path. Although Siddhartha doubts the path he has taken, he is determined to keep walking. Secondly, Buddha found his own path by himself through meditation, thought and realization. Since Buddha attained enlightenment though meditation, thought and realization, it was necessary for Siddhartha to carve his own path rather than following the teachings of other people. When talking to Gotama, Siddhartha says, “You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, on your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realization, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings!” (37). Siddhartha refutes Buddha’s teachings because no one can attain salvation through teachings. After talking to Buddha, Siddhartha makes a resolution to depart from all teachings and all teachers to reach his goal or die. Siddhartha yearns for self-knowledge, which is consistent with the American humor writer, Mark Twain, who said, “I will not let school education interfere with my own education.” Siddhartha had the same thoughts as Mark Twain by not letting the teachings of Samanas and Buddha influence his decisions. Thirdly, going through Samsara was necessary to make him appreciate the simple life. He had to go through the sensual and material world to understand that they are worthless in attaining salvation. Siddhartha regrets having got involved in the sensual and material world. After learning the art of love from Kamala, a courtesan, and how to make money from Kamaswami, Siddhartha is not yet satisfied, and still yearns for a simple life. Hesse writes, “Like when someone, who has eaten and drunk far too much, vomits it back up again with agonizing pain and is nevertheless glad about the relief, thus this sleepless man wished to free himself of these pleasures, these habits and all of this pointless life and himself, in an immense burst of disgust.” (85). Siddhartha gets the reality of the life of sensual and material world. He realizes that such a life does not lead to enlightenment. It was necessary for him to go through the sensual life so as to appreciate the simple life free from sensual and material world. Furthermore, Hesse writes, “Worthless, so it seemed to him, worthless and pointless was the way he had been going through life; nothing which as alive, nothing which was in some way delicious or worth keeping he had left in his hands” (86). Had Siddhartha not gone through the sensual and material world, he would not have learned from experience that salvation lies within, and not from outside. For all along wondering on his journey; from the Samanas to Gotama and Kamala, he failed to attain enlightenment. He even came to the realization that it was necessary to go through the sensual and material world. In his conversation with Govinda, Hesse captures Siddhartha’s thoughts. Hesse writes, “It is good to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now.” (102). Siddhartha consoles himself for having to go through Samsara. As the old adage goes, experience is the best teacher, Siddhartha experienced the sensual and material world first-hand, and appreciated searching within himself to attain enlightenment.
The critics might argue that Siddhartha could have attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara” because Gotama attained enlightenment without engaging in sensual and material world. Buddha attained enlightenment through thoughts, meditation and realization. Therefore, it was possible for Siddhartha to emulate Buddha and attain salvation. Also, the people who followed Buddha’s teachings appeared to have attained enlightenment, and they were not to go through Samsara.
However, Siddhartha needs to experience sensual world and Samsara to attain enlightenment. There are several reasons that support this assertation. First, Siddhartha needs to see the opposite side of the life he had previously lived. With the Samanas, Siddhartha failed to attained enlightenement. Siddhartha is keen to his environment and learns quickly that he will not attain enlightenment with the Samanas. Govinda says, “Our oldest one might be about sixty years of age” Siddhartha adds, “He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He’ll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana he won’t and we won’t.” (22). Those who argue that Siddhartha could have attained enlightenment only though meditation, thinking and fasting, should consider the case of the Samanas, who have lived for sixty years and not attained enlightenment. Siddhartha needed something real, something tangible to appreciate simple things. Also, although those who followed Buddha’s teachings appeared to have reached enlightenment through their character, but deep within their heart, they were still thirsty for more teachings. For example, in the chapter, “Govinda”, Hesse writes, “When Govinda went back on his way, he chose the path to the ferry, eager to see the ferryman. Because , though he had lived his entire life by the rules, though he was also looked upon with veneration by the younger monks on account of his age and his modesty, the restlessness and the searching still had not perished from his heart.” (143). The statement means that just like other monks, Govinda goes through life by following rules and teachings, but deep within his heart he knows he has not attained enlightenment and searches for the ferryman. Second, for every truth, the opposite is also true. Siddhartha tells Govinda, “The opposite of every truth is just as true.” (146). The statement means that everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with words. For example, Gotama divided his teachings into Sansara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, and into suffering and salvation. Siddhartha had gone through the sensual and material world to understand that the opposite of truth is just as true. Therefore, if it is true that Buddha attained enlightenment through meditation, thinking, fasting and realization, then it is also true that going through the sensual and material world helps in understanding the world and oneself, which is essential in attaining enlightenment. Third, it is not possible to be one thing altogether. According to Siddhartha, it not possible to become entirely a saint or entirely and a sinner. A saint is also a sinner and a sinner also a saint. Siddhartha says, “A person or an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never entirely holy or entirely sinful.” (147). Siddhartha means that a sinner can become a saint and also a sinner. Siddhartha’s views are consistent with Aristotle’s theory of the golden mean, which is the middle ground for all virtues. According to Aristotle, the golden mean is essential in achieving the ultimate goal- happiness (Kraut, para.8). Aristotle says that happiness should be desired for itself, but should not be confused with material pleasures. Although most people consider material possessions to be happiness, Aristotle refutes, saying the material possessions are just basic forms of pleasures. The golden mean, therefore, is a balance between the extremes, that is, the vices. For example, courage is the golden mean between two extremes; cowardice and recklessness. However, the golden mean depends on the situation (Hirji 1112). For example, getting angry at the right time, with the right person and at the right place. Siddhartha attained enlightenment by operating at the middle ground. To attain the middle ground, Siddhartha has to live in the sensual and material world, and experience life from the perspective of other people, whom he calls childlike. Siddhartha searches for salvation without, from the Brahmans, Samanas, and the sensual and material world, but could not reach his goal. Finally, he returns to the river and meets Vasudeva, the ferryman who listens to him and helps him to find enlightenment within. Since Siddhartha was stubborn and could not listen to the teachers, the sensual and material world was an essential component to his obtaining enlightenment. Siddhartha could not have attained enlightenment without living through “Samsara”.
Hesse, Hermann. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1946.” Nobelprize.org, 1946, www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1946/hesse/biographical/.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Trans. Hilda Rosner. New York: New Direction. Publishing Corporation. 1951. Print. P 1-152
Hirji, Sukaina. “Acting Virtuously as an End in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” British Journal for the History of Philosophy, vol. 26, no. 6, Dec. 2018, pp. 1006–1026. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09608788.2018.1454296.
Kraut, Richard. “Aristotle’s Ethics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 15 June 2018, plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/.