In reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, we gain a new perspective on goals, success, appearances, the present, and the self. Through his protagonist, Siddhartha, we recognize the needs that make us human beings. Siddhartha’s experiences make you think about how you are leading your life and how you can change it for the better.
Here are some lessons that are strikingly valuable.
On attaining a goal
“This is how it is when Siddhartha has a goal, a resolution. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world like a rock through water…”
Siddhartha is confident of attaining his goal. A strong belief in yourself is the key to attracting what you want. It is apparent from this text that there is nothing that can obstruct his path and deter him from reaching his dream. His mind works in his favor. His objective is to be in a romantic relationship, and he trusts that his journey will lead him to the woman he admires.
On being successful
“He has that mysterious quality of those people to whom success comes all by itself…He always seems to be merely playing with business affairs; they never fully become a part of him and they never rule over him. He is never afraid of failure; he is never upset by a loss.”
When Siddhartha has a setback and misses an opportunity that would benefit his business, he is not displeased. Instead, he decides to take part in a celebration and enjoy his stay in a different part of town. Siddhartha turns what would have been a negative experience into a positive one. He makes friends and is genuinely happy. The lesson learned here is that there is so much more to gain when we don’t allow the misfortunes of life to ruin our day.
Just as those consumed by wealth, Siddhartha had the “features of discontent, sickliness, ill-humor, sloth, or cold-heartedness…”
“He had been captured by the world, by lust, covetousness, indolence, and ultimately by that vice which he had once despised and mocked as the most foolish of all the vices: greed.”
When you allow your ambition to control you, then that is when you begin to lose your humanity. Siddhartha only appreciates money. There is nothing else that fulfills him. He is a slave to materialism.
Appearances are ephemeral
“…the world of appearances is not eternal, and our garments, hairstyle, even our hair and bodies themselves are anything but eternal…”
Siddhartha gains enlightenment from having pursued a path that did not benefit him. He learns that things that are quickly attainable with money are lost in an instant. When we focus all of our attention on superficial vanities, then we run the risk of having nothing when these things expire. He says to his friend, “I was a rich man and am not a rich man anymore, what I’ll be tomorrow, I don’t know.”
On being present
Siddhartha compares his life’s journey to the river’s journey. “It is everywhere at once, and there only the present exists for it – not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future…”
Our feelings, choices, desires, and actions of today are what make us. We are nothing but what we are now. Why do we look to the past if it makes us wonder what more we could have done? Why do we look to the future if it compels us to long for what we do not have?
“He is obsessed by a goal; searching means having a goal. But finding means being free, open, and having no goal…”
Siddhartha’s friend, Govinda, is seeking the right path. Govinda reaches out to Siddhartha for wisdom. Siddhartha’s explanation to not finding what he longs for is that his mind is preoccupied with having something he cannot see. Those who are goal-oriented fail to savor the path that they are on. An individual who only has one objective is continuously disappointed because something that is far from our reach takes some time to grow. A person who learns from today’s lessons, gets inspired by today’s acquaintances, and sees the good things of today, is far richer than somebody who is only striving towards an ultimate goal.
Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha compels us to reflect on our actions and thoughts. Siddhartha is not a perfect human being. He leaves his family to find purpose in his life. He wanders, he achieves, he fails and discovers what gives him peace. His journey is one that many of us find familiar.