I read Siddhartha* while at a meditation retreat in Virginia a few weeks ago. I get that that makes me sound like a basic white girl BUT I think that meditation is a rewarding practice and I want to get better at it. The retreat was helpful and Siddhartha was the perfect supplement.
Hermann Hesse won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946 and he published Siddhartha seven years later. Despite his award-winning status, the novel did not receive popularity in America until the 1960s, as all the hippies stopped showering and started seeking enlightenment. It’s one or the other, folks.
The novel follows Siddhartha, a fictional contemporary of Buddha, who wants to find the meaning of life. He tries many routes: asceticism, materialism, nature stuff, etc. His conclusion is different than the Buddha’s, but he does not advocate for any singular path.
There are three things I really like about this novel:
1. Siddhartha does not shun experience. He embraces his past experiences, not as regrets, but as stepping stones; therefore, he is self-affirming. So much of religion is “fix this, do that” (atone for sins, pray this prayer, make this sacrifice), but Siddhartha’s point of view is less about what you should and should not do and more about finding your own way.
2. The writing is simple. Others do not appreciate this (in which case, Siddhartha would say *that is your prerogative...bitch*). The novel is split into tiny chapters that are almost like parables, and there are aphorisms throughout worth underlining (and then probably forgetting about later unless you tape them on your wall). There is not a whole bunch of inaccessible jargon.
3. The book is positive towards women. I repeat: this is a spiritual book that is relatively positive towards women. It’s the four-leaf clover of spiritual books! There’s a woman who teaches Siddhartha some things and then she has her own ethereal awakening. She's a strong, independent woman-- Beyonce before Beyonce.
Siddhartha is not a holy book. It’s also not a guide book nor a transcendence how-to. It’s just a fictional tale of someone’s spiritual process and a pretty good one at that. Siddhartha receives 5 out of 5 camel humps.
*Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Trans. Hilda Rosner. New York: MJF Books, 1951. Print.