Siddhartha (Herman Hessee)
Siddharthat’s life is portrayed in three stages, the first stage of thinking and meditation as youth, the second stage of returning to the world of desires, and the third stage of awakening with a peaceful heart.
In his youthful years, Siddhartha sought to learn life philosophies from Samanas and the Buddhist Gotama, as his goal was to become empty of thirst, desires, dreams, pleasure, and sorrow. The two holy figures exhibited an atmosphere of serenity- faith in their own conducts of life. The Samana radiated an atmosphere of still passion, devastating silence, and unpitying self-denial; while Gotama conquered the sorrows of the world by wandering around the country without material possessions but blessed with great knowledge. “He went quietly away, lost in thought, with a peaceful look and a half smile. I would also love to look and half smile and remain so free, worthy, restrained, candid, childlike, and mysterious.” thought Siddhartha. I think this is when the western philosophical ideals meets east, when equanimity, inner joy, and a lack of desires present the highest form of human existence.
Siddhartha returned to the world of desires after suffering and sacrifices, and was trapped by property, possessions, and riches. Material goods no longer stayed as a game of toy, they became burdens that sunk him into mental depths as he squandered money, acquired rich tastes of food, and learned to stimulate his senses. I think contentment of life can be easily generated by living simple yet satisfactory rituals of life, yet indulgences in material goods sometimes generates insatiable desires as you want to take your stimulation of your senses a step further every time. This goes for our tastes for food, for materials that we use, of our likings for recreation, and our ideals of pleasure. As Siddhartha observes the affluent members of society, he reflects, “Like one who had eaten and drunk too much and vomits painfully and then feels better, the restless man wishes he could rid himself of these pleasures, of this entirely senseless life of displeasure, idleness, and loveless-ness.”
In the end, Siddhartha found that no teacher could have taught him salvation. That’s why he had to wander into the world of desires and explore, to lose himself in power, women, and money, until the priest and Samana in him were dead. I especially like the wisdom Siddhartha learned from the river, and although there are parts that I cannot fully comprehend, I especially like the part of the prudence of being a good listener. He learned from the river on how to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgement, and without opinions. It is a wonderful experience to express your deepest thoughts to a good listener, yet it is a virtue to “listen to understand”, take in sentences with patience, absorbing different life experiences, sorrows, and dreams.
Herman Hessee portrays life philosophies in subtle ways, from simple yet elliptical dialogues to capture the true essence of the searching for humanity. I feel that classic literature can be reread and, and as life experiences multiply over different life stages, we get different insights from the same passages over time. For me, some of the philosophical ideas conveyed struck a bell with my own life experiences, while others remained ambiguous even as I pondered for a while. “We find ourselves in books we read”, and I guess what we derive from each book is where it reflects on our life experiences, echoing the yearnings and thoughts of our inner self. For instance, the story became popular not until the 1960s and 1970s, as its simple prose and rebellious characters reflected the yearnings of a generation that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism, and outward power.
Just as I reached the second week of my summer internship, I’d say what I learned the most is not the technical hard skills one would imagine from interning at a Fintech startup on portfolio and wealth consulting, but it was the soft skills of taking initiative, communication, and interacting with colleagues and senior managers in the workplace. I truly admire the charisma radiated from good leaders, of authentic leadership (treating everyone the same way, from new interns to the CEO of the company), precision in articulation, emotional intelligence, and listening to conflicting ideas to understand. I often see senior management immersed in heated discussions with divergent ideas, the ambience is heated, fast paced, and focused, yet they always take in ideas from all sides and reach a consensus in a short amount of time. I guess this is “listening to understand” at its best, accepting different ideas with open arms and adopting better ideas presented to the table.