Thursday, June 14, 2007

Siddhartha

Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
$5.99 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0553200845
First, a little back-story on the author. Herman Hesse was born in Germany and frequently visited India with his parents, who were missionaries in that area. As a young boy, he was of poor health and had frequent problems with depression and suicide. As a writer, these early influences give his work a deeply spiritual feel, with a flavor of eastern mysticism.
This short novel concerns the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the young man who leaves his wealthy family's home to achieve enlightenment and eventually becomes the religious leader we know as the Buddha. It beautifully captures a very common longing to know what life is all about.
Our story begins with Siddhartha studying the Hindu religion with his father. Although he's dedicated his life to spiritual discipline and understanding, he feels no closer to his goal than when he began. He leaves his home (against his father's wishes) and joins the Samanas, a wandering group of ascetics practicing ritualistic poverty in the desert. In time he becomes one of their leaders, yet somehow still feels unfulfilled.
Where can enlightenment be found? How can we elevate ourselves above the mundane details of the material world? Dammit, what is life all about?! His Holiness the Buddha, naturally, finds his answer. This historical novel lets you join him on his perilous journey to its amazing conclusion. The chapters are very short, and although the concepts in the book are pretty deep, Hesse's style of writing is simple enough for a child to follow along. By the end, you'll have a basic knowledge of the Buddha and his teachings, presented by one of the great minds of the Western World.
Every time I re-read this novel it amazes me again. The story is so simple and the writing so plain, that I don't know how the author managed to super-charge it with so much depth of meaning. A great introduction to Eastern thought, short enough to read in one afternoon, and the $5.99 sale price should tell you I'm not recommending it for the money. A Pulitzer Prize winning author writes a novel on one of the greatest figures of all time. You can't beat a combo like that!

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