I thought this book was a great read and had many valuable lessons to offer. The primary of these is that sometimes people have to learn things for themselves instead of learning from others. This however was Siddhartha’s failure and why he was never able to be truly satisfied in his life.
Throughout his journey, he strives for meaning and purpose. He at the very end is merely content with his life, never satisfied. He is finally happy when he decides that he is all the different parts of his life at once and he needed one for the other to make sense. When this occurs, he says he has conquered time. He compares himself to a river and says that “nothing was and nothing will be.” As he says on page 99, “no teacher could have brought him salvation.” He refused from an early age to take the paths of others. He wanted to learn things for himself which meant that he could not learn from the successes or failures of others. He explains his reasoning for this when he speaks with the Buddha and explains why he cannot follow in his ways even though he saw wisdom in the Buddha’s teachings. This may have been a good decision for him since at the end of the book, Govinda after following the Buddha’s teachings is still unsatisfied. This refusal to learn from others pushes him to search for purpose on his own.
This need to do things for himself is truly his worst quality. He has such contempt for everyone and everything. As stated on page 77, “he had always felt different and superior to the others; he had always watched them a little scornfully, with a slightly mocking disdain, with that disdain which a Samana always feels towards the people of the world. We are all in this together and that is his failure. This results in his inability to love or form a true relationship with anyone. He only begins to discover this when he realizes he treated his father the same way his son treated him. The same as his father tired to do the best for Siddhartha, but he left because he wanted to figure out life on his own. If Siddhartha had not been so focused on himself, he could have learned from others and may have found his salvation faster.
The book makes two points, both of which are very valuable, although somewhat contradictory in nature. The first has to do with how Siddhartha could never find satisfaction, though he was constantly searching. “When someone is seeking, it is quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is thinking only of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal.” Siddhartha has spent so much of his life focused on trying to find meaning and he only truly starts to realize this once he stops looking. The second point made by the book perhaps supports the many life paths that Siddhartha tried, and this is that wisdom is incommunicable. Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom, “the wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish (page 142).” A third point that the book makes explains why these can exist in contradiction of each other. Truth is one-sided and so every truth has another side to it. This reminds me of the yin and the yang in that there is never one single reality, but always opposing forces that balance each other out.
At the end, he says he cannot love words or even thoughts because they are not real. This is similar to a realization he has at the beginning when he stops seeking reality and sees the world around him as beautiful. He had not yet at this point had enough experience to realize that this would be the conclusion that he also comes to after years of experiences. This is maybe connected to the fact that wisdom must be learned through experience and not taught. It is funny that his search for meaning start and end in such a similar place.
Siddhartha truly led an interesting life and I suppose found his answers in the end, or at least accepted the fact that he did not need all the answers. Perhaps that in itself was his answer and what allowed him to be at peace. This brings up the question of whether ignorance is bliss. Are those who decide not to quest for such answers content with not knowing from the start? One thing is for sure, that the book was inspirational and thought provoking.