Summaries: Siddhartha

I first heard about Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse in a Tim Ferriss interview where he and the guest were clearly familiar with the book and quoted the line “I can think, I can wait and I can fast”. I didn’t pay it much attention at the time. Later, as I was watching the first episode of Fear{less} hosted by Tim Ferriss and produced by Vince Vaughn, interviewee David Blaine mentioned the book in reference to mental fortitude. I ordered a copy shortly thereafter.

Written in 1922, Siddhartha is about a man searching for spiritual enlightenment. It is a fictional novella set during the time of the Buddha and contains many references to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Hesse, a German-born author and poet, was enraptured by individualism and personal freedom after years of rigid and restrictive schooling in pre-war Germany. Siddhartha carries this distinctive tone of glorified personal discovery and experience and was met with both critical acclaim and widespread public criticism.

At only 141 pages long, Siddhartha is a short tale. Despite the mixed reception, there were a number of quotes and passages that stood out to me as I read. In chronological order below, please enjoy my notes on Siddhartha.

 

On individual experience: “This is why I am continuing my travels – not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there aren’t any, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and either to reach my goal on my own or to die.” – Siddhartha. (Pg 35)

  • Despite having a grim conclusion, this quote taught me an important lesson about individual learning. When others appear stubborn and ignore the directives of their peers and mentors, even if the directives will do them good, it’s not usually out of disrespect for their wisdom. To take it as such would be a potentially relationship-damaging mistake. Sometimes people must learn something for themselves to be truly satisfied by the answer.

 

On determination and achievement:Everyone can perform magic; everyone can reach his goal, if he is able to think, to wait, and to fast” – Siddhartha. (Pg 60)

  • This novella contains many ties to philosophical thought. This passage reminded me of Epicurean thought (as discussed in my Consolations of Philosophy notes) and the importance of being able to understand and forego immediate, superficial pleasures in order to achieve greater and more satisfying goals.

 

On influence: “You don’t force him, beat him, and give him orders because you know that ‘soft’ is stronger than ‘hard’.” – Vasudeva. (Pg 111)

  • Vasudeva represents a character of total enlightenment within the book. He speaks in reference to Siddhartha’s actions towards his son, who is disrespectful and causes Siddhartha much grief. While this can be taken as advice for child-rearing, I believe it more powerfully refers to the general lesson of patience and giving during communication and negotiation. In some circumstances, it pays to act with softness towards others, rather than trying to dominate and gain. See my notes on Give And Take by Adam Grant for more on this topic.

 

On goal-seeking: “When someone is searching, then it can easily happen that the only thing his eyes see is that for which he is searching. He is then unable to find anything or let any thought enter his mind because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search.” – Siddhartha. (Pg 130)

  • While determination and individualism are hailed as mostly-positive attributes within this book, this quote serves to remind us that our determination can often leave us blind if chased with too much fervour. The podcast Hidden Brain by NPR recently aired an episode with this same message. Titled “The Fox And The Hedgehog: The Triumphs And Perils Of Going Big”, host Shankar Vedantam concludes that being single-minded with our goals can be advantageous but also leads one on a path of many pitfalls.

 

On communication and delivery: “Everything always comes out a little differently as soon as it is put into words” – Siddhartha. (Pg 134)

  • This quote reminded me of the Wait But Why article on Elon Musk’s latest endeavour, the Neuralink. Tim Urban does a spectacular job of distilling very difficult and expansive topics into easy-to-follow, enjoyable posts. The section of the article on Communication is particularly relevant to this quote.

 

On contentment: “… everything has to be just as it is, and everything requires only my consent, willingness, and loving agreement to become good to me and work for my benefit, unable to ever harm me.” – Siddhartha. (Pg 134)

  • This passage is also representative of philosophical thought, this time from Seneca. As Alain de Botton summarises of Seneca, “… we best endure those frustrations which we have prepared ourselves for and understand…” (Consolations of Philosophy, pg 81). If we can prepare for, and accept, frustrations that come our way we will be better equipped to find contentment in our lives.

 

 
If you’ve read Siddhartha or taken anything from the notes above, let me know down in the comments section or send me a message over at the Contact Page.

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