1) “The Buddha went quietly on his way, lost in thought. His peaceful countenance was neither happy nor sad. He seemed to be smiling gently inwardly. With a secret smile, not unlike that of a healthy child, he walked along, peacefully, quietly. He wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step, his peaceful downward glance, his peaceful downward- hanging hand, and every finger of his hand spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, sought nothing, imitated nothing, reflected a continuous quiet, an unfading light, an invulnerable peace […] And it seemed to him that in every joint of every finger of his hand there was knowledge; they spoke, breathed, radiated truth,” (Hesse 22).
Subsequent to his frustration with the ascetics, Siddhartha traveled to the town of Savathi to hear teachings of the Buddha. This passage was taken from Siddhartha’s first encounter with the Illustrious One, and provides a clear description of an enlightened individual. The above excerpt is essential to our understanding of Buddhism because it illustrates the difference between temporary happiness and complete bliss.
The representation of the Buddha with the qualities exemplified in this passage is uncommon in the Western tradition because the ultimate aim for a Westerner is to be happy while the goal for a Buddhist is to achieve a state of bliss. This passage is therefore extremely interesting because it provides me with an alternate perception of the ideal mental state. The specific Buddhist fulfillment seems more attainable than the broader Western goal of happiness.
Though happiness and bliss are naturally perceived as synonyms, there is a significant difference between them. The Buddha is referred to as being “neither happy nor sad” which means that instead of experiencing a temporary state of happiness, the Buddha has reached a mental state of total bliss, which can more accurately be described as a “peaceful countenance”. It is evident that the Buddha had reached a state of complete calmness in that he went through life with a “secret smile” plastered on his face. He felt such gratification that it could not accurately be expressed externally. This satisfaction was so strong that the Buddha felt as though it was “invulnerable,” ultimately meaning that it could not be disturbed or open to attack. The “invulnerable peace” also suggests that the Buddha recognizes that others cannot control his condition; he is essentially taking full responsibility for his mental well- being. This explains why happiness is merely temporary while bliss is eternal.
Happiness can be affected by outside influence, in contrast to bliss, which is an entirely internal experience. The Buddha’s healthy state of mind is derived from his inner contentment, rather than from his current circumstances related to the outside world. While he understands that one inevitably engages with the outside world, he also realizes that one cannot be over consumed by it. This is evident in the way that he carried himself during his walk across town. He glanced downward to abstain from the distraction that the outside world would have on his spiritual development; yet, he also kept his eyes open because some connection with the outside world is necessary to gain knowledge.
This passage is also noteworthy because it shows that when one moves beyond logic to attain the desired, truth manifests with little or no effort at all. The Buddha ‘sought nothing” which means that he had no goal, he was not seeking, but rather finding. This connects to the Buddhist teaching that when one is searching for a particular truth or desire, it is impossible to discover anything because the mind is limited. When the Buddha “sought nothing […], it seemed to him that in every joint of every finger of his hand there was knowledge; they spoke, breathed, radiated truth”. Knowledge came to the Buddha without the need to take action. No search was required. Truth naturally arose when the body achieved a blissful state. This passage makes me realize that my state of mind is crucial to my ability to grow.
2) “Vasudeva listened with great attention; he heard all about his origin and childhood, about his studies, his seeking, his pleasures and needs. It was one of the ferryman’s greatest virtues that like few people, he knew how to listen. Without his saying a word, the speaker felt that Vasudeva took in every word, quietly, expectantly, that he missed nothing. He did not await anything with impatience and gave neither praise nor blame- he only listened. Siddhartha felt how wonderful it was to have such a listener who could be absorbed in another person’s life, his strivings, his sorrows,” (85). *** – Compassion – Right mindfulness – Focus – Taking advantage of every learning opportunity: may be disguised in others – Everybody has different skills; – Power of a listener: self- discovery both ways?
Following his study with the Samanas, Siddhartha found the river that he had crossed years ago. Siddhartha became very fascinated with this river, and began to appreciate much of the wisdom it seemed to offer. Siddhartha’s discovery of the river was interrupted by Vasudeva, the same ferryman who had brought him across the river years ago during his study with the Samanas. Reuniting with Vasudeva, Siddhartha realizes his change in perspective since the last time he has seen the ferryman. Vasudeva made Siddhartha feel quite comfortable as they sat by the river and got used to each other’s presence again. Siddhartha told him about his early life and how his encounter with the river that day had come after his hour of despair. The story lasted late into the night.
Vasudeva demonstrated an unbelievable level of Buddhist compassion in this excerpt. Vasudeva exhibited true empathy by simply listening with great focus and in this way was able to relieve Siddhartha of much of his suffering. By simply listening, Vasudeva made Siddhartha feel as though he was absorbing part of Siddhartha’s burden. This made Siddhartha feel as though he was not alone in his suffering. The symbol of Vasudeva as a ferryman symbolizes his great sense of direction, which has come from the extraordinary insight that he has gained from simply listening without judgment. Through gaining multiple perspectives, Vasudeva has enhanced his wisdom. This passage highlights the powerful mutual benefits of simply listening to a friend.
Crossing from one side of the river to the other is a metaphor for Siddhartha’s shift in perception. The insight that Siddhartha gained from the river was a result of his change in perspective and different approach to the nature that had always existed. This was the point in Siddhartha’s spiritual development when he begins to show that he has achieved Right Mindfulness. Just as Vasudeva merely listened to Siddhartha, the river did not truly speak to him. The presence of both the river and Vasudeva served a purpose in comforting Siddhartha over the course of his internal healing. Siddhartha thought that he could gain knowledge and insight from the river and Vasudeva, but he realized that this knowledge and insight was actually found within himself.
This segment is so fascinating because it shows that those who possess the greatest knowledge are often the quiet introverts. Perhaps this is why a cure for cancer is yet to be found. We assume that certain people in this world belong in specific places. It is important that we allow all to contribute input, because it’s the only way to discover what each person has to offer.
3) “For a long time he looked intently at the pale face, at the tired wrinkles and saw his own face like that, just as white, also dead, and at the same time he saw his face and hers, young, with red lips, with ardent eyes and he was overwhelmed with a feeling of the present and contemporary existence. In this hour he felt more acutely the indestructibleness of every life, the eternity of every moment,” (93).
Life is impermanent. There are no exceptions. When we get attached to aspects of life that are impermanent, we inevitably suffer. As simple as this Noble Truth may sound, it is nearly impossible for most to grasp in the duration of a single lifetime. Over the course of the novel, it has been interesting to observe Siddhartha’s development in understanding this Noble Truth. He originally failed to practice detachment through his involvement with the businessman. As his journey progressed, Siddhartha was able to put his effort to gain spiritual development before his attachments. Yet, when love got in the way, Siddhartha had great trouble abstaining from the temptation once again.
Siddhartha developed an intimate relationship with Kamala, a prostitute that he had met early in his pursuit of truth. He was originally attached to Kamala because of his natural attraction to her, and the truth that she provided him. Soon, Kamala began to interfere with Siddhartha’s spiritual development. His love for her grew to the point where he could no longer focus on his attainment of knowledge. Siddhartha subsequently detached himself from her. When the lovers met again, Siddhartha saw that Kamala had changed. He loved this. For the first time in his life, he embraced a form of impermanence.
The two were in love, a virtually impossible bond to break. The strong love that Siddhartha felt led him to believe that love is an exception to the essence of impermanence in the world. When Kamala died, Siddhartha experienced a loss more profound than ever, because of his attachment to Kamala on an emotional level. Siddhartha realized that in letting go of Kamala, he must also let go of everything else. This helped him to realize that there was absolutely no exception to the truth. Everything concerning life on Earth is terminal. Essentially our only choice is to let go.
This excerpt also conveys the Buddhist concept that life on Earth is not eternal. In this passage, Siddhartha realizes when he “saw his own face like that, just as white, also dead,” that though it is not he who is dying, death will reach him eventually. Being forced to let go of Kamala, a woman who he loved so deeply, made him fully comprehend the essence of all impermanence.
This story emphasizes the reason why we shall always live in the moment. We never know when our last moment will be. This makes me think more deeply about whether or not it would benefit us humans to be told the date of our death. I’d imagine that the majority of people on Earth would wish to know. Yet, knowing would only take away the strong incentive to live everyday on the edge in the uncertainty that there may never be a tomorrow. This also makes me realize that everything truly does happen for a reason. Siddhartha had hope that certain aspects of life were permanent as a result of what had happened with Kamala. This made him look over Kamala “for a long time,” after she died. For the duration of this period, Siddhartha suffered greatly, because he wanted so badly to believe that Kamala would come back. When he was finally “overwhelmed with the feeling of the present and contemporary existence,” Siddhartha was able to realize that the essence of life was transitory. Changing the fundamental nature of the universe is beyond his control because he exists as a part of this impermanence.
4)“No, this tremendous amount of knowledge, collected and preserved by successive generations of wise Brahmins could not be overlooked. But where were the Brahmins, the priests, the wise men, who were successful not only in having this most profound knowledge, but in experiencing it? Where were the initiated who, attaining Atman in sleep, could retain it in consciousness, in life, everywhere, in speech and in action?” (4).
Siddhartha was originally born into the Brahmin tradition, and naturally accepted the validity of their teachings growing up. Eventually, he no longer felt that the Brahmins could offer him the wisdom that his heart needed in order to be fulfilled. He describes this in the passage above. Though he believed that their teaching was acceptable, it was difficult for him to grasp the concepts on a deep level because those teachers lacked the depth of experience. Siddhartha had a sense of his extraordinary, untapped potential. Over the course of his criticism of the Brahmin, he still maintained respect for them. He acknowledged that, “wise Brahmins could not be overlooked”. The wisdom that they’ve acquired through their own mediation is valuable, though it is impossible to merely introduce a student to concepts that can only be entirely understood via experience. Experience is the true teacher.
This passage is interesting because it challenges traditional teaching methods. Learning in a classroom merely introduces a student to a concept, while working through the process of formulating a coherent paper deepens the student’s level of understanding. Furthermore, contemplation of the concepts allows the student to incorporate these ideas into his life.
This supports the foundation of the Zen Buddhism tradition. In the Zen tradition, a student is provided with a koan in order to merely plant the seed of a lesson in a student’s consciousness so that the student can fully develop it on his own. The student personalizes this lesson, essentially integrating it into his own truth and reality through meditation. The student’s spiritual development is measured by his ability to discover the truth of the koan, based on the teacher’s subjective evaluation. The purpose of this method is to provide the student with a learning experience that the student can take with him in his journey through suffering.
5) “The drinker does indeed find escape, he does indeed find a short respite and rest, but he returns from the illusion and finds everything as it was before. He has not grown wiser, he has not gained knowledge, he has not climbed any higher,” (14).
Siddhartha felt an immense amount of frustration when he originally attempted to discover truth through his work with the Samanas and contemplation in meditation. Though he was persistent in his practice, he ultimately found no answers. Siddhartha seemed to lose patience in his passionate search for truth because he continued to suffer and was truly desperate for relief.
This passage is extremely interesting because it directly relates Siddhartha’s experience to that of modern day alcoholics. It acknowledges the common struggle between alcoholics universally in understanding their current life situation. At the same time as acknowledging the problem, the passage also offers a Buddhist perspective that explains why this coping strategy is useless. Siddhartha realizes that using alcohol to cope with life is only a “short respite and rest” as opposed to a permanent solution. It supports the first Noble Truth in that one cannot escape suffering. It is essential that one accept the inevitable existence of suffering. Buddhists perceive life from this realistic perspective instead of under the hopeful illusion that all alcoholics adopt. Siddhartha claims that an alcoholic “returns from the illusion and finds everything as it was before”. This suggests that it is necessary for one to approach suffering with Right Mindfulness, one of the components of the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Siddhartha teaches that in order to grow out of this state of suffering, one must approach life with acceptance and willingness to change. This teaching supports the necessity of individual responsibility, which is the backbone of the Eightfold Path. Only a change in an individual’s behavior can affect one’s well-being.
Even though this passage is describes alcoholics, it is applicable to all. The only way that one can overcome suffering is to develop a productive response to life’s unavoidable struggles. It is important to evaluate life from a perspective that gives one the ability to accept aspects that cannot be changed. Staying strong is the only technique that can bring lasting peace and enough motivation in oneself to continue to survive in the face of challenge.