At a pivotal fork in the road of my early spiritual evolution, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse was my doorway to the spirituality of the East. Here are a few samples of the delights to be found between the covers of this small yet profound book.
He lacked all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind, flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night, melting from the beams of the sun, dreams came to him and a restlessness of the soul.
Where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one’s own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it?
Thus he sat, wrapped in contemplation, thinking Om, his soul sent after the Brahman as an arrow.
A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow.
He let himself sink down to the ground of the sensation, down to the place where the causes lie, because to identify the causes, so it seemed to him, is the very essence of thinking, and by this alone sensations turn into realizations and are not lost, but become entities and start to emit like rays of light what is inside of them.
He wanted to strive for nothing, except for what the voice commanded him to strive for, dwell on nothing, except where the voice would advise him to do so. … To obey like this, not to an external command, only to the voice … this was good, this was necessary, nothing else was necessary.
Then, out of remote areas of his soul, out of past times of his now weary life, a sound stirred up. It was a word, a syllable, which he, without thinking, with a slurred voice, spoke to himself, the old word which is the beginning and the end of all prayers of the Brahmans, the holy ‘Om’, which roughly means ‘that what is perfect’ or ‘the completion’. And in the moment when the sound of ‘Om’ touched Siddhartha’s ear, his dormant spirit suddenly woke up.
‘Om!’ he spoke to himself: ‘Om! and again he knew about Brahman, knew about the indestructibility of life, knew about all that is divine, which he had forgotten. … Quietly, he spoke the word Om to himself, speaking which he had fallen asleep, and it seemed to him as if his entire long sleep had been nothing but a long meditative recitation of Om, a thinking of Om, a submergence and complete entering into Om, into the nameless, the perfected.
The enchantment, which had happened inside of him in his sleep and by means of the Om, was this very thing that he loved everything, that he was full of joyful love for everything he saw. And it was this very thing, so it seemed to him now, which had been his sickness before, that he was not able to love anybody or anything.
‘I am finally free again and am standing like a child under the sky. Oh how good is it to have fled, to have become free! How clean and beautiful is the air here, how good to breathe! After so many years of foolishness, Siddhartha, you have once again had an idea, have done something, have heard the bird in your chest singing and have followed it!’
Slowly blossomed, slowly ripened in Siddhartha the realisation, the knowledge, what wisdom actually was, what the goal of his long search was. It was nothing but a readiness of the soul, an ability, a secret art, to think every moment, while living his life, the thought of oneness, to be able to feel and inhale the oneness.
In this hour, Siddhartha stopped fighting his fate, stopped suffering. On his face flourished the cheerfulness of a knowledge, which is no longer opposed by any will, which knows perfection, which is in agreement with the flow of events, with the current of life, full of sympathy for the pain of others, full of sympathy for the pleasure of others, devoted to the flow, belonging to the oneness.
‘I’m going into the oneness,’ spoke Vasudeva. With a bright smile, he left; Siddhartha watched him leaving. With deep joy, with deep solemnity he watched him leave, saw his steps full of peace, saw his head full of lustre, saw his body full of light.
Deeply, he bowed, touching the ground, before him who was sitting motionlessly, whose smile reminded him of everything he had ever loved in his life, what had ever been valuable and holy to him in his life.
Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse (originally published in German, 1922; Penguin Books, 2002)