Sunday, February 3

I feel like Siddhartha’s torpidity and the subsequent unhappiness and nausea that cause him to leave Kamala and his riches behind are payback for the complete arrogance and disdain he exercises earlier as a Samana. So contemptuous and arrogant are his feelings towards Kamaswami and everyone—Brahmins, Kamaswami, the “child-people”—that I don’t think it’s possible for him to ever achieve enlightenment until he overcomes this. I am glad that he finally becomes aware of his pride on page 83 and that his baptism in the river seems to have made him aware of it so he can move past this obstacle towards enlightenment.

Part of what I think the Samanas get wrong is their stance that the “Self” must be overcome. I disagree with this. I wouldn’t even say that all pride must be overcome, but certainly the type of pride that is destructive. What Hesse has made me think about, (and I don’t know if this is exactly what he is saying, because sometimes he is way over my head), is that I have always had a hard time coming to grips with the doctrines of religions that want people to separate the body and the soul. So many religions convey an urgency to “overcome the flesh” in order to dwell in the spiritual realm, and in the past I have often thought of it as hogwash. I forget, however, how hard daily life was for people throughout all of history up until the Industrial Revolution and the 20th Century—and still is, for many. Work was back-breaking, there were lice, dentistry was primitive at best, and sexual incontinence had many unpleasant consequences—physical, social, and economic. I can see why early religious doctrines tried to help people to rise above daily pain or to quell their desire to sleep around.

What I cannot reconcile myself to, however, is doctrines such as the one preached by the Samanas that one must negate the physical self entirely to be at one with the divine. Their practices call to mind Catholic monks who practice self-flagellation and wear hair underwear and otherwise mortify the flesh. It doesn’t even make sense to me that one should try to separate the body from the mind, because the physical reality of it is the fact that one is housed within the other. I don’t see how one can be happy if he is constantly attempting to deny this by either trying to become immune to pain, like the Samanas, or punishing the flesh, like Catholic monks (an absurdity I think was also made apparent by Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”). And what does happiness have to do with it? Well, that’s what I think is the fallacy of the Samanas. I think their understanding of enlightenment is deeply flawed, for they want it, but their philosophy does not seem to allow for any happiness, and what is enlightenment if not a hyperbolically-named type of happiness? I know it means to break out of the cycle of rebirth—and isn’t it an unhappy, dissatisfying cycle? It seems to me that breaking out of it would mean achieving peace and happiness, and I think it’s a little absurd that Samanas want to reach this goal of perfect happiness by putting themselves through so much pain. Also, if enlightenment means the unity of all things, then how is separating the mind/spirit from the body working towards unity?

No wonder Siddhartha gets so bogged down in the material world during this middle section. He still approaches everything as though his body and mind were separate. He is not balanced. I vaguely remember from reading this novel in high school that he does achieve enlightenment by the end by living on the river. Perhaps he also does some yoga, because that would really help him out.

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