“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.”
Siddhartha is a novel by Hermann Hesse, and it deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha. It is written in German and translated into English by Hilda Rosner.
Hermann Karl Hesse was a German-born poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
As the most famous novel of the Nobel Prize winner Hermann, Siddhartha helps people know more about the Self, about the eternity and unity of the world. It makes its readers meditate constantly about the world and self existence.
Experiences are the best teachers
— Book review of Siddhartha
From a young Samana, Siddhartha has seen teaching as a very distrustful thing. At the end of the book, he talks to Govinda about his negative views on words in expressing things. Rather than learning, Siddhartha considers experiences more important, and in fact, his sayings can also apply to our lives, that is, experiences can give us more than preaching, and what can not be learned from teachers can be gained through real life experiences.
Experiences can provide us with valuable virtues while mere words from teachers could not. For example, in Siddhartha, during the periods of being a Samana, Siddhartha has learned to fast, to think and to wait, which are not gained from his previous years as a Brahmin, when he learns from teachers. He learns these three important things through being ascetics, having to endure the simple life of possessing nothing, hardly eating anything, traveling long distances and lodging in the woods. It is true in our lives too though under different backgrounds. For example, we can learn from schools to be patient, to be persistent and so on, but it is so hard to really be like that with the learned knowledge that it is good to be so. After having to wait for your boss for an hour, however, you would be able to learn to have patience, and that is exactly experiences that taught you that, not teachers from schools.
Experiences can teach us some great lessons about life from our mistakes and sins, and thus we can avoid making the same mistakes every time through experiencing the punishment life gives us. Can experiences help us resist temptations as well? The answer is yes. When Siddhartha lives a moderate life as a samanna, he is able to ignore all the flamboyant things like drinks, prostitutes and merchants, whereas later in his life he experiences all of them and considers the experiences necessary as a part of his life and as a great lesson. After experiencing nausea he gets when he finally realizes his indulgence, he learns to resist temptations, and those things no longer lure him. It is the same for us in modern societies as well. We might have the avarice of sleeping perhaps ten more minutes after we wake up, knowing that we might be late for class. When we are late for school and are punished, we will learn to be more punctual in the future, and that is what teachers cannot give us from simply telling us it is bad to be late.
Besides teaching us about moralities and holding us back from making more mistakes, experiences can most importantly give us wisdom. When we grow older and accumulate more and more experiences, we would be able to reflect upon our lives and accumulate wisdom. We need to go through a lot to reach the state of finding peace and reaching such a great mental stage. What Siddhartha says to Govinda is true, that “knowledge is communicable, but wisdom is not”. Wisdom can also be obtained from experiencing so many different things, from experiencing happiness, lust, pain, loss and so on, since different experiences prompt us to think, and meditation leads to wisdom. When Siddhartha listens to the river and hears so many different voices and finally Om (perfection), he has found peace. These voices come from his experiences as a Brahmin, a Samana, a merchant, a son, a father and a lover. He becomes the wise ferryman through all these experiences and reflections. The Perfect One Gotama shares similar experiences with Siddhartha, and both experience the bitterness and sweetness of the world and thus the preaching of Gotama and Siddhartha’s understandings are quite similar except for the unique experiences of each individual that Siddhartha emphasizes.
Indeed, Siddhartha’s stance against teachers might not fit perfectly for us because going to schools is also important. However, only through experiences can we acquire moralities, avoid collapsing and accumulate wisdom. Teachers can only directly give us knowledge, but experiences provide us with so much more and could teach us so much more, which includes wisdom.
Information: Siddhartha- Hermann Hesse
Date: 7/28/2019 revised in June 2019
Revision comments: As the first essay I wrote in my freshmen year of high school, the language is still very immature. It is hard to change the structure of the essay or add in more quotes and evidence, even though MEAL paragraph structure would be perfect for this essay.