Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Siddhartha's Experience

Does it look like I'm rich?

It's always amazing to reread Siddhartha regardless of how many times one can read it. I think it always sits comfortably next to a heavy philosophical text. At the end of a mammoth 400 page philosophical text of pure theory, Hesse's Siddhartha is always a humbling surprise; a joyful humiliation. For how much it's straightforward and abstinent from the need to create its own concepts (theory), there's always something that pops up new when you haven't read it for two years. Choice quotes pop up in a way where you say to yourself, "How did I not see this as important as I see it now?" This happened to me over the past couple days rereading Siddhartha. There was at least 10 parts I underlined that I didn't recognize for their importance before. After Siddhartha's experience with the Buddha (Guatama) and Kamala, Siddartha is in a place of moment to moment "enlightenment" before he meets with what I think is the "soul" of this book, the Ferryman and the River. This mediation point between Kamala and the Ferryman revisited is extraordinary, not simply in prose, but the style of thought that happens to be in the mode of prose (it's a book after all). What stood out this time though was how much Siddhartha emphasized how every experience was good to him. It's a mindset that I can't stress enough to people I sometimes meet (mostly people who wear their "intellectual nature" on their sleeve). It's a recognition of the difference between knowledge and experience, and the disingenuous nature of knowledge being used against some other knowledge without any of these "knowledge's" being experienced. Basically, it's a recognition of the knowledge-gulping personality as being exactly that, a personality.

"'It is good,' he thought, 'oneself to sample everything one needs to know. That worldly pleasure and riches are not good I already learned as a child. For a long time I knew it, but I have experienced it only now. And now I know it, know it not only by heart, but also with my heart, with my eyes, with my stomach. Good for me that I know it!'"

Siddhartha here is referring to his teachings given to him as a Brahmin by his father and his just previous merchant-days with Kamaswami. He was taught by his father in language that riches weren't good, yet it was only a knowledge of riches not being good for the Brahmin. Siddhartha already knew this as a child. Could he simply just skip over actually being in the position of being rich? This was not the course for Siddhartha. This is what led him away from his best friend (Govinda) who would follow the Buddha for the rest of his life. It wasn't in Siddhartha to simply hear from teachers (no matter how perfect the teacher was; the Buddha) about the essence of the world and how to live in it. He had to live every possible way without knowing ahead of time that he would live every possible way that he would always be warned against growing up. Forever he experienced teachings. Forever he could be taught by his father, the Shramanas, Guatama, and Kamala, but he would never experience it until he experienced it. He had only experienced it now, after he experienced it. "And now I know it" Siddhartha says. Knowledge becomes experience after he experienced what he was once taught growing up. He doesn't know it by the written word or by the law, but with the heart. The analogy between Hesse's Siddhartha and the transition from Moses to Jesus in the Bible is perfect here. It's not just the heart either. It's the eyes and the stomach. He had to see with his own heart, his own eyes, and his own stomach why opulence was an offensive being. Siddhartha would never be satisfied hearing a code. He would continue to wander into non-coded places experiencing non-coded experiences (regardless if there was ever some program that "knew" a "code"). What the heart and stomach can say to you is more than what the written word could ever say to Siddhartha. The inclusion of stomach here I find so valuable. One can see their outside surroundings for a long period of time ("seeing" taken literally) and one can even know with their heart that the way they're living isn't appropriate to them, but it's the stomach that is literally "gut-wrenching." It's Siddhartha having to make deals with other merchants that spoke in his stomach. It made him feel nauseous. The heart can fly, but the stomach sinks. The heart to me is more passive while the stomach is more direct, and more aggressive. The heart can make one feel "wrong" or "right," but the stomach is a whirlwind uppercut. This passage wouldn't have meant nearly as much to me without the inclusion of stomach in it. You have to stomach whatever it is you think you dislike, or rather, want to dislike. If not, there are other reasons for the dislike that don't have to do with the object of this dislike, but with wanting to dislike anything in general (a desire for dislike, a desire for taking a position). Hesse's Siddhartha wouldn't falter to this "satisfaction-of-dislike." Instead he would approach everything and see how it stomachs after. Who knows, maybe he would have loved being a merchant. Maybe it was his path he was always looking for. Maybe it was him. It wasn't, but he only "knew" this after he was it.

If I can offer a little wisdom to the academically involved. You don't "know" it until you are it. Whatever or whoever you "find" repugnant isn't what you think it is until you are it. No matter how much theory one digests, no matter how many protagonists (and antagonists too) one identifies with, your experience is limited to these experiences, these experience that you have spent so much time with and that's shown you your path. All the words and untimely thoughts that are outside of your experience are just that, words, or desires for wanting to take positions (which the reader can figure out the disingenuous nature of for themselves). I hope I always remember this for myself. And if I do, "Good for me that I know it!"

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