Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (Quotes)


I don’t regret buying and reading this book for it has made me understand deeper what Buddhism is all about. What I have discovered about it after I have read this novel is that it is a journey of self-discovery, and not really about doctrines or rules.  Buddhism is the quest to attain internal peace. It is not a religion but a philosophy. And like many other religions or spiritual practices, it is just one of the different ways of experiencing spirituality. This is a novel about Siddhartha, a man who is skeptical of all spiritual teachings, but finally attains peace during the time of Gautama Buddha. I have listed some quotes in the book that I find very beautiful:

“The Brahmins and their holy books knew everything, everything; they had gone into everything – the creation of the world, the origin of speech, food, inhalation, exhalation, the arrangement of the senses, the acts of the gods. They knew a tremendous number of things – but was it worth while knowing all these things if they did not know one important thing, the only important thing?”

“One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking – a detour, error.”

“Siddhartha gave his clothes to a poor Brahmin on the road and only retained his loincloth and earth-colored unstitched cloak. He only ate once a day and never cooked food. He fasted fourteen days. He fast twenty-eight days. The flesh disappeared from his legs and cheeks. Strange dreams were reflected in his enlarged eyes. The nails grew long on his thin fingers and a dry, bristly beard appeared on his chin. His glance became icy when he encountered women; his lips curled with contempt when he passed through a town of well-dressed people. He saw businessmen trading, princes going to the hunt, mourners weeping over their dead, prostitutes offering themselves, doctors attending the sick, priests deciding the day for sowing, lovers making love, mothers soothing their children – and all were not worth a passing glance, everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain.”

“What is meditation? What is abandonment of the body? What is fasting? What is the holding of breath? It is a flight from the Self, it is a temporary escape from the torment of Self. It is a temporary palliative against the pain and folly of life. The driver of oxen makes this same flight, takes this temporary drug when he drinks a few bowls of rice wine or coconut milk in the inn. He then no longer feels his Self, no longer feels the pain of life; he then experiences temporary escape. Falling asleep over his bowl of rice wine, he finds what Siddhartha and Govinda find when they escape from their bodies by long exercises and dwell in the non-Self.”

“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.”

“But he looked attentively at Gotama’s head, at his shoulders, at his feet, at his still, downward-hanging hand, and it seemed to him that in every joint of his finger of his hand there was knowledge; they spoke, breathed, radiated truth. This man, this Buddha, was truly a holy man to his fingertips.”

“The Buddha has robbed me, thought Siddhartha. He has robbed me, yet he has given me something of greater value. He has robbed me of my friend, who believed in me and who now believes in him; he was my shadow and is now Gotama’s shadow. But he has given to me Siddhartha, myself.”

“Siddhartha reflected deeply as he went on his way. He realized that he was no longer a youth; he was now a man. He realized that something had left him, like the old skin that a snake sheds. Something was no longer in him, something that had accompanied him right through his youth and was part of him: this was the desire to have teachers and to listen to their teachings. He had left the last teacher he had met, even he, the greatest and wisest teacher, the holiest, the Buddha. He had to leave him; he could not accept his teachings.”

“Slowly the thinker went on his way and asked himself: What is it that you wanted to learn from teachings and teachers, and although they taught you much, what was it they could not teach you? And he thought: It was the Self, the character and nature of which I wished to learn. I wanted to rid myself of the Self, to conquer it, but I could not conquer it, I could only deceive it, could only fly from it, could only hide from it. Truly, nothing in the world has occupied my thoughts as much as the Self, this riddle, that I live, that I am one and am separated and different from everybody else, that I am Siddharta; and about nothing in the world do I know less than about myself, about Siddharta.”

“The reason why I do not know anything about myself, the reason why Siddhartha has remained alien and unknown to myself is due to one thing, to one single thing – I was afraid of myself, I was fleeing from myself. I was seeking Brahman, Atman, I wished to destroy myself, to get away from myself, in order to find in the unknown innermost, the nucleus of all things, Atman, Life, the Divine, the Absolute. But by doing so, I lost myself on the way.”

“I will learn from myself, be my own pupil.”

“Meaning and reality were not hidden somewhere behind things, they were in them, in all of them.”

“At that moment, when the world around him melted way, when he stood alone like a star in the heavens, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of icy despair, but he was more firmly himself than ever. That was the last shudder of his awakening, the last pains of birth. Immediately he moved on again and began to walk quickly and impatiently, no longer homewards, no longer to his father, no longer looking backwards.”

“Thank you, good man,” said Siddhartha, as he landed on the other side. “I am afraid I have no gift to give you, nor any payment. I am homeless, a Brahmin’s son and a Samana.”
“I could see that,” said the ferryman, “and I did not expect any payment or gift from you. You will give it to me some other time.”
“Do you think so?” said Siddhartha merrily.
“Certainly. I have learned that from the river too; everything comes back. You, too, Samana, will come back. Now farewell, may your friendship be my payment! May you think of me when you sacrifice to the gods!”

“Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons; there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast.”

“That seems to be the way of things. Everyone takes, everyone gives. Life is like that.”

“Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better.”

“He, who was still a boy as regards love and was inclined to plunge into the depths of it blindly and insatiably, was taught by her that one cannot have pleasure without giving it, and that every gesture, every caress, every touch, every glance, every single part of the body has its secret which can give pleasure to one who can understand. She taught him that lovers should not separate from each other after making love without admiring each other, without being conquered as well as conquering, so that no feeling of satiation or desolation arises nor the horrid feeling of misusing or having been misused.”

“Do not scold, my dear friend. Nothing was ever achieved by scolding.”

“Although he found it so easy to speak to everyone, to live with everyone, to learn from everyone, he was very conscious of the fact that there was something which separated him from them – and this was due to the fact that he had been a Samana. He saw people living in a childish or animal-like way, which he both loved and despised. He saw them toiling, saw them suffer and grow gray about the things that to him did not seem worth the price – for money, small pleasures and trivial honors. He saw them scold and hurt each other; he saw them lament over pains at which the Samana laughs, and suffer at deprivations which a Samana does not feel.”

“Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters, and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path. Among all the wise men, of whom I knew many, there was one who was perfect in this respect. I can never forget him. He is Gotama, the Illustrious One, who preaches this gospel. Thousands of young men hear his teachings every day and follow his instructions every hour, but they are all falling leaves; they have not the wisdom and guide within themselves.”

“You cannot love either, otherwise how could you practice love as an art? Perhaps people like us cannot love. Ordinary people can – that is their secret.”

“His face was still more clever and intellectual that other people’s, but he rarely laughed, and gradually his face assumed the expressions which are so often found among rich people – the expressions of discontent, of sickliness, of displeasure, of idleness, of lovelessness. Slowly the soul sickness of the rich crept over him.”

“Never had it been so strangely clear to Siddhartha how closely related passion was to death. Then he lay beside her and Kamala’s face was near to his, and under her eyes and near the corners of her mouth, he read clearly for the first time a sad sign – fine lines and wrinkles, a sign which gave a reminder of autumn and old age. Siddhartha himself, who was only in his forties, had noticed gray hairs here and there in his black hair. Weariness was written on Kamala’s beautiful face, weariness from continuing along a long path which had no joyous goal, weariness and incipient old age, and concealed and not yet mentioned, perhaps a not yet conscious fear – fear of the autumn of life, fear of old age, fear of death. Sighing, he took leave of her, his heart full of misery and secret fear.”

“I am not going anywhere. I am only on the way. I am making a pilgrimage.”

“Remember, my dear Govinda, the world of appearances is transitory, the style of our clothes and hair is extremely transitory. Our hair and our bodies themselves transitory. You have observed correctly. I am wearing the clothes of a rich man. I am wearing them because I have been a rich man, and I am wearing my hair like men of the world and fashion because I have been one of them.”

“And at that moment, in that splendid hour, after his wonderful sleep, permeated with Om, how could he help but love someone and something. That was the magic that had happened to him during his sleep and the Om in him – he loved everything, he was full of joyous love towards everything that he saw. And it seemed to him that was just why he was previously so ill – because he could love nothing and nobody.”

“Whither will my path yet lead me? This path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, I will follow it.”

“Siddhartha now also realized why he had struggled in vain with his Self when he was a Brahmin and an ascetic. Too much knowledge had hindered him; too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of the flesh, too much doing and striving. He had been full of arrogance; he had always been the cleverest, the most eager – always a step ahead of the others, always the learned and intellectual one, always the priest or the sage. His Self has crawled into priesthood, into his arrogance, into this intellectuality. It sat there tightly and grew, while he thought he was destroying it by fasting and penitence. Now he understood it and realized that the inward voice had been right, that no teacher could have brought him salvation. That was why he had to go into the world, to lose himself in power, women and money; that was why he had to be a merchant, a dice player, a drinker and a man of property, until the priest and Samana in him were dead. That was why he had to undergo those horrible years, suffer nausea, learn the lesson of the madness of an empty, futile life till the end, till he reached bitter despair, so that Siddhartha the pleasure-monger and Siddhartha the man of property could die. Siddhartha was transitory, all forms were transitory, but today he was young, he was a child – the new Siddhartha – and he was very happy.”

“But today he only saw one of the river’s secrets, one that gripped his soul. He saw that the water continually flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new. Who could understand, conceive this? He did not understand it; he was only aware of a dim suspicion, a faint memory, divine voices.”

“The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. You have already learned from the river that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek the depths.”

“I am not a learned man; I do not know how to talk or think. I only know how to listen and be devout; otherwise I have learned nothing.”

“But he learned more from the river than Vasudeva could teach him. He learned from it continually. Above all, he learned from it how to listen, to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions.”

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?”

“The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future.”

“Was then not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time?”

“Siddhartha began to realize that no happiness and peace had come to him with his son, only sorrow and trouble. But he loved him and preferred the sorrow and trouble of his love rather than happiness and pleasure without the boy.”

“I knew it. You are not strict with him, you do not punish him, you do not command him – because you know that gentleness is stronger than severity, that water is stronger than rock, that love is stronger than force. Very good, I praise you. But is it not perhaps a mistake on your part not to be strict with him, not to punish him? Do you not chain him with your love? Do you not shame him daily with your goodness and patience and make it still more difficult for him? Do you not compel this arrogant, spoilt boy to live in a hut with two old banana eaters, to whom even rice is a dainty, whose thoughts cannot be the same as his, whose hearts are old and quiet and beat differently from his? Is he not constrained and punished by all this?”

“Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to it, laugh about it! Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son from them? Can you then protect your son from Samsara? How? Through instruction, through prayers, through exhortation? My dear friend, have you forgotten that instructive story about Siddhartha, the Brahmin’s son, which you once told me here? Who protected the Samana from Samsara, from sin, greed and folly? Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him? Which father, which teacher, could prevent him from living his own life, from soiling himself with life, from loading himself with sin, from swallowing the bitter drink himself, from finding his own path? Perhaps your little son, because you would like to see him spared sorrow and pain and disillusionment? But if you were to die ten times for him, you would not alter his destiny in the slightest.”

“After he had stood for a long time at the gate to the garden, Siddhartha realized the desire that had driven him to this place was foolish, that he could not help his son, that he should not force himself on him. He felt a deep love for the runaway boy, like a wound, and yet felt at the same time that this wound was not intended to fester in him, but that it should heal.”

“He had learned this from the river: to wait, to have patience, to listen.”

“When he now took the usual kind of travellers across, businessmen, soldiers and women, they no longer seemed alien to him as they once did. He did not understand or share their thoughts and views, but he shared with them life’s urges and desires. Although he had reached a high stage of self-discipline and bore his last wound well, he now felt as if these ordinary people were his brothers. Their vanities, desires and trivialities no longer seemed absurd to him; they had become understandable, lovable and even worthy of respect. There was a blind love of a mother for her child, the blind foolish pride of a fond father for his only son, the blind eager starving of a young vain woman for ornament and the admiration of men. All these little simple, foolish, but tremendously strong, vital, passionate urges and desires no longer seemed trivial to Siddhartha. For their sake he saw people live and do great things, travel, conduct wars, suffer and endure immensely, and he loved them for it. He saw life, vitality, the indestructible and Brahman in all their desires and needs. These people were worthy of love and admiration in their blind loyalty, in their blind strength and tenacity. With the exception of one small thing, one tiny little thing, they lacked nothing that the sage and thinker had, and that was the consciousness of the unity of all life. And many a time Siddhartha even doubted whether this knowledge, this thought, was of such great value, whether it was also not perhaps only thinking children. The men of the world were equal to the thinkers in every other respect and were often superior to them, just as animals in their tenacious undeviating actions in cases of necessity may often seem superior to human beings.”

“Within Siddhartha there slowly grew and ripened the knowledge of what wisdom really was and the goal of his long seeking. It was nothing but a preparation of the soul, a capacity, a secret art of thinking, feeling and breathing thoughts of unity at every moment of life. The thought matured in him slowly, and it was reflected in Vasudeva’s old childlike face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, and unity.”

“He saw his face reflected in the quiet moving water, and there was something in this reflection that reminded him of something he had forgotten and when he reflected on it, he remembered. His face resembled that of another person, whom he had once known and loved and even feared. It resembled the face of his father, the Brahmin. He remembered how once, as a youth, he had compelled his father to let him go and join the ascetics, how he had taken leave of him, how he had gone and never returned. Had not his father also suffered the same pain that he was now suffering for his son? Had not his father died long ago, alone, without having seen his son again? Did he not expect the same fare? Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid thing, this repetition, this course of events in a fateful circle?”

“It was the goal of all of them, yearning, desiring, suffering; and the river’s voice was full of longing, full of smarting woe, full of insatiable desire. The river flowed on towards its goal.”

“Siddhartha listened. He was now listening intently, completely absorbed, quite empty, taking in everything. He felt that he had now completely learned the art of listening. He had often heard all this before, all these numerous voices in the river, but today they sounded different. He could no longer distinguish the different voices – the merry voice from the weeping voice, the childish voice from the manly voice. They all belonged to each other: the lament of those who yearn, the laughter of the wise, the cry of indignation and the groan of dying. They were all interwoven and interlocked, entwined in a thousand ways. And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life. When Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to this song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of one word: Om – perfection.”

“From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.”

“When someone is seeking, it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”

“Wisdom is not communicable. The wisdom which a wise man tries to communicate always sounds foolish.”

“Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

“But perhaps it illustrates that I just love the stone and the river and all these things that we see and from which we can learn. I can love a stone, Govinda, and a tree or a piece of bark. These are things and one can love things. But one cannot love words. Therefore teachings are of no use to me; they have no hardness, so softness, nor colors, no corners, no smell, no taste – they have nothing but words. Perhaps that is what prevents you from finding peace, perhaps there are too many words, for even salvation and virtue. Samsara and Nirvana are only words, Govinda. Nirvana is not a thing; there is only the word Nirvana.”

“It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine to world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.” 

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