“Without words, without writing and without books, there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.”
Hermann Karl Hesse
As a spiritual seeker who started questioning the meaning of life at three years, reading Hesse’s Siddhartha at sixteen brought me new revelations.
“One must find the source within one’s own Self, one must possess it. Everything else was seeking — a detour, an error.”
Soon afterwards I sought out the rest of Hesse’s oeuvre. I was puzzled by some of the passages in Steppenwolf and struggled through The Glass Bead Game.
“Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.”
And then I read, and loved Narcissus and Goldmund. The dichotomy between spirit and the senses, philosophy and art, the scholar and the sculptor, the ascetic and the lover, and the evolution of the seeker into the artist, cast a spectrum of ideas across the pages. Then and now, I believe that Narcissus was the greater of the two, but sometimes, just sometimes it seems likely that he might have been jealous of Goldmund.
“I believe . . . that the petal of a flower or a tiny worm on the path says far more, contains far more than all the books in the library. One cannot say very much with mere letters and words. Sometimes I’ll be writing a Greek letter, a theta or an omega, and tilt my pen just the slightest bit; suddenly the letter has a tail and becomes a fish; in a second it evokes all the streams and rivers of the world, all that is cool and humid, Homer’s sea and the waters on which Saint Peter wandered; or becomes a bird, flaps its tail, shakes out its feathers, puffs itself up, laughs, flies away. You probably don’t appreciate letters like that, very much, do you, Narcissus? But I say: with them God wrote the world.”
― Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund
From Siddhartha I learned that a spiritual Guru may not necessarily provide the answers to a seeker’s quest.
“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself” says Hesse, and again, “I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.” He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.” (Siddhartha)
But I had to undertake my own quest for truth before I could realise, and relate to this wisdom. I wrote my observations into The Reengineers thus, “Beware of ‘god men’ and ‘god women’. Even people who have not been depressed for a day in their lives get sucked into the seductive delusion of spirituality. If you must seek, seek by yourself, sitting in an armchair at your desk after office hours. For while Buddha saw the light, we do not know how many of his disciples did.”
The Reengineers, p.131.
Though I take great care to name each of my characters, I cannot remember when and why the name Siddharth occurred to me for one of the main characters of The Reengineers, the character of the author who seeks to find himself through writing his novel. It might have been the unconsciously remembered fact that Siddharth was the given name of Buddha, one of the quintessential seekers in history. Or it might equally have been the influence of Hesse’s hero, who is one of the quintessential seekers in literature.
If you like literary fiction, you will love The Reengineers: