Friday, September 16, 2016

Human Pursuits


One of the best novels I’ve read about the human pursuit of enlightenment is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Set in ancient India, it tells the story of Siddhartha who leaves both the comforts and the religious rituals of a Brahmin’s life in order to seek enlightenment.  He joins the wandering ascetics known as Samanas.  But the hardships of that asceticism as well as its teachings fail to bring enlightenment to Siddhartha.  He meets Gotama Buddha eventually.  The Buddha is a really enlightened man.  But he cannot enlighten Siddhartha.  Enlightenment cannot be taught; it has to be experienced.  That’s what Siddhartha learns.

That is why I am going on my way—not to seek another doctrine, for I know there is none, but to leave all doctrines and all teachers and to reach my goal alone—or die.”  Siddhartha tells the Buddha.  He has to experience enlightenment in his own way.  Doctrines and dogmas, rituals and rigours can’t bring enlightenment.  Enlightenment is a personal achievement.  It is unique to each person.   Enlightenment is the fulfilment of one’s self.

Siddhartha decides to experiment with the material world and its sensual delights.  Kamala, a beautiful courtesan, becomes his new guru.  She teaches him the delights of carnal love.  She helps him get a good job with a rich businessman.  The job brings him plenty of wealth too.  He gambles, drinks, and dances.  Whatever pleasures that money can buy are his. 

Years pass and Siddhartha realises that he is still unhappy.  The more delights he gets, the less happy they make him.  Eventually he leaves that world too.  He finds a new guru in the ferryman, Vasudev, who teaches him to listen to the river.  And the river eventually gives him the experience he was looking for all these years.  As an old man, Siddhartha experiences a mystical bonding with the world through the river.

Kamala, who is now on a spiritual pursuit, brings to Siddhartha his adolescent son.  Siddhartha wants to teach enlightenment to his son.  But the son belongs to the material world.  He has to find his enlightenment, in his own way, reminds Vasudev.

Each one of us has to find our enlightenment in our own way.  Enlightenment is a heavily loaded word.  Perhaps, self-fulfilment, self-realisation or self-actualisation may be better words. 

Religions, rituals, doctrines, gurus, etc may be of some help in leading us to enlightenment.  But they are only the guiding lights on the way.  The way is your own.  The goal is your own.  No one else can take you there.

Most people don’t worry about that goal, in fact.  Maybe, they think that goal lies in heaven which they will attain after death.  That’s a delusion.  Helpful delusion.  It helps to put aside our real obligations on the earth: to give solid meaning to our life.  A meaning that only we can discover or create for ourselves.

Maybe, some of us find that meaning in the material world and its delights.  If they can indeed put your soul at ease, who can question you?  It’s your affair.  Your heaven is your personal affair.  Your hell is too.

A sizeable proportion choose to live with borrowed truths.  Borrowed from religions and their scriptures or rituals.  Borrowed from godmen or ammas.  No harm.  It’s your personal choice, again. 

The harm is only when you choose to impose those truths on others.  When you insist that others should worship your holy cows or holy whatever. 

It is better to find your personal enlightenment, however.  Anyone who is on that pursuit will never impose his truths on others.  Anyone who is on a personal quest for enlightenment will be compassionate to others.  Like Hesse’s Siddhartha, the genuine seeker may make mistakes on the way.  But the genuine seeker is a constant learner.  He pauses every now and then and looks at himself, at his way, at his goal, and comes to certain realisations.  Those realisations are what really matter. 



Indian Bloggers

18 comments:

  1. So true. Enlightenment/Happiness is individual pursuit.

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    1. Those who don't realise that simple truth turn out to be the greatest threat to civilisation.

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  2. At a stage, even Buddha is said to have advised Ananda, one of his closest disciples- "Be a light unto yourself". Another beautiful aspect you have brought out is that one should not impose one's way on another.

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    1. Not only the Buddha, but any enlightened person would say the same thing: "Be a light unto yourself."

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  3. This post is so great for me for two reasons:-

    1) I was given Siddhartha by a fond brother to tide over a personal crisis, but I could never understand why I couldn't ever complete it though many books I finished in the meantime. Now that I know the story from your post I wonder if it had a thing or two to do with me seeking it than it seeking me - enlightenment.

    2) I so agree when you say anyone who is on that pursuit will never impose his truths on others. Anyone who is on a personal quest for enlightenment will be compassionate to others. Perfectly put, this one.

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    1. Hope you've finished reading 'Siddhartha' by now. It's a book I read many times over until somebody took it away from my shelf. Nobody can take away what's in your mind :)

      Enlightenment is a training and an unfolding of the mind. Call it soul, if you like.

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  4. Remember seeing the feature film when a teenager.Thanks for telling the story so lucidly...

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    1. Most welcome. Yes, I too watched the movie in the 80s. Loved the movie too. But books continue to fascinate me more than movies.

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  5. A sizeable proportion choose to live with borrowed truths.Borrowed from religions and their scriptures or rituals.So so well said.. And that's how we keep our self away..

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    1. Probably people are afraid to probe their 'self'. Maybe most are lazy to do it.

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  6. Hesse elaborates the same further with Narcissus and Goldmund where he shows how different beings following different pursuits meet the same common ground of self realsation through disparate experiences

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    1. I loved 'Narcissus and Goldmund' too. One attains enlightenment through religion and the other through art. The Apollonian and the Dionysian ways of living.

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  7. I love to watch and see when people talk about spirituality. It gives me hope. Thanks for this thoughtful article. Everyone will get something from this blog.

    Peace
    Sourav
    http://indihope.com

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    1. Thoughtful, yes. Spirituality? I don't regard myself as spiritual at all.

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  8. That personal enlightenment is not achieved by most people. They become trapped in delusions

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    1. And that's what creates most problems. Not merely the trap, but their insistence on trapping as many more others as they can.

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  9. The genuine seeker is a constant learner. Wow ! What's a point to remember for self-betterment ! And what a post it is ! Straight from the heart ! And to the point without any digression or beating about the bush ! Simply marvellous ! Take a bow Sir.

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    1. Let me bow in return, Jitender. I'm sure I won't write anything that doesn't emerge from the heart. Your comment is a great encouragement.

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