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.
PS. This is written for Indispire Edition 135: What is it that we are running after? Isn't it time to step back and enjoy life, nature, family or anything we really love #discoverlife