Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Siddhartha, Hesse and What's Necessary

Herman Hesse was my guru when I was twenty years old.  Maybe he'll be my guru again.

I was standing behind the library at Union College in late 1968 when I met up with Neil Gordan.  We were both seniors but had not really talked since we were freshmen.  He asked me how I was doing and I said not very well.  The Vietnam War  was was raging and leaders were being killed and I was afraid of being drafted and I was depressed and I hadn't been going to classes and hadn't washed or shaved and generally felt lost. He smiled and said read Demian and walked away with a smile on his face.  I'm not sure what the smile meant but perhaps he had an inkling of what I was in for.

I ended up reading the book and not going to class for a week in its aftermath. It had a profound effect on me. It's difficult to understand it's power this far down the road.  I recently tried to reread it and it didn't click at all.  Back in '68 it was a different story. I think it's because gave me a new frame of reference to hang my confused craziness on. His novel depicting Abraxas, a divinity of both good and evil, gave me a rudimentary foundation for looking, again, at spirituality.

 I entered Union as a serious Catholic who vowed not to "lose my faith" among the liberal secularists.  It took about three months. Reading The Martyred by Richard Kim put the biggest nail in the coffin.   It asked a simple question.  How can an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God allow the slaughter of millions of innocents in war? Hmmm. So I ended up in this dead end alley and Herman Hesse helped me begin to find my way out.

As I was saying, maybe he will again.

I'm rereading Siddhartha which appears to be based on Hindu's first three stages of life. (the Wikipedia link is very interesting)  At one point shortly after Siddhartha had met the Buddha and decided not to become a follower he had the following thoughts.

"Both, the thoughts as well as the senses were pretty things, the ultimate meaning was hidden behind both of them, both had to be listened to, both had to be played with, neither had to be scorned nor overestimated, from both the secret voices of the innermost truth had to be attentively perceived.  He wanted to strive for nothing , except for what the voice commanded him to strive for, dwell on nothing, except where the voice would advise him to do so. ...to obey like this, not to an external command, only to the voice, to be ready like this, this was good, this was necessary, nothing else was necessary."

Next post - "Locus of Salvation" or "what I hope works for me when the shit hits the fan."