This is not a book review.
In 1982, my provocative and exacting teacher, Mrs. Jane Bendetson, had us read Siddhartha. In a school that demanded strict conformation to the status quo, she gave us a book that felt rebellious and exciting, and most important to me at the time, punk.
Siddhartha describes the journey of a seeker who follows his own path to truth and eventual enlightenment by basically sitting next to the bank of a river.
Suffice to say, it blew my mind — inward. I really connected with its core message of loving the world in all its completeness. It also showed me that sticking to one belief alone will not lead to fulfillment of truth.
A religious doctrine, no matter how elevated, cannot speak to the unique potential of experience for each individual. We have to follow our own path, and use the guidance of the elders as just that: guidance. No one can get the final word but you.
Mrs. Bendetson was a stickler for grammar, manners, and being straight up with what you wanted to say. She told us that there were three questions we had to constantly ask ourselves:
These questions, first learned in my study of Siddhartha, are still the guidelines and compass of my life. They allow me to switch directions when those inevitable complications arise and things get fuzzy. Part of the magic of these three questions is that when you follow them in order, clarity emerges. If you can check in with yourself and “know” who you are, the rest falls into place.
I consider the book itself to be a radical work by which Hermann Hesse carefully smuggled important teachings of Theravada Buddhism into pop culture: experience everything. Don’t be attached. Be kind.
It depicts in story form that the path of enlightenment is unknowable for each individual. If we want to discover our own way, we need to do it in our own style. No one else’s rules will work. It’s punk without the volume or the uniform. I loved it and still do.