I discovered this book in a list with the title of “Forty books all men should read by their 40s” or something like that. I thought it would be about Guatama Buddha along with some modern insights into his teachings but quickly discovered it was a novel by a melancholy German-Swiss divorcee! I also learned this book became popular in the ’60s when a generation of Americans were trying to shake off the stiff, uniformity of their parents generation and looking for a deeper meaning in life.
I found the book interesting but was hoping for even deeper revelations or historical golden nuggets. The 2020s is a different world compared to the 1960s and things such as meditation and mindfulness are not new concepts, especially for me. Many of these insights are things I’ve discovered and even addressed in this blog long ago. So instead of being life changing as the list of 40 books promised, it was more of a reaffirmation that the deep insights I’ve learned have been around a while in America; although the interest seems to have fallen off in the 70s – 90s.
Here are my highlights:
shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.”
This very blog is an exercise in getting to know myself. Everyday I become slightly different than the person I was the day before. By keeping a record of my own thoughts I can in-effect study my past selves and have a grounding in who I am. I would also say meditation is an exercise in getting to know myself but with COVID, Trump and general chaos in the world today I have a “monkey mind” meaning even in meditation I have a hard time keeping focus. My mind is in constant high gear with the positive being I’ve never had so many good ideas and success but the downside is I can never relax. This state of mind drives me to exercise more and conversely open up a bottle of wine a little more than I used to.
He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time. The world was beautiful, the world was full of variety, the world was strange and puzzling! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green; sky flowed, and river; forest jutted upward, and mountains; everything beautiful, everything puzzling and magical; and, in the midst of it all, he, Siddhartha, awakening, on the path to himself.
Mindfulness. Stop, take a breath and really notice the beauty of things around you. For me that means staring at the ocean and letting my mind wander; taking a walk in the garden and noticing the flight patterns of bugs; looking at my children and appreciating them in this moment while wondering where the littler version went and about the future version who is soon to come.
Meaning and essence were not somewhere or other in back of things, they were in them, in everything.
No, this world of thought was also terrestrial, and you arrived at no goal when you killed the accidental “I” of the senses but instead fattened the accidental “I” of thinking and scholarship.
I don’t think I understand this quote very well. I still prefer to try and kill the “I” in meditation and just “be.” In those moments I am no-one and try to empty my mind of everything, even thought itself.
Thereupon all the magic vanished from the young woman’s smiling face; he no longer saw anything there but the moist eyes of a female animal in heat.
Our animal instincts produce lustful urges that society needs to repress. Instead of trying to always simply repress basic urges, such as the minds version of hiding a playboy under the bed so nobody sees, I like to use a technique which requires you to see things as they are. Instead of a beautiful woman in seductive clothing and entrancing perfume see the reality of what we all are: a sack of skin holding together meat, blood, urine, bacteria, nervous system, bile, sweat etc. all held upright by a skeleton. Then suddenly the lustful spell is completely broken. This exercise is a form of meditation that I learned about from the Insight Meditation Podcast but I’ve forgotten the name of it.
“This Brahman,” he said to a friend, “is no real merchant and will never become one, he is never passionately involved in the business. But he possesses the secret of those people to whom success comes all on its own, whether because a lucky star was shining when they were born, or through magic, or through something he learned from the samanas. He always appears to be merely playing with business, it never completely occupies his mind, it never dominates him, he is never afraid of failure, he never frets over a loss.”
I believe in Christianity this is referred to as ‘grace.’ Some people can simply glide through life where obstacles are magically repelled and replaced by an endless stream of good fortune. I believe there is a force for this but it has something to do with mindset. With the right mindset life does seem to go your way and even difficult obstacles become less severe. I think that it is not just in the mind but the physical world physically changes based on mind. There was a popular book some years ago called “The Secret” which was very popular but not based on new discoveries. Rather, are old ideas based in religion but repackaged as someting new.
“You are like me, you are different from most people. You are Kamala, nothing else, and within you there is a tranquillity and refuge, in which you can take shelter at any time and be at home with yourself, just as I can, too. Not many people have that, and yet everybody could have it.”
I used to have tranquility in myself. With COVID and Trump I am having a hard time finding that tranquility even when I’m in deep meditation. The Monkey Mind has a hold of me for now.
Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf, which drifts and turns in the air, and sways, and zigzags to the ground. But others, just a few, are like stars; they travel a fixed route, no wind reaches them; their law and their route lie within themselves.
I find most people live their lives like falling leaves, letting life take them where it may. From the moment of birth there are many forces molding the individual into something like themselves. It is no surprise children end up with the same religious and political beliefs as their parents and it continues for generations. Only a few break free and make their own way.
Above all it taught him how to listen, to listen with a quiet heart, with an open, expectant soul, without passion, without a desire, without judging, without forming an opinion.
And so I listen and have no comment.
I looked at my life, and it, too, was a river, and Siddhartha the boy was separated from Siddhartha the man and from Siddhartha the old man merely by shadows, not by anything real.
I love this quote. In this very blog I can read the mind of Mateo the teenager and young adult. Middle aged Mateo is writing now for the reading enjoyment of Mateo the Senior Citizen. The scientists tell me time is an illusion; that is great, please teach me how to time travel.
Gradually there blossomed, gradually there ripened within Siddhartha the realization, the knowledge, of what wisdom really was, what the goal of his long quest was. It was nothing but a preparedness of the soul, a capability, a secret art of conceiving the idea of oneness at every moment, in the midst of life’s activities: the ability to feel and absorb oneness. This blossomed within him slowly; he saw it reflected in Vasudeva’s aged child’s face: harmony, knowledge of the eternal perfection of the world, a smile, oneness.
I try to realize this everyday but life is a fierce devourer of time. It is only in early morning mediation I can even come close.
I learned from my body and my soul that I was in great need of sin; I needed sensual pleasures, the ambition for possessions, vanity, and I needed the most humiliating despair in order to learn how to give up my resistance, in order to learn how to love the world, in order to cease comparing it with some world of my wishes or my imagination, with some type of perfection that I had concocted, but to leave it the way it is, to love it, and to be a part of it gladly.—These, O Govinda, are a few of the ideas that have come into my mind.”
In simpler terms, the ability to experience something and then let it go releases one from the torment of desire. Unfortunately sometimes when sin is tasted it isn’t easy to stop. It would be like stopping at a brothel on the way to the summit of Nirvana. The brothel is great fun but overall detrimental to health and achieving a full and peaceful life. These people are trapped and cannot continue on life’s journey which is a shame. Another shame is those who cannot visit the brothel being restrained by whatever reason and are continually tormented in thought by the imagined pleasures their mind tells them they are missing out on. I think it is these people who are in most danger of ruining a relationship, marriage or family. Eventually the desire becomes too strong and they risk everything to satisfy it. I’d say the best way is to have the experience early in life in order to release the desire, but know that true joy is found in the mind alone, not by temporary physical stimuli which give it quick and fleeting pleasure.