Book Club: Siddhartha
A bit shorter than most books, Siddartha is technically a novella rather than a novel. It tells the story of the young son of a Brahmin. The story takes place about 2,500 years ago in India, when the caste system was a way of life.
As a Brahmin, Siddartha has been born into the highest caste. The Brahmins were teachers or priests and highly respected. Along with this, Siddartha is popular among family, friends, girls, and teachers. He has everything a young man should want to be happy - a successful future, love from those around him, and a deep spiritual practice.
From the time he's a young child, Siddartha is taught everything about meditation, the creation of the Universe, Gods, Goddesses, and Atman, or the soul. Although this should be another area of satisfaction for him, he feels disappointed by it. He feels he knows everything that his teachers will ever tell him. And when he's older, he will pass on this same knowledge, regurgitating it to the next generation. He can essentially see the rest of his life and feels there is no room for growth or personal exploration. A sense of unhappiness consumes him, and he has no idea how to stop it.
When a group of Samanas, who are ascetics that practice severe deprivation, show up in his village, he feels something awaken inside of him. Although these men are thin, unfriendly, and weather beaten, he's drawn to them. He decides right then and there, he will abandon the comforts his life affords him and follow these men.
Siddartha is joined by his best friend Govinda, who loves Siddartha and admires his courage to follow his heart. As they go along, Govinda comes into his own and becomes a follower of the Buddha.
When this happens, Siddartha is truly alone for the first time in his life. In some ways, this is the true beginning of his journey. He takes many twists and turns from there, coming to know many inspiring and unique characters.
The book follows Siddartha into old age, where he finds his greatest teacher in a surprising place. It's a beautiful and soulful journey, and one that has inspired generations of readers. I've read the book three times and see it with fresh eyes each time.
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