I’ve recently finished reading Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha: The Prince who became Buddha, a suspenseful and enlightening narration by all accounts. In twelve short chapters we are told the story of Siddhartha who having grown up under the guidance of his father, a Brahman (priest), grows increasingly dissatisfied with the rituals of sacred ablution, offerings and reflection held dear by his people. This leads him to set off on his own journey in search of something deeper which as the title suggests, he finds. These are the lessons I drew from Siddhartha: The Prince who became Buddha.
Overemphasis of Rituals steals away from the experience of your Soul
Siddhartha’s father was a great scholar and Brahman, well-respected in his community for his wisdom and dedication to religious practice. This, he passed on to his son, the sacred ablution and offerings to the gods, the art of reflection and the service of meditation, the recitation of Ohm while listening to himself breathe in and out, and the recognition of “Atman (soul) in the depths of his being, indestructible, one with the universe”. Having learned all this still, Siddhartha felt discontent swelling in his chest. He became aware that nothing he had in his life at that time, neither love for his parents and friend nor the teachings he had received was enough to sustain him throughout his life. He began to dissect some of these teachings he had received and determined that neither the sacred baths nor the offerings to the gods would lead him to find Atman, his innermost self.
“Why did he (Siddhartha’s father), the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day? Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the source in one’s own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost.”
It was both a thirst and a suffering in Siddhartha to not know his soul, to not experience the indestructible essence within himself. Religious teachings and rituals were not enough. Siddhartha, much like his elders, still sought a higher experience, a spiritual experience. The routines helped him acquire the discipline and steadfastness of character that was required on his search, but they were not the core of it.
We are all familiar with that pinching guilt we feel upon missing one Sunday service or skipping the evening prayers, a guilt so potent that it has in fact been weaponized and become part of the cache of arsenal that the army of the church draws from when facing a particularly light offering basket. Whilst some people don’t mind and even go so far as to enjoy regular activities organized by the church, others of the more spontaneous and introverted variety are often trapped into them once the guilt parade is unleashed. Whilst the importance of this kind of communion should not be diminished, I wish only to say that to truly and fully experience the divinity of the soul, the piece of us that is God Himself, we should not allow the routines to steal the show.0