Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
(Originally published in German in 1922, English translation in 1951)
I owe the discovery of this novella and my current outlook on life to two major events: discovering Hardcore/Punk and my Grade 8 English class at my small, rural high school in Mullumbimby, Australia. For the first few years of high school I was small and quiet, and generally felt anxious and scared whenever I had to go to school. I wasn’t into the major/popular sports that most of the other kids played, I really liked reading but I didn’t skate or surf much, which for a school located in an area like Mullumbimby meant that I didn’t end up with many friends. In Australia, you move up from primary school usually at the age of 12, straight into high school until you’re around 18, so there are 12 year olds interacting with and being bullied by 18 year olds, who should really know better. Because I was so small, I was an easy target in PE class for the bigger kids in my year so I often ended up getting hurt when we were playing sports. We used to play this game nicknamed “big ball” where the aim was to take a big exercise ball and make it to the other side of the oval. People would throw it around, kick it and since I was so small members of the opposite team would run at me with this huge ball and bowl me over head over heels. Getting trampled, pushed around and teased was normal for me and all I wanted to do was to fit in so I wouldn’t be targeted.
Despite the negatives, I did however enjoy English. For the first three years of high school I had the same English teacher and his name was Mr. Dunn. Mr. Dunn was an interesting man who contacted some of his past students who still lived in the area to see if they would like to donate a book to his current students who were interested in reading more outside of class. I’m not sure if he chose specific students to give a particular book to, or if it was just a random selection, but I ended up with a pre-owned copy of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Attached inside the cover was a note from the lady who donated the book to the school, which mentioned how much of an impact it had had on her life ever since she read it in high school.
The novella is a short, easy read that revolves around Siddhartha’s efforts to find spiritual illumination during the time of the Gautama Buddha. Over the course of the book, Siddhartha dramatically changes his lifestyle numerous times in his effort to find inner peace and enlightenment.
Siddhartha became my companion; my saving grace and it ended up having a huge impact on my life, because it told a story that I needed to hear. Like Siddhartha, I was struggling with my personal connections with people, and not knowing where I belonged or what really made me happy in this life. I was constantly worried about the future and what I was going to do next. Although it is a work of fiction (and it does sound very obvious upon reflection in my 20’s), reading this book opened my eyes to the idea of not having to know all of the answers. It helped me to realize that it is okay to follow your own path, to make mistakes along the way, and to not know what you want or where you want to end up. After reading Siddhartha, my outlook on life changed dramatically and I became more comfortable in my own skin. I lived my life more like a ‘normal’ teenager instead of ruminating on the future and what my ultimate goal in life would be. Around this time is when I started to find new music that I really liked too, and this book gave me the confidence to make the jump and start going to local shows that I was always scared of going to.
Since finishing high school, I have traveled and moved to different cities and countries and, sadly, I lost that copy of the book along the way. I wish I knew who donated the book so I could thank them. Even after seven years, Siddhartha still resonates with me today, and I think it will always be my favorite book.