Tag Archives: materialism

Thoughts on “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse

I originally read this book as a teenager and figured it was high time I read it again. It made an impression on me all those years ago, but I knew that reading it at this stage in my life would be a completely different experience.

So now I face the problem of writing a post about this book. This text is so rich, and there is such a wealth of wisdom contained in its 149 pages, how could I possibly do this book justice? But as I begin writing, I realize that it doesn’t really matter what I write. This book transcends anything I could possibly say about it. It will resonate differently for each person who reads it, based upon where they are on their individual paths. So I will just share what resonated with me during this reading.

He saw people going through their lives in the manner of a child or an animal, and he both loved and disdained this at the same time. He saw them striving—and suffering and getting gray—over things that seemed to him completely unworthy of this price: over money, over small pleasures, over a little respect.

(p. 71)

How many of us have wasted much of our lives chasing after these types of things, distractions that only offer us a brief respite from our unhappiness? And then, once the novelty has worn off, the void returns and we continue the dismal cycle of striving after things that we think will bring us happiness, but only cause more suffering. It seems that we are all destined to go through this to some extent. I certainly did for a while, and if I am honest, I still do, although thankfully to a lesser extent. I still seek and enjoy my “small pleasures”: books, music, good food, etc. But I try to keep this in perspective and not let it become the focus of my life. There is so much more to experience, and what feels like precious little time left. I refuse to waste any more time chasing phantoms, trying to acquire things that in the end will mean nothing to me.

But what a journey that was! I had to pass through so much ignorance, so much vice, such great misunderstanding, so much revulsion and disappointment and misery—just to become a child again and start over. But it was right. My heart affirms it. My eyes laugh upon it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the level of the stupidest of all thoughts, the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience grace, to hear OM again, to sleep properly and be able to awaken properly.

(pp. 95 – 96)

Spiritual growth and enlightenment is not a result of denying and rejecting the material world. One is graced with spiritual enlightenment as a result of going through the challenges and difficulties that life presents. When I look back on my life, I went through a lot of hard times, a lot of pain, and a lot of deep despair. But had I not gone through it all, I would not be the person I am today. We do not grow as individuals through ease and comfort. It is adversity and difficulty that forces us to search deep within ourselves for the strength to take another step. It is through learning to deal with life’s challenges that we gain wisdom. After all, we are spiritual beings having a worldly experience.

No, a true seeker, one who truly wished to find, could not accept any doctrine. But he who had found realization could look with favor on any teaching, any path, any goal. Nothing any longer separated him from a thousand others who lived the eternal, who breathed the divine.

(p. 109)

Everyone must follow their own path, and all true spiritual paths lead to the same destination. We seek the same thing. We all need to encourage others to follow their paths, and not come from a place of fear where we need to argue the validity of our own paths. Judging others because of the spiritual paths they choose does not strengthen our individual faith; it only diminishes someone else’s and makes their journey more difficult than it need be.

I’m really glad I read this again. This is one of those universal books which every human being should read, at least once. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my words. May you find happiness on your journey.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 53” by Lao Tzu

If only I had the tiniest grain of wisdom,
I should walk in the Great Way,
And my only fear would be to stray from it.

The Great Way is very smooth and straight;
And yet the people prefer devious paths.

The court is very clean and well garnished,
But the fields are very weedy and wild,
And the granaries are very empty!
They wear gorgeous clothes,
They carry sharp swords,
They surfeit themselves with food and drink,
They possess more riches than they can use!
They are the heralds of brigandage!
As for Tao, what do they know about it?

The first stanza of this passage is a beautiful expression of humility. One does not need to seek lofty goals of some grandiose idea of enlightenment; all that is needed is one tiny grain of wisdom to keep you on the spiritual path.

The idea of simplicity is put forth in the second stanza. Lao Tzu asserts that while many people seek the paths of dogma and structured religious practice, the simpler way is preferred. All one needs to do is sit alone quietly, or gaze upon a stream, or walk along a forest path, and one can discover the Great Way.

The third stanza is more of an admonishment to those who strive after riches and material overabundance. These become such all-encompassing obsessions that those who follow the path of material gain become blind to the Way of the Tao. Basically, in common terms, dying with the most toys does not make one the winner.

I hope you found this post inspiring. Have a blessed day, and keep reading and thinking.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 33” by Lao Tzu

He who knows men is clever;
He who knows himself has insight.
He who conquers men has force;
He who conquers himself is truly strong.

He who knows when he has got enough is rich,
And he who adheres assiduously to the path of Tao is a man of steady purpose.
He who stays where he has found his true home endures long,
And he who dies but perishes not enjoys real longevity.

This is one of those passages where every word resonates with truth. I read this short section three times and found it so perfect in its brevity and wisdom.

The second line really made me think about the word “insight” in a way I never really did before. To have insight is to see beneath the surface, to peer deep within yourself, and grasp the true nature of your being. To have real insight is a tremendous accomplishment. I feel like this word has become trivialized through overuse. If you stop and think about it, very few individuals gain a deep understanding of themselves, hence very few of us ever gains true insight.

The first line of the second stanza also struck me as profoundly true: “He who knows when he has got enough is rich.” We westerners, ensconced in our consumer society, never seem to feel we have enough. There is always something else to strive for, something better which we desire. But how much material stuff do we need, and is real wealth measured by how much stuff or money you have? I suspect that to be rich in the way Lao Tzu is describing is to be content with having your necessities met, and being fulfilled spiritually.

Finally, I thought about the last line a lot. What does it mean to die, but not perish? At first I considered that it may mean becoming one with the divine source after leaving this mortal world. And this is still a valid interpretation. But then I wondered if death here symbolizes something else, something that is connected with the rest of the passage. I began to suspect that maybe to die, as Lao Tzu suggests in this passage, means to end the constant materialistic striving which defines the lives of so many of us. Maybe dying is letting go of our grip on the material world and embracing the spiritual. Doing so will fill us with wisdom, a treasure which remains with us after we free ourselves from the body.

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“Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

As I read this sonnet this morning, I was reminded of a saying which I frequently tell myself: “Don’t compare your insides with another person’s outsides.” We all have a tendency to look at others and see those things that we feel we are lacking in our lives, and then amplify them to the point that we end up inflicting suffering on ourselves. It’s kind of an amazing human quality that we can look at almost any person and see something which we wish we had. But if we were to “switch lives” with that other person, we could not just cherry-pick the few wonderful things we desire—we would have to take the entire package. At this point, becoming that other person almost always loses its appeal.

Shakespeare realizes this and expresses it toward the end of the sonnet. Once he turns his focus away from others and looks within, he sees that he is blessed with a deep love. He is able to see that the king’s riches and the other writers’ successes come at a price, and that he would have to sacrifice the closeness and the connection he feels with his beloved. He is not willing to do that, and I can totally relate. While I would like to be financially comfortable, spend my time travelling the world, be successful playing music, the truth is, if it meant sacrificing the great things in my life, I could not do it. My relationships with my family and friends are way more important to me than all that external stuff.

Hopefully, this sonnet will help you appreciate the wonderful things in your life. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 12” by Lao Tzu

Chinese5

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavours cloy the palate.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Rare goods tempt men to do wrong.

Therefore, the Sage takes care of the belly, not the eye.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

This is one of those times that I am grateful for the internet. When I read this passage, the general theme was obvious enough—do not focus all your energy on material gains, but instead, seek within for spiritual treasures. But I knew I was missing something critical and that something must be associated with the number five, which is echoed in the first three lines. From my western perspective, I could not think of any significance that the number five would have in the context of this passage. So I resorted to Google.

I learned that in Chinese thought, the number five is significant because the Chinese believe there are five elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Metal. From my western perspective, I have always considered there to be four elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire. Now the meaning of the first few lines made sense. It is the distraction of the elements to our physical senses that draws our focus away from the internal and towards the external.

This is an example of how ideas and symbols can be interpreted differently based upon the cultural context. Whenever we attempt to uncover the meaning of something, we should always consider the context in which it was created.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 11” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWagonWheel

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

I found this passage to be somewhat cryptic, so I will offer only my interpretation.

It seems that the empty space, or the void, is the unknowable source of all existence. While we cannot perceive this ineffable emptiness, it has a direct impact on our physical beings and our daily lives.

I also have the impression that Lao Tzu is cautioning against attachment to material things. Trying to grasp and hoard things in life tends to create mental clutter and creates a barrier between ourselves and the divine essence.

Finally, I can apply this to my meditation practices. I see all the tangible things as the thoughts that clutter the mind. When I meditate, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quiet that mental chatter and open myself to the profound silence which is the subconscious mind. It is impossible for me to describe this connection. As soon as I try to analyze or think about it, the conscious mind takes over and the connection is lost. But those brief moments of deep mental quietude help put the rest of my life and thoughts into perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this passage. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 10” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

In keeping the spirit and the vital soul together,
Are you able to maintain their perfect harmony?
In gathering your vital energy to attain suppleness,
Have you reached the state of a new-born babe?
In washing and clearing your inner vision,
Have you purified it of all dross?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Are you able to dispense with cleverness?
In the opening and shutting of heaven’s gate,
Are you able to play the feminine part?
Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Rear your people!
Feed your people!
Rear them without claiming them for your own!
Do your work without setting any store by it!
Be a leader, not a butcher!
This is called hidden Virtue.

In this passage, Lao Tzu provides guidance to leaders on how to best govern. But since this advice is based upon spiritual principles, it applies to all of us in our daily affairs.

Many of us have a tendency to rest upon our laurels. We work hard to reach spiritual harmony, and when we reach it, we run the risk of thinking we are done. We begin to neglect that which we worked to attain, just as the leaders who attain power often begin to neglect their people. When Lau Tzu advises rulers to rear and feed their people, he is also advising the sage to nurture the spiritual enlightenment that the sage has found.

There is something else that I think Lau Tzu was warning against, and that is self-righteousness. Consider the last lines of the first verse:

Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Throughout my life, I have met many spiritual seekers who, once they reach a spiritual goal, assume a holier-than-thou attitude. They allow the self to revel in the spiritual advances that they made, and as a result, begin to lose what they gained. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I confess that it happened to me at one point also. The key then is humility, allowing yourself to remain detached enough to remain centered on the path and continue growing spiritually. And stay vigilant, watching for when feelings of superiority or self-importance seep in and become obstacles.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you have a truly blessed day.

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