Herman Hesse has got to be one of my favorite authors. Lately I've been trying to read more non-fiction, mostly in the area of personal development. Hesse was an exception to the trend. The novel didn't feel so different from the non-fiction, though. Siddhartha's journey follows the Buddha's four noble truths and his eight step path to enlightenment. Hesse's writing is gently instructive, and very evocative. After finishing the novel I felt very open to change, especially in myself, which was a goal of my non-fiction study.
Hesse became a semi-recluse while writing Siddhartha, seeking to find the feeling of enlightenment that the protagonist discovers at the river. Learning this made me wish I could study more Eastern thought. What I'm reading now, Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson, strengthens that interest. Especially of interest to me is the idea of a deep inner tranquility. Hanson describes the process of cultivating compassion and empathy while still remaining internally unshaken -- almost like an emotional proxy. That makes me wonder about Siddhartha, and about emotional expressiveness in general. Giving voice to emotions must be good. Empathizing the emotions of others is good. Both of these things are nice and it's good to have those experiences close to your heart. I think I would feel further from the people I care about if those experiences were felt through a barrier. But feeling bad emotion is painful, and it often causes damage. Maybe only bad emotions require the proxy. I'm really not sure.
The structure of Siddhartha places most of the novel's message in the last chapter. Until I reached it, I worried that Hesse didn't achieve the same quality with Siddhartha as he did with other works. Of course, Hesse put my suspicion to rest in the final pages.