Peace in the Way - Thoughts on Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

To find peace in the unknown is the power of the wise. Throughout Siddhartha, the young Brahmin shows his ability to suppress his expectations for what life must bring in exchange for an openness to find peace in what life does bring. Throughout the novel, Siddhartha finds that he is truly happy when he is grasping nothing and letting go of all.

It is human nature to have expectations for every aspect of our lives, even if those aspects are fleeting. An expectation is just a story one paints of how life will play out; it is just a narrative. Narratives are what separate humans from other animals: we both communicate, but, as far as we know, only humans tell stories. Because of this, to say that one must abandon all expectations and live with a blank mind, free of all narratives, is irrational.

Instead, the true bearer of peace is he or she who has the ability to envision the expectation but not let it dictate his or her joy in life. There are far too many random external factors in the world for one to say, “My life must go this way, or I will never be happy.” It is a completely futile chase. In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse writes, “The river flowed towards its goal…All the waves and water hastened, suffering, towards goals, many goals, to the waterfall, to the sea, to the current, to the ocean and all goals were reached and each one was succeeded by another” (Hesse 110). This idea of suffering towards goals is a bleak reality for too much of humanity. People, myself included, tend to base their joy in life on the goals they achieve, on expectations. This is no way to live.

Goals are an essential part of feeling fulfillment in life, but to achieve true joy, which is what all are seeking, we must make the decision to find joy from within instead of from without. As Siddhartha explains to his confounded friend Govinda at the end of the novel, “‘When someone is seeking, it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal, but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal’” (Hesse 113). To seek is not always to find, but to find is always to seek.

The ability to show equanimity when expectations fail and base one’s life not on external expectations but instead upon internal joy is true power. It is not the ability to suppress expectations but the ability to maintain joy and peace when expectations fail. As Siddhartha makes clear, the journey is the way, and to truly accept the journey and find peace in its many turns is to find true joy in life.

- Charlie, December 2021