August 20, 2010

review - siddhartha

Synopsis - a classic by Herman Hesse, it tells the story of a young Brahmin's journey towards finding nirvana.  He starts off as a young precocious and gifted youth who figures out that none of his elders have reached enlightenment.  So he strikes his own path.  An ascetic beggar who forgoes all pleasure, a rich businessman who enjoys all pleasures, Siddhartha tries it all until he finally finds enlightenment near the end of his life.  While ostensibly a fictional novel, it's really more of a philosophical treatise in story form.

Medical relation - my wife and I (re)read this for a book club.  While discussing the book, many of the participants felt that the character was arrogant, especially when he disobeys his elders and challenges them directly.  I leaned over to my wife and whispered, "but he was right."  And I've seen that with doctors many times from both sides of the coin.  There are simply times when facts need to superscede emotion.  And the ego of both the patient and the doctor need to play second fiddle to getting the correct diagnosis.  The trick is knowing when you're right and when you're not, hence the appearance of arrogance.

Conclusion - I love this book.  I've read it multiple times at different stages of my life and it's never disappointed me.  There are so many life lessons to learn from it that I won't bother to go into them all.  There is one worth mentioning, though.  There's an old chinese saying that goes something like, "if you meet the Buddha along the road, kill him."  A bit harsh to western sensibilities as not many would advocate that about religious figures of the west, but in a nutshell it means that everyone must find their own path, even if at the expense of societal guidelines about what should or should not be done.  What's good for the goose, is NOT necessarily good for the gander, so to speak.  As someone who's never gotten along with convention too well, I relate wholeheartedly to it.  I'm glad, too, my wife finally read it because once she did, she realized that to understand this book was to understand me.  At only 120ish pages, it's a short read but it induces a lot of rumination about life which makes it all the better to discuss with someone else.  I can't recommend this book enough.

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