Leaves and Stars

It has been a few years since I read Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I read it in quick succession a few times in the beginning… and a few times hence. But I hadn’t picked it up in the last three years. When I picked it up yesterday again, It felt soothingly familiar. It has refreshed and rejuvenated me.

The first significant event in the book happens when Siddhartha decides to become a Samana and asks his father for permission to leave the house. The father, who loves his brilliant son deeply, is upset and refused to grant him permission. He reminds Siddhartha that he (Siddhartha) has always been obedient and has never thwarted his father’s wishes. Siddhartha concurs and stands, arms folded, and again asks for permission. The father refuses and leaves the room.

Siddharth keep standing in exactly the same position all night long. The father spends a restless, anxious night, checking up on his son again and again. By morning he can’t bear it anymore for he sees that his son’s knees are trembling, though there is no trembling in his resolve. He has no option but to permit Siddhartha to become a Samana. Siddhartha leaves the house immediately.

Sometimes the universe denies us things only so that you can should it how strong your resolve it.

Siddhartha did not argue with his father. He did not use rude words, nor say hurting things. He was determined to he obedient to his father. He had no intention of doing anything against his father’s will. But he did all he could to compel his father to change his mind- not by force, aggression or heated words; but by simply stating what he wanted- resolutely and inflexibly.

Only someone who has a a stillness and steadfastness of purpose in his heart and is convinced of the inevitability and rightness of his chosen path, can remain patient and unmoved in the face of a denial. Siddhartha knew what he wanted; he knew that he will get what he wants- because HE wants it. There was no need for him to get upset when his father refused to give him permission.

This mindset has much benefit to bring to all of us. We bluster when our resolve is weak. We rave and rant when we our path is unclear to us. We throw a tantrum to hide that we are afraid to Step Out. We spew heated words when we see that the universe is not willing to give us a guarantee that we wont fall flat on our face.

Another passage  that caught my attention was when Siddhartha is talking to the beautiful courtesan Kamala, who taught him the arts of love.

Once he said to her: “You are like me; you are different from other people. You are Kamala and no one else, and within you there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat any time and be yourself, just as I can. Few people have that capacity and yet everyone could have it. “

“Not all people are clever”, said Kamala.

“It has nothing to do with that Kamala”, said Siddhattha. “Kamaswami is just as clever as I am and yet he has no sanctuary. Others have it who are only children in understanding. Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf that drifts and turns in the air, flutters and falls to the ground. But a few others are like stars which travel one defined path: no wind reaches them, they have within themselves their guide and path. Among all the wise men, of whom I knew many, there was one who was perfect in this respect. I can never forget him. He is Gautam, the Illustrious One, who preaches this gospel. Thousands of young men hear his teachings every day and follow his instructions every hour, but they are still falling leaves; they have not the wisdom and guide within themselves.”

~Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

You can also be a star instead of a drifting leaf.

Leaves and Stars

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35 thoughts on “Leaves and Stars”

  1. Now, I know that wasn’t your intention, but reading this lovely piece, I almost felt like you’d written it for me 🙂 I agree, why be a leaf when you can be the shining star. Your confidence makes all the difference isn’t it ? And of course your drive to be the star.

    1. As you know, I did not write this for you, but more as a reminder to myself. Passages in a book only grab hold of you when they show a light into your own dark corners. 😀

      1. Well Dagny, at the risk of repeating something that you have probably heard a thousand times already, I’m going to do so anyway.

        You are a shining star of inspiration for a lot of us 🙂

        1. Sid, Its like people telling you that you cook well. No matter how often you’ve been told, every time it is said, it pleases you afresh. So go ahead, make my day. 😀

          1. Thought I already did 😉
            Well, Dagny Sol, you are a source of many inspirations for a lot of different people – as a writer, as a belief-coach, as a friend, as a mentor ….I could go on and on, but I’m not going to.

            And here, take this sharp pin. You are going to need it to get down from Cloud 9

          2. Ouch! You brute, that hurt! You might have let me enjoy the breeze for a while! Meanie!

  2. Actually, I have always felt that we are so busy running hither and yon, looking yearningly at the world around us, and hopefully at other people to give you the grounded feeling of peace, that we fail to look within for what has always been there.

    1. And that is such a sad joke on all of us. Talk about musk! 😀 SUCH a pleasure to see you here! Thank you!

        1. I know Suresh. You were very solicitous of your eyes before the madness began. I took that as your categorical declaration of your intent not to be seen anywhere near my blog for the whole month. 😀

          1. Yours as well as everyone else who ventured into this marathon 🙂 (Not that I have seen that it helps to let people know that they were not alone 🙂 ) Always been solicitous of my eyes, Dagny – I depend too much on them for spending my time; more than most since I read for almost 4-6 hours a day (other than online I mean) AND, even in my working days, I have had trouble spending too much time staring at the computer screen – eyes start watering, gum up in the morning and feel like there is grit permanently stuck under the eyelids 🙂

          2. I can’t imagine what I’d do without my eyes. I’m mighty attached to them too. 🙂

  3. You really inspired me to read this great book again, it has been many many years since I read it. But in all these years I have recommended it to dozens and dozens of people…because something in me still remembers the impact it had on me all those years ago. That’s what great books do. This was a lovely read, Dagny.
    These lines particularly seemed hugely inspiring today – “Only someone who has a a stillness and steadfastness of purpose in his heart and is convinced of the inevitability and rightness of his chosen path, can remain patient and unmoved in the face of a denial.” Thank you!

    1. How amazing it is that we both find such fine resonance between our thoughts. And why not, we have imbibed the same foods of thought.

      Thank you Beloo. Your presence in the world give me deeper solace than I can ever find words for. 🙂

      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

  4. There is no doubt that he was determined to leave the house for becoming a Samana. That determination is very admirable. However, Dagny, can Sidhartha’s behaviour of standing all night in the same place when his father refused to give persmission be seen as a form of passive agression? A determined protest to get what he wanted, albeit a silent one? That brings me to a very important question. Is it okay to hurt people or step on others to achieve what one is determined to achieve? Do we, in such situations, really admire the determination of the achiever?

    1. Prathima,

      I would ask you a question in reply to your question. I know you will find the answer.

      As you said, Siddhartha’s behavior does seem like passive aggression- or emotional blackmail. But not really.

      His soul’s agenda was its spiritual quest. Should he have rejected that voice, throttled that thirst in order to not hurt his father’s feelings? Would his father be happy to have his obedience at such a cost? As parents, do we not want our children to find contentment, fulfillment and spiritual actualization more than their obedience? Would we rather not be hurt and know that our child has reached the highest concept of what he could have accomplished?

      What more can I say? 🙂

      Thank you for this comment. It is a pleasure to exchange thoughts with a lady as insightful as you.

      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

      1. Thanks for the reply Dagny. My question was not limited to parents imposing their views and children resorting to passive agressive behavior. My question was inclusive of all / any relationship, including business relationships, marriages, siblings. Do we admire the determination of a person who goes all out to achieve his goal (whatever it might be) despite all the trampling he does over others’ dreams or aspirations? How does one weigh against the other?

        1. I am sorry I misunderstood your question then! I apologize!

          I don’t think any relationship can thrive where one side tramples on the rights and aspiration of another, only to pursue their own goal. But of course this cannot be a generalization. There are situations in which disregarding the happiness of another person is a better option than the pain of the alternative.

          I hope this helps you understand my thought on the issue. I’d like to know what you think about this too, please.

          Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

          1. If I may poke my nose into this discussion, would the issue not primarily depend on exactly WHAT the goal is upon which the chap is determined? It is the goal that determines whether there would be any trampling on rights and aspirations involved; whether the other person has the right to the aspirations that get trampled upon; where both have rights, whose right ought to take precedence etc.etc. There is no area of human endeavor where rules can be framed in black-and-white ab initio. All I garnered from this post was what could be the right METHOD to go after your goal. The decision about whether someone was right in applying the method would be decided by whether he had chosen the right GOAL. (And, yes, grey areas exist everywhere. So, if you question the choice of goal, all I can say is IF the person chose his goal for the right reasons, he should count as a good person EVEN if the goal itself may not be right. I instance Bhishma from the Mahabharat. He chose and stuck to his goal – based on his morality – that stranded him on the wrong side BUT he was not considered evil or villainous)

          2. I wanted to put forth this argument in my reply to Prathima too Suresh.

            That the goal- its importance and its depth- would determine whether or not a single minded focus to it is justified or not. But I could myself argue against it. I could have said- Oh, who decided what is ‘IMPORTANT ENOUGH’ or not? In any issue between two people, the perspective of one may not be shared by the other.

            But the truth is EXACTLY as you say. Your example of Bhishma eloquently demonstrates the point.

            Thank you for jumping in. You’ve added depth and value to the post. It nearly- though not quite- excuses your one month absence. 🙂

          3. I agree that a relationship can survive only that much when one succeeds at the cost of another. Somewhere at some point in time, the tramplings will come back to haunt (law of karma) the one who has succeeded. I understand that the premise is about Sidhartha who was on a spiritual quest and was seeking support from his father. My only concern is that there is a danger of people focusing too much on ONLY determination, tenacity, perseverance and not enough on the cost at which success comes. For me, it comes across somewhat imbalanced that way and not wholesome or holistic. Can one not be kind and still succeed? Now, do I sound naive? 🙂

          4. No Prathima, you don’t sound naive. You have articulated something that bothered me too once. I wasn’t able to find a satisfactory answer to the question. From what I knew of the world, it seemed kindness (or ethics, or integrity or any other allegedly ‘impractical’ virtue) could not co- exist with success. And that seemed so wrong to me. It was like God had cheated us even before the game began- because he gave us a loaded dice to play with.

            Then I realized that I could find no resolution to the question because my premise of success was wrong. There are two kinds of successes- just as there are two kinds of people who go after them, following two kinds of paths.

            Those who go after transitory success must use transitory methods and ways. Their principles will never be eternal; they will be shallow with no room in them for truth. They will trample on people, they will be heedless in their blind rush. And yes, as you say, the law of Karma will surely need to play a hand in evening out the field someday.

            But there are people who go for deeper success. Their lives are a rich tapestry of wholesomeness and goodness. Their world view is holistic and all- encompassing. They wouldn’t cut corners nor go rushing impatiently into temporary or transitory goals. The law of karma is pretty mild- and almost benign- towards such people.

            Thank you immensely for this wonderful discussion. It has helped me clarify my own thoughts. <3

  5. I haven’t read this book yet. I have always found Buddha fascinating. I am hoping that somewhere my sons will imbibe some of his great qualities just by being named after him :-). As much as I agree that the inner path is shown by your own self, I think sometimes the circumstances also play a very big role. Nothing in life works in isolation. Always a pleasure to read you, Dagny!

    1. Nothing works in isolation, indeed Rachna. But too often I have wondered whether it is our circumstances which influence our will or the other way round. The latter, I am inclined to think. What say you? 🙂

      1. Sometimes the circumstances take over. No matter what your will is they drag you a certain way. Perhaps because I have been through a phase of life that seemed completely out of control, hence I feel that way. But yes, generally, our will has to count for more, I guess.

        1. I suppose those are the times when God decides to let us learn something valuable before He lets us influence our circumstances. 🙂

  6. Thanks Dagny for sharing this! A beautiful soulful read. I haven’t read the book. Your post makes me want to place an order right away. Falling leaves we are just pretending to be stars.

    1. I am so pleased you liked this post Rekha. Do read the book; it really is beautiful.

      Thanks for coming by. 🙂

      Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

        1. You are the fourth person who has bought this book after reading this post. I am so pleased! 🙂

          Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone

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