Saturday, May 7, 2011

By the River

Siddhartha  (1951)
by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha listened.  He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrated on listening, completely empty, he felt, that he had now finished learning to listen.  Often before, he had heard all this, these many voices in the river, today it sounded new.  Already, he could no longer tell the many voices apart, not the happy ones from the weeping ones, not the ones of children from those of men, they all belonged together, the lamentation of yearning and the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage and the moaning of the dying ones, everything was one, everything was intertwined and connected, entangled a thousand times.  And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of this together was the world.  All of it together was the flow of events, was the music of life.  And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection.

This has been a particularly troubling week for me ... spiritually, physically, and emotionally.  It began with the death of a truly evil man at the "hands" of an awarded Man of Peace and the disturbing celebrations that erupted in the streets.  It ended with a frightening morning when chronic bronchitis caused me to wake barely able to breathe and realize that I was utterly alone to deal with it (my mother was in New Mexico for the week).

I am not a man of religion - in fact, I find most organized religions unacceptable.  For me, following a set of ancient rules and rites prescribed in ancient texts that have been edited over thousands of years and have little relevance in today's world, rules which apparently condemn who I am and how I choose to live, is, at the very least, unreasonable.  I do, however, consider myself quite "spiritual" though I'm often at a loss to define that for myself.  It's something I rarely discuss with anyone since I've always felt strongly that one's own spiritual or religious beliefs are one's own business and that it is inappropriate to proclaim them or proselytize.

When I take those online "Belief" tests (my favorite is the Belief-o-Matic Quiz at, I typically score 100% Unitarian Universalist followed closely by Secular Humanist.  At the very bottom of the list, not surprisingly, are the Christian sects with Roman Catholicism (the faith I was RAISED in) second from the bottom!  Reform Judaism falls somewhere in the middle ... I've always felt a strong respect for the Jews, most notably the strength and PRIVACY of their faith.  BUT ... right below my top matches, I always find a number of the Far Eastern belief systems, particularly Buddhism and Taoism.

I've always been fascinated with the religions and spirituality of the Far East and I find Herman Hesse's classic novel Siddhartha, about the spiritual journey of an Indian man during the time of Buddha, so INCREDIBLY captivating.

When the Buddha was asked about the path to enlightenment, here was his response:
"Be your own light, your own refuge.
Believe only that which you test for yourself.
Do not accept authority merely because it comes from a great man,
or is written in a sacred book,
for truth is different for each man and woman."

Amen ... THAT's a teacher and philosophy I can believe in and follow.  No omniscient or omnipotent deity for me, thank you very much.  We are responsible for our own enlightenment, there is no "plan," our part in the universe is to respect our place in it by living a good, moral, and ethical life.

So, it's going to be a spiritual weekend.  Tomorrow, Taoism ...

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