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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Zarathustra meets the Buddha, 28 Mar 2010
This review is from: Siddhartha (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
The sources of this book include classics like Nietzche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and elements of Buddhism. It is the story of a quest that mirrors the quests of several Indian sages from the Buddha to countless Sadhus since. It is important to let go of preconceptions when reading this book, it is however probably more suitable to westerners who don't appreciate Indian religions that don't bear comparison with monotheistic traditions that seek salvation using one totem. Indeed, Hess seems to treat Buddhism just like another totem to be ignored given that as a religion it implies "allegiance". Taking refuge with an open mind is not the same as swearing allegiance. Everyone has to discover realisation/s for themselves. The Buddha said this. Leaving this aside, Hess is deeply sympathetic to Buddhism but prefers instead an individualistic path based on love and a simple appreciation of the world, the way many human beings come to terms with the world. It is not necessarily the path to the realisation of ultimate truth, but more coming to terms with the problems of life. I was especially touched by the descriptions of listening to the soothing river. Chapter after chapter offers various teachers and the book as a whole is about the quest and not necessarily about answers.

Philosphically the book is about independence and individualism and makes the case for a lone seeker "fare lonely as a rhinoceros" as a Buddhits text has it. This means being wary of any religion or movement and understanding the limits of concepts. Many of us do have to join groups to come to understand this and it has to be borne in mind that Siddhartha, the protagonist finds his way by forming relationships, not by being entirely alone. Siddhartha asks questions and is keen to form bonds with sources of wisdom. In the end, he only has so much time and when he is old he has that much wisdom to offer. It may not be the whole realisation, but it is what is suitable for most readers of this book.

The book is a light and pleasant read and needs to be read slowly with enough time for digestion of each of the chapters. It is well thought out and enjoyable and though it may not be on the bestseller ranks, it is just the sort of book that someone may need and enjoy.
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