Siddhartha Asceticism Played a Major Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

What Siddhartha gained from his encounter with the ascetics was, ironically, a lesson about how asceticism is insufficient on its own to aid the quest for enlightenment. Asceticism was for Siddhartha like a drug: a means to escape the world or a promise of inner peace. The author describes Siddhartha's asceticism like an addiction in Chapter Two, describing the intense lifestyle as a predictable, perpetual cycle that leads the practitioner nowhere (Chapter 2). Siddhartha then describes asceticism explicitly like a drug, comparing meditation and fasting to drinking and gambling. Asceticism is "a short escape of the agony of being a self, it is a short numbing of the senses against the pain and the pointlessness of life," (Chapter 2). Siddhartha notes that the "same escape, the same short numbing is what the driver of an ox-cart finds in the inn, drinking a few bowls of rice-wine or fermented coconut-milk," (Chapter 2). Asceticism is similar to anorexia, a self-imposed starvation imposed as a means to escape from the world. or, as Miles puts it, "When we try to understand asceticism we have to overcome a stereotype of the emaciated ascetic with the tortured face of a determined but inexperienced jogger."

His realization of the limitations of asceticism is more important than the meditations themselves. Siddhartha's wisdom grows when he admits that giving up the world is no different from indulging it. The former Brahman knows that a Middle Path is the most challenging one: to learn how to live in the world but not of it becomes Siddhartha's new spiritual goal. Gotama gives Govinda what he is looking for but not Siddhartha, who sees in Gotama another unnecessary obstacle. As a guru, Gotama is one who can lead seekers to truth. At the same time, Gotama becomes an obstacle for Siddhartha. Hesse first describes Gotama as a "myth," suggesting that the Buddha is not the ultimate answer. Siddhartha admits to Govinda too that "in my heart I believe that we've already tasted the best fruit of these teachings," (Chapter 2). The Buddha is an obstacle on the path toward Enlightenment; the Buddha is a symbol of the goal and not the goal itself.

Asceticism plays a role similar to that of Gotama in Siddhartha's personal quest for Enlightenment as a tool and not as a goal. Siddhartha learns that Enlightenment exists squarely within the world, but cannot be found in debauchery. The key to Enlightenment, Siddhartha learns, is to walk on a path slimmer than a razor's edge. Material need must be distinguished from material want; reality separated from illusion. What Siddhartha finds with the ferryman is a Zen-like peace that emerges when the seeker contemplates the beauty of the world within each moment. Moreover, Siddhartha's enlightenment is rooted in his appreciation for the natural world.

Asceticism, as Miles points out, "does not necessarily imply a pejorative view of the human body." A reasonable, sensible, and meaningful asceticism is one that celebrates the material world and the body without dulling the mind or senses through them. Siddhartha continues to practice his own brand of asceticism similar to what Cort refers to as the Jain fusion of asceticism and bhakti (devotion). When asceticism is practiced with "enthusiasm and devotion," notes Cort, the seeker can "accomplish the spiritual goal of an improved karmic balance." Siddhartha found that balance readily with the ferryman.

Works Cited

Cort, J.E. "Singing the glory of asceticism: devotion of asceticism in Jainism." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 2002 70(4):719-742; doi:10.1093/jaar/70.4.719. Retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/4/719

Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Online edition retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://www.online-literature.com/hesse/siddhartha/

Miles, M. "Toward a New Asceticism." The Christian Century Foundation. Retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1708

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Cort, J.E. "Singing the glory of asceticism: devotion of asceticism in Jainism." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 2002 70(4):719-742; doi:10.1093/jaar/70.4.719. Retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/4/719

Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Online edition retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://www.online-literature.com/hesse/siddhartha/

Miles, M. "Toward a New Asceticism." The Christian Century Foundation. Retrieved July 28, 2008 at http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1708

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