Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha” on Seeking and Finding

Towards the end of his life, the main protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, the wise man, shared one of his thoughts with a friend:

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

In our goal-driven, ambition-loving societies this may sound more like a feeble excuse of a weak-willed loser rather than a pearl of wisdom. However, it may be worth pausing for a while and thinking. Why? On the one hand, why is a seeker portrayed here as someone who is, essentially, lost? On the other hand, if it is indeed our attitude, why do we consider those ambitiously striving for a goal stronger than those who don’t, those who appear to have no goal? Do we associate willpower and strength of character with seeking, with going after something, with attaining that which was sought? Or is it that we confer value on the fact of finding only if the process leading up to it, the seeking, was difficult, requiring a lot of effort? 

The way I see it, in his quote about seeking and finding, Siddhartha talks about different mindsets. One is fixed upon a certain goal, obsessed with it. This may be a useful approach in some situations (a shooting competition comes to mind, for lack of better alternatives). However, a fixated mind is a closed mind. Its focus is too narrow to serve as a helpful mindset in life. After all, life is much broader and more diverse than we can ever hope to take in. Therefore, deliberately narrowing our focus doesn’t seem like a good idea. 

The other mindset that Siddhartha speaks of is that of a finder. It’s a bit like saying – don’t try doing, just do. Seeking is trying to find. If the approach of a seeker is to fix the mind on a certain goal, to narrow the focus and go after it, then the approach of a finder is to stay as open as possible. To keep your mind open doesn’t mean having no goals at all. An open-minded approach to life is a goal in itself, and not an easy one. 

What this means is that we acknowledge that something extremely valuable, even if we don’t yet know what it is, may come to us from anywhere. Siddhartha, for instance, learned some of his deepest life lessons from quiet observation of a river. If we accept such a possibility and want to benefit from it, then we need to keep our mind as free from narrowness and fixations as we possibly can. Otherwise, how will we be able to notice when something wonderfully precious enters our life and offers an opportunity to learn from it?  

keep exploring!

5 thoughts on “Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha” on Seeking and Finding

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