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Toastmasters Speech 2: Siddhartha – Discovering the nature of one’s being

October 22, 2012

The objective of the speech is to organize the content. This is the second of the competent communicator manual. I don’t think spoke as good as I wanted it to be. The striked out lines are the ones I couldn’t speak due to lack of time!

Siddhartha – Discovering the nature of one’s being

Toastmaster of the day, Fellow toastmasters, dear guests, today I am going to talk about the German writer Herman Hesse’s classic, the novel Siddhartha. Before I go into more details, how many of you have heard about Herman Hesse?…Have any of you read Siddhartha? …

I will give a very brief glimpse of what this novel is about, the main theme, the way Siddhartha lives his life and what I learnt from it. The underlying thread that is common to all these three aspects is to discover the nature of one’s being. 

First the story. This is about the journey of man trying to figure out himself and the inner peace he has always been longing for. The story weaves through his journey from home to forest, leading a monastic and nomadic life, then moving to a city where he works for a merchant, loves a woman (actually a prostitute. The book describes the love between them so deeply and in a divine manner), fathers a child through her (and he doesn’t know this until later part of his life which we learn in the book), becomes very rich. He starts worrying and is drowned in all the worries that a married man or a man with attachment goes through. He thinks about how he lost his original aim to discover the inner peace and then leaves it all and goes back to the forest, eventually settles down by the river as a boatman – life fulfilled.

Second, the theme: Throughout the description of his journey, the emphasis is on being individualistic and figuring out one’s own path – being a non-conformist, reasoning it out ourselves and finding the core of our contentment. Every man has to figure out his path – whatever it is and eventually find solace and contentment in it. There is another theme that resonates through the novel – that the world we live in is real and in perfect harmony. So, we are playing our role in making this world perfect. It is important to figure out what what we are : what is our being? This is what Siddhartha, the novel is all about.

This perfection hypothesis is important to think about. There is always a tremendous pressure about being perfect, about being the best, starting from our childhood schools to grad schools to jobs, to perhaps until we die. There is no end to this tremendous search for perfection. But, we can always notice that the world is all relative. Your perfection stands only in reference to someone or some other. You being tall (or short) doesn’t mean anything unless someone else is taller or shorter than you. We do certain things instinctively that are very unique to us, we just can’t help it. And this is what we have to tap into. We are already perfect. The nature of our being – our DNA, our basic core is perfect to begin with. 

Let’s ponder on this for bit. At least to me, this gives an immense confidence in myself in spite of not being perfect. I don’t need to be perfect in the so called conventional way we define it. Without my apparent imperfection, this world cannot be perfect. My role with my apparent or perceived imperfections is not a bad thing to have happened. I don’t have to “become” someone. I just have to become myself (become  what I am).

Third, the way of living of Siddhartha. He lives by three main principles – “Think, fast and wait”. These are very profound and I thought I’d like to elaborate on this (credit goes to my mentor and friend Atanu for some elaboration on this).

This perhaps need not be elaborated. Most of us know what it is (although do not know how to! – At least I haven’t known it for a while. Now of course am practicing how to think). The damage done to this world by smart but unthinking people is more than stupid people do. Unless you are a politician, you perhaps think once in a while! But you probably get the idea. Basically reasoning out various phenomena around as we get curious about the workings of this world. Basic logical/analytic ability.

This is in some sense, living within one’s means or living with as much less as possible. The more we want, the more life can be miserable. In reality, one doesn’t need much to live happily. My theory is that, we are happy to begin with and then we keep adding stuff to our life – become unhappy and then try to get rid of it slowly. To me the more we subtract, the happier we can be. It is more like eliminating all the unnecessary stone such that sculpture manifests itself. There is an exception to this of course. Knowledge, wisdom, company of the wise, goodwill and good friends – the more the better! They need to keep on adding.

At this point, I’d like to tell a small story written by Leo Tolstoy. There was this Czar who made an announcement once. “Any man who marks up as much land as he can from sunrise to sunset, I will give him double the size of what he marks up”. So, there is this one very ambitious man who goes running at the strike of dawn to mark up as much land as he can. He keeps running and running and then suddenly realizes he can’t return before sunset to claim his prize. So, he starts running very fast to go back. He manages to reach before sunset but due to exhaustion from running so fast non-stop, he dies. He is buried in a piece of land that is 6ft long and 3 feet wide. That is all the land a man needs. The idea behind this story is profound. One has to figure out for oneself what is enough. Otherwise it would be the same fate of that Russian man. 

It is important to be happy in life but it is also important to be patient in life to be happy. Not everything is in our control. So, just accept the world as is, do our bit to the extent possible, let things happen naturally.

I’d like to end quoting one of Herman Hesse’s lines: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings that came from my true self. Why was that so difficult?” …and it need not be so difficult – Mr Toastmaster of the day, fellow toastmasters, dear guests, let us listen to the promptings of our true-self and strive to realize the nature of our being. 


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