"Europe is beginning to sense that the overblown onesidedness of its intellectual culture (most clearly expressed in scientific specialization) is in need of a correction, a revitalization coming from the opposite pole. This widespread yearning is not for a new ethics or a new way of thinking, but for a culture of the spiritual function that our intellectual approach to life has not been able to provide. This is a general yearning not so much for a Buddha or a Laotze but for a yogic capability. We have learned that humanity can cultivate its intellect to an astonishing level of accomplishment without becoming master of its soul."
Hermann Hesse wrote these words in an essay while composing the spare and beautiful declaration of belief that would become his novel Siddhartha. I’m starting 2014 by reading Siddhartha for the third time. I read it first as a teen and then again in my mid 20s. I know it will set the tone for the type of year I hope to have, one related to the above quote. Hesse was describing the “profound malaise” of Europe in 1920, but his observations clearly relate to our own time, nearly 100 years later—maybe even more urgently.
Despite the deeply resonant notes of melancholy that run through Hesse’s work, he manages to always find the beauty, the redemptive tones in our struggle. This balance draws me to his writing. The same man wrote the acute observations above and the lyrical insights below. That’s exactly why I’m starting my year with Hesse:
"The world was beautiful when one just looked at it without looking for anything, just simply, as a child."
"Light and shadow passed through his eyes, the stars and moon through his heart. Himself was what he now had to experience."
"When someone seeks it can happen that his eyes only see the thing he is seeking and that he is incapable of finding anything, incapable of taking anything in, because he is always only thinking about what he is seeking, because he has an object, a goal, because he is possessed by this goal. Seeking means having a goal, but finding means being free, open, having no goal. Perhaps you, venerable one, are indeed a seeker, for in striving after your goal, there is much you fail to see that is right before your eyes."