Sid: Seeking vs. Finding

FerrymanBelow is a quote from the last chapter of Hesse’s 1922 novel “Siddhartha” (translated by Hilda Rosner in 1951). The quote reminds me of my post “Seachers vs Explorers“. Hesse labels the two different styles as Suchen (seeking) and Finden (finding) — or One who Seeks [one thing] versus One who Finds [many things] — see my post on “Homogenizing Reality” for a similar contrast.

It seems, Hesse (1877-1962) and I (1954 – ?) had similar intuitions. Tell me what you think.

Setting: Siddhartha is now an old man who works as a ferryman at a river. The Buddha is dying and many of his monks and devotees are journeying to see him before his passing. Siddartha ferries many across his river. One passenger, “Govinda”, is a former close friend of Siddhartha but he does not recognize Siddartha. Note that thought Hesse calls his main character “Siddartha”, it is not the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) — they just happen to share the same first names.

He arrived at the river and asked the old man to take him across. When they climbed out of the boat on the other side, he said to the old man: “You show much kindness to the monks and pilgrims; you have taken many of us across. Are you not also a seeker of the right path?”

There was a smile in Siddhartha’s old eyes as he said: “Do you call yourself a seeker, O venerable one, you are already advanced in years and wear the robe of Gotama’s monks?”

“I am indeed old,” said Govinda, “but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?”

Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”

“How is that?” asked Govinda.

“When someone is seeking,” said Siddhartha, “it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

3 responses to “Sid: Seeking vs. Finding

  1. I agree: the path is the goal. There are many cases when the mere desire to find X, say, results into “finding” X, regardless of whether X exists or not. It happens in mathematics. It happens in science. It happens in philosophy. It happens in life.

    I read Siddhartha long time ago, in fact I remember where I had bought it: in the infamous Moe’s books at Berkeley. It made an impression to me, but I’ve forgotten much of it.

    It seems that Hesse didn’t see the ugly face of Buddhism. (Was he looking for it?) Also, I guess that, at that time, Buddhism had the appeal of the exotic in Europe (a Europe destroyed by the Great War) and there were some illustrious advocates of it like Christmas Humphreys in the UK and Alexandra David-Néel in France. I think that they were looking for the good side of Buddhism and this is what they found and advertized.

    By the way, your posting made me look a little bit on the Internet (no, I didn’t copy the names in the previous paragraph as the result of a copy-paste process–I knew the names and have read a bit about them or parts of their works). I bumped into this site regarding fake and real Buddha quotes. (I know I’m digressing but maybe this link is of interest…)

    P.S. My first sentence reminded me of Machado’s most famous verse. Not that they meanings are totally identical, but related nevertheless; I think.

    P.P.S. Several years ago I worked on a mathematical object called “fractional Brownian motion”. Several people were keen in trying to “explain” “phenomena” about the (then baby) Internet using this object. (It was the sexy thing to do.) I remember being at a conference where speakers were presenting their results on this object when one of the people in the audience told the speaker: “you were looking for fractional Brownian motion, you found fractional Brownian motion”. And this was, of course, ironic; because the speaker wanted to convince the audience that he found this object in his investigations but what he had done, essentially, was to `hide’ the object somewhere in his equations and, at some point, open the box and cry out loud `there it is, I found it!’ (Hence I succeeded, hence I’m a good researcher, hence I ask you to respect me, hence I will ask the national science foundation to give me more money, hence my department will congratulate me.)

  2. I liked your advice to promote “exploration” or “explorers” vs searching or searchers. Searching always sounds like there’s some big hole in our heart or head that needs to filled with what we need to “find”.

    In college I read Hesse’s Siddhartha. I liked the metaphors and poetry. But the novel seems to confuse and romanticize a mish-mash of historical characters’ names Siddhartha (Buddha), Govinda (Krishna), with new fictional characters.

    Nevertheless, I appreciate your posts on this topic and see that they are timely–Westerners have a fetish and knack to sanitize, romanticize, consumerize the Eastern “sinister” mystics and yogis.

  3. @ Takis,
    I’m not sure if Hesse knew the ugly side of India — he had lived there and was familiar with it.

    @ Scott,
    I agree — hadn’t thought of Govinda as Krishna. “Sinister” mystics and yogis is a good thing to expose.

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