Sunday, September 24, 2006

Follow Siddhartha?

In the town of Savathi, every child knew the name of the exalted Buddha, and every house was prepared to fill the alms-dish of Gotama's disciples, the silently begging ones. (Herman Hesse, Siddhartha, Chapter 3)

This afternoon, after gathering $1.58 in change, I visited the convenience store owned by my friends from India to purchase a package of Parker cigarettes, the cheapest I can find. I do not like their taste and they burn so rapidly that I seldom obtain more than three puffs from a cigarette; however, they are bargain basement priced and that is what counts at this moment of my life.

Cinnamon, the lovely daughter of H.T., was behind the counter clad in colorful traditional Indian dress. After I counted out my fifteen dimes, one nickel, and three pennies, she asked me how I had spent my day.

“Sleeping off the storms and following up on employment possibilities,” I replied.

“What can you do?” she asked.

I was surprised by her question. I attempted, in twenty or so seconds, to summarize my education and the many positions I have held over the past forty or years. The task wasn’t too difficult, since I have written so many resumes, summaries, etc. over the last three years that the details of my working life are etched more deeply into my mind that any sermon I have every preached.

When I had finished my employment homily, Cinnamon asked, “Why didn’t you just keep one of those jobs?” I was about to launch into a reply when I noticed another customer was standing behind me at the counter, so I said good-bye, and went home.

On my way home Cinnamon’s question was in my mind. Why had I not just remained an army officer or social worker or therapist all of my life? My sister spent her entire life as a teacher. Many of my clergy peers have only pastored. The manager of the insurance agency where I so briefly worked (and who still owes me hundreds of dollars in commissions that I earned) has spent her life selling cemetery plots and life insurance. Why have I collected so much education and different work experiences? Why am I, at age sixty, searching for an income producing job and my home for coins to purchase a package of cigarettes?

Suddenly I remembered Herman Hesse’s book, Siddhartha. From the overly protected and highly educated son of a Brahman, to a wandering, ascetic Samana, an affluent businessman, a ferryman, Hesse’s protagonist spent his life going from job to job, lifestyle to lifestyle. His father wanted for him the life of affluent prince; his friend, Govinda, desired that he remain with him as a disciple of the Buddha. Yet Siddhartha moved from way of life to different way of life. Have I, although not as drastically, not done the same?

The question I must answer is, “what is next?” Perhaps if I were in another place, at another time, I would give away what remains of my property, obtain an alms bowl, and wonder the world as a homeless, begging monk. Alas, this is neither the land nor the age for such holiness.


  1. Interesting thoughts, Nick. Life is what you make it. I know a few people who have given away all their earthly possesions and beg for a living. Not sure how this serves them, but it is what they have chosen.

  2. Nick...good post. What amazes me is that, inspite of any difficulty or setback or unemployment, the sense of humour is always alive in you. I see no rancour in your writing. If this is your nature then some of the essential qualities of Siddartha have rubbed off you.

    I wish you retain this quality always. I also pray that I get a bit of this quality.

    Will read 'Siddartha'. Take care!!!

  3. A vast array of experiences is a great thing to have. It's easier to look back and see that you've lived even when you're not living well.

  4. travails of time have only improved sustainance levels. good blog, opened some thought tunnels in me

  5. I wish that I had your life experiences. I have thought that for some time. I am so thankful you have shared so many in your blog.


  6. I love that you have various interests and careers to at least give you a choice of what you 'may' want... A lot of people can't say that.

    Three puffs, and poof? Doesn't sound like those cigs are worth it!

  7. I can understand the appeal of the renounced life, but I can't really see that as your calling. Everything you've done in your life has been engaging and participating. Would you really be happy withdrawing?

  8. cigs that cheap must taste like shit.

  9. cigs that cheap must taest like shit

  10. If you were to pick up that alms bowl, I would do more than put cash in it. I'd give you a warm place to sleep, good food in your tummy, and let Alex play with our kittys.

    I hope you get a check in the mail from the insurance company- its not right to not send forward what you've earned.

    Much love to you.

  11. Vishwa makes a great point. I think this is what sets people apart from others and makes them successful. Instead of writing about how life is so unfair, woe is me yadda yadda yadda, you look for alternatives and actually think about a situation. This is what makes you special :o)

  12. Geez Nick-

    I can't imagine a wise employer not giving you a permanent position somewhere.

    & holiness can be achieved in any walk of life:)