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Hermann Hesse

Note from Steve -

Hermann Hesse was originally from Germany. He left Germany because he did not agree with the government there. He was critcized for this by many Germans. His writing about Germany and why he left helped inspire me to start living outside of the USA. He said something like "If you want to be a writer you must leave the country you were brought up in." Or at least I give him credit for saying that. In any case I did start living out of the USA in around 1999. A friend of mine name Pranita loaned me one of his books when I was in my forties. I hadn't heard much about him before then. His work is another of the many things they didn't teach me in school.

Here are my notes from two of his books.



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Demian, Hermann Hesse

This is a story of a sensitive boy who grew up in Germany around somewhere around the late 1800's. It is largely a story of Hesse's own life in a home which was religious and orderly, but where the "dark side" of life was not talked about. In the book Hesse criticizes education, parents, religion, and German society in general. It is the story of the boy's search for himself. It was written in 1919, and was quite radical for that time.

In the foreword by Thomas Mann, Mann says he envied Hesse for "the degree of hard-won spiritual freedom by which he surpassed me and for his philosophical detachment from all German politics."

Before the book begins this is on a page by itself:

I wanted only to try to live my life in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.

Why was that so very difficult?


Hesse says that each person "represents a unique and valuable experiment on the part of nature.


I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.

The boy, Sinclair, is about 10 years old when the story starts. He is being blackmailed by another boy. Then a new boy comes to the school, Max Demian. He is different than anyone Sinclair has ever seen. The two share a secret connection and Demian acts as something like a teacher of life to Sinclair. Sinclair has doubts about his religious, proper upbringing, but Demian boldly challenges all of it. Demian also has a special power, a power over himself and other people, because he is able to direct his will.

Here is a bit more of the story:

When Demian asks Sinclair if he liked something he learned about the Cain and Abel story in the bible. Sinclair thinks to himself:

"No I didn't. It was rare for me to like anything we had to learn."

Soon Demian says, "Most of the things we are taught, I'm sure are quite right and true, but one can view all of them from quite a different angle then the teachers do--and most of the time they then make better sense. p 24

Demian tries to help Sinclair see himself, but Sinclair isn't ready for this. He writes:

"I realize today that nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself."

Later Sinclair meets someone else who becomes his teacher for a time. Then a younger boy comes to Sinclair and seeks advice. Sinclair remembers what his teacher taught him but he says: "As much as I agreed with his ideas I could not pass them on. I was incapable of giving advice that did not derive from my own experience and which I myself did not have the strength to follow. I fell silent and felt humiliated at being unable to give advice to someone who was seeking it." p 98

Later Sinclair tells the boy: "I can't tell you anything, Knauer. We can't help anybody else. No one helped me either. You have to come to terms with yourself and then you must do what your inmost heart desires. There is no other way." p 99

Speaking of one of his trips away from home, he says: "What invigorated me was the progress I had made in discovering my self, the increasing confidence in my own dreams, thoughts, and intimations, and the growing knowledge of a power I possessed within me." p102

Then he adds:

"Sooner or later each of us must take the step that separates us from his father, from his mentors; each of us must have some cruelly lonely experience--even if most people cannot take much of this and soon crawl back. I myself had not parted from my parents and their world in a violent struggle, but had gradually and almost imperceptibly become estranged. I was sad that it had to be this way and it made for many unpleasant hours during my visits back home; but it did not affect me deeply, it was bearable.

"But where we have given of our love and respect not from habit but of our own free will, where we have been disciples and friends of our innermost hearts, it is a bitter and horrible moment when we suddenly recognize that the current within us wants to pull us away from what is dearest to us. Then every thought that rejects the friend and mentor turns in our hearts like a poisoned barb, then each blow struck in defense flies back into one's own face, the words 'disloyalty' and 'ingratitude' strike the person who feels he was morally sound like catcalls and stigma, and the frightened heart flees timidly back to the charmed valleys of childhood virtues, unable to believe that this break, too, must be made, this bond also broken." p 104

Then Sinclair explains how this break came about between him and his teacher, Pistorius. Sinclair tells us that he has realized that his teacher had been teaching him things which he could not follow himself.

"He had led me along a path that would transcend and leave even him, the leader, behind."

Sinclair says something a bit judgmental and critical. As soon as he says it he feels terrible, but neither of them talk about their feelings. Sinclair doesn't apologize, he simply leaves feeling exceedingly guilty. Neither does he ask his teacher how he felt about what Sinclair said. In fact, though Hesse's book is full of feelings and emotion, he never has his characters discuss feelings directly. This lack of communication with feeling words is certainly the norm in literature, as well as in real life.

On reflection Sinclair also sees that his teacher was stuck in the past and was not living his ideals in the present.

"He lingered too fondly in the past, his knowledge of the past was too precise...and yet he realized that the New had to be truly new and different, that it had to spring from fresh soil and could not be drawn from museums and libraries." p 107

Sinclair continues:

"At this point a sharp realization burned within me: each man has his 'function' but none which he can choose himself, define, or perform as he pleases. It was wrong to desire new gods, completely wrong to want to provide the world with something. An enlightened man had but one duty--to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward, no matter where it led." p 107

"I did not exist to write poems, to preach or to paint, neither I nor anyone else. All of that was incidental. Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself. He might end up as poet or madman, as prophet or criminal--that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny--not an arbitrary one--and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness.

"The new vision rose up before me... glimpsed a hundred times, possibly even expressed before, but now experienced for the first time by me. I was an experiment on the part of Nature, a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!

Then he remembers something Pistorius said: "I must always have things around me that I feel are beautiful and sacred, organ music, and mysteries, symbols and myths. I need and cannot forgo them. That is my weakness."

Pistorious says he knows he should not need such things, but he is unable to live without them. He is afraid of standing "so naked and alone." Pistorious says, "Someone who seeks nothing but his on fate no longer has any companions.. but actually that is the path one should follow." Then he tells Sinclair never to allow himself to become a revolutionary or a martyr, because then he will not be free, instead he will, in effect, be enslaved by his desires to change the world. p 109

Later when Sinclair walks through a town and sees everyone heading to the pubs and bars he says "False communion everywhere, everywhere shedding the responsibility of fate, flight to the herd for warmth." p 113

Hesse adds later through the voice of Demian that all of this false communion, this herd mentality found everywhere from "the fraternities to the choral societies to nations themselves-- was an inevitable development, was a community born of fear and dread, out of embarrassment, but inwardly rotten, outworn, close to collapsing." p 115

"Genuine communion," said Demian, "is a beautiful thing. But what we see flourishing everywhere is nothing of the kind. The real spirit will come from the knowledge that separate individuals have of one another an for a time it will transform the world. The community spirit at present is only a manifestation of the herd instinct. Men fly into each other's arms because they are afraid of each other-- the owners are for themselves, the workers are for themselves, the scholars for themselves! And why are they afraid? You are only afraid if you are not in harmony with yourself.

"People are afraid because they have never owned up to themselves. A whole society composed of men afraid of the unknown within them! They all sense that the rules they live by are no longer valid, that they live according to archaic laws--neither their religion nor their morality is in any way suited to the needs of the present. For a hundred years or more Europe has done nothing but study and build factories! They know exactly how many ounces of powder it takes to kill a man but they don't even know how to be happy for a single contented hour."

Demian predicts there will be some kind of large scale conflict. He says not much will really change, but it will at least "reveal the bankruptcy of present-day ideals, there will be a sweeping away of Stone Age gods." p 115

Throughout the book Hesse talks about how people like Demian and Sinclair are somehow marked with a sign, differentiating them from the masses. At one point in school Sinclair tried to fit in with the masses, but it didn't work. Demian referred to this when he spoke with his mother about Sinclair: "He's even begun going to bars. But he won't succeed. His sign is obscured, but it sears him secretly." p 120

Later Demian's mother speaks with Sinclair who told her how miserable he had felt, even contemplating suicide. (In fact, Hesse himself attempted suicide.) The mother says, "Was it only difficult? Wasn't it beautiful, too? Can you think of a more beautiful and easier way?"

Sinclair says, "It was difficult. I was hard until the dream came."

The mother then says, "Yes, you must find your dream, then the way becomes easy. But there is no dream that lasts forever, each dream is followed by another, and one should not cling to any particular one." p 120

Sinclair feels more at home when he is with Demian and Demian's mother. The three of them all share "the sign." Sinclair writes:

"As soon as I opened the gate, as soon as I caught sight of the tall trees in the garden, I felt happy and rich. Outside was reality: streets and houses, people and institutions, libraries and lecture halls--but here inside was love; here lived the legend and the dream. And yet we in no way cut off from the outside world; in our thoughts and conversations we often lived in the midst of it, only on an entirely different plane. We were not separated from the majority of men by a boundary but simply by another mode of vision. Our task was to represent an island in the world, a prototype perhaps, or at least a prospect of a different way of life.

"I, who had been isolated for so long, learned about the companionship which is possible between people who have tasted complete loneliness. I never again hankered after the tables of the fortunate and the feasts of the blessed. Never again did envy or nostalgia overcome me when I witnessed the collective pleasures of others.

"We who wore the sign might justly be considered 'odd' by the world; yes, even crazy, and dangerous. We were aware or in the process of becoming aware and our striving was directed at achieving a more and more complete state of awareness while the striving of the others was a quest aimed at binding their opinions, ideals, duties, their lives and fortunes more and more closely to those of the herd. There, too, was striving, there too were power and greatness. But whereas we, who were marked, believed that we represented the will of Nature to something new, to the individualism of the future, the others sought to perpetuate the status quo.

Humanity--which they loved as we did--was for them something complete that must be maintained and protected. For us, humanity was a distant goal toward which all men were moving, whose image no one knew, whose laws were nowhere written down. p 122

After the turmoil which Hesse predicts through Demian, "the real needs of the soul-- which has for so long been repeatedly stunted and anesthetized--" might come to light. Then, Demian says, "our day will come, then we will be needed. Not as leaders and lawgivers--we won't be there to see the new laws--but rather as those who are willing, as men who are ready to go forth and stand prepared wherever fate may need them."

He says that many men are willing to do the incredible to protect their sacred beliefs, but few are ready to accept a new ideal when it "makes itself felt." Demian says, "The few who will be ready at that time and who will go forth--will be us." p 124

He adds, "All men who have had an effect on human history... were capable and effective only because they were ready to accept the inevitable." p 124

"Always, you must think of these things in evolutionary, in historical terms! When the upheavals of the earth's surface flung the creatures of the sea onto the land and the land creatures into the sea, the specimens of the various orders that were ready to follow their destiny were the ones that accomplished the new and unprecedented; by making new biological adjustments the were able to save their species from destruction. We do not know whether these were the same specimens that had previously distinguished themselves among their fellows as conservative, upholders of the status quo, or rather as eccentrics, revolutionaries; but we do know they were ready, and could therefore lead their species into new phases of evolution. That is why we want to be ready." p 124-5


Other quotes:

"People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest." p 25


"The adult who has learned to translate a part of his feelings into thoughts notices the absence of these thoughts in a child, and therefore comes to believe that a child lacks these experiences [feelings] too." p 30


"Like most parents, mine were no help with the new problems of puberty, to which no reference was ever made. All they did was take endless trouble in supporting my hopeless attempts to deny reality and to continue dwelling in a childhood world that was becoming more and more unreal. I have no idea whether parents can be of help, and I do not blame mine. It was my own affair to come to term with myself and to find my own way, and like most well-brought-up children, I managed it badly." p 41


Only the ideas we actually live are of any value. p 52


Each of us has to find out for ourselves what is permitted and what is forbidden--forbidden for him. It's possible for one never to transgress a single law and still be a bastard. And vice versa. Actually, it's only a question of convenience. Those who are too lazy and comfortable to think for themselves and be their own judges obey the rules. Others sense their own laws within them; things are forbidden in them that every honorable man will do in any day of the year, and other things are allowed to them that are generally despised. Each person must stand on his own feet. p 53


Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak surrender to them, don't ask first whether it's permitted or would please your teachers or father, or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that. p 93


A priest does not want to convert, he merely wants to live among believers, among his own kind. p 94

Note from Steve - I assmume Hesse means a "true" priest or religious person. In other words, a person with integrity will not try to impose his beliefs on others. He simply wants to live with others who share his beliefs - not convert the world to their his and his group's beliefs. But I think Hesse felt a little powerless. I, on the other hand, want to do more than just live among those who share my beliefs. I do want to live with those who share my beliefs, but I also want to help educate and inform as many people as I can. And prevent and stop as much suffering as I can. Maybe I try to hard, or maybe Hesse didn't try hard enough - but Hesse did influence a lot of people just with his writing. Of course, Hesse actually was trying to do more than just live among those of his kind or he wouldn't have been motivated to write!


Live those dreams, play with them, build altars to them. It is not yet the ideal, but it points in the right direction. p 94


Whether you and I and a few others will renew the world remains to be seen. But within ourselves we must renew it each day... p 94


If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us. p 95 [This is now a common statement-- another sign of how far ahead of his times Hesse was.]


The things we see are the same things that are within us. There is no reality except the one contained within us. That is why so many people live such an unreal life. They take the images outside them for reality and never allow the world within to assert itself. You can be happy that way. But once you know the other interpretation you no longer have the choice of following the crowd. Sinclair, the majority's path is an easy one, ours is difficult. p 96


I live in my dreams... Other people live in dreams, but not in their own. That's the difference. p 97


One never reaches home, but where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect the whole world looks like home, for a time." p 119


I belong to my fate and to no one else.p 120


Europe had conquered the whole world, only to lose her own soul. p 123


We, who bore the mark, felt no anxiety about the shape the future was to take. All of these faiths and teachings seemed to us already dead and useless. The only duty and destiny we acknowledged was that each one of us should become so completely himself, so utterly faithful to the active seed which Nature planted within him, that in living out its growth he could be surprised by nothing unknown to come. p 123-4


Once you are able to make your request in such a way that you will be quite certain of its fulfillment, then fulfillment will come. But at present you alternate between desire and renunciation and are afraid all the time. p 126


"Love must have the strength to become certain within itself. Then it ceases merely to be attracted and begins to attract." p 126

Siddhartha -Hermann Hesse */

p. 6 lives within self

What is knowledge worth if you do not know the most important things?

p 7 knowledge vs experiencing

p. 7 One must find the source within oneself. Everything else is seeking; a detour, an error **

p 14 Disagree with goal of let self die!

p 15 he becomes heron, stone, wood, water, jackal. ie connected with nature

p 16 Meditation, fasting - temporary escape from self

p 18 spiral

p 20 when a country is ravaged by plague rumor spreads that there is a man whose mere words and touch heal the sick. Many believe & many immediately seek this man!

p 30 Govinda leaves, Siddhartha lectures him. Says you have renounced your own will, home, parents, friendship.

Govinda says "That is the will of the illustrious one."

32 S. is talking to Buddha. You have clearly shown cause and effect are not dependent on gods. You teach everything except how you experienced your enlightenment.

B is defensive. "Do you think it would be better for all of my followers to return to the material world of desire?"

S says "That thought never occured to me. It is not for me to judge another life. If I were one of your followers I would fear that I would be seeking distraction from myself. by following you.."

B says "You are clever, but don't get too clever." Then he walks off (with an air of superiority)

S says "I will never lower my eyes to another man" and "Buddha has robbed me of Govinda, but has given me something of greater value- myself".

p 37 **To recognize causes is to think.

** And through thoughts alone feelings become knowledge and are not lost but become real and begin to mature.

p 38 The reason he does not know self is because he was fleeing it. Seeking others he was trying to destroy self and focus on the troubles of the world.

He decides to learn from himself; become his own pupil; stop seeking knowledge of others

p. 41 He realizes how alone he is- can't go back to his father's house and habits. He belonged to no group. He stopped looking backwards to his father.