Some time ago, I’ve read a short book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. The book tells a story about the titular seagull who loved flying. His attempts at learning more about flight lead him to great peaks of mastery, and at the same time alienated him from his family and his tribe. Through the book, Jonathan learns flight beyond physical limits of his body, meets other seagulls with the same love for flight, learns from them and eventually becomes a great teacher himself. Then he descends back to the world and allows his pupils to spread his teachings.
It is an interesting attempt to describe a way from a normal being to a deity. Through learning and work Jonathan went from a bird to a higher being. The story is naïve and fairytale-like. There is a lot that can be said about it, but today I just want to point out this idea, that one can arrive at a higher form of existence through learning and training. This idea sounds a little similar to some of the teachings by Zhuang Zhou (Zhuangzi), at least in the prof. Puett’s interpretation.
As interesting as it is though, it is not very practical, not very real world-like. There are plenty of people who devoted their entire lives to one occupation and became very good at it. There are plenty of people who have meaningfully learned their whole lives, constantly progressing and becoming better. But it is really hard to say if any of them have arrived at “the goal”, if any of them transcended normal humans. And, it is easy to say that they didn’t become deities, unlike Jonathan in Bach’s book. So, can we have a story that is a little closer to the world we are living in? A story that would reflect on the human nature and our struggles, on the way towards perfection? A story that would tell us what that “goal”, that perfection is?..
I don’t know if we can have such a story, but we do have Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha is a story about a young man, Siddhartha, a son of a priest, who strives to achieve perfection. In his youth when he was serving the gods he sought to learn the nature of divine and the truth about life and everything. Unable to find the answers as a priest, Siddhartha went to become an ascetic, seeking to destroy his “self” to be able to see what lies beyond. Later he would become disappointed in this practice and come to a conclusion that no teaching can ever lead to his goal of enlightenment, that wisdom can’t be taught. Disappointed in the very idea of destroying one’s self, Siddhartha seeks to learn more about his self by indulging in the worldly pleasures and desires like love, food, gambling, earning money, etc. In due time, this will also become meaningless to him, pushing Siddhartha to want to end his life.