I was recommended to read the novel Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse. The novel is about two young men who meet in the cloister at Mariabronn and share a strong bond of love and friendship yet go on to take divergent paths, their lives leading them in separate directions – one to the path of “the flesh”, of experiences and sensual pleasures, one to the path of “the intellect”, drawn to the inner life of the mind and spiritual pursuits. The seeming contention between the hedonist and the scholar, the aesthetic and the philosopher, the wayfarer and the sedentary converge in the end of the book, when the two men are brought together again and reunite their lives journeys.
The beauty of the book also lies in how the two men, representing opposing forces, ultimately help each other, urging each other on as if they are two haves to the same spirit. This brought me to the idea of the helper and the helped. In the book Narcissus, the scholar, recognizes that Goldmund is not one for the life of monkhood, and seeing this, encourages his friend to leave the monastery, to go where his heart calls him. His subtle guidance shows Guldmund to not deny his essence, to seek his potential, to realize himself, and in this guiding process Narcissus also realizes himself through Goldmund.
In one of his unpublished talks (circa 1950) the Indian thinker J. Krishnamurti talks about the relationship between the helper and the helped:
“The collective end is not dissimilar to the individual end. If you want to help me, you must find out what I am seeking; otherwise, in what way are you helping me, either you are acting out of conceit, which imposes a limit on understanding, or you are being carried away by your own activity. To truly help another is impossible if there is conceit of knowledge , of experience, of authority, of any pretension; nor is it possible if you are escaping into activity in the form of social service. To help me, you must know yourself; otherwise, your ignorance will strengthen my ignorance.”
(In religious terms) Narcissus describes what it is to realize oneself:
“It is the highest of all concepts: perfect being. God is perfect being. Everything else that exists is only half, only a part, is becoming, is mixed, is made up of potentialities. But God is not mixed. He is one, he has no potentialities but is the total, the complete reality. Whereas we are transitory, we are becoming, we are potentials; there is no perfection for us, no complete being. But wherever we go, from potential to deed, from possibility to realization, we participate in true being, become by a degree more similar to the perfect and divine. That is what it means to realize oneself.”
Though Goldmund doubts the existence of God the idea still resonates with him – and through his journey we gather that awakening does not need to happen in a cloister or through the process of seclusion from experiences, that wisdom is not absorbed by undoubtedly accepting religious ideologies, or any ordained ideologies for that matter, but that the journey has many paths.
“Unless and until thought frees itself from prejudice, right thinking is not possible, for prejudice is a form of conceit which places a limit on understanding. The mind must free itself from all valuation and comparison in order to understand the real.” (J. Krishnamurti)
image from “Into Great Silence” by Philip Groening, a film about the Carthusian order (the book Narcissus and Goldmund made me think of this film)