Siddhartha and the First Vision

Siddhartha and the First Vision October 9, 2019

 

Is this the real Sacred Grove?
The entrance to the traditional site of the Sacred Grove, near Palmyra, New York
(Wikimedia Commons public domain)

 

President Russell M. Nelson has announced that 2020 will be a special bicentennial year commemorating the First Vision of Joseph Smith, and that the annual general conference for April 2020 will be unlike any general conference that we’ve ever seen before.  Beyond that, alas, he was tantalizingly unspecific.

 

As I say, I’ve been re-reading the novella Siddhartha, by the German-born writer Hermann Hesse (1877-1962).  Here, in my translation from a German edition published somewhat enigmatically by “Will Jonson and Dog’s Tail Books” in the United Kingdom, is another passage that struck me.  This one made me think, in particular, of Joseph Smith’s initial revelatory experience in the “Sacred Grove” near his home on the outskirts of Palmyra, New York.  The eponymous protagonist of Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha, has just expressed a reservation about the doctrine of Gotama, the Buddha, to the Buddha:

 

Quietly, Gotama had listened to him, without moving.  Now he spoke, the perfected one, with his kind voice, his polite and clear voice:  “You have heard the doctrine, O Brahman’s son, and it is well that you have thought about it so deeply.  You’ve found a gap in it, an error.  May you reflect upon it further.  But be warned, O seeker of knowledge, against the thicket of opinions and against strife about words.  Opinions don’t matter.  Be they beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, anybody can attach himself to them or discard them. But the doctrine that you’ve heard from me is no [mere] opinion, and its goal is not to explain the world to those who [merely] seek knowledge.  Its goal is a different one; its goal is salvation from suffering.  This is what Gotama teaches.  Nothing else.”

 

Still hatte Gotama ihm zugehört, unbewegt.  Mit seiner gütigen, mit seiner höflichen und klaren Stimme sprach er nun, der Vollendete:  “Du hast die Lehre gehört, o Brahmanensohn, und wohl dir, daß du über sie so tief nachgedacht hast.  Du hast eine Lücke in ihr gefunden, einen Fehler.  Mögest du weiter darüber nachdenken.  Laß dich aber warnen, du Wißbegieriger, vor dem Dickicht der Meinungen and vor dem Streit um Worte.  Es ist an Meinungen nichts gelegen, sie mögen schön oder häßlich, klug oder töricht sein, jeder kann ihnen anhängen oder sie verwerfen.  Die Lehre aber, die du von mir gehört hast, ist nicht eine Meinung, und ihr Ziel ist nicht, die Welt für Wißbegierige zu erklären.  Ihr Ziel ist ein anderes; ihr Ziel ist Erlösung vom Leiden.  Diese ist es, welche Gotama lehrt, nichts anderes.  (22)

 

What first caught my attention was the reference to a “thicket of opinions” and “strife about words” (Dickicht der Meinungen and Streit um Worte).  I immediately thought of the reference in Joseph Smith-History 1:6 to “a strife of words and a contest about opinions.”

 

I also thought, though, about Joseph Smith’s earnest search for salvation, more than a mere curiosity about “which church is right,” that is mentioned in some of the First Vision accounts

 

 


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