Sunday, September 14, 2014

Encounter with Hermann Hesse in Lugano

Knowing Hermann ever living near Lugano makes the EFA trip a total meaningfulness. I didn't know this until randomly skimming over Lugano brochure while waiting for hotel check-in. Hermann spent most of his time and died in Montagnola, Ticino. It's there he wrote those books winning him the Nobel Prize but more exerting a long-run influence to numerous people including me.

In order to make the visit to Museo Hermann Hesse, I skipped conference lunch and one session. With a pilgrim's heart, I arrived in the quiet village in Montagnola, which Hermann ever described as:

"Here the sun shines more intensely, the mountains are rosier: wine, almonds, figs and chestnuts grow and the people are good, civilized, and friendly..."

The museum is a small two-storey brick building, next to the villa Hermann ever lived. The second floor hosts his manuscripts, scratches, postcards, letters, as well the chair and table he ever used. I cannot help put my hands touching the table, as if it could help me connecting to the scene when he wrote Siddhartha (1922). Contemplating the typewriter, I wonder what Hermann ever experienced in his own spiritual exploration.

(Hermann's typewriter, Smith Premier No. 4)

"When you throw a rock into the water, it will speed on the fastest course to the bottom of the water. This is how it is when Siddhartha has a goal, a resolution. Siddhartha does nothing, he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he passes through the things of the world like a rock through water, without doing anything, without stirring; he is drawn, he lets himself fall. "   
                                       --- Siddhartha (1922)

The nexus of Hermann's works to my life, heart and mind, is through a channel not so common to others, the Taoism, the philosophy of Lao-tze. In his autobiography, Childhood of the Magician, Hermann recalled the mixing influence of Western and Eastern culture on his family. His grandfather and his parents all ever served in India at a Protestant Christian mission society. His father introduced him to the thought of Lao-tze in his youth. Later on he himself also traveled to India, and other Asian countries in his thirties. 

                              ---《魔术师的童年》 赫尔曼·黑塞
Rays of light from many worlds intersected in this house. Here people prayed and read the Bible, here they studied and practiced Hindu philology, here much good music was played, here there was knowledge of Buddha and Lao-tse, guests came from many countries... It was beautiful and it pleased me, but more beautiful still was the world of my wishful thinking, richer still the play of my waking dreams. Reality was never enough, there was need of magic.
       --- Childhood of the Magician, by Hermann Hesse

The Eastern journey made a strong impression on Hermann's literary work. As he said, "Wisdom cannot be learned. That is an experience that I had to try to represent by poetical means. The result of that attempt is Siddhartha." "I am not Siddhartha, I am only always and again on my way to him ..."

The way Siddhartha achieving enlightening for me, is consistent with the Way of Lao-tze, summarized in the book of Tao Te Jing: that is No Action (无为). Be aware of whatever happening and fully accept it as it is.

From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.       
                                                           -- Siddhartha (p.94)
For all these years, I increasingly find the Taoism to have the power to comfort me and to guide me! It was so resonating when seeing Hermann's words (in translation) exhibited in the museum that "I go to that corner of my library where the Chinese are -- a beautiful, a peaceful, a happy corner! In these ancient books there are such good and often such astonishingly pertinent things. Here, during the terrible war years, I often found thoughts to comfort me and put me back on my feet!

I didn't remember how I got back from the Montagnola village to the conference site, back to the secular world. The unexpected 'encounter' with Hermann Hesse transformed me into a spiritual excursion. That night, when we were cruising on Lake Lugano with hundreds of conference participants, my mind only echoed Hermann's words (see note) in a documentary film I watched as a solo audience in the museum that afternoon:

Let yourself fall
  Do not fight back
Die gladly
 Live gladly

(scenery from the boat while cruising at Lake Lugano)

Photographed by Jennie Bai.
Copyright ©Jennie Bai. All Rights Reserved.

"There was not a thing in the world that was not just as beautiful, just as desirable, just as joyous as it’s opposite. It was blissful to live, it was blissful to die, as soon as you hung suspended in space. Peace from without did not exist; there was no peace in the graveyard, no peace in God. No magic ever interrupted the eternal chain of births, the endless succession of God’s breaths. But there was another kind of peace, to be found within your own self. It’s name was: Let yourself fall! Do not fight back! Die gladly! Live Gladly!"
~  Klingsor’s Last Summer by Hermann Hesse  

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