The Highest Merit: Knowledge from Within
Influence from other sources such as people or tradition is a common way to learn and acquire knowledge. However, the highest merit is in relying on one’s own thoughts and ideas as discussed in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance”, and in Herman Hesse’s novel, “Siddhartha”. Emerson emphasizes that it is more valuable to acknowledge one’s own beliefs than acquiring knowledge from others. He also explains that once someone accepts his or her own opinions as the truth, these ideas become the universal understanding for that individual. This idea that “self-reliance” is more essential than relying on others for knowledge is evident in Hesse’s Siddhartha as well. Despite his reverent position as a charismatic and devout Brahmin, Siddhartha becomes dissatisfied because he feels that the rituals that he had been taught were more like customs than an actual path to enlightenment. After a long journey in search for true enlightenment, Siddhartha learns that it cannot be taught but understood through self-experience. Similarly to Emerson’s essay, it is made clear that the highest form of knowledge comes from what one learns from within, rather than from communication with others.
Siddhartha ventures out to reach enlightenment on his own after he averts from the teachings of the wise for knowledge. Emerson connects to this in his statement: “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages.” Emerson highlights the importance of focusing on one’s own thoughts rather than the ideas of others. This is an essential theme in the Siddhartha because Siddhartha would never have understood true enlightenment if he had not relied on his own insight for knowledge. Otherwise, his claim to enlightenment would only be “surface-level”. When Siddhartha met Gotama, Siddhartha said, “...You have reached the highest goal which...
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