In Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel Siddhartha, the troubled protagonist Siddhartha asks his friend how he can protect his son from the excess pleasure and power that he lost himself in during his life, and how he could possibly stop his son from repeating his own mistakes.
His friend replies: “Do you actually believe that you committed your foolish acts in order to spare your son from committing them, too? How could you possibly protect your son from Samsara [the material world]? How could you? Through prayers, lessons and admonition? My friend, have you entirely forgotten that story about Siddhartha, a Brahmin’s [the highest caste in Hinduism] son, that contains so many lessons and which you once told me here on this very spot? Who kept Siddhartha the Samana [a type of wandering ascetic] safe from Samsara, sin, greed, and foolishness? Were his father’s religious devotion, his teacher’s warnings, his own knowledge, or his seeking able to keep him safe? Which father or teacher was able to protect him from living his life for himself, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink for himself, or finding this path for himself? Do you think, my friend, that anyone is spared from this path? That, perhaps, your little son will be spared because you love him and want to keep him from suffering, pain, and disappointment? But even if you would die ten times for him, you would not be able to take even the slightest part of his destiny upon yourself.”
The moral here is, that in general, future generations will repeat the same mistakes as past generations, no matter how hard we try to teach others of our own mistakes. Siddhartha’s friend highlights that not even his own father, who brought him up in a rich and nurturing environment, could stop him from wanting to leave home to become a nomad, and later an addicted, greedy merchant – Siddhartha still followed his instinct and went on the journey that led him now to the point of thinking about how best to raise his own son.
Sometimes we have to learn the hard way for a lesson to actually sink in. Finding out that stove-tops are in fact hot to touch, or knives are in fact sharp. Or in later life, that status, power, lust, and greed may not be the most valuable things to chase. We have been taught these lessons already, but sometimes we have to experience it for ourselves for us to fully accept them.