Siddhartha on How To Achieve Financial Independence

siddhartha financial independence

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Siddhartha, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse’s 1922 classic, lays eyes on Kamala, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. In that moment he is filled with the determination to achieve a new goal:

It was my resolution to learn love from this most beautiful woman. From that moment on when I had made this resolution, I also knew that I would carry it out.

Kamala, an experienced courtesan, is made of practical stuff. She requires destitute Siddhartha to acquire some wealth before she condescends to teach him the art of love. She tells Siddhartha, naive in the ways of making money, to approach the richest merchant in town, a man called Kamaswami and to persuade him to accept Siddhartha into his service.

 

This is an excerpt from Kamaswami’s interview of Siddhartha:

 

“And what is it now what you’ve got to give? What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“That’s everything?”

“I believe, that’s everything!”

 

I read that line and it blew my mind that that simple mantra from a book written in 1922 really does contain all the wisdom one needs to build wealth and achieve financial independence.  

 

I Can Think

In order to build wealth and achieve financial independence, you, like Siddhartha, must be able to use your biggest asset to your advantage – your mind.

Your mind is what will allow you to understand the basics of personal finance and investing. Your mind will allow you to appreciate the beauty of index funds. It is your mind that will grasp asset allocations, rebalancing, diversification and all the other tools in the toolbox of finance.

It is your mind that will lead you to read and appreciate sources of wisdom like the The Simple Path to Wealth, The Millionaire Next Door or the The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing.

If you can think, you can work through everything you need to know about building wealth. You can learn a few simple concepts. You can make a budget. You can make a plan.

If you can think, you can identify your strengths and play to them and work around your areas of weakness.

 

On the flip side, your worst enemy can be your brain. The biggest hurdle on your way to wealth is for your brain to tell you, “I can’t understand all those numbers. Math was never my strong suite” or “Personal finance is boring, I don’t want to think about that stuff” or even a simple “I could never save that much”.

To achieve financial independence you need to replace all these thoughts with a simple one, “I Can Think”.

 

I Can Wait

Much of wealth building is a waiting game. Compounding is a powerful force, but it needs time to work its wondrous magic.

 

It isn’t an easy thing, waiting.

It isn’t easy to resist the urge to tinker, to fidget with your portfolio. If you are not patient enough to leave well enough alone, your portfolio might die a death by a thousand cuts.

It isn’t easy to stay still and calm while the market oceans grow ever more tempestuous. It is far easier to panic. It is easy to get caught up in the mass hysteria of a crash is imminent, the bubble is about to burst. It is easy to be cowed by the clamour of the doomsday crowd.

It isn’t easy to resist the siren song of the sexy stock pick.

It isn’t easy but if you can master the art of waiting, of patience, of playing the long game, your odds of winning at money are greatly improved.

 

You must stand like Siddhartha, your eyes fixed on your distant goal, take a deep breath and say, “I Can Wait”.

 

I Can Fast

Kamaswami finds himself unconvinced of the value of Siddhartha’s simple mantra. So he asks

“For example, the fasting– what is it good for?”

And Siddhartha replies:

“It is very good, sir. When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he could do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him and can laugh about it. This, sir, is what fasting is good for.”

 

The more you need, the less power you have, the less control you have over your own life. As your list of Oh I just couldn’t do without that grows longer, the fewer options you will have when it comes to choosing what work you do, what kind of boss you are willing to tolerate, what level of stupid you are willing to deal with on a daily basis.

The more you consume, the less you save, and the finish line of financial independence recedes into the distance. The more you consume, the larger grows the Stash that you have to accumulate, and now you have to save for three decades instead of one.

The more you indulge, the more remote grow the chances that you will truly discover who you are as a person, and where lie your strengths.

I am not recommending a life of austerity and deprivation. I am saying – take the time to regularly exercise your fasting muscle. Learn to do without. Learn to do with less, so that you can eventually have more and better.

What gives you your power? What can you do without? Can you look Life in the eye and say with confidence, “I Can Fast”?

 

I Can Achieve Financial Independence

It isn’t enough to want financial independence. You have to believe that you can achieve it. And you can. All you have to do is think, wait and fast.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Siddhartha does get the girl.

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14 thoughts on “Siddhartha on How To Achieve Financial Independence”

  1. Awesome post today. We like to call it wait-training. Put it off until you can truly afford it. You may even find when that time comes that you don’t need or want it any longer.

    cd :O)

    1. Wait-training. Love that. And so true, once you no longer have to lust after it because it is yours for the taking, you probably won’t want it any more. Or, if you wait-train, you might just outgrow the urge.

  2. Perfectly simple counsel. Think, wait, fast. Use your mind for good, not evil. Be patient and wait (that applies to not spending foolishly now in favor of saving as well). Fasting, too, is a valuable tool many overlook. Whether literally fasting from food or simply denying oneself in some way, it really strengthens us to go without. Plus, if you can forego certain expensive pleasures now, you likely will be able to keep expenses low in retirement as well!

    1. While I’ve been doing a decent job with the metaphorical fasting, literally fasting by denying myself food has never been my forte. I turn into a raging grump if I don’t eat my meals.

  3. You may have come across these already, but given the ideas discussed in this article you might enjoy the compilation of Seneca’s letters to Lucilius. A lot of relatable concepts for those of us on the FI/RE path in Seneca’s letters and Stoicism in general.

  4. Great story, don’t think I have heard of this before. I totally agree with the line “the more you need the less power/control you have”. Living a simple life is good because it allows you to focus on what you deem important in life. All of us only have 24 hours in a day, which doesn’t seem to ever be enough!

    1. If you had asked me before I started down the path to FIRE I would have guessed that I would find the “I can fast” bit the hardest. I would have been wrong. The hardest one for me is “I can wait”.

  5. This is an awesome post!!! I love stories like this with such simple dialogue that is so powerful!!! I can’t believe the knowledge that was being shared in 1922 that is still so applicable today. Thanks as always for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks MSM! When I re-read a book like Siddhartha I am reminded anew that in my own writing I am altogether too free with adverbs and adjectives, and all other manner of language garnishes.

  6. Great story… 3 simple things that actually contribute a lot to FI. The will to be free to pursue what makes us happy has always been there it seems. “I fast” tells it all: the more you need, the more dependent you are.

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