“Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives he believes in something.”
Reading a beautiful book “Confession” first published in Russia (1882), which was removed by Orthodox Church censorship and later published in Geneva (1884). In his “Confession”, Leo Tolstoy confronted his own reflections about the will to live, when in the end, it’s all about nothing. Every moment is a step closer to dying, then why this whole life’s attempt to gain fame, family, friends and power.
This Buddhist influenced treatise on living Christianity through each moment was Tolstoy’s attempt to explain his own rationalist religious feeling. Although the “Confession” led to his excommunication, it also resulted in a large following of Tolstoyan Christians springing up throughout Russia and Europe.
“Whatever the faith may be, and whatever answers it may give, and to whomsoever it gives them, very such answer gives to the finite existence of man an infinite meaning, a meaning not destroyed by sufferings, deprivations, or death. This means that only in faith can we find for life a meaning and a possibility... Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives, he believes in something”. – Leo Tolstoy 1882
Now, some of the most important thoughts from the book that made me think about life differently and more purposefully.
"Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?"
MY NOTES FROM THE BOOK
From the time I was sixteen I ceased to say my prayers and ceased to go to church or to fast of my own volition. I did not believe what had been taught me in childhood but I believed in something. What it was I believed in I could not at all have said. I believed in a God, or rather I did not deny God – but I could not have said what sort of God. Looking back on that time, I now see clearly that my faith – my only real faith – that which apart from my animal instincts gave impulse to my life – was a belief in perfecting myself... the beginning of it all was of course moral perfection, but that was soon replaced by perfection in general: by the desire to be better not in my own eyes or those of God but in the eyes of other people. And very soon this effort again changed into a desire to be stronger than others: to be more famous, more important and richer than others.
(At twenty-six years of age) I returned to Petersburg after the war, and met the writers. ... The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship, consisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in this development we – men of thought – have the chief part; and among men of thought it is we – artists and poets – who have the greatest influence. Our vocation is to teach mankind.
|Tolstoy photographed at his Yasnaya Polyana|
estate in May 1908 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky.
The only known color photograph of the writer.
The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as it were lived, lived, and I walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction...
One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud!
"Art, poetry?". . .Under the influence of success and the praise of men, I had long assured myself that this was a thing one could do though death was drawing near – death which destroys all things, including my work and its remembrance; but soon I saw that that too was a fraud. It was plain to me that art is an adornment of life, an allurement to life.
It was pleasant to look at life in the mirror of art. But when I began to seek the meaning of life and felt the necessity of living my own life, that mirror became for me unnecessary, superfluous, ridiculous, or painful.
Now in the experimental sphere I said to myself: "Everything develops and differentiates itself, moving towards complexity and perfection, and there are laws directing this movement. You are a part of the whole. Having learnt as far as possible the whole, and having learnt the law of evolution, you will understand also your place in the whole and will know yourself." Ashamed as I am to confess it, there was a time when I seemed satisfied with that.
And I understood that those sciences are very interesting and attractive, but that they are exact and clear in inverse proportion to their applicability to the question of life: the less their applicability to the question of life, the more exact and clear they are, while the more they try to reply to the question of life, the more obscure and unattractive they become.
These are the direct replies that human wisdom gives when it replies to life's question.
"The life of the body is an evil and a lie. Therefore the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should desire it," says Socrates.
"Life is that which should not be – an evil; and the passage into Nothingness is the only good in life," says Schopenhauer.
"All that is in the world – folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief – is vanity and emptiness. Man dies and nothing is left of him. And that is stupid," says Solomon.
"To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is impossible – we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life," says Buddha.
I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed.
1) The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing, not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity.
2) The second way out is Epicureanism. It consists, while knowing the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the advantages one has...
3) The third escape is that of strength and energy. It consists in destroying life, when one has understood that it is an evil and an absurdity.
4) The fourth way out is that of weakness. It consists in seeing the truth of the situation and yet clinging to life, knowing in advance that nothing can come of it. People of this kind know that death is better than life, but not having the strength to act rationally – to end the deception quickly and kill themselves – they seem to wait for something. This is the escape of weakness, for if I know what is best and it is within my power, why not yield to what is best? . . . I found myself in that category.
|Tolstoy dressed |
in peasant clothing by Ilya Repin (1901)
Whatever the faith may be, and whatever answers it may give, and to whomsoever it gives them, every such answer gives to the finite existence of man an infinite meaning, a meaning not destroyed by sufferings, deprivations, or death. This means that only in faith can we find for life a meaning and a possibility. ...but faith is a knowledge of the meaning of human life in consequence of which man does not destroy himself but lives. Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives he believes in something.
I began to understand that in the replies given by faith is stored up the deepest human wisdom and that I had no right to deny them on the ground of reason, and that those answers are the only ones which reply to life's question.
I understood that my question as to what my life is, and the answer – an absurdity and evil – was quite correct. The only mistake was that the answer referred only to my life, while I had referred it to life in general. "Life is evil and an absurdity", referred only to my life, but not to human life in general.
A goat, a hare, and a wolf are so made that they must feed themselves, and must breed and feed their family, and when they do so I feel firmly assured that they are happy and that their life is a reasonable one. Then what should a man do? He too should produce his living as the animals do, but with this difference, that he will perish if he does it alone; he must obtain it not for himself but for all. And when he does that, I have a firm assurance that he is happy and that his life is reasonable.
If I exist, there must be some cause for it, and a cause of causes. And that first cause of all is what men have called "God". And I paused on that thought, and tried with all my being to recognize the presence of that cause. And as soon as I acknowledged that there is a force in whose power I am, I at once felt that I could live.
"He exists," said I to myself. And I had only for an instant to admit that, and at once life rose within me, and I felt the possibility and joy of being.
I need only be aware of God to live; I need only forget Him, or disbelieve Him, and I died.
I live, really live, only when I feel Him and seek Him.
I returned to a belief in God, in moral perfection, and in a tradition transmitting the meaning of life. There was only this difference, that then all this was accepted unconsciously, while now I knew that without it I could not live.
That shore was God; that direction was tradition; the oars were the freedom given me to pull for the shore and unite with God. And so the force of life was renewed in me and I again began to live.
... the essence of every faith consists in its giving life a meaning which death does not destroy.
|Mohandas K. Gandhi and other residents of Tolstoy Farm, South Africa, 1910|
The Tolstoy Farm was created by Gandhi ji, In part, influenced by these ideas..
Hope you have liked reading this book with me, for more info on the book, click here to go to the Wikipedia...Image curtsy : Wikipedia
ॐ नमः शिवाय
ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
Understanding Haiku - A beginner's Guide One Week Winter Spiritual Retreat