A Confession by Leo Tolstoy - Commentary and Book Review
(PD) Leo Tolstoy
Copyright ©2009-2021 — updated February 11, 2021
A Book Review and Brief Commentary of Leo Tolstoy's A Confession.
Not until recent months had I ever read a writing by Tolstoy. I had seen a photograph behind the name of Tolstoy, and I had heard that he held some manner of literary importance in nineteenth century Russia (War and Peace), but beyond that I knew nothing of the man. Within me, however, was interpreted a sensation that Tolstoy had been a violent man, of a parallel not too different than Rasputin, but perhaps surely worse.
"I was baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith. I was taught it in childhood and throughout my boyhood and youth. But when I abandoned the second course of the university at the age of eighteen I no longer believed any of the things I had been taught. …I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in order to kill them. I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and deceived people. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder — there was no crime I did not commit, and in spite of that people praised my conduct and my contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively moral man."
I was not surprised to read Tolstoy’s admission of violence and hate, nor of his other acts of depravity that I had suspected, but rather the stronger sensation was one of a type of gratification that my interpretation of his name and era had been correct. As is very common, men who fail in their religions often become the most vocal against the religions — at the moment the name of William James is lit within my mind — and though the men had already proven of themselves to be unqualified to speak of the religions, the very religions that the men were not personally capable of mastering, still the men believed and claimed of themselves to be competent judges of the religions.
Although none of the writings that I have read of Tolstoy’s have been intelligent, still there is value in how his writings illustrate the human mind’s tendency to base its logic on incorrect knowledge, which then results in man leaping to absurd and destructive beliefs.
A Confession is a book that begins with listing the many excuses that Tolstoy and other men have claimed to have been reasons why the men believed that life has no meaning, and that suicide might be the only rational conclusion. For background, the following quote is from The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer and translated by T. Bailey Saunders, M.A..
"It should be clearly understood that thought is nothing but the organic function of the brain; and it has to obey the same laws in regard to exertion and repose as any other organic function. The brain can be ruined by overstrain, just like the eyes. As the function of the stomach is to digest, so it is that of the brain to think. The notion of a soul, — as something elementary and immaterial, merely lodging in the brain and needing nothing at all for the performance of its essential function, which consists in always and unweariedly thinking — has undoubtedly driven many people to foolish practices, leading to a deadening of the intellectual powers; Frederick the Great, even, once tried to form the habit of doing without sleep altogether. It would be well if professors of philosophy refrained from giving currency to a notion which is attended by practical results of a pernicious character; but then this is just what professorial philosophy does, in its old-womanish endeavor to keep on good terms with the catechism. A man should accustom himself to view his intellectual capacities in no other light than that of physiological functions, and to manage them accordingly — nursing or exercising them as the case may be; remembering that every kind of physical suffering, malady or disorder, in whatever part of the body it occurs, has its effect upon the mind. The best advice that I know on this subject is given by Cabanis in his Rapports du physique et du moral de 'homme.
[Footnote 1: Translator's Note. The work to which Schopenhauer here refers is a series of essays by Cabanis, a French philosopher (1757-1808), treating of mental and moral phenomena on a physiological basis. In his later days, Cabanis completely abandoned his materialistic standpoint.]
Through neglect of this rule, many men of genius and great scholars have become weak-minded and childish, or even gone quite mad, as they grew old. To take no other instances, there can be no doubt that the celebrated English poets of the early part of this century, Scott, Wordsworth, Southey, became intellectually dull and incapable towards the end of their days, nay, soon after passing their sixtieth year; and that their imbecility can be traced to the fact that, at that period of life, they were all led on by the promise of high pay, to treat literature as a trade and to write for money. This seduced them into an unnatural abuse of their intellectual powers; and a man who puts his Pegasus into harness, and urges on his Muse with the whip, will have to pay a penalty similar to that which is exacted by the abuse of other kinds of power.
And even in the case of Kant, I suspect that the second childhood of his last four years was due to overwork in later life, and after he had succeeded in becoming a famous man."
It is useful to compare Schopenhauer’s observations of his era to today’s era, where it is not uncommon to find popular authors fall into the writing of childish nonsense. As The Prodigy was a sensationalized work of myths and half-truths, so did The God Delusion reach the best seller market in spite of the book not being scholarly nor being so much as sensible in its numerous ‘old-man’ rants. The two books were written for profit, not written for the exchanging of accurate information, and the two books became the primary sources of many destructive myths that are easily verified as inventions of the authors’. Similarly, Tolstoy’s A Confession was also an old-man’s rambling that was not based on an education of the topic, not based on research of the topic, nor even based on a sensible reasoning, but rather the book was based upon one man’s selfish desire to convince himself that his less than valuable life might have meaning.
"In truly abstract science, namely in genuine philosophy — not in that which Schopenhauer calls "professorial philosophy" which serves only to classify all existing phenomena in new philosophic categories and to call them by new names — where the philosopher does not lose sight of the essential question, the reply is always one and the same — the reply given by Socrates, Schopenhauer, Solomon, and buddha.
"We approach truth only inasmuch as we depart from life", said Socrates when preparing for death. "For what do we, who love truth, strive after in life? To free ourselves from the body, and from all the evil that is caused by the life of the body! If so, then how can we fail to be glad when death comes to us?
"The wise man seeks death all his life and therefore death is not terrible to him."
And Schopenhauer says: "Having recognized the inmost essence of the world as will, and all its phenomena — from the unconscious working of the obscure forces of Nature up to the completely conscious action of man — as only the objectivity of that will, we shall in no way avoid the conclusion that together with the voluntary renunciation and self-destruction of the will all those phenomena also disappear, that constant striving and effort without aim or rest on all the stages of objectivity in which and through which the world exists; the diversity of successive forms will disappear, and together with the form all the manifestations of will, with its most universal forms, space and time, and finally its most fundamental form — subject and object. Without will there is no concept and no world. Before us, certainly, nothing remains. But what resists this transition into annihilation, our nature, is only that same wish to live — Wille zum Leben — which forms ourselves as well as our world. That we are so afraid of annihilation or, what is the same thing, that we so wish to live, merely means that we are ourselves nothing else but this desire to live, and know nothing but it. And so what remains after the complete annihilation of the will, for us who are so full of the will, is, of course, nothing; but on the other hand, for those in whom the will has turned and renounced itself, this so real world of ours with all its suns and milky way is nothing."
"Vanity of vanities", says Solomon — "vanity of vanities — all is vanity.""
…And Sakya Muni could find no consolation in life, and decided that life is the greatest of evils; and he devoted all the strength of his soul to free himself from it, and to free others; and to do this so that, even after death, life shall not be renewed any more but be completely destroyed at its very roots. So speaks all the wisdom of India.
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 live 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.
And what these strong minds said has been said and thought and felt by millions upon millions of people like them. And I have thought it and felt it."
Perhaps it is unavoidable that men, whose logic is founded upon a belief that their shallow knowledge of the universe is all the knowledge possible to be known, will believe that the universe began from nothing, that too their lives began from nothing, and that their lives and the universe will again return to nothing. Indeed, a man who believes himself to possess the whole of all possible knowledge, believing that within his mind he holds the understanding of all possible things sensorially perceivable and unperceivable, to such a man might his logic conclude that his life is as empty and as meaningless as is his knowledge.
Within such a belief, it is understandable that the men might view their lives as meaningless and vain, but what of the men whose logic is formed upon the perception that there exists more in Reality than a three dimensional universe? As mistaken as it is that most humans believe that solid matter exists, it is also an error of logic that many humans believe that the universe came into existence from nothing, and that the universe is capable of existing under no additional laws of Nature other than what man has thus far recognized in his sciences. But for now it is sufficient to observe the results of man’s pubertal science, that of how a mind void of knowledge can lead itself into despair and a yearning for death.
"I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out of the terrible position in which we are all placed.
The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing, not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity.
…The second way out is epicureanism. It consists, while knowing the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the advantages one has…
…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.
…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?
…So people of my class evade the terrible contradiction in four ways. Strain my attention as I would, I saw no way except those four. One way was not to understand that life is senseless, vanity, and an evil, and that it is better not to live. I could not help knowing this, and when I once knew it could not shut my eyes to it. The second way was to use life such as it is without thinking of the future."
Tolstoy considered himself an intellectual, as an aristocrat of noble blood worthy of being the master of other men, and as an equal to those like Socrates and other well-known philosophers. Not too dissimilar to the beliefs of many today who believe that birth or English university degree somehow entitles the individual to be cruel and to rule over their fellow man, Tolstoy and his associates believed of themselves to be of a superior kind of human.
But observe how it is that man, regardless of social status, is no superior of intellect than that of the lowest intellects when the topic of life is raised. Only the man whose knowledge of Reality is shallow, can arrive at the shallow conclusions as did Tolstoy and his kind.
"It was like this: I, my reason, have acknowledged that life is senseless. If there is nothing higher than reason (and there is not: nothing can prove that there is), then reason is the creator of life for me. If reason did not exist there would be for me no life. How can reason deny life when it is the creator of life? Or to put it the other way: were there no life, my reason would not exist; therefore reason is life's son. Life is all. Reason is its fruit yet reason rejects life itself! I felt that there was something wrong here."
Tolstoy created his own agonies by attempting to rationalize logical conclusions without first possessing logical knowledge.
"My knowledge, confirmed by the wisdom of the sages, has shown me that everything on earth — organic and inorganic — is all most cleverly arranged — only my own position is stupid. and those fools — the enormous masses of people — know nothing about how everything organic and inorganic in the world is arranged; but they live, and it seems to them that their life is very wisely arranged! ...
And it struck me: "But what if there is something I do not yet know?"
Only a man whose mind has no useful knowledge can believe that there cannot exist things that he does not yet know.
"Still less could I consider them as irrationally dragging on a meaningless existence, for every act of their life, as well as death itself, is explained by them. To kill themselves they consider the greatest evil. It appeared that all mankind had a knowledge, unacknowledged and despised by me, of the meaning of life. It appeared that reasonable knowledge does not give the meaning of life, but excludes life: while the meaning attributed to life by milliards of people, by all humanity, rests on some despised pseudo-knowledge.
Rational knowledge presented by the learned and wise, denies the meaning of life, but the enormous masses of men, the whole of mankind receive that meaning in irrational knowledge. And that irrational knowledge is faith, that very thing which I could not but reject. It is God, One in Three; the creation in six days; the devils and angels, and all the rest that I cannot accept as long as I retain my reason."
It was a false statement for Tolstoy to have stated "rational knowledge presented by the learned and wise, denies the meaning of life." Perhaps to Tolstoy the knowledge appeared rational, but one man’s claim of truth in a belief does not make the belief true. Any man who proclaims that life is evil, such a man is not rational, nor is he learned or wise.
As is common among man, Tolstoy could only see two choices, that of believing in the atheist view of the universe having come into existence from nothing and without a cause, or for Tolstoy to choose the second choice of believing that the universe could have only arrived into existence from nothing by the cause of a religion’s interpretation of doctrines and dogmas. Without first possessing verifiable evidence and knowledge to support or oppose either view, Tolstoy leaped from one unsubstantiated system of beliefs to another, resulting in his having merely changed addresses of residence, but with his still not having approached closer to what might be true or useful knowledge.
"I asked: "What is the meaning of my life, beyond time, cause, and space?" And I replied to quite another question: "What is the meaning of my life within time, cause, and space?" With the result that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: "None.""
Any logic that is based upon an incomplete knowledge, cannot arrive at a full and correct answer. As is common among man, when Tolstoy faced a problem, he did not then enter into an investigation of the problem itself so as to discover new knowledge, but rather he relied on the same unknowing that he held the moment before, and he then attempted to formulate sensible conclusions from the nonsensible knowledge. Regardless of a man’s intellectual acumen, never can he deduce a useful answer from unuseful information, and never can a useful answer to the meaning of life be found within the mere imagination of an unlearned man’s mind.
"And really, strictly scientific knowledge — that knowledge which begins, as Descartes's did, with complete doubt about everything — rejects all knowledge admitted on faith and builds everything afresh on the laws of reason and experience, and cannot give any other reply to the question of life than that which I obtained: an indefinite reply."
I suspect that most of the readers of my articles and books have believed that I arrived at my views through my having studied the writings of other men, and that my thoughts are the products of having memorized other men’s words, but such is not the case, for first I found the answers that I sought, and only then afterwards did I read other men’s words to discover how they may have interpreted similar questions. It is guaranteed that all men will always at all times fail to find an answer to a tough question, if the men only look for the answer in another man’s words.
"But on examining the matter I understood that the reply is not positive, it was only my feeling that so expressed it. Strictly expressed, as it is by the Brahmins and by Solomon and Schopenhauer, the reply is merely indefinite, or an identity: o equals o, life is nothing. So that philosophic knowledge denies nothing, but only replies that the question cannot be solved by it — that for it the solution remains indefinite.
Having understood this, I understood that it was not possible to seek in rational knowledge for a reply to my question, and that the reply given by rational knowledge is a mere indication that a reply can only be obtained by a different statement of the question and only when the relation of the finite to the infinite is included in the question. And I understood that, however irrational and distorted might be the replies given by faith, they have this advantage, that they introduce into every answer a relation between the finite and the infinite, without which there can be no solution.
In whatever way I stated the question, that relation appeared in the answer. How am I to live? — According to the law of God. What real result will come of my life? — Eternal torment or eternal bliss. What meaning has life that death does not destroy? — Union with the eternal God: heaven.
So that besides rational knowledge, which had seemed to me the only knowledge, I was inevitably brought to acknowledge that all live humanity has another irrational knowledge — faith which makes it possible to live. Faith still remained to me as irrational as it was before, but I could not but admit that it alone gives mankind a reply to the questions of life, and that consequently it makes life possible."
But here his faith is still based upon a reasoning without useful knowledge, and not upon the physical and emotional sensation of sensorially feeling a duration of personal existence that extends beyond the present location. Without entering into a detailed description of the physiological and psychological structuring of faith, a useful analogy is that of an individual experiencing what is termed a ‘gut feeling’ of an approaching future event. Within the gut feeling there can be a perception of an event, whether good or bad, plus a sense of the duration of time that exists between the now and the time of the event. One type of faith is built upon the sensation of perceiving the individual’s consciousness as existing at a future time and location that is not physically attainable in the present body, and thus, by reasoning of the knowledge, it is rationalized that the individual’s consciousness will not end with the death of the body, and therefore the person has faith that his consciousness will survive the body, and therefore the survival of the consciousness gives purpose to life. The types and degrees of the sense of faith may range from zero to a great intensity, from that of mere wishful belief to that of a knowing that is stronger than the knowing of the present life, and no one word named "faith" can adequately describe all possible variations. The type of faith that Tolstoy wrote of appears to perhaps have been one of self-suggestion, of a manner of self-hypnosis that self-convinces the individual into believing that a purpose in life exists.
It is one thing to imagine in one’s mind that a computer monitor exists in front of the person’s face, but it is quite a different thing to reach out one’s hand, and while consciously feeling the lengthening of the arm, touch and perceive the existence of a computer monitor. Likewise, it is one thing for an individual to imagine and convince himself that his soul will live into eternity, but it is quite a different thing for the person to sensorially feel the presence of his consciousness being present at a distance and at a duration of time longer than the current life.
An unanswerable question that will always be asked of this topic: might it be possible, that the individuals who report the sensation of a presence of a higher intelligence are doing so because they are capable of consciously perceiving the sensation, and that individuals who sense nothing do so because they possess no capacity for the perception, or perhaps, because they, as they claim within an atheist belief, will not exist in the future? Faith, as all other things, has infinite degrees of intensity, with Tolstoy’s faith being of the lower form, a type of faith that a man who rejects a religion might still accept for himself, that is, the psychological behavior of faith is perceived by the individual as being valuable for his own personal gain.
"What, then, is this faith? And I understood that faith is not merely "the evidence of things not seen", etc., and is not a revelation (that defines only one of the indications of faith, is not the relation of man to God (one has first to define faith and then God, and not define faith through God); it is not only agreement with what has been told one (as faith is most usually supposed to be), 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."
The elegance of Tolstoy’s sophism was in how he was able to continue within his denial of all things related to religion, but for him to then claim that his unknowing of religion somehow gave him a knowing of religion. A similar type of sophism is often found today by individuals who claim for themselves the title of skeptics, who claim that any man’s sense of faith cannot be a valid faith if the man does not have a conscious reason for the faith, but the obvious fault within the skeptic’s claim is that since the majority of humans sensorially perceive and think subconsciously, then it is to be expected that few men would be capable of consciously explaining why the men felt a sense of faith. As of the last time I asked, which was only about two years ago, not yet does academia hold an explanation for the sensation of beauty, nor of love or any other emotion, and so it is reasonable that if science — the god of skepticism — has not been capable of consciously explaining the most simple of emotions and sensations, then neither should the skeptic demand that the sensation of faith be consciously explained.
[Update August 02, 2009 - this paragraph only] It may be useful here to better clarify one of the many differences in the many different types of faith. An individual attempting to rationalize the usefulness or wastefulness of faith should first possess useful knowledge of what faith is. Tolstoy attempted to rationalize faith without his first possessing knowledge of how faith exists. The skeptic that denies the act and usefulness of faith on the grounds that the faith has not yet been explained in words to the skeptic, the skeptic is not searching for answers nor for understanding, but rather the skeptic is merely using the normal inability of humans to describe a sensation as an excuse for the skeptic to falsely claim that faith is wrong and/or of no value. Tolstoy attempted to understand the topic without first having knowledge of the topic, while skeptics attempt to dismiss the topic because the topic has not yet been explained at a low enough level that even the skeptic might grasp. If an individual chooses to have faith in a thing, then fine, have faith in the thing, but upon the moment that the individual begins the attempt to explain the nature of faith, or the individual attempts to reason the good or bad in a faith, then the individual commits an absurdity if the individual does not yet possess a useful knowledge of what faith is.
Tolstoy’s failure to understand what faith is, was not due to his lack of intelligence, but rather due to his lack of using what intelligence he possessed. Tolstoy chose violence and hate, he did not choose study and research, and it was his choice and his alone, and as all specific choices result in specific reactions, the reactions of Tolstoy’s choices resulted in his inability to sense what a peaceful man might sense. As no man can think clearly when under the influence of hate, similarly do all emotions influence the mind, and as all emotions combine to create the specific capabilities of each man’s mind, so will the choices of violence and hate create a mind that will not hear the voices of peace and faith.
"Faith is the strength of life. If a man lives he believes in something. If he did not believe that one must live for something, he would not live. If he does not see and recognize the illusory nature of the finite, he believes in the finite; if he understands the illusory nature of the finite, he must believe in the infinite. Without faith he cannot live."
Again Tolstoy reasoned upon what knowledge he possessed, which was an incomplete knowledge that was based upon a lack of experience. Since man most commonly perceives and thinks subconsciously, then perhaps Tolstoy had no option available to him but to arrive at conclusions subconsciously, but the product of one man’s lack of conscious reasoning does not make for dogma nor for science, and thus, Tolstoy’s statements were mere ramblings of an old man who knew nothing useful of the topic.
"What am I? — A part of the infinite. In those few words lies the whole problem.
Is it possible that humanity has only put that question to itself since yesterday? And can no one before me have set himself that question — a question so simple, and one that springs to the tongue of every wise child?"
But here is an example of the differences between the types A and B intellects, in that the type B have since before birth known with full recognition that there exists an infinity — and within the infinite there exists the finite — but never for the type B is there a question of whether consciousness exists beyond the physical body, for never has the type B intellect believed that consciousness existed within the physical body. The type A intellect wrestles with the question of infinity because the type A intellect has no means of knowing of what infinity might be. The type A mind begins its reasoning with a logic structured on the belief that the finite is real, and the type A mind must then imagine what an infinite might be.
"Secondly, I understood that all one's reasonings turned in a vicious circle like a wheel out of gear with its pinion. However much and however well we may reason we cannot obtain a reply to the question; and o will always equal o, and therefore our path is probably erroneous."
Any logic structured without all the pieces of knowledge, will, of necessity, be forced to rely on a circular reasoning. Of the more important items to give emphasis to here is how Tolstoy well illustrated the common mind’s tendency to be incapable of sequenced logic. When approached with an unknown, the rational man will stop his speculations, choosing instead to investigate the topic with the aim of finding useful knowledge to base further logic upon. As with the topic of faith, the rational mind ceases to speculate as Tolstoy did, and the rational man will enter into a firsthand investigation of learning what the various types of faith might be sensed as. The firsthand investigation may require years or decades to be completed, but there is no other means for a man to learn of faith other than for the man to sense faith himself. Tolstoy, as did the majority of all western philosophers, and as do most humans in all eras, simply leaped into believing that his imagination could produce as accurate of a knowledge as could firsthand experience. It is always and all times an act of intellectual pusillanimity for any man to claim to know of a topic that the man has never himself experienced firsthand.
"In contrast to the fact that a tranquil death, a death without horror and despair, is a very rare exception in our circle, a troubled, rebellious, and unhappy death is the rarest exception among the people."
I am amused with the memory of a high IQer who at an adult age first contemplated his future death, of which he remarked of how the thought deeply unsettled him as with a panic attack. How odd it is to me that some individuals can go through life without ever contemplating their future, as if the people have no mental concept of what future results will be caused by the actions of today. If an individual has not thought into the future and rationalized what surely must occur, then by what reasoning is anyone expected to believe that the individual has thought into the future on any topic? It is the near-sightedness of the human mind that allows circular definitions to exist: the conscious mind simply turns off and forgets each previous thought, with each new thought being interpreted as singular and separate from the previous thought.
The individual who is aware of the nature of his existence, will never fear death.
"And of such people, understanding the meaning of life and able to live and to die, I saw not two or three, or tens, but hundreds, thousands, and millions. and they all — endlessly different in their manners, minds, education, and position, as they were — all alike, in complete contrast to my ignorance, knew the meaning of life and death, laboured quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good."
The mind that has a future goal, it can endure many difficulties, and if the goal is accomplishable, so can any quantity of suffering be endured to accomplish the goal. The ability to hold a goal and to work towards the goal regardless of difficulty, marks the useful mind, whereas the man who sets no goal and who fails at even the easiest of tasks when confronted with a minor hardship, his mind is weak, useless, and not worthy. As Tolstoy’s words gave evidence, his mind was of the type that shunned the necessary hardship of acquiring firsthand experience.
Within the numerous different manners of training the thought processing, there exists the academic method, one that memorizes words and data, and then, not applying critical thinking to what was memorized, the individual believes himself smart and educated when he recites what was memorized. As no man who trains his body to lift the heaviest of weights can become the fastest of runners, likewise does the exercise of the mind in one direction prevent the mind from thinking in another direction. Tolstoy had trained his mind in one direction, and so it was to be expected that he would not have been capable of thinking in the different direction relating to faith.
"All our actions, discussions, science and art, presented itself to me in a new light. I understood that it is all merely self-indulgence, and the to find a meaning in it is impossible; while the life of the whole labouring people, the whole of mankind who produce life, appeared to me in its true significance. I understood that that is life itself, and that the meaning given to that life is true: and I accepted it."
But Tolstoy’s conclusions illustrate no understanding of the causes of his change of mind. Did Tolstoy simply find a subconscious excuse to find faith in faith, an excuse to believe his life had meaning, or did his conclusions arrive from valid reasoning? Perhaps Tolstoy accepted his belief that life is found within those individuals who produce life, but without evidence to support his conclusion, his statements become mere conjectures without just cause to believe that they might be valid.
"I say that that search for God was not reasoning, but a feeling, because that search proceeded not from the course of my thoughts — it was even directly contrary to them — but proceeded from the heart. It was a feeling of fear, orphanage, isolation in a strange land, and a hope of help from someone."
Feelings, as those described by Tolstoy, are subconsciously produced emotions, and without a person knowing the how and why the emotions were created, then there can be no knowing of the nature of Tolstoy’s heart. The man who has loved all of Creation since birth, his feelings of the heart will not be the same as the man’s who had committed violence. It is an error of logic for anyone to believe that one man’s feeling of the heart, for any reason, whether of repentance or for faith, can be the same sensation as experienced by another man.
"I remember that it was in early spring: I was alone in the wood listening to its sounds. I listened and thought ever of the same thing, as I had constantly done during those last three years. I was again seeking God."
Why was Tolstoy seeking God? The purpose for seeking will color the resulting sensation, and if Tolstoy’s seeking had been to find meaning in life, then his sensation of heart could not have been similar as that of a man’s who sought God for other reasons. Too, why did Tolstoy remain in thought, and not in action? It is a too common error for man to believe that thought alone is sufficient enough to change his heart and mind.
""The conception of God is not God," said I to myself. "The conception is what takes place within me. The conception of God is something I can evoke or can refrain from evoking in myself. That is not what I seek. I seek that without which there can be no life." And again all around me and within me began to die, and again I wished to kill myself."
Man continues believing that his manner of common thoughts, with his languages invented by himself, ought to be the measurement and nature of all things, including the nature of Nature itself. Believed or not, the Universe came into existence without man’s languages, and man came into existence without man-made languages, and never will man’s language ever describe the nature of Nature.
"When rising early for Church services I knew I was doing well, if only because I was sacrificing my bodily ease to humble my mental pride, for the sake of union with my ancestors and contemporaries, and for the sake of finding the meaning of life."
But his actions were not for the reason of properness, but rather for the selfishness of finding answers, the answers for a meaning of life. The man who strives to find satisfaction of knowledge, he will find what his mind invents, but the man whose purpose is to be proper for the sake of properness, he will become proper. A Confession did not give evidence that Tolstoy sought properness of heart, mind, or behavior, but rather his only driving purpose was to fulfill the selfish desire for a mental answer for a life that he found no value in.
"There is something else here, there must be some explanation. I thought there was, and sought that explanation and read all I could on the subject, and consulted all whom I could. And no one gave me any explanation, except the one which causes the Sumsky Hussars to consider the Sumsky Hussars the best regiment in the world, and the Yellow Uhlans to consider that the best regiment in the world is the Yellow Uhlans."
It is a common error, to believe that answers can be found in words, and Tolstoy chose to find his answers in words rather than to find answers in the act of being of a proper behavior. It continues to confound me, as it has since birth, that so many people believe that the act of thinking thoughts is all there is to do, and that there is no need to alter the behavior. Most human minds are chained to a thought process rooted in vocabulary (Sapir/Whorf hypothesis), but since human language is not the nature of Nature, then the changing of human language cannot change the nature of the person. There is required the firsthand participation in one’s own life, the type of participation that requires emotional and analytically conscious connectedness to all behaviors and thoughts, one that the Buddhist might proclaim to first need a silencing of the mind, one that strives for the correct action, and not one that simply pretends that reciting words from memory might be sufficient to have changed the man into one of honesty, piety, honor, and faith.
"But where did the truth and where did the falsehood come from? Both the falsehood and the truth were contained in the so-called holy tradition and in the Scriptures. Both the falsehood and the truth had been handed down by what is called the Church."
Psychological weighing of systems of belief: why does man continue insisting that his words are of more weight than the things that the words symbolize? Tolstoy’s mind was not that of an intellectual, as he wrongly claimed, but rather one of no greater acuity than that of the lowest of peasants he belittled. No human word is of value in Nature, no human word is truth or falsehood; words are words, and only as important as an individual subjectively gives to the words. The act of compassion has weight and reality, as do the acts of love and hate, but never will man’s words be suitable substitutes for the actions themselves. It is the ignorant man’s error to lay the blame of man’s imperfections upon the words of a religion’s, for never did the words hold power over a man’s behavior, and never will the words hold power.
"That there is truth in the teaching is to me indubitable, but it is also certain that there is falsehood in it, and I must find what is true and what is false, and must disentangle the one from the other. I am setting to work upon this task. What of falsehood I have found in the teaching and what I have found of truth, and to what conclusions I came, will form the following parts of this work, which if it be worth it and if anyone wants it, will probably some day be printed somewhere."
This is a part of what I did almost thirty years ago, that of striving to find what might be true in the many doctrines, but not through a judging of words, but through an understanding of having lived the doctrines that wrote the words. The firsthand participation required to discover the answers requires many years of enduring many hardships, and it is not a thing that a man is likely to achieve late in life. It is a beginner’s folly to believe that he might be capable of finding a sufficient enough quantity of answers within a short duration of time, and Tolstoy’s comments gave evidence of his inexperience in the topic.
"[Dream] The immensity below repels and frightens me; the immensity above attracts and strengthens me."
Emotional tone of the dream; higher is good, lower is bad, traveling downwards is the mental emotional toning that is similar to the emotional tone of bad. Within the religions that Tolstoy and his kind have denied, there exist numerous understandings of the psychological natures of emotions. Within Tolstoy’s dream, if true, of having one string that held him from falling into the abyss, the string would have become the fixed triangulation point for future awake-logic, and the fixed mental point of reference would then be his mind’s belief that he would not fall into the abyss, which psychologically would result in his then possessing a belief-based faith.
Tolstoy’s faith began as a self-willed and self-convinced belief, rationalized through a faulty self-serving logic. It appears that in the end, his faith became one based upon the belief that an emotional interpretation of a dream was a true interpretation, and it was within the self-experienced sensation of belief of not falling that his faith might have become a true type of faith. It is useful to point to the emotion that Tolstoy felt within the dream, and speak of how it is that certain types of emotions will create specific types of beliefs, some of which can be as strong or stronger than the desire for life itself. As mentioned previously, there are many different types and causes for faith, and one man’s creation of faith from an emotional dream will not be of the same manner of faith-creation as another man’s whose faith was created upon the conscious sensorial perceptions of Reality.
For the man who is of an honorable mind and heart, who chooses to participate in his own life through firsthand experience, rather than merely imagining words, there exist different types and levels of emotional experiences in the different religions, with some of the experiences being of an intensity not written of nor mentioned of in words. For some experiences, the word ecstasy does not so much as approach the describing of what emotions that the individual feels, and for a person to not know of the experiences, it is evidence that the person does not know of the religions, and since Tolstoy did not know of the experiences, then never was he qualified to have written about the religions.
Today there are growing numbers of individuals writing against religions, but none of the individuals have any useful education or experiences in the religions. As with The God Delusion, the books and articles give evidence that man much prefers to day-dream and pretend that his imaginary thoughts are real science, rather than the man exert the mental effort to learn of a religion or philosophy. The pseudo-intellectualism and pseudo-science of A Confession was but one link in a chain that began thousands of years before, and continues unbroken today with other books like The God Delusion.
For myself, the primary interest in Tolstoy’s works has been to learn of the history of how man has approached his philosophical questions, and to discover that man generally does not venture far from what his predecessors wrote. From Socrates to Mill and James, little has changed, with each man merely reciting the previous man’s words, and the eons pass away without mankind having yet made a step forward. Observe the words of Tolstoy’s, that illustrate how men without firsthand experience are prone to invent a self-destructive belief that their life is as meaningless as is their knowledge. It is a wise and useful thing to use Tolstoy’s words as the example to not follow.
See also on this site: Leo Tolstoy's A Letter to a Hindu.