A Letter to a Hindu 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 Letter to a Hindu
Within my research, the search for answers led into the question of what the public might interpret as superior of intellect, which led to the investigation of academic prodigies, which led into the life of William Sidis, that led to the life of Norbert Wiener, that led to Norbert Wiener's father, Leo Wiener, that led to Leo Wiener's translation of Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You, which has now led to Leo Tolstoy's A Letter to a Hindu. Within the writings of the numerous individuals, there existed an unbroken circular chain of philosophies and psychologies, with the effects and interpretations of the philosophies also encompassing the life of the child prodigy John Mill, whose philosophy influenced William James the philosopher and psychologist, with James in turn influencing the philosophy and psychology of Boris Sidis the psychologist, with Boris Sidis in turn influencing the prodigious talents of his son, William Sidis. Of the circles of philosophical and psychological influences, none were ever clarified of definition or intent by the men who taught the ideals, and thus, any error that may have existed in the first man's philosophy would naturally be perpetuated through all men who memorize and follow the first man's teachings.
Tolstoy's comments within A Letter to a Hindu are quite excellent examples of a logics structured upon a rationalizing of how religious and scientific teachings point to a favored state of human life, but still there was no explaining of the psychological reasons why the teachings might produce favorable states of man. It is not productive to the human mind to accept unknowns to be guiding principles, for it is well-known that all things are created within a system of threes, that no thing can exist without it being composed of no fewer than three components, and so, therefore, it remains an unproductive behavior of man to continue believing that a singular external commandment can be the thing that creates inward attributes. Man invented man's laws and commandments, and the things created cannot become the things that create the creator, nor can the created things define the creator, and so it is with the knowledge that that which is created cannot measure that which created it, it is known from the very beginning that there exists inward attributes within man that must be recognized and understood prior to any man accepting any external law, commandment, or teaching as valid.
"O ye, who see perplexities over your heads, beneath your feet, and to the right and left of you; you will be an eternal enigma unto yourselves until ye become humble and joyful as children. Then will ye find Me, and having found Me in yourselves, you will rule over worlds, and looking out from the great world within to the little world without, you will bless everything that is, and find all is well with time and with you." Krishna.
By releasing the belief-based standards that restrict and regulate one's thoughts and conclusions, the mind is again free to enjoy life as life occurs; as life exists. The result of the profitable teachings, of those like of Jesus' and the Vedas', is the self-creation of a mind and soul that can think clearly and quickly, not overly different than what many intellectual prodigies enjoy, and it is the lessening of belief-based standards that enables the possibility for prodigious talents to exist. No man, regardless of intellectual power, can think clearly or quickly if his mind is burdened with negative emotions and endless regulations, for regardless of how quickly his mind might manipulate information, if the information itself is rutted within an endless cycle of checks and balances, that is, if each thought must be judged with a heavy judgment of unknown variables, then no thought can happily lead to a conclusion based solely on the logic of the information alone. It remains an absurdity within man for him to regulate his thoughts and conclusions based upon the judgment of memorized rules, for his conclusions can never then be based on having derived the rules through his own logic, and where logical conclusions cease to exist, so does intellectual speed and quality. The man who follows the teachings of another man, he will not profit from the teachings, but rather he will only be made worse, but the man who investigates the teachings and learns through self-observation how the acts of the teachings produce specific results within his own self, he then is able to recognize how the specific behaviors and thoughts create specific natures within himself, and the man is then with the self-experienced knowledge of why the teachings are useful, and the man can then use his own rationalized conclusions to be his own inward truth without his having to rely on the slow judgments of whether his thoughts might be in agreement with external teachings. A fast method of achieving slowness of mind is to follow the teachings of another man, while the method of achieving quickness of mind is to only follow what truths that an individual has discovered and proven within himself. The teachers, especially as evidenced in the words of Jesus', appear to have known as much, but most humans still hold to a belief that all knowledge must be taught and that all behaviors must be judged by how well the behaviors follow what other men dictate. It is the ignorance of man that teaches man to follow man, and that keeps man in ignorance. Truth does set a man free; but only one's own truth, and not the truth of another man's.
A publisher's blurb stated that Gandhi derived his concepts of non-resistance from Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You. In years past I had also read that Gandhi had derived his ideas of non-resistance from Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, and among my first amused thoughts were of Thoreau's pond, and his ‘back to Nature, but never more than an hour's walk from a restaurant.' Regardless of the great admiration and respect that is owed Gandhi, it remains an uncomfortable thought that any man's actions might have arrived through the following of another man's thoughts. A man should create his own thoughts, derived from his own first-hand observations, and analyzed through his own powers of reasoning, and never should any man allow another man's thoughts to become one's own. If a thing is not reasoned by one's self, then the thing's action cannot be of the man's own choice, nor of his nature, but rather the thing becomes but a mere belief, of no greater value than any other unsubstantiated belief, and the man's intellectual acuity will suffer greatly for his mind attempting to use unknowns to guide his reasoning. Yes, it is true that non-resistance is a proper behavior, but if the reasons why non-resistance are unknown, then the act of non-resistance becomes an empty act that cannot produce useful results.
"All that exists is One. People only call this One by different names. The Vedas.
God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. 1 John iv. 16.
God is one whole; we are the parts. Exposition of the Teaching of the Vedas by Vivekananda."
"…mankind, it has always lived in special groups of families, tribes, and nations in which the majority, in the conviction that it must be so, submissively and willingly bowed to the rule of one or more persons — that is to a very small minority. …But though this external form of life existed for centuries and still exists, very early — thousands of years before our time — amid this life based on coercion, one and the same thought constantly emerged among different nations, namely, that in every individual a spiritual element is manifested that gives life to all that exists, and that this spiritual element strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love. This thought appeared in most various forms at different times and places, with varying completeness and clarity. It found expression in Brahmanism, Judaism, Mazdaism (the teachings of Zoroaster), in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and in the writings of the Greek and Roman sages, as well as in Christianity and Mohammedanism. The mere fact that this thought has sprung up among different nations and at different times indicates that it is inherent in human nature and contains the truth. But this truth was made known to people who considered that a community could only be kept together if some of them restrained others, and so it appeared quite irreconcilable with the existing order of society. Moreover it was at first expressed only fragmentarily, and so obscurely that though people admitted its theoretic truth they could not entirely accept it as guidance for their conduct. Then, too, the dissemination of the truth in a society based on coercion was always hindered in one and the same manner, namely, those in power, feeling that the recognition of this truth would undermine their position, consciously or sometimes unconsciously perverted it by explanations and additions quite foreign to it, and also opposed it by open violence. Thus the truth — that his life should be directed by the spiritual element which is its basis, which manifests itself as love, and which is so natural to man — this truth, in order to force a way to man's consciousness, had to struggle not merely against the obscurity with which it was expressed and the intentional and unintentional distortions surrounding it, but also against deliberate violence, which by means of persecutions and punishments sought to compel men to accept religious laws authorized by the rulers and conflicting with the truth. Such a hindrance and misrepresentation of the truth — which had not yet achieved complete clarity — occurred everywhere: in Confucianism and Taoism, in Buddhism and in Christianity, in Mohammedanism and in your Brahmanism". (emphasis mine)
Love is a thing that exists naturally, not born of any religion nor of any man's invention, and thus a thing not born of a religion cannot be a product of a religion, yet in modern times it is increasingly more common to hear angry men denounce love and promote hate because the men hate religion, and since the men believe that love is somehow connected with religion, the men rationalize to themselves that all things connected to religion must be hated, including love.
I am fully aware that the public has no desire whatsoever to learn of what things that combine to create the things called love and beauty, and so I will not discuss the topic here, but rather I will only touch on the simple thing that love is a component of harmony, and that without love there cannot exist harmony, and without harmony there can never exist a creative society of man. For love to exist within a man, there must exist the components that create the love, and never can love come into existence through the physical act of a man following the commandments of another man.
"The recognition that love represents the highest morality was nowhere denied or contradicted, but this truth was so interwoven everywhere with all kinds of falsehoods which distorted it, that finally nothing of it remained but words."
Upon the moment that a man chooses words over first-hand experience, the man becomes as a machine, one that can only recite memorized information, and never can the man be capable of intellectually discerning what the words might mean. A valid teaching of love is one whose aim is to direct the listener into choosing for themselves the experience of love, and no valid teaching will ever claim that an outward behavior can substitute for the inward nature. A man might feign love and give the appearance of love, but if his heart does not love, then love does not exist, nor harmony. No man can feel love unless he loves, and no commandment can force a man to love. To achieve the "highest morality", that of love, a man must choose for himself to love, and the man must create within himself the components necessary to create love.
"New justifications have now appeared in place of the antiquated, obsolete, religious ones. These new justifications are just as inadequate as the old ones, but as they are new their futility cannot immediately be recognized by the majority of men. Besides this, those who enjoy power propagate these new sophistries and support them so skillfully that they seem irrefutable even to many of those who suffer from the oppression these theories seek to justify. These new justifications are termed 'scientific'. But by the term 'scientific' is understood just what was formerly understood by the term 'religious': just as formerly everything called 'religious' was held to be unquestionable simply because it was called religious, so now all that is called 'scientific' is held to be unquestionable. In the present case the obsolete religious justification of violence which consisted in the recognition of the supernatural personality of the God-ordained ruler ('there is no power but of God') has been superseded by the 'scientific' justification which puts forward, first, the assertion that because the coercion of man by man has existed in all ages, it follows that such coercion must continue to exist. This assertion that people should continue to live as they have done throughout past ages rather than as their reason and conscience indicate, is what 'science' calls 'the historic law'. A further 'scientific' justification lies in the statement that as among plants and wild beasts there is a constant struggle for existence which always results in the survival of the fittest, a similar struggle should be carried on among human beings — beings, that is, who are gifted with intelligence and love; faculties lacking in the creatures subject to the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. Such is the second 'scientific' justification." (emphasis mine)
It is interesting to me to see that Tolstoy, one-hundred years ago, held a similar opinion as my own, that the thing called "science" is reverenced by the public with no less vigor than what the public gives to any religion. The man who observes for himself, and who forms conclusions based upon his own observations and reasonings, he is free from the following of commandments, whether the commandments be from religion or science.
"So matters went on, and still go on, in the Christian world. But we might have hope that in the immense Brahman, Buddhist, and Confucian worlds this new scientific superstition would not establish itself, and that the Chinese, Japanese, and Hindus, once their eyes were opened to the religious fraud justifying violence, would advance directly to a recognition of the law of love inherent in humanity, and which had been so forcibly enunciated by the great Eastern teachers. But what has happened is that the scientific superstition replacing the religious one has been accepted and secured a stronger and stronger hold in the East." (emphasis mine)
In the great zeal by the anti-religious there has been voiced the claim that science has become the sole source of truth, and as Tolstoy well described, the faith in science has become no less superstitious than what was previously held within religions. All men who follow commandments, those men remain within their religiosity, regardless of what name the tongue confesses faith in. The man who performs observations and experiments, he is a man who performs observations and experiments, he is not a member of science nor is he scientific, but rather he remains a man who performs observations and experiments. The moment that a man's actions are classified under a noun, whether Buddhism or science or any other, a religion is born.
"Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills, and in it you too have the only method of saving your people from enslavement. In very ancient times love was proclaimed with special strength and clearness among your people to be the religious basis of human life. Love, and forcible resistance to evil-doers, involve such a mutual contradiction as to destroy utterly the whole sense and meaning of the conception of love. And what follows? With a light heart and in the twentieth century you, an adherent of a religious people, deny their law, feeling convinced of your scientific enlightenment and your right to do so, and you repeat (do not take this amiss) the amazing stupidity indoctrinated in you by the advocates of the use of violence — the enemies of truth, the servants first of theology and then of science — your European teachers."
Twenty-first century research, specifically that of individuals in organized institutions who personally research the mechanisms of psychology and biology, are slowly beginning to recognize the advantages of positivity of thought and behavior, but the progress remains at a snail's pace, and not yet have the different fields of study (physics, psychology, philosophy, and biology) combined their efforts to recognize what should have been obvious from the beginning.
"O ye who sit in bondage and continually seek and pant for freedom, seek only for love. Love is peace in itself and peace which gives complete satisfaction. I am the key that opens the portal to the rarely discovered land where contentment alone is found." Krishna.
"What is now happening to the people of the East as of the West is like what happens to every individual when he passes from childhood to adolescence and from youth to manhood. He loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction, not having found a new standard suitable to his age, and so he invents all sorts of occupations, cares, distractions, and stupefactions to divert his attention from the misery and senselessness of his life. Such a condition may last a long time.
When an individual passes from one period of life to another a time comes when he cannot go on in senseless activity and excitement as before, but has to understand that although he has outgrown what before used to direct him, this does not mean that he must live without any reasonable guidance, but rather that he must formulate for himself an understanding of life corresponding to his age, and having elucidated it must be guided by it." (emphasis mine)
Yes, a self-derived understanding, one that is founded and structured upon an individual's own reasoning of his own life, and not a reasoning based upon what other men have told the individual to believe. As Einstein commented, it is an insanity for a man to continue repeating the same acts over and over while expecting different results, and likewise is it an insanity for man to believe that in his repeating the same acts of following external commandments will he be bettered inwardly.
"But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries. To save a sinking ship it is necessary to throw overboard the ballast, which though it may once have been needed would now cause the ship to sink. And so it is with the scientific superstition which hides the truth of their welfare from mankind. In order that men should embrace the truth — not in the vague way they did in childhood, nor in the one-sided and perverted way presented to them by their religious and scientific teachers, but embrace it as their highest law — the complete liberation of this truth from all and every superstition (both pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific) by which it is still obscured is essential: not a partial, timid attempt, reckoning with traditions sanctified by age and with the habits of the people — not such as was effected in the religious sphere by Guru-Nanak, the founder of the sect of the Sikhs, and in the Christian world by Luther, and by similar reformers in other religions — but a fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions. …if people only freed themselves from this terrible accumulation of futile exercises of our lower capacities of mind and memory called the 'Sciences', and from the innumerable divisions of all sorts of histories, anthropologies, homiletics, bacteriologics, jurisprudences, cosmographies, strategies — their name is legion — and freed themselves from all this harmful, stupifying ballast — the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory." (emphasis mine)
But it is acknowledged, and regrettably accepted as true, that man as a whole does not care to better his world, nor even himself, for man is not yet capable of recognizing the advantage of creative harmony. Man continues to believe that singular objects exist, that things can come into existence by themselves without being the creations of three or more components, and man continues to insist that the only acts worthwhile are those that satisfy his bodily cravings.
"Children, look at the flowers at your feet; do not trample upon them. Look at the love in your midst and do not repudiate it." Krishna.
"There is a higher reason which transcends all human minds. It is far and near. It permeates all the worlds and at the same time is infinitely higher than they.
A man who sees that all things are contained in the higher spirit cannot treat any being with contempt.
For him to whom all spiritual beings are equal to the highest there can be no room for deception or grief.
Those who are ignorant and are devoted to the religious rites only, are in a deep gloom, but those who are given up to fruitless meditations are in a still greater darkness." Upanishads, from Vedas.
Yes, in our time all these things must be cleared away in order that mankind may escape from self-inflicted calamities that have reached an extreme intensity. Whether an Indian seeks liberation from subjection to the English, or anyone else struggles with an oppressor either of his own nationality or of another — whether it be… in the Christian world by a number of similar interpreters and exponents of things that nobody needs; nor the innumerable scientific theories about matters not only unnecessary but for the most part harmful. (In the spiritual realm nothing is indifferent: what is not useful is harmful.)" (emphasis mine)
"What is not useful is harmful" is a good generalized concept of harmony and quality, that if a thing is not being useful to the whole of its environment, then the thing is harmful, not of harmony, and not of quality.
"What are wanted for the Indian as for the Englishman, the Frenchman, the German, and the Russian, are not Constitutions and Revolutions, nor all sorts of Conferences and Congresses, nor the many ingenious devices for submarine navigation and aerial navigation, nor powerful explosives, nor all sorts of conveniences to add to the enjoyment of the rich, ruling classes; nor new schools and universities with innumerable faculties of science, nor an augmentation of papers and books, nor gramophones and cinematographs, nor those childish and for the most part corrupt stupidities termed art — but one thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions — the truth that for our life one law is valid — the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind."
And here is where the philosophy of Tolstoy's blends into the happiness philosophy of John Mill's Utilitarianism. As with Utilitarianism not clarifying what happiness implies, nor attempting to define the components that combine to create the thing called happiness, so likewise did A Letter to a Hindu omit a clarification of the nature of love, and without the clarification there could be no demanding reason why the philosophy might be valid.
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience presented the belief that no man could find happiness and purpose in life unless the man agreed with the pseudo-pacifist beliefs of Thoreau's. Thoreau had not experienced, and thus did not know, the intense sensations of pride, honor, and purpose that can accompany military service, nor did Thoreau have an experience, and thus he had no understanding, of the numerous other manners of lifestyles a person might choose that produce as sharp of a sensation of worthiness as can be found in most any other lifestyle. For some men, who have experienced the rush of danger in war, regardless of whether the war was with man or beast, who have experienced first-hand the raising of sensorial acuity while the mind races with analyses of how to manipulate an otherwise lethal position into one of victory, whose memory will forever recall the great mental awakening, all such individuals are fully aware that Thoreau was wrong to classify soldiers into the category of mere unthinking and unfeeling machines under the bidding of politicians.
Real-world life, one that includes the penetrating sensations of pride, purpose, usefulness, and honor, are not owned by any ideology, nor can any one man's philosophy so easily dictate that a man can only find happiness within one lifestyle. While there is reason to conclude that mankind would be greatly bettered if all men were to love all without measure, there is no reason to expect all men to choose the choice to love. The design of man, one that is structured upon favored emotions, will forever produce men who are of as varying degrees of choices as there are varying degrees of emotions, and man should stop trying to force all men to only experience the emotion favored by the one man.
So, if Gandhi was influenced by the writings of men, those of Tolstoy, Raichandbhai, Ruskin, Thoreau, and unknown others that came under their own influence of John Mill's and others, then the questions arise, those of wondering if Gandhi's behavior of non-resistance was a following of other men's thoughts, or did Gandhi achieve a clarification of why non-resistance was the better choice; with none of the questions being answerable today.
Neither the happiness of Utilitarianism, nor the love of A Letter to a Hindu, nor the non-resistance of Gandhi have yet to create a peaceful life in any country. The only peace that will ever occur, is within your own self, and it has always remained the only accurate teaching.
"Children, look upwards with your beclouded eyes, and a world full of joy and love will disclose itself to you, a rational world made by My wisdom, the only real world. Then you will know what love has done with you, what love has bestowed upon you, what love demands from you." Krishna.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Lk 17:20-21
The text for Leo Tolstoy's A Letter to a Hindu was taken from the Project Gutenberg version, with an introduction by M. K. Gandhi.