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Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 16

XVI

I no longer had any doubts and was firmly convinced that the teachings of the faith with which I had associated myself were not all true.

At one time I would have said that all of it was a lie; but now it was impossible to say this:

There could be no doubt that all of the people had knowledge of the truth, for otherwise they would not be living.

Moreover, this knowledge of the truth was already accessible to me; already I was living by it and could feel that this was indeed the truth; but in these teachings there was also a lie. There was no doubt about it. And everything that had previously repelled me was now vividly before me.

Although I could see that among the people there was less tinged with the lie that repelled me than among the representatives of the Church, I could still see that even among the people the lie was mixed with the truth.

But where did the lie come from and where the truth?

Both the lie and the truth came from what was known as the Church. Both the lie and the truth were part of a tradition, part of a so-called sacred tradition, part of the Scriptures.

And, like it or not, I came to study and analyse the Scriptures and the tradition; I undertook an analysis that up till now I had feared to undertake. Thus I turned to a study of the very theology that at one time I had contemptuously rejected as unnecessary.

Then it had struck me as so much useless nonsense; then I had been surrounded by life's phenomena, which I thought to be clear and full of meaning.

Now I would have been glad to free myself of everything that did not foster a healthy mind, but I did not know how to escape. Rooted in this religious teaching, or at least directly connected to it, is the one meaning of life that has been revealed to me.

No matter how outrageous it might seem to me in my oId stubborn intellect, here lies the one hope of salvation:

It must be examined carefully and attentively in order to be understood, even if I do not understand it in the way I understand the position of science.

I do not and cannot seek such an understanding of it due to the peculiar nature of the knowledge of faith. I shall not seek an explanation of all things. I know that the explanation of all things, like the origin of all things, must remain hidden in infinity.

But I do want to understand in order that I might be brought to the inevitably incomprehensible:

I want all that is incomprehensible to be such not because the demands of the intellect are not sound (they are sound, and apart from them I understand nothing) but because I perceive the limits of the intellect.

I want to understand, so that any instance of the incomprehensible occurs as a necessity of reason and not as an obligation to believe.

I have no doubt that there is truth in the doctrine; but there can also be no doubt that it harbours a lie; and I must find the truth and the lie so I can tell them apart.

This is what I set out to do. What I found that was a lie, what I found that was the truth, and the conclusions I came to are presented in the subsequent portion of this work, which, if someone should find it useful, will probably be published someday, somewhere.


I wrote the above three years ago.

The other day, as I was looking over this printed portion and returning to the thoughts and feelings that went through me when I was experiencing all this, I had a dream:

This dream expressed for me in a condensed form everything I lived through and wrote about; therefore I think that for those who have understood me, a description of the dream will refresh, clarify, and gather into one piece what has been discussed at length in these pages.

Here is the dream:

I see that I am lying in bed. Feeling neither good nor bad, I am lying on my back.

But I begin to wonder whether it is a good thing for me to be lying there; and it seems to me that there is something wrong with my legs; whether they are too short or uneven, I do not know, but there is something awkward about them.

As I start to move my legs, I begin to wonder how and on what I am lying, something that up till now had not entered my mind.

Looking about my bed, I see that I am lying on some cords woven together and attached to the sides of the bed. My heels are resting on one of the cords and my lower legs on another in an uncomfortable way.

Somehow I know that these cords can be shifted. Moving one leg, I push away the furthest cord. It seems to me that it will be more comfortable that way.

But I have pushed it too far away; I try to catch it, but this movement causes another cord to slip out from under my legs, leaving them hanging down.

I rearrange my whole body, quite certain I will be settled now; but this movement causes still other cords to shift and slip out from under me, and I see that the whole situation is getting worse:

the whole lower part of my body is sinking and hanging down, and my feet are not touching the ground. I am supported only along the upper part of my back, and for some reason I begin to feel not only uncomfortable but terrified.

Only now do I ask myself what had not yet occurred to me: where am I and what am I lying on? I begin to look around, and the first place I look is down toward where my body is dangling, in the direction where I feel I must soon fall.

I look below, and I cannot believe my eyes: I am resting on a height such as I could never have imagined, a height altogether unlike that of the highest tower or mountain.

I cannot even tell whether I can see anything down below in the bottomless depths of the abyss over which I am hanging and into which I am drawn:

My heart stops, and I am overcome with horror. It is horrible to look down there. I feel that if I look down, I will immediately slip from the last cord and perish.

I do not look, yet not looking is worse, for now I am thinking about what will happen to me as soon as the last cord breaks.

I feel that I am losing the last ounce of my strength from sheer terror and that my back is slowly sinking lower and lower. Another instant and I shall break away.

And then a thought occurs to me: this cannot be real. It is just a dream. I will wake up. I try to wake up, but I cannot. "What am I to do, what am I to do?" I ask myself, looking up.

Above me there is also an abyss. I gaze into this abyss of sky and try to forget about the one below, and I actually do forget.

The infinity below repels and horrifies me; the infinity above attracts me and gives me strength. Thus I am hanging over the abyss suspended by the last of the cords that have not yet slipped out from under me. I know I am hanging there, but I am only looking upward, and my terror passes.

As it happens in a dream, a voice is saying, "Mark this, this is it!" I gaze deeper and deeper into the infinity above me, and I seem to grow calm.

I recall everything that has happened, and I remember how it all came about: how I moved my legs, how I was dangling there, the horror that came over me, and how I was saved from the horror by looking up.

And I ask myself, "Well, am I still hanging here?"

And as soon as I glance around, I feel with my whole body a support that is holding me up. I can see that I am no longer dangling or falling but am firmly supported.

I ask myself how I am being supported; I touch myself, look around, and see that there is a single cord underneath the centre of my body, that when I look up I am lying on it firmly balanced, and that it alone has supported me all along.

As it happens in a dream, the mechanism by which I am supported seems quite natural, understandable, and beyond doubt, in spite of the fact that when I am awake the mechanism is completely incomprehensible.

In my sleep I am even astonished that I had not understood this before:

It seems that there is a pillar beside me and that there is no doubt of the solidity of the pillar, even though it has nothing to stand on.

The cord is somehow very cleverly yet very simply attached to the pillar, leading out from it, and if you place the middle of your body on the cord and look up, there cannot even be a question of falling.

All this was clear to me, and I was glad and at peace.

Then it is as if someone is saying to me, "See that you remember." And I awoke.