Confession | Leo Tolstoy | 8



All these doubts, which I am now in a position to express more or less dearly, I was then unable to express:

I simply felt that no matter how logically inescapable my conclusions about the vanity of life might have been, there was something wrong with them, even though they had been confirmed by the greatest of thinkers.

Whether it was my thinking or my formulation of the question, I did not know. I only felt that as convinced as my reason might have been, this was not enough:

All of these arguments could not persuade me to follow my thinking to its logical end, that is, to kill myself.

I would not be speaking the truth if I were to say that it was through reason that I had arrived at this point without killing myself.  Reason was at work, but there was something else at work too, something I can only call a consciousness of life.

There was also a force at work that had led me to focus my attention on one thing instead of another; it was this force that brought me out of my despairing situation, and it took a direction that is completely foreign to reason.

This force led me to focus my attention on the fact that like hundreds of other people of my class I was not the whole of humanity, and that I still did not know what the life of humanity was.

As I looked about the narrow circle of my peers I saw only people who did not understand the problem, people who understood it but drowned it their intoxication with life, people who understood it and put an end to life, and people who understood it but out of weakness continued to live a life of despair. That was all I could see.

I thought that this narrow circle of learned, wealthy, and idle people to which I belonged comprised the sum of mankind and that the millions who had lived and continued to live outside of this circle were animals, not people.

How strange and utterly incredible it seems to me now that in my reasoning I could have overlooked the life of humanity all around me,

that I could have fallen into such a ridiculous state of error as to think that my life and the life of a Solomon or a Schopenhauer was the true, normal life,

while the lives of millions of others were not worthy of consideration; but however strange it may seem to me now, such was the case at that time.

Led astray by intellectual pride, I thought there could be no doubt that along with Solomon and Schopenhauer, I had posed the question so precisely, so truthfully, that there were no two ways about it; I thought there could be no doubt that all these millions were among those who had never penetrated the depths of the question.

As I searched for the meaning of my life it never once occurred to me to ask: "What sort of meaning do the millions in the world who have lived and who now live ascribe to their lives?"

For a long time I lived in this state of madness which, if not in word then in deed, is especially pronounced among the most liberal and most learned of men.

I do not know whether it was due to the strange sort of instinctive love I had for the working people that I was compelled to understand them and to see that they are not as stupid as we think; or whether it was my sincere conviction that I knew nothing better to do than to hang myself that led me to realize this:

if I wanted to live and to understand the meaning of life, I had to seek this meaning not among those who have lost it and want to destroy themselves

but among the millions of people, living and dead, who created life and took upon themselves the burden of their lives as well as our own.

So I looked around at the huge masses of simple people, living and dead, who were neither learned nor wealthy, and I saw something quite different:

I saw that all of these millions of people who have lived and still live did not fall into my category, with only a few rare exceptions.

I could not regard them as people who did not understand the question because they themselves put the question with unusual clarity and answered it.

Nor could I regard them as Epicureans, since their lives are marked more by deprivation and suffering than by pleasure.

And even less could I regard them as people who carried on a meaningless life in an irrational manner, since they could explain every act of their lives, even death itself.

And they looked upon killing oneself as the greatest of evils.

It turned out that all of humanity had some kind of knowledge of the meaning of life which I had overlooked and held in contempt.

It followed that rational knowledge does not give meaning to life, that it excludes life; the meaning that millions of people give to life is based on some kind of knowledge that is despised and considered false.

As presented by the learned and the wise, rational knowledge denies the meaning of life, but the huge masses of people acknowledge meaning through an irrational knowledge.

And this irrational knowledge is faith, the one thing that I could not accept:

This involves the God who is both one and three, the creation in six days, devils, angels and everything else that I could not accept without taking leave of my senses.

My position was terrible:

I knew that I could find nothing in the way of rational knowledge except a denial of life; and in faith I could find nothing except a denial of reason, and this was even more impossible than a denial of life.

According to rational knowledge, it followed that life is evil, and people know it:

They do not have to live, yet they have lived and they do live, just as I myself had lived, even though I had known for a long time that life is meaningless and evil.

According to faith, it followed that in order to understand the meaning of life I would have to turn away from reason, the very thing for which meaning was necessary.