Confession | Leo Tolstoy

Lev Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
(En) Leo Tolstoy
September 9, 1828
Yasnaya Polyana, Russian Empire
November 20, 1910 (aged 82)
Astapovo, Russian Empire
Resting place:
Yasnaya Polyana
Novelist, short story writer, essayist;
excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901
Pacifist, Christian Non-Resistence, Non-Violence, Christian Anarchist, Social Justice, Vegetarian.
Philosophical Esseys:
1. Confession
2. What I believe
3. The Kingdom of God Is Within You
4. What Is to Be Done?
5. Resurrection
6. A Letter to a Hindu etc.
Works About Him:
1. Leo Tolstoy: Biography
2. Leo Tolstoy:
Philosophic Views
a great influence on Mohandas Gandhi, Gandhi had correspondence with Lev Tolstoy in 1909, while stationed in South Africa;
A Letter to a Hindu:
this Essey was written as a response to Tarak Nath Das, a Bengali-Indian Freedom seeker, who was seeking support for Independence of India from British colonial power.

Tolstoy wrote that only through the principle of love could the Indian people free themselves from colonial British rule.

Tolstoy saw the law of love espoused in all the world's religions, and he argued that the individual, nonviolent application of the law of love in the form of protests, strikes, and other forms of peaceful resistance were the only alternative to violent revolution.

The letter was first published in the Indian newspaper Free Hindustan.

Leo Tolstoy (9 September 1828 – 20 November 1910) or as we also know him - Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy – was a famous Russian writer and novelist at first, a cult figure in Russia and also in the world;

But in his later years – he became also well known as spiritual and religious seeker, pacifist philosopher and educator;

his role and influence may be compared to such names in India as Rabindranath Tagore or Dayanand Saraswati or later Mahatma Gandhi

Confession is one of a few philosophical works of Leo Tolstoy – where he describes in great detail the inner human struggle – the struggle between the rational mind and science and God and Religion; what is truth and is truth and religion the same or not the same;

how it comes and why that God and religion becomes the inner necessary condition for a human to find a meaning to life and a reason to continue to live and be happy, instead of giving up and simply waiting for a death or concluding that life is meaningless and not even worth to be lived.

The work Confession of Leo Tolstoy consists of 16 chapters, the link to the following part you will find below the article.

1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16


I was baptized and educated in the Orthodox Christian faith. Even as a child and throughout my adolescence and youth I was schooled in the Orthodox beliefs. But when at the age of 18 I left my second year of studies at the university, I had lost all belief in what I had been taught.

Judging from what I can remember, I never really had a serious belief. I simply trusted in what I had been taught and in the things my elders adhered to. But even this trust was very shaky.

I remember that when I was 11 years old a high-school boy named Vladimir Milyutin, now long since dead, visited us one Sunday with an announcement of the latest discovery made at school:

The discovery was that there is no God and that the things they were teaching us were nothing but fairy tales (this was in 1838).

I remember how this news captured the interest of my older brothers; they even let me in on their discussions. I remember that we were all very excited and that we took this news to be both quite engaging and entirely possible.

I also remember the time when my older brother Dmitri, who was then at the university, suddenly gave himself over to faith with all the passion that is peculiar to his nature; he began to attend all the church services, to fast, and to lead a pure and moral life:

All of us, including those who were older, continually subjected him to ridicule, and for some reason we gave him the nickname of Noah.

I remember that when Musin-Pushkin, then a trustee of the University of Kazan, invited us to a ball, my brother declined the invitation; Musin-Pushkin, with a certain mockery, tried to persuade him to come by saying that even David danced before the ark.

At that time I sympathized with these jokes from my elders, and they led me to the conclusion that I had to learn my catechism and go to church but that it was not necessary to take it all too seriously.

I also remember reading Voltaire when I was very young; not only was I not disgusted with his mockery, but I actually found it quite amusing.

My break with faith occurred in me as it did and still does among people of our social and cultural type. As I see it, in most cases it happens like this:

people live as everyone lives, but they all live according to principles that not only have nothing to do with the teachings of faith but for the most part are contrary to them.

The teachings of faith have no place in life and never come into play in the relations among people; they simply play no role in living life itself. The teachings of faith are left to some other realm, separated from life and independent of it. If one should encounter them, then it is only as some superficial phenomenon that has no connection with life.

Today, as in days past, there is no way to tell from a person's life, from his deeds, whether or not he is a believer:

If there is indeed no difference between those who are clearly adherents of the Orthodox faith and those who deny it, then it is not to the benefit of the former.

Then, as now, the open avowal and confession of the Orthodox faith occurred largely among narrow­ minded, cruel, and immoral people wrapped up in their own self-importance.

On the other hand, intellect, honour, straightforwardness, good naturedness, and morality were for the most part to be found among people claiming to be disbelievers.

They teach catechism in the schools and send pupils to church; functionaries must carry certificates showing they have taken Holy Communion.

But now, and even more so in the past, a person of our class who is no longer in school and has not gone into public service can live dozens of years without once being reminded that he lives among Christians, while he himself is regarded as a follower of the Orthodox Christian faith.

Thus today, as in days past, the teachings of faith, accepted on trust and sustained by external pressure, gradually fade under the influence of the knowledge and experiences of life, which stand in opposition to those teachings.

Quite often a man goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him.

A certain intelligent and honest man named S. once told me the story of how he ceased to be a believer:

At the age of twenty­ six, while taking shelter for the night during a hunting trip, he knelt to pray in the evening, as had been his custom since childhood.

His older brother, who had accompanied him on the trip, was lying down on some straw and watching him.

When S. had finished and was getting ready to lie down, his brother said to him: "So you still do that!?" And they said nothing more to each other.

From that day S. gave up praying and going to church. And for thirty years he has not prayed, he has not taken Holy Communion, and he has not gone to church:

Not because he shared his brother's convictions and went along with them; nor was it because he had decided on something or other in his own soul:

It was simply-that the remark his brother had made was like the nudge of a finger against a wall that was about to fall over from its own weight.

His brother's remark showed him that the place where he thought faith to be had long since been empty; subsequently the words he spoke, the signs of the cross he made, and the bowing of his head in prayer were in essence completely meaningless actions. Once having admitted the meaninglessness of these gestures, he could no longer continue them.

Thus it has happened and continues to happen, I believe, with the great majority of people.

I am referring to people of our social and cultural type, people who are honest with themselves, and not those who use faith as a means of obtaining some temporal goal or other. (These people are the most radical disbelievers, for if faith, in their view, is a means of obtaining some worldly end, then it is indeed no faith at all.)

People of our type are in a position where the light of knowledge and of life has broken down the artificial structure, and they have either taken note of this and have left it behind them or they have remained unconscious of it.

The teachings of faith instilled in me since childhood left me, just as they have left others; the only difference is that since I began reading and thinking a great deal at an early age, I became aware of my renunciation of the teachings of faith very early in life.

From the age of 16 I gave up praying and on my own accord quit going to church and fasting:

I ceased to believe in what had been instilled in me since childhood, yet I did believe in something, though I could not say what:

I even believed in God - or rather I did not deny God - but what kind of God I could not say; nor did I deny Christ and his teachings, but I could not have said what those teachings consisted of.

As I now look back at that time I clearly see that apart from animal instincts, the faith that affected my life, the only real faith I had, was faith in perfection. But I could not have said what perfection consisted of or what its purpose might be.

I tried to achieve intellectual perfection; I studied everything I could, everything that life gave me a chance to study. I tried to perfect my will and set up rules for myself that I endeavoured to follow.

I strove for physical perfection by doing all the exercises that develop strength and agility and by undergoing all the hardships that discipline the self in endurance and perseverance.

I took all this to be perfection.

The starting point of it all was, of course, moral perfection, but this was soon replaced by a belief in overall perfection, that is, a desire to be better not in my own eyes or in the eyes of God, but rather a desire to be better in the eyes of other people.

And this effort to be better in the eyes of other people was very quickly displaced by a longing to be stronger than other people, that is, more renowned, more important, wealthier than others.