A Confession and Other Religious Writings

A better life can only come when the consciousness of men is altered for the better; and therefore, those who wish to improve life must direct all their efforts towards changing both their own and other people’s consciousness.

Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride, anger, and revenge—were all respected.

But a man’s relationship to the world is determined not just by his intellect but by his feelings and by his who aggregate of spiritual forces. However much one implies or explains to a person that all that truly exists is no more than an idea, or that everything is made up of atoms, or that the essence of life is substance or will, or that heat, light, movement and electricity are only manifestations of one and the same energy; however much you explain this to a man—a being who feels, suffers, rejoices, fears and hopes—it will not explain his place in the universe.

Faith is neither hope nor trust, but a particular spiritual state. Faith is man’s awareness that his position in the world obliges him to perform certain actions. A person acts according to his faith, not as the catechism says because he believes in things unseen as in things seen, nor because he wishes to achieve things hoped for, but simply because having defined his position in the world it is natural for him to act according to it.

I became convinced that almost all the priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life;

Indeed, a bird is made in such a way that it can fly, gather food and build a nest, and when I see a bird doing these things I rejoice. Goats, hares and wolves are made in order to eat, multiply and feed their families, and when they do this I feel quite sure that they are happy and that their lives are meaningful. What should a man do? He too must work for his existence, just as the animals do, but with the difference that he will perish if he does it alone, for he must work for an existence, not just for himself, but for everyone. And when he does this I feel quite sure that he is happy and that his life has meaning. And what had I been doing for all those thirty years of conscious life? Far from working for an existence for everyone, I had not even done so for myself. I had lived as a parasite and when I asked myself why I lived, I received the answer: for nothing. If the meaning of human existence lies in working to procure it I had spent thirty years attempting, not to procure it, but to destroy it for myself and for others. How then could I get any answer other than that my life is evil and meaningless? Indeed it was evil and meaningless.

I realized that I had been lost, and how I had become lost. I had strayed not so much because my ideas had been incorrect as because I had lived foolishly. I realized that I had been blinded from the truth not so much through mistaken thoughts as through my life itself, which had been spent in satisfying desire and in exclusive conditions of epicureanism. I realized that my questions as to what my life is, and the answer that it is an evil, was quite correct. The only mistake was that I had extended an answer that related only to myself to life as a whole. I had asked myself what my life was and had received the answer that it is evil and meaningless. And this was quite true, for my life of indulgent pursuits was meaningless and evil, but that answer applied only to my life and not to human life in general. I understood a truism that I subsequently found in the gospels: that people often preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. For he who acts maliciously hates light and avoids it so as not to throw light on his deeds. I understood that in order to understand life it is first of all necessary that life is not evil and meaningless, and then one may use reason in order to elucidate it. I realized why I had for so long been treading so close to such an obvious truth without seeing it, and that in order to think and speak about human life one must think and speak about human life and not about the lives of a few parasites. The truth has always been the truth, just as 2 x 2 = 4, but I had not admitted it, because in acknowledging that 2 x 2 = 4 I would have to admit that I was a bad man. And it was more important and necessary for me to feel that I was good than to admit that 2 x 2 = 4. I came to love good people and to loathe myself, and I acknowledged the truth. And then it all became clear to me.

I recalled the hundreds of occasions when life had died within me only to be reborn. I remembered that I only lived during those times when I believed in God. Then, as now, I said to myself: I have only to believe in God in order to live. I have only to disbelieve in Him, or to forget Him, in order to die. What are these deaths and rebirths? It is clear that I do not live when I lose belief in God’s existence, and I should have killed myself long ago, were it not for a dim hope of finding Him. What then is it you are seeking? a voice exclaimed inside me. There He is! He, without whom it is impossible to live. To know God and to live are one and the same thing. God is life.

‘Live in search of God and there will be no life without God!’ And more powerfully than ever before everything within and around me came to light, and the light has not deserted me since.

It is impossible for there to be a person with no religion (i.e. without any kind of relationship to the world) as it is for there to be a person without a heart. He may not know that he has a religion, just as a person may not know that he has a heart, but it is no more possible for a person to exist without a religion than without a heart.

It is said that one swallow does not make a summer, but can it be that because one swallow does not make a summer another swallow, sensing and anticipating summer, must not fly? If every blade of grass waited similarly summer would never occur. And it is the same with establishing the Kingdom of God: we must not think about whether we are the first or the thousandth swallow.

I was afraid of life and strove against it, yet I still hoped for something from it.

Love, true love, love that denies itself and transfers itself to another, is the awakening within oneself of the highest universal principle of life. But it is only true love and affords all the happiness it can give when it is simply love, free from anything personal, from the smallest drop of personal bias towards its object. And such love can only be felt for one’s enemy, for those who hate and offend. Thus, the injunction to love not those who love us, but those who hate us, is not an exaggeration, nor an indication of possible exclusions, but simply a directive for that opportunity and possibility of receiving the supreme bliss that love can give.

Luxury cannot be obtained other than by enslaving other people.

One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

Reason is often the slave of sin; it strives to justify it.

Salvation does not lie in the rituals and profession of faith, but in a lucid understanding of the meaning of one’s life.

So long as people do not consider all men as their brothers and do not consider human life as the most sacred thing, which rather than destroy they must consider it their first and foremost duty to support; that is so long as people do not behave towards one another in a religious manner, they will always ruin one another’s lives for the sake of personal gain.

The dreadful superstition that it is possible to foresee the future shape of society serves to justify all kinds of violence in the name of that structure. It is enough for a person to free his thoughts, even temporarily, of this superstition and to look sincerely and seriously at the life of the nation for it to become clear to him that acceptance of the need to oppose evil with violence is nothing other than the justification people give to their habitual and favourite vices: vengeance, avarice, envy, ambition, pride, cowardice and spite.

The kind aunt with whom I lived, herself the purest of beings, always told me that there was nothing she so desired for me as that I should have relations with a married woman: 'Rien ne forme un juene homme, comme une liaison avec une femme comme il faut'.{1}

The main reason for the terrible cruelty between men today, apart from the absence religion, is still the refined complexity of life which shields people from the consequences of their actions. However cruel Attila, Genghis Khan and their followers may have been, the act of killing people personally, face to face, must have been unpleasant: the wailing relatives and the presence of the corpses. And thus their cruelty was restrained. Nowadays we kill people through such a complex process of communication, and the consequences of our cruelty are so carefully removed and concealed from us, that there is no restraint on the bestiality of the action.

The most important and necessary human deed, for both doer and recipient, are those of which he does not see the results.

There is an old Eastern fable about a traveler who is taken unawares on the steppes by a ferocious wild animal. In order to escape the beast the traveler hides in an empty well, but at the bottom of the well he sees a dragon with its jaws open, ready to devour him. The poor fellow does not dare to climb out because he is afraid of being eaten by the rapacious beast, neither does he dare drop to the bottom of the well for fear of being eaten by the dragon. So he seizes hold of a branch of a bush that is growing in the crevices of the well and clings on to it. His arms grow weak and he knows that he will soon have to resign himself to the death that awaits him on either side. Yet he still clings on, and while he is holding on to the branch he looks around and sees that two mice, one black and one white, are steadily working their way round the bush he is hanging from, gnawing away at it. Sooner or later they will eat through it and the branch will snap, and he will fall into the jaws of the dragon. The traveler sees this and knows that he will inevitably perish. But while he is still hanging there he sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the bush, stretches out his tongue and licks them. In the same way I am clinging to the tree of life, knowing full well that the dragon of death inevitably awaits me, ready to tear me to pieces, and I cannot understand how I have fallen into this torment. And I try licking the honey that once consoled me, but it no longer gives me pleasure. The white mouse and the black mouse – day and night – are gnawing at the branch from which I am hanging. I can see the dragon clearly and the honey no longer tastes sweet. I can see only one thing; the inescapable dragon and the mice, and I cannot tear my eyes away from them. And this is no fable but the truth, the truth that is irrefutable and intelligible to everyone.

The delusion of the joys of life that had formerly stifled my fear of the dragon no longer deceived me. No matter how many times I am told: you cannot understand the meaning of life, do not thinking about it but live, I cannot do so because I have already done it for too long. Now I cannot help seeing day and night chasing me and leading me to my death. This is all I can see because it is the only truth. All the rest is a lie.

Those two drops of honey, which more than all else had diverted my eyes from the cruel truth, my love for my family and for my writing, which I called art – I no longer found sweet.

The social conditions of life can only be improved by people exercising self-restraint.

The soul of man is the lamp of God,’ says a wise Jewish proverb. Man is a weak and miserable creature when God’s light is not burning in his soul. But when it burns (and it only burns in souls enlightened by religion), man becomes the most powerful creature in the world. And it cannot be otherwise, for what then works in him is not his own strength, but the strength of God.

The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship, consisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in this development we—men of thought—have the chief part; and among men of thought it is we—artists and poets—who have the greatest influence. Our vocation is to teach mankind.

To claim that the supernatural and irrational form the basic characteristics of religion is much the same as noticing only the rotten apples and then claiming that the basic features of the fruit named apple are a flaccid bitterness and a harmful effect produced in the stomach.

Tolstoy’s most lasting influence was in India. He and M. K. Gandhi had begun a correspondence in the early years of the twentieth century, with Gandhi referring to himself as Tolstoy’s ‘humble follower’. Many of their beliefs have close affinities – the doctrine of non-violence, for example, and the belief that the kingdom of God exists within man. Gandhi’s campaign of civil disobedience and passive resistance, together with his abhorrence of Western ‘progress’, owe much to Tolstoy, although his engagements in the political arena do not. And it is in the East, particularly India, where the liberal democratic tradition continued longer, that Tolstoy’s ideas remained alive.

True religion is that relationship, in accordance with reason and knowledge which man establishes with the infinite world around him, and which binds his life to that infinity and guides his actions.

Whatever answers faith gives, regardless of which faith, or to whom the answers are given, such answers always give an infinite meaning to the finite existence of man; a meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation or death. This means that only in faith can we find the meaning and possibility of life. I realized that the essential meaning of faith lies not only in the ‘manifestations of things unseen’, and so on, or in revelation (this is only a description of one of the signs of faith); nor is it simply the relationship between man and God (it is necessary to define faith, then God, and not God through faith); nor is it an agreement with what one has been told, although this is what faith is commonly understood to be. Faith is a knowledge of the meaning of human life, the consequence of which is that man does not kill himself but lives. Faith is the force of life. If a man lives, then he must believe in something. If he did not believe that there was something he must live for he would not live. If he does not see and comprehend the illusion of the finite he will believe in the finite. If he does understand the illusion of the finite, he is bound to believe in the infinite. Without faith it is impossible to live.

Yet time and again, from different approaches, I kept coming to the same conclusion, that I could not have come into the world without any cause, reason, or meaning; that I could not be the fledgeling fallen from the nest that I felt myself to be. If I lie on my back crying in the tall grass, like a fledgeling, it is because I know that my mother brought me into the world, kept me warm, fed me and loved me. But where is she, that mother? If I am abandoned, then who has abandoned me? I cannot hide myself from the fact that someone who loved me gave birth to me. Who is this someone? Again, God.