[Posted to commemorate the 106th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death]
Who Am I?
A man who has attained old age has passed through many vicissitudes : he was first an infant, then a child, an adult, an old man. But no matter how he has changed, he always calls himself “I.” This “I” was the same in his infancy, in his period of maturity, in his old age. This unchanging “I” we call the soul.
Someone nears the door. I inquire: “Who is there?” The answer is: “It is I.” He is surprised that anyone should inquire who is meant by “I”, because he feels within himself that one spiritual being which is one in us all, and wonders why I should inquire about something which should be clear to everybody. His answer refers to the spiritual “I,” but my question referred to the little window through which that “I” peeps out into the world.
Man and the Universe
If a man imagines that what he sees all around, the infinite universe, is just as he sees it, he is very much in error. All material things man knows only through his individual sense of sight, hearing and touch. Were his senses different, the whole world would appear different. Therefore we do not know, we can not know this material world as it is.
It is well for man to think what he is as regards his body. This body is large as compared with that of the flea, insignificant compared with the earth, nothing compared with the sun and the stars. We were not even thought of a hundred, a thousand, many thousands of years ago, but other men like unto us were still born, grew up and died, and after me millions and millions of people will live, and that grass will grow from my bones, and that sheep will feed on the grass, and men will eat the sheep, and nothing will remain of me, not a grain of dust, nor even a memory! Is it not clear that I am nothing?
Nothing, indeed, but this nothing has a conception of itself and of its place in the universe. And if it has such a conception, this conception is far from nothing, it is something that is more important than the entire universe, for without this conception within me and within other creatures like me, that which I call the infinite universe would not exist.
Loving One’s Neighbor
He who says that he loves God and loves not his neighbor deceives the people. And he who says that he loves his neighbor and does not love God, deceives himself.
“I do not understand what it means to love God. Is it possible to love something incomprehensible and unknown? To love your neighbor, that is intelligible and good, but to love God is a mere phrase.” Many people speak and think in this manner. But they are gravely in error. They do not understand what it means to love their neighbor, not someone agreeable or useful to them, but all men equally, though they be the most disagreeable and hostile men. Only he can love his neighbor in this manner who loves God, that God who is the same in all men.
What is Conscience?
It is the voice of that one spiritual being that dwells in all of us. Only when it is such consciousness is it the true guide of human life. Otherwise what people call conscience is but the recognition of what men among whom we live consider good or evil.
The voice of the passions is very different from the calm voice of the conscience. And yet no matter how loudly the passions roar, they subside before the still, calm, persistent voice of the conscience. For it is the voice of the Eternal, the Divine that dwells in man.
- Tolstoy, Leo. The Pathway of Life. Trans. Archibald J. Wolfe. New York: International Book Pub. Co., 1919. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/pathwayoflife01tolsiala, https://archive.org/details/pathwayoflife02tolsiala