How and Why Should One Live?
By Leo Tolstoy. An unpublished article from Tolstoy’s drafts, dated October 6th, 1905, in which Tolstoy suggests that the wisdom to reveal the meaning of our life lies closer than we think.
Young children do not think about how and why they should live, and until they are 2, 3, 4 years old, they live like little animals: they eat, they play, they stretch their limbs, and it is only rarely that the light of reason and love shows itself in them. There are people who live until they are 12, 14, 20, sometimes even 40 years old, like irrational creatures, surrendering themselves to their passions and differing from animals only in their thinking about the objects of their perception, but without understanding the meaning of their lives and without contemplating it.
If such people ever experience minutes or hours of enlightenment, then they begin to contemplate the meaning of life, they reflect upon themselves, they ask themselves: what is life and why are they living the way they are? And then, not finding clear answers to these questions, these minutes and hours pass without leaving a trace, and the people get on with their lives, and when in old age they again ask themselves the same questions, they are so used to living the life they had led and are leading, so used to the justifications for leading a bad life, which the majority of people give themselves, that not only do they continue leading a bad life, but they also drive away from themselves those wise, eternal answers to the questions about how one should live and what one should live for, which are given by true religion, common to all humankind.
Not only do such people, by leading bad lives, deprive themselves of the true and inalienable good of a spiritual life which agrees with the highest law, these people, especially in maturity and old age, when their age and position allows them to influence public opinion, keep convincing the next generation of the rightness of their unreasonable animal lives, which are unnatural to a rational human being.
And such a life, unnatural for a human being, causes people ever more suffering.
And that is why it is especially important that the wisest and therefore the most understandable explanation of the meaning of human life and its resulting direction should be known by people, should be spread among them and taught both to children and to that vast majority who, without solving questions, obeys the most widespread explanation of the meaning of life and its resulting direction.
So what constitutes this best explanation of the meaning of life and its resulting direction, and where can we discover it?
This explanation is given in a religious understanding of life, expressed in the ancient religions of humankind and in the interpretations (primarily clarifications) of these religions which have been produced and are being produced right up to the present time by religious people, i.e. those who are able to see and understand the meaning of life not in a human sense, not merely in relation to a given time and place, but in relation to its eternal and universal significance.
After all, the life of an individual human being consists in nothing other than in his moving ever closer to death, liberating his spiritual essence from his body, in an ever greater liberation of his spiritual nature. In death it has happened. In life it is happening. And thus, the longer an individual lives his life, the more effort he makes, the more his spiritual nature frees itself, the clearer he perceives the essence of life.
The same thing is happening in the life of humankind.
Typically, the wisdom of the elders is attributed to antiquity, i.e. to the ages of the distant past, and to ancient religious expressions. But this is unfair. In the same way as an individual human being moves through life, humankind is freeing itself more and more from passions, growing ever wiser. The highest wisdom of humankind does not lie thousands of years before us, it is with us now, today.
In a religious sense, i.e. in the explanation of the meaning and direction of life, this wisdom does not lie in the ages of the apostles, but today, among us. It is in the teachings of Rousseau, Kant, Channing, in the teachings of Neo-Buddhists, Neo-Brahmins, Babists and hundreds and thousands of people who understand and clarify the religious teachings of antiquity: Confucius, Buddha, Isaiah, Epictetus, Christ.
It is this clarified wisdom of the ancients that must give people those wise answers to the questions of the meaning of life and the best direction for it, which is necessary to humankind not only so that it can enjoy the greatest blessing available to it during the present period of its life, but also so that it can walk the path it was preordained.