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November 20 – Leo Tolstoy

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Luke 17:20-37

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

More thoughts for meditation about Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was the fourth of five children born to a family of old Russian nobility in 1828. His mother died while he was young, so he and his siblings were in the care of his aunt. His father died next, followed by the his aunt and caretaker. He and his siblings moved under the care of another relative.

Tolstoy struggled school. He eventually became a farmer until his brother convinced him to join the military, where his writing began to develop. He grew into one of the most celebrated novelists of all time. His two greatest works War and Peace and Anna Karenina are considered masterpieces.

After he enjoyed some success, Leo fell into a deep depression that ultimately led to his conversion to following Jesus. He tried joining the Russian Orthodox Church, which he found corrupt. While under watch of the secret police, he founded the new publication The Mediator in 1883. He gave away nearly all his wealth, but took care of his wife by signing the copyrights and proceeds from his writings pre-1881 over to her.

During the last 30 years of his life, his richest spiritual work and international movement-building flowered. In 1894 his magnum opus The Kingdom of God Is Within You inspired practitioners of non-violent resistance, as it continues to do. Gandhi cited this last book as one of the three texts that most influenced him. The two developed a relationship in which Tolstoy strongly urged nonviolence as a means of social change.

Tolstoy’s beliefs and regular visits from disciples plagued his wife. He finally fled with his daughter and began an incognito pilgrimage that he was never able to complete. He died on this day in 1910.

Quotes:

On revolution: There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.

On progress : People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn’t so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can’t be otherwise, because a man’s soul is a divine spark, the truth itself. It’s only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.

On passions: The whole world knows that virtue consists in the subjugation of one’s passions, or in self-renunciation. It is not just the Christian world, against whom Nietzsche howls, that knows this, but it is an eternal supreme law towards which all humanity has developed, including Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the ancient Persian religion. And suddenly a man appears who declares that he is convinced that self-renunciation, meekness, submissiveness and love are all vices that destroy humanity (he has in mind Christianity, ignoring all the others religions).

On Nietzsche: One can understand why such a declaration baffled people at first. But after giving it a little thought and failing to find any proof of the strange propositions, any rational person ought to throw the books aside and wonder if there is any kind of rubbish that would not find a publisher today. But this has not happened with Nietzsche’s books. The majority of pseudo-enlightened people seriously look into the theory of the Übermensch, and acknowledge its author to be a great philosopher, a descendant of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant. And all this has come about because the majority of pseudo-enlightened men of today object to any reminder of virtue, or to its chief premise: self-renunciation and love — virtues that restrain and condemn the animal side of their life. They gladly welcome a doctrine, however incoherently and disjointedly expressed, of egotism and cruelty, sanctioning the idea of personal happiness and superiority over the lives of others, by which they live.

Want more?

The School of Life on Tolstoy:

A flawed saint: [article]

More bio: [link]

Movies: Anna Karenina, War and Peace

Suggestions for action

Depression led Tolstoy to faith. Often depression is not an enemy, it is our heart speaking to us about change, about redemption, about unknown possibilities. Consider your own depression. Some of us have chronic conditions that need the help of doctors. Others are self-medicating what needs to be heard.

After Tolstoy wrote his masterpieces, he found his deepest calling. While his literature remains influential, it could be argued that his influence for nonviolent resistance did more to change the world. What are you growing into? Do you dare consider what your legacy will be and who you might influence for good?

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