Five Leo Tolstoy's Quotes for a Meaningful, Wholesome Life

Updated: Mar 10


Leo Tolstoy, born on 9th of September 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana was (and is) a beloved Russian author, known to almost everyone for his novels "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace", even if they did not read the books themselves. Leo Tolstoy's work, however, was not just in his beautiful, humane and long fictional stories, he also left behind a plethora of what could be considered philosophical, theological, political and sociological work. On this great author's birthday, I have picked out five beautiful quotes that to bring meaning, beauty, inspiration and faith into our lives. Each quote will be followed by my personal commentary as Leo Tolstoy greatly influenced me in my intellectual and spiritual growth. 1. "Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here." ("War and Peace") So often in Tolstoy's novels, one finds characters who have a realization that the "truth" is simple and that the path towards fulfilment and joy, is in the most obvious and in the most "ordinary". While one could tell that those ideas are naive and simple, if one is to contemplate on it, one could find a sage's wisdom under those simple and innocent claims. This quote, I found to be relevant in age of constant noise in which everything tries to tell us that we are constantly missing out on something, that there are always more things to achieve and to do - only to realize that once we grab onto that which we aimed for, it brought no happiness or joy. Eventually, one has to look for another thing to chase. It is, as Biblical wisdom in Ecclesiastes suggests "A chasing after the wind". On the contrary, joy and happiness can be found in moments right in front of us, in filling ourselves with love and giving it to others. When one's being finds fulfilment on the inside, in the moment, then acquiring external items, achieving goals is meaningful, as they are no longer futile attempts to fill an emptiness, a void, but confident, clear steps in pursuit of that which one sees his or her duty in life. 2. "To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than anything else is to love life in one's sufferings, in undeserved sufferings" ("War and Peace") The reason why I gave this blog name "Inscendence" (as opposed to transcendence, even though, personally I am not opposed to the concept of it in its various context) is because so often, I have encountered people who's entire philosophy, religious or spiritual practice was to avoid suffering, or those who, hurt by life, hate life. To be able to love life even at its darkest moments, even when it hurts us the most, is I believe, true wisdom and true freedom. To find within one's self, love and inspiration stornger than any external influence is to be truly alive and truly free. Whether one believes in God, Divinity or anything of the sort, life is always giving in a sense it always grants us an experience - even if it is a grotesque, wretched, heavy experience. And it does not give experience only to our own selves, but to everyone present and alive. We are all experiencing this wonder called life. This opportunity - to act, to do, to love, to hate, to smile and cry, is unique experience that will, at least not in this specific context, ever be again. 3. "I understood that God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all. " ("What Men Live By") Being in service to others is important part of Leo Tolstoy's ethics. Serving others, be it one's own family, neighbors, community or humanity is seen as a source of greatest fulfilment and joy. In my subjective observation, I have seen that the idea of service seems unattractive to so many people in our present time. It is seen as disempowering or weak. While like everything else in its extreme, it can be unhealthy, serving others in a healthy, balanced fashion can bring inner joy in one's life. Doing little gestures to others, welcoming them with warmth, preparing food or surprising our mothers by cleaning our home without her reminding us, can be sometimes hard for us, but so often, when we do it, it makes the other person happy. And who does not feel at least a little happy, making others, happy? 4. "Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen. " ("What is Art?") Another great Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky said that "Beauty Will Save the World", and in his Nobel speech, Alexander Solzhenitsyn elaborated on it, saying among other things, that beauty can save the world in a sense that art, transmists experience and that through it, we are able to experience lives of others, pains of others, as our own and therefore expand our awareness as humans. Tolstoy in this quote, says a similar thing. Art is a form of communication, transmission - it is a vulnerable and honest communication from heart to heart. In art, humans so often express what they fear, what they want, what they hope for and other humans, who interact with the artist through his or her art, identify, realize that they are not alone in their experience and that their experiences can have grandiose, epic, artistic dimension. It connects us and liberates us from the feeling of loneliness and seperation that we often have. 5. "Love hinders death. Love is life. All everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source." ("War and Peace") I decided to finish with this idealistic quote. Wisdom is, many will say, rediscovery of innocence, ability to be enchanted, to live fully in the moment, to be curious, to carry enthusiasm in one's heart. The universal love which Prince Andrei in "War and Peace" speaks of after his heavy experiences, is his own return to innocence and its perennial wisdom. It is the universal love that is spoken of, the Platonic love for everything and everyone, without any expectations or self interest. At the same time, it is the love that exists on its own and needs no object. Love that feeds itself from its own source, and is always giving, always existing, always enriching.


Leo Tolstoy and Polish pianist Wanda Landowska in 1907

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