Tolstoy's Bookshelf: Teachings of the Buddha
Teaching of the Buddha

In his Confession (1879), Tolstoy describes how during his spiritual crisis he turned to religious thinkers in the hope of finding answers to his questions about the meaning of life. At this point, he found in the life and teaching of Buddha confirmation of his current state of mind. Like Buddha, Tolstoy saw death, suffering, sickness and old age everywhere and felt that he could not simply forget about it or go through life ignoring it. He quotes the following saying of Buddha: "It is impossible to live in the consciousness that suffering, weakening, old age and death are inevitable; we must free ourselves from life, from all possibility of life." Although Tolstoy continued to associate Buddha with a renunciation of earthly life, he was able also to find in Buddha's teaching more positive models for moral behavior, ones that he found kindred.

In Tolstoy's later attempts to produce edifying literature that was accessible to all, Tolstoy edited, translated, and composed a number of pieces about Buddha and his teaching. He found in Buddha's example and teachings a new expression of principles that he held most dear: of selfless love and of non-violence. Scholars have noted that in embracing Buddhism Tolstoy did what he did with any system: he never adopted a whole system of beliefs but rather picked and chose what he could relate to and ignored everything alien to him.


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