What Was on Tolstoy's Bookshelf?
By Lao Tzu
Tolstoy first became acquainted with the teaching of Lao Tzu in 1878, the year after he completed Anna Karenina, but he started studying him seriously in 1884, as part of his effort to find religious truth wherever he could. Tolstoy found much that was kindred to him in the figure of the Taoist sage as it emerges in Lao Tzu's teaching. Among the qualities of this sage are simplicity, patience, harmony of nature, the suppression of desire, non-violence, and love for all men.
Tolstoy sought ways of making the wisdom he found in Lao Tzu available to the Russian reading public. He included a number of sayings by Lao Tzu in the Calendars that he produced during this period. Tolstoy also collaborated on a translation of The Way of Life, which was published just before his death. In introducing the Way of Lao Tzu in this work, Tolstoy begins: "The basis of Lao Tzu's teaching is the same as the basis of all great, truth religious teachings. It is the following: Man can live for the body or he can live for the spirit. If man lives for the body, then life is grief, because the body suffers, sickens and dies. If he lives for the spirit, then life is joy, because for the spirit there is neither suffering, nor illness, nor death." Tolstoy continues to explain that Lao Tzu's means of living for the soul and being united with God is "the Way." Tolstoy then concludes that Lao Tzu's teaching is just like the teaching of John in his First Epistle where he writes that "God is love." (1 John 4:8) Here we see at work Tolstoy's drive to draw world religions together in a common cause, the cause of love.