Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one’s neighbor and God rather than looking outward to the Church or state for guidance. His belief in nonresistance when faced by conflict is another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ’s teachings. By directly influencing Mahatma Gandhi with this idea through his work The Kingdom of God Is Within You, Count Tolstoy’s profound influence on the nonviolent resistance movement reverberates to this day. He believed that the aristocracy (today’s 1%) were a burden on the poor, and that the only solution to how we live together is through anarchism, or a doctrine urging the abolition of government or governmental restraint as the indispensable condition for full social and political liberty – freedom… to what today might be called a true democracy.
A great writer I have always admired is Leo Tolstoy. His influence at the time and ever since has been immeasurable in history. Finding the vehicle of getting closer to God became Tolstoy’s passion as a writer, religious philosopher and metaphysician. His works became something to emulate and model as others took the next step following in his footsteps to greater understanding themselves and the world. Most of us know him through the great literary classics he wrote known as War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But his contribution was so much more than that.
For me… his anthem was we each have the Christ presence within us that has always been present and that we should have the freedom to find this for ourselves. Most of his writing was deemed as heretical by the Church. Tolstoy felt that historical consciousness each of us have – is in fact the flow of universal thought and wisdom that moves from generation to generation that adds to our own eternal growth. That this flow of universal consciousness is found in all things in nature. As we now better understand quantum physics to say that there is no separation in thought (our minds) and that each of us are here to connect and contribute.
That our purpose is to add to this continuing flow of consciousness. With this we all become metaphysicians. It grows into our relationships and flows naturally without trying to fight for acceptance or resistance of others, coming in tune with our own self-awareness, and new thought – new ways of thinking. Having the freedom to allow these relationships to shift into new shapes that we find comfortable and then mirror.
Tolstoy’s contribution to the underpinning of theological understanding was in questioning (the status quo would say undermining) Christian teachings at the time. As much of what he had seen written was incoherent, poorly translated from ancient biblical texts, and didn’t contribute as they should have the love of God that he felt we all should share.
He felt God continually spoke to mankind over time and in every country, and that Christ, while being the most profound of teachers, was not the only one. He looked for common themes in all religious thought for rational assessments and looked to a philosophy on human beings’ purpose in life.
Most importantly, for myself, he wrote themes after thorough investigation that could follow similar approaches found in Eastern thought (Buddhism and Taoism) which he too had studied, where a structure and method to get one with the universe and finding our place in it is essential and incorporated this into his writing. Attributed to Tolstoy is something called: “Leo Tolstoy and the Oriental Religious Heritage – Influences and Parallels” that describes both Buddhism and Taoism… as an analysis of their influences to help to clarify the cultural conundrum that he hoped to solve and with which contemporary society still struggled: how to integrate Western ethical and religious beliefs with those of the East in an age of increasing global information and communication. Tolstoy, was considered a famous sinophile. (A Sinophile is a person who demonstrates a strong interest and love for Chinese culture and its people. It is also commonly used to describe those knowledgeable of Chinese history and culture, and people perceived as having a strong interest in any of the above.) He also studied the works of Confucius.
He felt God’s plan was rational and man’s ability to reason was given to him to understand that it must be accessible to everyone… to human understanding. Understanding that all things are eternally connected and flow through time as demonstrated and shown over thousands of years of human interaction with nature and history. History does repeat itself. The influence of Eastern thought further convinced him that nature, and its repetitiveness becomes the teacher as we learn from cause and effect. (His reading of Emerson also helped to take him there). As different things take turns, or alternate with each other, we can foretell and shape what is in the future (his understanding of the I Ching). It is in this knowing we can in turn respond accordingly when we are led from our innate virtue we already possess.
I think this is the understanding that Tolstoy came to appreciate – and if asked in conversation today would agree. With this its easy to see his influence on Gandhi and what was to become the transcendental movement – New Thought – the Fillmore’s and eventually us – in Unity. As if only pearls on the string of eternity.
When we ask for our prayers to be answered, the universe is responding as if a reverberation with “all things considered”, not simply our own desires. Nature tells us to wait until we can see how events unfold so that our virtue can come forward to know what fits or matches what is best for all involved, as with complementary opposites attracting each other.
Emerson’s eye on Nature
The universal divine presence (what unfolds from our own heart space) is all-inclusive and operates under the premise of “one size fits all” with nature responding as an echo to what it hears. When we ask what defines virtue – this is a good place to start.
Tolstoy concluded that the soul was immortal. He thought the purpose of life is to expand on our capacity to love God and our fellow beings – humans, animals, even plants. Tolstoy in many ways was a Taoist at heart. There could be no separation from God and the universe in which we lived. As we love God by loving nature, we attune with what enhances everything found in our natural environment. It’s easy to see his influence on those who followed him including us.
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He received multiple nominations for Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1902 to 1906, and nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1902 and 1910.
Scene in Red Square, Moscow, 1801. Oil on canvas by Feder Yakovlevich Alekseev.
Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, Tolstoy is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). I remember back in college reading Tolstoy’s novella (short story) The Death of Ivan Liayich portraying the savage winter and cold of living in Siberia. In the 1870’s, Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession (1882). His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. He felt we should through non-violence lead, motivate, and have influence from the middle and raise all from the lowest to the top. That this idea was the profound teaching of Jesus and other spiritual leaders through the ages.
Tolstoy’s ideas on non-violent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), were to have a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many, many others.
Gandhi and other residents of Tolstoy Farm, South Africa, 1910
The Kingdom of God Is Within You was a non-fiction book written by Leo Tolstoy. A philosophical treatise, the book was first published in Germany in 1894 after being banned in his home country of Russia. It is the culmination of thirty years of Tolstoy’s thinking, and lays out a new organization for society based on an interpretation of Christianity focusing on universal love. The title of the book originates from Luke 17:21. In the book Tolstoy speaks of the principle of nonviolent resistance when confronted by violence, as taught by Jesus Christ.
When Christ says to turn the other cheek, Tolstoy asserts that Christ means to abolish violence, even the defensive kind, and to give up revenge. Tolstoy rejects the interpretation of Roman and medieval scholars who attempted to limit its scope. “How can you kill people, when it is written in God’s commandment: ‘Thou shalt not murder’?”
Tolstoy took the viewpoint that all governments who waged war are an affront to Christian principles. As the Russian Orthodox Church was at the time, an organization merged with the Russian state and fully supporting state’s policy, Tolstoy sought to separate its teachings from what he believed to be the true gospel of Christ, specifically the Sermon on the Mount.
He advocated nonviolence as a solution to nationalist woes and as a means for seeing the hypocrisy of the church. In reading Jesus’ words in the Gospels, Tolstoy notes that the modern church is a heretical creation: “Nowhere nor in anything, except in the assertion of the Church, can we find that God or Christ founded anything like what churchmen understand by the Church.” Tolstoy presented excerpts from magazines and newspapers relating various personal experiences, and gave keen insight into the history of non-resistance from the very foundation of Christianity, as being professed by a minority of believers. In particular, he confronts those who seek to maintain status quo:
“That this social order with its pauperism, famines, prisons, gallows, armies, and wars is necessary to society; that still greater disaster would ensue if this organization were destroyed; all this is said only by those who profit by this organization, while those who suffer from it – and they are ten times as numerous – think and say quite the contrary.”
In 1894 Constance Garnett, who translated the work into English, wrote the following in her translator’s preface: “One cannot of course anticipate that English people, slow as they are to be influenced by ideas, and instinctively distrustful of all that is logical, will take a leap in the dark and attempt to put Tolstoy’s theory of life into practice. But one may at least be sure that his destructive criticism of the present social and political regime will become a powerful force in the work of disintegration and social reconstruction which is going on around us.”
I have a little personal experience. My mother had a dear friend whose family were members of the aristocracy that was very close to the Czar and his family. As I was growing up in Joplin, Missouri where she then lived (both my mother and she have since passed), my mother had become her care-giver as she grew older and visited her regularly. The stories the lady told were confirmed by the memorabilia and antiques she had brought with her from Russia that were still in her possession. I met her once and she had great stories to tell of her childhood she seemed to vividly recall. Stories of her youth had always defined her. She had been in Saint Petersburg, Russia as a little girl and said she knew the Romanov girls quite well. One of my regrets is not returning to hear them because few if any were ever written down for history. It is our memories, that given the opportunity tell us of and take us to our past. It is our remembering that takes us there that tell a greater story and the collective consciousness that along the way defines who we are yet to become. I do seem to have a recollection of asking her about the writer Tolstoy, and she recalled that everyone loved his writing because it returned them to the place they had always known and been. As though reliving their own history. Count Leo Tolstoy had been a respected member of the Russian aristocracy as well.
On another personal note, in high school I listened to shortwave radio as a hobby to stations all over the world. One of them was Radio Moscow. In 1967, they had a contest celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution in which I entered an essay about the revolution. I was sixteen at the time. The connection to Tolstoy was that the powers that be of the revolution felt that regardless of his fame, thoughts and writing, it didn’t matter. As Count Tolstoy and his family had been major landowners, his influence needed to be diminished. Although in his later years and writing he expressed great regret about the historical benefits of the aristocracy of whom his own family had been members. His connection with Russia’s past contributed greatly to his writings not getting the attention they deserved over time.
It seems we are all simply like the strand of pearls – as if strung together looking for harmony… that universal historical consciousness I spoke of earlier. But yet, our own and others resistance overtakes us. After I no longer listened to shortwave when I began going to college, I continued getting mail for years at home from all over the world. The mailman would ask, “Who is this guy getting all this stuff”. My mom would laugh and say, “oh, that’s just my son”.