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A Confession

Part 6


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In my search for answers to life's questions I experienced
just what is felt by a man lost in a forest.

He reaches a glade, climbs a tree, and clearly sees the
limitless distance, but sees that his home is not and cannot be
there; then he goes into the dark wood and sees the darkness, but
there also his home is not.

So I wandered n that wood of human knowledge, amid the gleams
of mathematical and experimental science which showed me clear
horizons but in a direction where there could be no home, and also
amid the darkness of the abstract sciences where I was immersed in
deeper gloom the further I went, and where I finally convinced
myself that there was, and could be, no exit.

Yielding myself to the bright side of knowledge, I understood
that I was only diverting my gaze from the question.  However
alluringly clear those horizons which opened out before me might
be, however alluring it might be to immerse oneself in the
limitless expanse of those sciences, I already understood that the
clearer they were the less they met my need and the less they
applied to my question.

"I know," said I to myself, "what science so persistently
tries to discover, and along that road there is no reply to the
question as to the meaning of my life."  In the abstract sphere I
understood that notwithstanding the fact, or just because of the
fact, that the direct aim of science is to reply to my question,
there is no reply but that which I have myself already given: 
"What is the meaning of my life?"  "There is none."  Or:  "What
will come of my life?" "Nothing."  Or:  "Why does everything exist
that exists, and why do I exist?"  "Because it exists."

Inquiring for one region of human knowledge, I received an
innumerable quantity of exact replies concerning matters about
which I had not asked:  about the chemical constituents of the
stars, about the movement of the sun towards the constellation
Hercules, about the origin of species and of man, about the forms
of infinitely minute imponderable particles of ether; but in this
sphere of knowledge the only answer to my question, "What is the
meaning of my life?" was: "You are what you call your 'life'; you
are a transitory, casual cohesion of particles.  The mutual
interactions and changes of these particles produce in you what you
call your "life".  That cohesion will last some time; afterwards
the interaction of these particles will cease and what you call
"life" will cease, and so will all your questions.  You are an
accidentally united little lump of something.  that little lump
ferments.  The little lump calls that fermenting its 'life'.  The
lump will disintegrate and there will be an end of the fermenting
and of all the questions."  So answers the clear side of science
and cannot answer otherwise if it strictly follows its principles.

From such a reply one sees that the reply does not answer the
question.  I want to know the meaning of my life, but that it is a
fragment of the infinite, far from giving it a meaning destroys its
every possible meaning.  The obscure compromises which that side of
experimental exact science makes with abstract science when it says
that the meaning of life consists in development and in cooperation
with development, owing to their inexactness and obscurity cannot
be considered as replies.

The other side of science -- the abstract side -- when it
holds strictly to its principles, replying directly to the
question, always replies, and in all ages has replied, in one and
the same way:  "The world is something infinite and
incomprehensible part of that incomprehensible 'all'."  Again I
exclude all those compromises between abstract and experimental
sciences which supply the whole ballast of the semi-sciences called
juridical, political, and historical. In those semi-sciences the
conception of development and progress is again wrongly introduced,
only with this difference, that there it was the development of
everything while here it is the development of the life of mankind. 
The error is there as before: development and progress in infinity
can have no aim or direction, and, as far as my question is
concerned, no answer is given.

In truly abstract science, namely in genuine philosophy -- not
in that which Schopenhauer calls "professorial philosophy" which
serves only to classify all existing phenomena in new philosophic
categories and to call them by new names -- where the philosopher
does not lose sight of the essential question, the reply is always
one and the same -- the reply given by Socrates, Schopenhauer,
Solomon, and buddha.

"We approach truth only inasmuch as we depart from life", said
Socrates when preparing for death.  "For what do we, who love
truth, strive after in life?  To free ourselves from the body, and
from all the evil that is caused by the life of the body!  If so,
then how can we fail to be glad when death comes to us?

"The wise man seeks death all his life and therefore death is
not terrible to him."

And Schopenhauer says:

"Having recognized the inmost essence of the world as *will*,
and all its phenomena -- from the unconscious working of the
obscure forces of Nature up to the completely conscious action of
man -- as only the objectivity of that will, we shall in no way
avoid the conclusion that together with the voluntary renunciation
and self-destruction of the will all those phenomena also
disappear, that constant striving and effort without aim or rest on
all the stages of objectivity in which and through which the world
exists; the diversity of successive forms will disappear, and
together with the form all the manifestations of will, with its
most universal forms, space and time, and finally its most
fundamental form -- subject and object.  Without will there is no
concept and no world.  Before us, certainly, nothing remains.  But
what resists this transition into annihilation, our nature, is only
that same wish to live -- *Wille zum Leben* -- which forms
ourselves as well as our world.  That we are so afraid of
annihilation or, what is the same thing, that we so wish to live,
merely means that we are ourselves nothing else but this desire to
live, and know nothing but it.  And so what remains after the
complete annihilation of the will, for us who are so full of the
will, is, of course, nothing; but on the other hand, for those in
whom the will has turned and renounced itself, this so real world
of ours with all its suns and milky way is nothing."

"Vanity of vanities", says Solomon -- "vanity of vanities --
all is vanity.  What profit hath a man of all his labor which he
taketh under the sun?  One generation passeth away, and another
generation commeth: but the earth abideth for ever....The thing
that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done is
that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. 
Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath
been already of old time, which was before us.  there is no
remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any
remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come
after.  I the Preacher was King over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I
gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that
is done under heaven:  this sore travail hath God given to the sons
of man to be exercised therewith.  I have seen all the works that
are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of
spirit....I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to
great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have
been before me over Jerusalem: yea, my heart hath great experience
of wisdom and knowledge.  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and
to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation
of spirit.  For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that
increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

"I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth,
therefore enjoy pleasure: and behold this also is vanity. I said of
laughter, It is mad:  and of mirth, What doeth it?  I sought in my
heart how to cheer my flesh with wine, and while my heart was
guided by wisdom, to lay hold on folly, till I might see what it
was good for the sons of men that they should do under heaven the
number of the days of their life.  I made me great works; I builded
me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards,
and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits: I made me pools
of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared: I
got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house;
also I had great possessions of herds and flocks above all that
were before me in Jerusalem: I gathered me also silver and gold and
the peculiar treasure from kings and from the provinces: I got me
men singers and women singers; and the delights of the sons of men,
as musical instruments and all that of all sorts.  So I was great,
and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also
my wisdom remained with me.  And whatever mine eyes desired I kept
not from them.  I withheld not my heart from any joy....Then I
looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the
labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and
vexation of spirit, and there was no profit from them under the
sun.  And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and
folly.... But I perceived that one even happeneth to them all. 
Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it
happeneth even to me, and why was I then more wise?  then I said in
my heart, that this also is vanity.  For there is no remembrance of
the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is
in the days to come shall all be forgotten.  And how dieth the wise
man? as the fool.  Therefore I hated life; because the work that is
wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and
vexation of spirit.  Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken
under the sun: seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall
be after me.... For what hath  man of all his labour, and of the
vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?  For
all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, even in the
night his heart taketh no rest.  this is also vanity.  Man is not
blessed with security that he should eat and drink and cheer his
soul from his own labour.... All things come alike to all: there is
one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to
the evil; to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth
and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, so is the sinner;
and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.  This is an evil
in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event unto
all; yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and
madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go
to the dead.  For him that is among the living there is hope: for
a living dog is better than a dead lion.  For the living know that
they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they
any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.  also their
love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither
have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done
under the sun."

So said Solomon, or whoever wrote those words.  [Footnote:
tolstoy's version differs slightly in a few places from our own
Authorized or Revised version.  I have followed his text, for in a
letter to Fet, quoted on p. 18, vol. ii, of my "Life of Tolstoy,"
he says that "The Authorized English version [of Ecclesiastes] is
bad." -- A.M.]

And this is what the Indian wisdom tells:

Aakya Muni, a young, happy prince, from whom the existence of
sickness, old age, and death had been hidden, went out to drive and
saw a terrible old man, toothless and slobbering.  the prince, from
whom till then old age had been concealed, was amazed, and asked
his driver what it was, and how that man had come to such a
wretched and disgusting condition, and when he learnt that this was
the common fate of all men, that the same thing inevitably awaited
him -- the young prince -- he could not continue his drive, but
gave orders to go home, that he might consider this fact.  So he
shut himself up alone and considered it.  and he probably devised
some consolation for himself, for he subsequently again went out to
drive, feeling merry and happy.  But this time he saw a sick man. 
He saw an emaciated, livid, trembling man with dim eyes.  The
prince, from whom sickness had been concealed, stopped and asked
what this was.  And when he learnt that this was sickness, to which
all men are liable, and that he himself -- a healthy and happy
prince -- might himself fall ill tomorrow, he again was in no mood
to enjoy himself but gave orders to drive home, and again sought
some solace, and probably found it, for he drove out a third time
for pleasure.  But this third time he saw another new sight: he saw
men carrying something.  'What is that?'  'A dead man.'  'What does
*dead* mean?' asked the prince.  He was told that to become dead
means to become like that man.  The prince approached the corpse,
uncovered it, and looked at it.  'What will happen to him now?'
asked the prince.  He was told that the corpse would be buried in
the ground.  'Why?'  'Because he will certainly not return to life,
and will only produce a stench and worms.'  'And is that the fate
of all men?  Will the same thing happen to me?  Will they bury me,
and shall I cause a stench and be eaten by worms?'  'Yes.'  'Home! 
I shall not drive out for pleasure, and never will so drive out
again!'

And Sakya Muni could find no consolation in life, and decided
that life is the greatest of evils; and he devoted all the strength
of his soul to free himself from it, and to free others; and to do
this so that, even after death, life shall not be renewed any more
but be completely destroyed at its very roots.  So speaks all the
wisdom of India.

These are the direct replies that human wisdom gives when it
replies to life's question.

"The life of the body is an evil and a lie.  Therefore the
destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should
desire it," says Socrates.

"Life is that which should not be -- an evil; and the passage
into Nothingness is the only good in life," says Schopenhauer.

"All that is in the world -- folly and wisdom and riches and
poverty and mirth and grief -- is vanity and emptiness.  Man dies
and nothing is left of him.  And that is stupid," says Solomon.

"To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of
suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is
impossible -- we must free ourselves from life, from all possible
life," says Buddha.

And what these strong minds said has been said and thought and
felt by millions upon millions of people like them.  And I have
thought it and felt it.

So my wandering among the sciences, far from freeing me from
my despair, only strengthened it.  One kind of knowledge did not
reply to life's question, the other kind replied directly
confirming my despair, indicating not that the result at which I
had arrived was the fruit of error or of a diseased state of my
mind, but on the contrary that I had thought correctly, and that my
thoughts coincided with the conclusions of the most powerful of
human minds.
     It is no good deceiving oneself. It is all -- vanity!  Happy
is he who has not been born:  death is better than life, and one
must free oneself from life.