By Life Positive
This excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina explores the meaning of life and what lies behind man’s needs.
Oh, well, of course, folks are different. One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh; he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God.’
‘How thinks of God? How does he live for his soul?’ Levin almost shouted. ‘Why, to be sure, in truth, in God’s way. Folks are different. Take you now, you wouldn’t wrong a man…’
‘Yes, yes, good-bye!’ said Levin, breathless with excitement, and turning round, he took his stick and walked quickly away towards home. At the peasant’s words that Fokanitch lived for his soul, in truth, in God’s way, undefined but significant ideas seemed to burst out as though they had been locked up. And all striving towards one goal, they thronged whirling through his head, blinding him with their light…
…’Not living for his own wants, but for God? For what God? And could one say anything more senseless than what he said? He said that one must not live for one’s own wants, that is, that one must not live for what we understand, what we are attracted by, what we desire, but must live for something incomprehensible, for God, whom no one can understand, nor even define. What of it? Didn’t I understand those senseless words of Fyodor’s? And understanding them, did I doubt of their truth? Did I think them stupid, obscure, inexact? No, I understood him, and exactly as he understands the words. I understood them more fully and clearly than I understand anything in life, and never in my life have I doubted nor can I doubt about it. And not only I, but everyone, the whole world understands nothing fully but this, and about this only they have no doubt and are always agreed…
… ‘Fyodor says that Kirillov lives for his belly. That’s comprehensible and rational. All of us as rational beings can’t do anything else but live for our belly. And all of a sudden the same Fyodor says that one mustn’t live for one’s belly, but must live for truth, for God, and at a hint I understand him! And I and millions of men, men who lived ages ago and men living now – peasants, the poor in spirit and the learned, who have thought and written about it, in their obscure words saying the same thing – we are all agreed about this one thing: what we must live for and what is good. I and all men have only one firm, incontestable, clear knowledge, and that knowledge cannot be explained by the reason – it is outside it, and has no causes and can have no effects…
…’What is it makes me glad? What have I discovered? I have discovered nothing. I have only found out what I knew. I understand the force that in the past gave me life, and now too gives me life. I have been set free from falsity, I have found the Master.
‘Of old I used to say that in my body… there was going on a transformation of matter in accordance with physical, chemical, and physiological laws. And in all of us, as well as in the aspens and the clouds and the misty patches, there was a process of evolution. Evolution from what? Into what – Eternal evolution and struggle in the eternal! And I was astonished that in spite of the utmost effort of thought along that road I could not discover the meaning of life, the meaning of my impulses and yearnings. Now I say that I know the meaning of my life: ‘To live for God, for my soul.’ And this meaning, in spite of its clearness, is mysterious and marvellous. Such, indeed, is the meaning of everything existing.’
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