On Life, Death and Happiness

Citations from War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy (1869)


Who’s right, and who’s wrong? No one. You’re alive — so live: tomorrow you’ll die, just as I could’ve died an hour ago. And is it worth the suffering, when there is only a second left to live compared with eternity?

“What is bad? What is good? What should one love, what hate? Why live, and what am I? What is life, what is death? What power rules over everything?” he asked himself. And there was no answer to any of those questions except one, which was not logical and was not at all an answer to these questions. This answer was: “You will die — and everything will end. You will die and learn everything — or stop asking.” But to die was also frightening.

…”Can anything in the world make her or me less subject to evil and death? Death, which will end everything and which must come today or tommorow — in a moment, anyhow, compared with eternity.”

“We sin so much, we deceive so much, and all for what?…Everything ends in death, everything. Death is terrible.” He wept.

“One step beyond that line, reminiscent of the line separating the living from the dead, and it’s the unknown, suffering and death. And what is there? who is there? there, beyond this field, and the tree, and the roof lit by the sun? No one knows, and you would like to know; and you’re afraid to cross that line, and would like to cross it; and you know that sooner or later you will have to cross it and find out what is there on the other side of the line, as you will inevitably find out what is there on the other side of death. And you’re strong, healthy, cheerful, and excited, and surrounded by people just as strong and excitedly animated.”

“In me alone and in this sun there is so much happiness, but here…groans, suffering, fear and this obscurity, this hurry…and I’m running with them, and here it is, here it is, death, above me, around me…An instant, and I’ll never again see this sun, this water, this gorge…”

…And his fear of death and the stretcher, and his love of the sun and life — all merged into one painfully disturbing impression.

“I say that if it were possible to know what there will be after death, none of us would be afraid of death…”

“Afraid or not, all the same you can’t avoid it.”

…”But you’re still afraid,” the first, familiar voice went on. “Afraid of the unknown, that’s what.”

“How good it would be to know where to look for help in this life and what to expect after it, there beyond the grave! How happy and calm I’d be, if I could say now: Lord, have mercy on me!… But to whom shall I say it? Either it is an undefinable, unfathomable power, which I not only cannot address, but which I cannot express in words — the great all or nothing,” he said to himself, “or it is the God whom (she) has sewn in here, in this amulet?

Nothing, nothing is certain, except the insignificance of everything that I can comprehend and the grandeur of something incomprehensible but most important!”

“Don’t I feel in my soul that I make up a part of that huge, harmonious whole? … I feel not only that I cannot disappear, as nothing disappears in the world, but that I will always be and have always been…We must live, we must love, we must believe,” said Pierre, “that we do not live only today on this scrap of earth, but have lived and will live eternally there, in the all (he pointed to the sky).

Only amidst the world’s troubles can we achieve three main goals: 1) self-knowledge — for man can only know himself through comparison; 2) perfection — for it is achieved only through struggle; and 3) achieving the main virute — the love of death.

Only life’s adversities can show us its vanity and contribute to our innate love of death, or rebirth into a new life.

He was happy but at the same time he felt sad. “Why do I thrash about, why do I fuss inside this narrow, limited frame, when life, the whole of life, with all its joys, is open to me?” he said to himself.

One must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and now I believe in it. Let the dead bury their dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy,” he thought.

“Love? What is love?” he thought. “Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love.”


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