Of course I don't expect Tolstoy to give me a one sentence answer to that question. It is something for me to figure out.So, there!
You are perhaps thinking (but are too polite to say it): "if you knew you would not find a cut and dried answer to the question, then why spend time reading it?" And why torture the few readers who are sticking with this blog, right?
I have been convinced for a long time now that it will be a lifelong quest to understand the meaning of my existence. All I know for certain is that the scientific route keeps uncovering more questions as it tries to explain the different pieces, and the other route will force upon me questions that will be way complicated for my tiny intellect. Yet, not to examine my life does not appeal to me. Not to examine the meaning of my existence seems like a wasted life. Reading Tolstoy and others adds that much more to understanding my own existence.
That examination includes, of course, running into situations like what Tolstoy describes:
At that time as a consequence of my interest in faith I became close to believers of various denominations: to Catholics, Protestants, Old Believers, Molokans, etc. And among them I met many people of high morality who were truly believers. I wanted to be a brother to these people. And what happened? The teaching that had promised me to unite all in a single faith and love, this very teaching in the person of its best representatives told me that these people were all dwelling in falsehood, that what gave them life was a temptation of the devil and that we alone were in possession of the one possible truth. And I saw that the Orthodox consider all those who do not profess a faith identical to theirs to be heretics, exactly as the Catholics and others consider Orthodoxy to be heresy.If a religion, or a denomination within one, claims it has the truth, then people who live following other religions and denominations are living in falsehood, right?
And I, who supposed truth lay in the unity of love, was involuntarily struck by the fact that this very Christian teaching was destroying what it should be producing.And:
You say to yourself, "It can't be that it is so simple and that still people do not see that if two affirmations contradict each other, then neither one nor the other can hold the unified truth that faith must be. There is something here. There is some explanation."He puts it bluntly with:
Why is the truth held not by Lutheranism, not by Catholicism, but by Orthodoxy?Of course, we can add a whole bunch to that: why is the truth held not by the Wahhabi, not by Mahayana Buddhism, not by Shaivism, ... To any believer, the other is an infidel. We are all infidels then!
As much as an infidel, atheist, that I am, I understand that religions have comforted and assured the believers with meanings to their existence. I am an atheist in the camp of the likes of Camille Paglia, who respect the value that religions have added to the human condition, and not in the militant camp from where the intellectual atheists wage their crusades as if atheism is a religion of its own. I have always believed that that it is such an approach to atheism that has allowed me to be friends with believers and them with me, and to even be invited to weddings by believing students.
I am at peace with knowing that I do not know the meaning of my life, and I will continue to examine it. It is up to me to figure out the meaning of my own life. Merely chanting Om and "अहं ब्रह्मास्मि" (Aham Brahmasmi) won't do it!
Visit with me as I am dying and I will let you know if I figured it out by then--about twenty-four years from now ;)