Thursday, July 16, 2015

Figure it out for yourself!

Tolstoy does not have any firm bottom-line on the meaning of life.  As I raced towards the final pagess, the nebulous ending  to the essay was just as I had always suspected; recall that I wrote this in the post where it began:
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?

Tolstoy continues:
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.  
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 ;)


Ramesh said...

There's much to disagree with everything Tolstoy argues about religion.

There are many religions and faiths, of course, and they are all "right" in the sense they show a way of life. Because belief is a fundamental tenet of religion, it is natural that there is some feeling that one's way is THE right way and every other is wrong. Isn't that a natural fallout of belief.

But that is so only for the believer of that faith. For others, their way is equally valid. While throughout history, appalling acts have been committed on the grounds of defending the faith, it does not detract from many believers who respect and admire other faiths. Atheists are also equally guilty of committing atrocities (remember Genghis Khan). That is a human weakness, religion or other wise.

The sensible way is to go the way you - have a belief (even if its non belief), but you respect other beliefs, read about them and question them with a view to understanding). If we all follow that principle irrespective of faith the world will be a better place.

Am I delighted that this dalliance with Tolstoy is over. I am fairly certain that I am not going to read any more of his works.

Sriram Khé said...

Nope, again it is not about the religions. It is instead about the meaning of life.

If a religion provides a narrative that gives its believers meaning to their lives, but when that narrative is in conflict with another religion's narrative that provides meaning to another set of believers, then either one narrative is wrong or both are wrong. It is like how a true believer once felt sorry for me that I am going to hell because I don't accept Jesus as god.

It is not about whether one religion has caused more harm to humans than others, or whether atheists are murderous thugs. It is the bottom-line that no religious narrative can claim *the* truth and yet religions do and believers do. It is then truly left to our individual selves to seek meaning to our lives and figure out what it is all about.

Tolstoy was a spiritual/political guru to many, including Gandhi. Methinks you are being too casual in dismissing Tolstoy. Or, maybe it is that my blogging about Tolstoy's profound works have completely misrepresented his ideas.