Theosophy and Tolstoy
Life and form are the two ideas which have to lead us through the labyrinth of the world phenomena. Life perpetually changes into thousand and thousand forms. This life expresses itself in its most manifold shaping. It could not manifest in the world unless it appeared in new forms again and again. Form is the manifestation of life. But everything would disappear in the inflexibility of the form, all life would have to lose itself unless the form were continuously renewed in life unless it became the seed again and again to create new forms out of the old ones. The seed of the plant grows up to the organised form of the plant, and this plant must again become a seed and give existence to a new form. It is in nature everywhere that way, and just it is in the spiritual life of the human being. Also in the spiritual life of the human being and humanity the forms change, and life keeps itself in the most manifold forms. However, life would ossify unless the forms were perpetually renewed, unless new life emerged from old forms.
As the ages change in the course of human history, we see life changing in these epochs into the most manifold forms also in the big history. We have seen in the talk on Theosophy and Darwin in which manifold forms the human cultures and history have expressed themselves. We have seen some of the forms in the ancient Vedic culture of India. We have seen these forms changing in the ancient Persian epoch, then in the Chaldean-Babylonian-Assyrian epoch, then in the Graeco-Latin culture and, finally, in the Christian culture up to our time. However, this is just the significant of the mental development of our time that more and more a common life pours forth into forms, and our age may be almost called the age of forms, the age in which the human being is taught in every respect to enjoy life in the form.
We see the dominance of form everywhere. We have Darwin as the most brilliant example. What had Darwin investigated and delivered to humanity in his theory? The origin and metamorphosis of the animal and plant genera in the struggle for existence. This shows that our science is oriented to the outer form. What had just Darwin to say and explained openly? I have shown that he emphasised that plants and animals enjoy life in the most manifold forms that, however, according to his conviction there were primal forms which were animated by a creator of the universe. This is Darwin's own saying. Darwin looked at the development of the forms, of the outer figure, and he himself feels the impossibility to penetrate into the life of these forms. He accepts this life as given; he does not want to explain this life. He does not at all look at it; he rather asks only how life forms.
If we consider life in another field, in the field of art. I want to speak only of a typical phenomenon of our artistic life; however, I want to illuminate it in its most radical appearance just in this regard. What a lot of dust did the catchword naturalism not meant in the bad sense blow up in the seventies and eighties! This catchword naturalism completely corresponds to the character of our time. This naturalism appeared most radically with the French Zola (Emil Z., 1840–1902, writer). How stupendously he describes the human life! But he does not look directly at the human life, but at the forms in which this human life expresses itself. How it expresses itself in mines, in factories, in city quarters where the human being perishes in immorality et etcetera Zola describes all these different configurations of life, and all naturalists describe the same basically. They do not look at life, but only at the forms in which life expresses itself.
Look at our sociologists who should deliver the dates how life has developed and should develop in future. The catchword of the materialistic historical view and of the historical materialism became a talking point. However, how do the sociologists consider the matter? They do not look at the human soul, not at the inside of the human mind; they look at the outer life how it represents itself in our economic life how in this or that area trade and industry blossom, and how the human being must live as a result of this external configuration of life. The sociologists consider life this way. They say: we do not concern ourselves with ethics and the idea of morality! Provide better external living conditions to the human beings, then their morality and way of life progress by themselves. Yes, in the form of Marxism modern sociology has asserted that not the ideal forces are the most principal, but the external forms of the economic life.
All that shows you that we have arrived at a phase of development in which the human beings look preferably at the form of the external existence. If you take the greatest poet of our present, Ibsen, then you just see him looking at this form of existence and almost falling into despair, so to speak. For he is filled with the warmest feeling for the soul-life, for a free life, he despairs of the forms that have come into being. I mean Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906, Norwegian playwright and poet). He shows life in the most different forms, he shows us how living in the forms always causes contradictions, how the souls perish and atrophy under the pressure of the forms of life. It is really symbolic for the oblivion of soul and spirit finishing his poem When We Dead Awaken (1899). It is, as if he had wanted to say: we modern human beings are enclosed so completely in the external form of life which we have mastered so often ... and if we awake, what shows the soul-life in the inflexible forms of society and view of the West? This is the basic trend of Ibsen's dramas which finds expression in his dramatic will, too.
Thus we have thrown some sidelights on the western culture of form. Considering Darwinism we have seen how the form culture is directed to the external mechanical life of nature, and how our soul is clamped in completely measured forms of life and society. We have seen how this was achieved slowly and bit by bit, how our fifth, the Aryan race, went from the spirit of the ancient Vedic culture, which imagined life ensouled as a result of immediate observation, through the Persian, the Chaldean-Babylonian-Egyptian cultures, then through the Graeco-Latin culture with its view that the whole nature is ensouled. With the Greeks even the philosophers conceive the whole nature ensouled.
Then there came Giordano Bruno in the 16th century. He still finds life in the whole nature, in the whole universe, in the whole big star world. In even later time, life climbed down and is completely entangled in the external form. This is the deepest level. I do not say this disparagingly, because every point of view is necessary. The external form, what develops from any sprout makes the plant beautiful. Our cultural life is externalised in many respects, has attained the most diverse external form. This must be like that. Theosophy has to understand this as an absolute necessity. Least of all the theosophists are allowed to reprove. Just as once the spirit-imbued and life-imbued culture was necessary, the form culture is necessary for our age. A form culture came into being in science, in Darwinism, in naturalism, and in sociology.
In the middle of this consideration we have to hold still and ask ourselves: what must happen in our spiritual-scientific sense when the form has found expression? The form must be renewed; new, embryonic life must come again into the form! We will consider the necessary reversal of the human mind again in the series of talks entitled Basic Concepts of Theosophy.
Someone who considers Zola's contemporary Tolstoy carefully and impartially at first the artist from the point of view which I have just given will already find that with the artist the viewer of the different types of the Russian people, possibly of the soldier type which he described in his War and Peace (1869) and later in Anna Karenina (1879) another keynote prevails than in the naturalism of the West. Everywhere Tolstoy seeks something else. He can describe the soldier, the official, the human being of any social class, the human being within a gender or a race he seeks the soul, the living soul everywhere which expresses itself in them, even if not in the same way. He demonstrates the simple, straight lines of the soul but on the most different levels and in the most different forms of life. What is life in its different forms, what is this life in its diverse variety? This goes like a basic question through Tolstoy's creative work. From here he finds the possibility to understand life also where it cancels out itself apparently where this life changes into death. Death remains the big stumbling block for the materialistic world view. Who accepts the external material world only, how should he understand death, how should he cope with life, finally, because death stands like a gate at the end of this life, fulfilling him with fear and fright? Also as an artist Tolstoy has already advanced beyond this point of view of materialism. Already in the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) you can see how artistically the most material is overcome how there in this figure of Ivan an entire harmony is produced in his innermost life. We have an ill human being before ourselves, not his body is ill but his soul.
We hear it and see it in all words which Tolstoy says to us that he is not of the opinion that in the body a soul lives which has nothing to do with the body; but we hear from his words that he finds the expression of the soul in the physical expression that the ill soul sickens the body that the soul flows through the veins of the body. We see from this form of artistic representation how life is found. A peculiar view of death faces us there, not as a theory, not as a dogma, but in the feeling. This idea gives the possibility to understand death not as an end, but as outpouring the personality into the universe, as disappearing in the infinite and as retrieval in the great primal spirit of the world. The problem of death is thereby artistically solved in marvellous way. Death has become fortune in life. The dying human being feels the metamorphosis of one life form to the other.
Leo Tolstoy as an artistic contemporary of the naturalists was the viewfinder of life, the questioner of the riddle of life in its different forms. That is why this riddle of life had also to be in the centre of his soul, of his thinking and feeling in scientific and in religious respect. He attempted to investigate this riddle of life that way; he also sought for life except the form, where he met it. Hence, he has become the prophet of a new epoch which must overcome ours, an epoch which again feels and recognises life in contrast to the configuration of natural sciences. In Tolstoy's whole criticism about the western civilisation we see nothing else than the expression of that spirit which represents a young, fresh, child-like life which wants to pour it into the developing humanity which cannot satisfy itself with a mature, indeed overripe, in the external form expressed civilisation. This is the contrast between Tolstoy and the western civilisation. From this point of view he criticises the social system and the life forms of the West everything in general. This is the point of view of his criticism.
We have seen in Darwinism that the western science has come to understand the forms of life that, however, Darwin said to not be able to understand anything of life which he presupposes as a fact. The whole western civilisation is based on the consideration of form: we look at the external form in the evolution of the minerals, plants, animals, and human beings. Wherever you open any book of the western science, it is the form that has priority. Remember again what we have already thought of: that just the researchers of the West admit that they face the riddle of life and are not able to penetrate it. The words “ignoramus, ignorabimus” sound toward us time and again if science should give information about life. This science knows something how life develops in forms. However, how this life itself behaves about that it knows nothing. It despairs of the task to solve this riddle and says only: ignorabimus. There Tolstoy found the right word, the right principle considering life itself. I would like to read out a crucial passage from which you see how he represents the point of view of life compared with all science of the forms of life:
“The wrong knowledge of our time” (of the West) “supposes that we know what we cannot know, and that we cannot know what we really know. The human being with wrong knowledge believes that he knows everything that appears to him in space and time, and that he does not know what is known to him by his reasonable consciousness.
It seems to such a person that the general welfare and his welfare is the most unexplorable object. His reason, his reasonable consciousness appears to him almost as unexplorable; he appears to himself somewhat more explorable as animal; the animals and plants appear as still more explorable beings, and the most explorable thing is the dead, endlessly distributed matter.
Something similar takes place with the human vision. The human being turns his look always unconsciously upon the most distant objects because their colours and contours appear to him the simplest: upon the sky, horizon, distant fields and forests. These objects appear to him the more certain and simpler, the more distant they are, and on the contrary, the closer the object is, the more manifold are its contours and colours.” – “Does not the same take place with the wrong knowledge of the human being? What is known to him certainly his reasonable consciousness appears to him unexplorable because it is not simple, however, what is inaccessible to him the limitless, everlasting matter seems to him easily explorable because it appears simple from a distance. However, this is just the opposite.”
The western scientist considers the lifeless matter as his reliable starting point. Then he observes how the plants, animals and human beings build themselves up out of the chemical and physical forces; he observes how the lifeless matter moves, conglomerates and finally produces the movement of the brain. But he cannot understand how life comes about: because what he investigates is nothing else than the form of life. Tolstoy says: life is next to us, we are in it, we are life; of course, if we want to understand life observing and investigating its forms, then we never understand it. We only need to see it in ourselves, we only need to live it, and then we have life. People who believe to be unable to understand it do not understand life at all. Here Tolstoy starts with his consideration of life and examines what the human being can conceive as his life, even if the refined, overripe way of thinking cannot understand it along the lines of simple thinking: if you want to understand the form correctly, you have to look into the inside. If you want to investigate the formal laws of nature only, how do you want to distinguish a meaningful life from a meaningless life?
According to the same higher principles the organisms are healthy and the organisms fall ill; exactly according to the same principles of nature the human being falls ill as he is healthy. Tolstoy expresses himself again characteristically in his treatise On Life (1887): “As strong and rapid the movements of the human being may be in the fever delirium, in insanity or death struggle, in drunkenness, even in the burst of passion, we do not accept the human being as living, do not treat him as a living human being and allot the possibility of life to him only. But as weak and immobile a human being may be if we see that his animal personality has submitted to reason, we accept him as living and treat him correspondingly.”
Tolstoy thinks that the outer form gets sense for us unless we study it only externally, but if we try to directly understand what not form is what is mind only, and what is the essential part. We cannot understand the true life if we try only to conceive its form; but we understand the forms if we move from life on the forms.
However, Tolstoy did not understand his problem only in this scientific way; he understood it also from the moral side. How do we come in our human form to this real life, up to the lawfulness of the external form? Tolstoy got this clear in his mind asking himself: how do I and my fellow men satisfy the need of our own well-being? How do I satisfy my immediate personal life? Going out from the configuration of the animal life, the human being has no other question than: how do I satisfy the needs of the external form of life? This is a low view. Those have a somewhat superior view who say: the single person has not to satisfy his needs, but he has to adapt himself to the public welfare to fit into a community. He has not only to provide what satisfies his own external life, but he has to ensure that this form of life is satisfied with all living beings. We should fit into the community and subordinate to the needs of the society. Numerous personalities, numerous ethicists and sociologists regard this as the western ideal of the cultural development: subordination of the needs of the single to the needs of the community. However, this is not the highest goal Tolstoy says , because what else I have in mind than the external form? It refers only to the outer form how one lives in the community how one fits into it. These outer forms change perpetually. If my single personal life is not directly meaningful, why should the other lives be meaningful? If the personal welfare of the single human life form is not an ideal, an ideal of the public welfare cannot originate from the summation of many single forms of life. Not the well-being of the single, not the well-being of all can be the ideal: this only concerns the forms in which life only lives. Where do we recognise life? To whom should we submit, if not to the needs dictated by our low nature, if not to that which the public welfare or humanity dictates?
Life of the most manifold forms is that which longs for well-being and happiness of the single and the community. We want to understand our moral, our innermost ideal not according to external forms, but according to that which results as an ideal from the inside of the soul, from God who lives in it. That is why Tolstoy resorts again to a kind of higher organised Christianity, which he considers as the true Christianity: do not look for the kingdom of God in external gestures, in the forms, but inside. Then you understand your duty if you understand the life of the soul if you can be inspired by the God in yourselves, if you listen to your soul. Do not be wrapped up in the forms, as large and immense they may be! Go back to the original unified life, to the divine life in yourselves. If the human being does not take up the ethical and cultural ideals from without, but allows rising from his soul what rises in his heart what God has lowered in his soul, then he has stopped living only in the form, then he really has a moral character. This is internal morality and inspiration.
From this viewpoint he attempts an entire renewal of all views of life and world in the form of what he calls early Christianity. Christianity has externalised itself according to him, has adapted itself to the different life forms which have come from the culture of the different centuries. He expects a time again, when the form must be penetrated with new internal life when life is seized immediately. Therefore, he does not get tired of pointing in new forms repeatedly to the fact that it is necessary to understand the simplicity of the soul, not the intricate life which always wants to get to know something new. No! The fact that the simplicity of the soul must meet the right thing that first of all the confusing of the external science, of the outer artistic representation, the luxurious of modern life must be connected with the immediately simple that emerges in the soul of everybody no matter in which life form and social system he is: Tolstoy regards this as an ideal. Thus he becomes a strict critic of the various cultural forms of Western Europe; he becomes a strict critic of western science. He states that this science has solidified bit by bit in dogmas like theology, and that the western scientists appear as the real dogmatists imbued with wrong mind. He is hard on these scientists. Above all, he criticises the ideal, which is striven for in these scientific forms, and those who consider our sensuous well-being as the only goal of any striving.
For centuries humanity intended to develop the forms highly and to regard the external possession, the external well-being as the highest. And now we know that we do not have to reprove this, but have to consider it as a necessity , well-being should not be limited only to single social ranks and classes, but everybody should take part in it. Indeed, nothing is to be argued against that, but Tolstoy opposes the form in which this is tried to achieve by the western sociology and the western socialism. What does this socialism say? It takes the transformation of the outer forms of life as starting point. The material culture should induce the human being to get a higher level of living. Then one believes that those who feel better who have a better external livelihood also have a higher morality. All moral endeavours of socialisation are directed to subject the external formation to a revolution.
Tolstoy opposes that. For this is just the result of the cultural development that it developed the most manifold differences of ranks and classes. Do you believe if you develop this form culture highly that you really get to a higher cultural ideal? You have to understand the human being where he gives himself form. You have to improve his soul, to pour divine-moral forces into his soul, and then he reshapes the form from the soul. This is Tolstoy's socialism, and it is his view that a renewal of the moral culture can never arise from any transformation of the western form culture, but that this renewal has to take place from the soul, from the inside.
Hence, he does not become the preacher of a dogmatic ethical ideal, but the furtherer of a perfect transformation of the human soul. He does not say that the human morality increases if the external situation of the human being is improved, but he says: just because you have taken the external form as starting point, your dismal circumstances of life came into being. You are able to overcome this life form again if you reshape the human being from the inside. In sociology we have, just as in the Darwinist scientific consideration, the last branches of the old form culture. On the other hand, we have the incipient stages of a new life culture. As we have the descending line there, we have the ascending one here. As little as the old man, who has got to his determination, to his life form, is able to be renewed completely, as rather from the growing up child the new life form arises from internal stimulation, just as little a new life form can arise from an old cultural nation.
That is why Tolstoy regards the Russian nation, which is not yet taken in with the cultural forms of the west, as that nation within which this future life has to originate. Considering this Slavic people, which still looks at the European cultural ideals in dull indifference today at the European science as well as at the European art , Tolstoy states that in it an undifferentiated spirit lives that has to become the supporter of the future cultural ideal. His criticism is based on the big principle of evolution, on that principle which teaches the change of the forms and the perpetual merging of life.
In the tenth chapter of his book On Life one reads: “And the principle which we know in ourselves as the principle of our life is the same principle according to which also all external phenomena of the world take place, only with the difference that we know this principle in ourselves which we ourselves must carry out however, in the external phenomena as something that takes place without our assistance according to these principles.”
Thus Tolstoy positions himself in the forever developing and changing life. We would be rather bad representatives of spiritual science if we could not understand such a phenomenon correctly; we would be bad spiritual scientists if we wanted to preach ancient truth only. Why do we make the contents of the ancient wisdom our own? Because the ancient wisdom teaches us to understand life in its profoundness because it shows us how in the most manifold figures the one divine appears again and again. A bad representative of spiritual science would be that who would become a dogmatist, who only wanted to preach what contains the ancient wisdom, who would withdraw and would face life cold and distantly, who would be blind and deaf to what happens in the immediate present. The doctrine of wisdom has not taught the ancient wisdom to us, so that we repeat it in words, but live with it and learn to understand what is round us. The development of our own race, which has disintegrated into different forms since the ancient Indian culture up to ours, this development is exactly described and predetermined in that ancient wisdom. There is also spoken of a future development, of a development in the immediate future. One says to us that we stand at the starting point of a new era. Our reason, our intelligence, they attained their configuration as a result of the way through the different fields of existence. The forces of our physical intelligence have attained their biggest triumphs in the form culture of our time. Reason has penetrated the principles of form and masters them to the highest degree; it produced the big and immense progress of technology, the big and immense progress of our life. Now we stand at the starting point of that epoch in which something has to pour out in this reason that must seize and form the human being from within.
Hence, the theosophical movement has chosen its motto and is dedicated to establishing the core, the rudiment of a general human fraternisation. One must not make distinctions of views, classes, religions, gender, and skin colour; one has to look for life in all these forms. Our spiritual ideal is an ideal of love which the human being experiences as the kingdom of God if he becomes aware of his divinity. Theosophy calls the culture of intellectuality manas; it calls buddhi what is filled with the inner being, with love, what does not want to be wise without being filled with love. As our race has got to the manas culture because of its reason, the next will be now that we get to the individuality imbued with love where the human being acts out of the higher, internal, divine nature, and neither is wrapped up in the chaos of the external nature nor in science nor in the social life. If we understand the spiritual ideal this way, we are allowed to say that we understand this ideal correctly and then we are also not allowed to misjudge a person who lives among us who wants to give new life impulses to the human development.
How nice and congruent with our teachings is something that just Tolstoy says concerning the view of the human being in his directness. I would like to read out a passage that is distinctive especially of his moral ideal: “The whole life of these human beings is turned upon the imaginary increase of their personal welfare. They see the personal welfare only in the satisfaction of their needs. They call personal needs all those living conditions upon which they have directed their reason. The conscious needs, nevertheless those upon which their reason is directed always grow as a result of this consciousness ad infinitum. The satisfaction of these growing needs closes up the demands of their true life to them.”
Tolstoy says: however, the personality does not comprise the reasonable consciousness. Personality is a quality of the animal and the human being as an animal. The reasonable consciousness is the quality of the human being only. Not before the human being advances beyond the mere personality if he realises the preponderance of the individuality over the personal if he understands to become impersonal to let the impersonal life prevail in himself, he leaves the culture entangled in the external form and enters a future culture full of life.
Even if that is not the ideal of theosophy and also not the ethical consequence which we theosophists draw, it is a step toward the ideal, because the human being learns to live only unless he looks at the personality but at the eternal and imperishable.
This eternal and imperishable, the buddhi, is the rudiment of wisdom which rests in the soul, it has to replace the civilisation of mere reason. There are many proofs that theosophy is right with this view of the future development of the human being. However, the most important one is that similar forces already make themselves noticeable in life which we have to understand really to fulfil us with their ideals.
This is great with Tolstoy that he wants to lift out the human being from the close circle of his thoughts and to deepen him spiritually that he wants to show him that the ideals are not outside in the material world, but can stream only from the soul.
If we are right theosophists, we recognise the development, then we do not remain blind and deaf towards that which shines to us in the theosophical sense in our present, but we really recognise these forces of which is normally spoken poetically in theosophical writings.
This must be just the typical of a theosophist that he has overcome darkness and error, that he learns to appreciate and recognise life and world.
A theosophist who withdraws, who faces life cold and distantly, would be a bad theosophist even if he knew a lot. Such theosophists who lead us from the sensuous world to a higher one, who are able to behold super-sensible worlds, they should teach us also to be able to observe the super-sensible on the physical plane and not to be carried away with the sensuous.
We investigate the causes which come from the spiritual in order to completely understand the sensuous which is the effect of the spiritual. We do not understand the sensuous if we stop within the sensuous, because the causes of the sensuous life come from the spiritual one.
Theosophy wants to make us clairvoyant in the sensuous; therefore, it talks of the ancient wisdom. It wants to reshape the human being so that he clairvoyantly beholds the lofty super-sensible secrets of existence, but this should not be purchased with lack of understanding for that which exists immediately around us.
Someone would be a bad clairvoyant who is blind and deaf to that which happens in the sensuous world, to that which his contemporaries are able to accomplish in his immediate surroundings and, moreover, he would be a bad clairvoyant if he were not able to recognise that of a personality by which in our time the human beings are led to the super-sensible. And what is the use in us becoming clairvoyant and not being able to recognise the next task immediately before us?
A theosophist must not withdraw from life; he has to understand how to apply theosophy directly to life. If theosophy has to lead us to higher worlds, we have to bring the super-sensible knowledge down to our physical plane. We must recognise the causes which are in the spiritual. The theosophist has to stand in life, has to understand the world, in which his contemporaries live, and has to recognise the spiritual causes of the different epochs of evolution.