The truth is most of us live for the sake of living. We lack a true understanding of life and the powers that influence our lives. What I mean by powers are the unseen entities that interpose to push us towards a particular direction in life. These mysterious forces are beyond our comprehension and control. Some call them destiny or fate. At times, hints and signals (intuition or gut feelings) tell us to change paths. When we hesitate to submit, we experience anguish and distress until we surrender to the path we are being guided to. It is worth wondering, do we choose the path or the path chooses us?
Sufi poet Rumi believed that all paths lead to the Beloved. The wise and learned people of the past, such as Aristotle, Buddha, Rumi and Ghazali have all shared their insights and observations on this essential topic. More importantly, it is the teachings of Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad that we need to follow to achieve wholeness in our lives. Yes, what we all desire is wholeness, we desire to be complete. It is the inner self that instigates demands for wholeness.
Being successful in worldly terms is no guarantee that our inner self is gratified. The famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy in his famous book Confessions (1882), has described how he became insipid and incapacitated as he struggled to move forward, feeling desperate to know the answers to life’s basic questions, such as; who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? Why am I on this planet? These basic but stimulating questions ultimately propelled him to search, ponder and eventually find a way out of the impasse.
For those who are not familiar with the name Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), he is the author of War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). Despite the success, he “came to believe that he had accomplished nothing in life and that his life was meaningless.” Although he was successful in other areas of his life, spiritually he felt starved. He was hungry for truth – the spiritual truth. His spiritual hunger was demanding answers.
“I searched all areas of knowledge, and not only did I fail to find anything, but I was convinced that all those who had explored knowledge as I did had also come up with nothing. Not only had they found nothing, but they had clearly acknowledged the same thing that had brought me to despair: the only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless.”
To make his life meaningful, he sought answers. Being born into a rich family and a successful career as a writer granted him access to highly educated and knowledgeable people. He held discussions with top European philosophers but their empty words failed to provide him with a satisfactory answer. He visited the religious elite but after witnessing their private lives, he detested their hypocrisy. For Leo, the privilege only exposed the vanity of those in top positions. Most rich people seemed to live for their epicurean lifestyles.
The truth is, not much has changed over the last two hundred years. The rich and powerful are still full of vanity, and the present-day religious elite are no different from those who lived in his era. This is one of reasons for the decline in the church attendees in the west. Perhaps this also explains why the masses are not complaining about their spiritually hollow atheistic busy lives spent worshiping mammon. Encroachment by secularism over the last few hundred years has only exasperated the situation. Most of us have no appreciation now for the power of truth. We have stopped searching for the truth and have become spiritually dejected.
The solution lies in undertaking a self-discovery journey as Leo Tolstoy did, but this is no ordinary voyage. It is an expedition not for the weak hearted. It requires painful and uncompromising introspection. I must admit, Leo Tolstoy was resolute in his purposeful introspection. He struggled for years in search of the meaning of life. But truth has its own way of manifesting and demonstrating itself and its powers. As for Leo, this was a matter of life and death as if knowing that the fundamental truth (death) leads to the real truth.
He states that “My question, the question that had brought me to the edge of suicide when I was fifty years old, was the simplest question lying in the soul of every human being, from a silly child to the wisest of the elders, the question without which life is impossible; such was the way I felt about the matter. The question is this: What will come of what I do today and tomorrow? What will come of my entire life?” His path was calling him to change his whole perspective on life.
During his teenage years, Leo had learned that there is no God. When he reached fifty, he began to question and research on the purpose of life, his own life. But Leo’s fallacy was that he kept looking for answers outwards rather than inward. The answers came when he started to look outside of the circle of his friends, colleagues and most of all the elite and educated class that he belonged to. He found the answers not among the rich or the educated but among the poor working people.
The truth manifested when Leo realised that the “uneducated working people, whom we look upon as animals, do the will of their master without ever reproaching him. But we, the wise, consume everything the master provides without doing what he asks of us.” The poor and the educated did not experience the same suffering he was undergoing. They had faith which protected them from such affliction.
The whole time, the cause of his suffering was the evil that was inside him. He was searching for solutions that did not include changing what is inside his heart. Only when he accepted this truth and brought piety into his life that he found relief. “I understood the truth that I later found in the Gospel, the truth that people clung to darkness and shunned the light because their deeds were evil. For he who does evil hates the light and will not venture into the light, lest his deeds be revealed. I realized that in order to understand the meaning of life, it is necessary first of all that life not be evil and meaningless, and then one must have the power of reason to understand it.”
“I was occupied with the thoughts and observations I have described, my heart was tormented with an agonizing feeling. This feeling I can only describe as a search for God.” Leo finally came to realise that we do not see things as they are; we see things as we are. Thereafter he began to change his life, cleansed himself of all the vices including gambling, women and alcohol.
Having found his path, he could not accept religion without questioning everything that the religion represented, especially the rituals. “When I took part in the most common and what are regarded as the most important of the sacraments: baptism and communion. Here I was in conflict with nothing incomprehensible but with matters that were quite easy to understand; it seemed to me that these acts were deceptive in nature, and I was caught in a dilemma-I had either to reject them or lie about them.”
Each Christian sects of the day they considered all other sects to be a heretic, and still do till this day. Clergymen of all denominations proclaimed that “theirs was the true belief and all the others were erroneous, and that the only thing they could do for the others was to pray for them.”
Whereas I enjoyed reading Leo’s criticism of the unnecessary and burdensome (manmade) religious rituals, I became confused when oddly, he justified the rituals; “and then I understood it all. I am searching for faith, for the force of life, but they seek the best means for fulfilling what people consider to be certain human obligations. And in meeting these human duties they perform them in an all-too-human fashion.” In my view, the truth has to remain pure.
However, truth is a rare commodity in this time and age. I cannot help feeling concerned about the human complacency with regards to the common people and the stubborn egotism of the elite to manipulate the masses and indoctrinate the masses away from the path of truth. Once we are away from the truth, we invite spiritual hollowness into our lives and thence suffer the same agonising pains Leo underwent. We cannot compromise on truth, for it is the truth that sets us on the path to restoring the mind.