TOLSTOY – ABOUT LOVE
By Roza Riaikkenen
“A conscious person cannot live in pursuit of their personal goals,” says Leo Tolstoy. “It is impossible because all the ways to these goals are forbidden, all the aims which are tempting the animal self of a man, - all of them are obviously unreachable.” A person is aiming to these goals and seemingly reaching them, but this is only the “commotion of existence”, which inevitably comes to its end.
There are other aims which are dictated by human consciousness, and these aims seem to oppose the aims of the animal self. There is this good which people remember from their childhood, this feeling which forces a person to renounce the good of their animal self. This feeling is love.
Tolstoy tells us that “the feeling of love is a manifestation of that what is acting in an individual who is obedient to his or her wise consciousness”. This feeling harmonizes all the contradictions of human life, and opens for a man the greatest good, the good which doesn’t require fighting with other beings, which doesn’t end, which doesn’t lead neither to surfeit, nor to suffering and horrors of death.
“The animal self is suffering. This suffering and its alleviation is the main subject of love’s action. The animal self, while aiming to the good, in reality is aiming with every breath to the greatest evil - to death, anticipation of which destroys any good of the self. The feeling of love not only eliminates this fear, but is able to lead a person to make an ultimate sacrifice – to sacrifice their life in flesh for the sake of the others’ good”. (L.Tolstoy, About Life)
All the people think that they understand love, but everyone understands it in his or her own manner. For example, love can be understood as sexual lust, and then, after being disillusioned with sex, people become disillusioned with love also. In another view, love is a kind of mood, which can come and go, and can equally bring us joy or suffering.
According to Tolstoy, this is not love. This is only preference. And this is also not love, but preference, when parents, to feed their children, take bread from other children; when people, for the sake of their own country or religion, slaughter people of another country or religion.
“In common, to love means to wish to do kind deeds.” There are many of potential aims for kind deeds, and they may conflict in the person’s mind. “Indeed, how can I decide, whom to serve and to which extent: Should I serve people or my country? My country or my friends? My friends or my wife? My wife or my father? My father or my children? My children or myself?”
Very often, the requirements of one love contradict to the requirements of the other. A person will always choose what he or she likes more, and this eventually leads to the choice where the main love appears to become love to myself, and it absorbs everything. Then a question arises: “Why should I give anything away, if I may need it very soon or in the future?”
Tolstoy states that this is a kind of love that resembles true love not more than an animal resembles a human being. “What people who don’t understand life call love – this is only certain preferences of some conditions of their personal good to other conditions. When a man who doesn’t understand life says that he loves his wife, or his child, or his friend, he says only that the presence of his wife, child or friend in his life increases the good of his personal life.”
The author defines true love as the following: “Love is not passion to that which increases the temporary good for a person, as love to the chosen individuals or things, but it is the striving for the good of that which is outside the person, which remains in the person after they renounce the good for their animal self.”
Indeed, we never know, who will appeal to our love next time in such a way that we will be unable to remain deaf to this appeal, and will understand that we have to choose either to answer the call or to turn away. Our choice depends on how we understand our responsibility in the real situation. If we do not spare ourselves to help others – then this is love.
And there is no point in putting your love off to the future. If love is present, it manifests at the moment of the appeal. If it didn’t manifest at that same moment, then there was no love present.
“And there is no love apart of that love which gives away its soul for its friend. Love is only love when it is self-sacrifice. Only when a person gives away to another not only their time, powers, but when he or she spends their body, gives away their life - only this we understand as love and only in such love all of us find the good, the reward of love.”
Tolstoy gives an example of a mother who is nursing her child, which means that she, with her milk, is directly giving herself away to her child. He says that a mother who gives her child away for nursing to a foster-mother doesn’t love her child. (During Tolstoy’s times it was a common practice for the nobles who wanted to preserve the shape of their breasts - to give their babies to serf foster-mothers for breastfeeding.) Is Tolstoy too strict? As a woman and mother, I know that any mother’s conscience will always ask her such questions: “What does my child mean for me?”, “Am I ready to sacrifice myself for my child?”, “Don’t I prefer my successful social life more than looking after my child?”, “Whom and what do I really love?” and “Do I love at all?”
Difficult questions, as any question people dare to ask themselves in a way Tolstoy did in order to come to his revelation of what is true love. It is impossible to appreciate another person – are they capable of loving or not. We can know this only about ourselves, when we are looking at our life straight and honestly. And Tolstoy provides us an example to follow in our search for ourselves and for our love.
According to the author, real, not transient, but eternal love is this love to anything living, which appears at the start as a weak seedling between the other, rougher and stronger, weeds of feelings, which a person initially calls love. It is especially important not to stamp them out and not to abuse them, trying to pull them up violently, but to let them grow. It is important to open for them the sun of consciousness, which is helping them to grow.
This was Tolstoy’s way of thinking, and he behaved
in his everyday life in conformity with his understanding of life and love. He
was a Count and wealthy man; nevertheless he limited his personal needs to the
very minimum and exercised selfless service to others. He personally assisted
those in need and actively participated in the campaigns against hunger and
other calamities in
Tolstoy didn’t much appreciate his own actions of assistance to the poor. He understood their inefficiency and suffered from his inability of changing the world through his actions. He constantly asked his conscience how to give away to the people all his belongings. Eventually, while remaining an active author and fully functional person, he divided his property between his heirs, as if he had already passed away, and permitted unlimited free publication of his works.
In this way Leo Tolstoy manifested that which was acting in his self, obedient to his wise consciousness – which is love in his definition.