Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Anna Karenina

One of the greatest books ever written, is the epic Anna Karenina, written by Leo Tolstoy about 140 years ago.
It is on the surface, a story of love, betrayal, family, religion and the human condition. It is so full of profound observations that practically every page of mine is earmarked...
The main character of this book in my opinion is the introspective Levin who is there with us from beginning to end, and is on a spiritual journey through every step of the way.

After Anna is gone, Levin who is a religious skeptic throughout most of the book finally finds God in Chapters 12 and 13.
He finds proof of God in mans inherent knowledge of good and evil, even when it flies in the face of "survival of the fittest". According to Darwinian creed we should be ruled by the golden rule that propels all of life forward..Survival..Instinct...
Yet we are somehow all conscience of this higher altruism, even when it does not serve our interest...

Here is Chapter 12...

Levin strode along the highroad, absorbed not so much in his
thoughts (he could not yet disentangle them) as in his spiritual
condition, unlike anything he had experienced before.

The words uttered by the peasant had acted on his soul like an
electric shock, suddenly transforming and combining into a single
whole the whole swarm of disjointed, impotent, separate thoughts
that incessantly occupied his mind. These thoughts had
unconsciously been in his mind even when he was talking about the

He was aware of something new in his soul, and joyfully tested
this new thing, not yet knowing what it was.

"Not living for his own wants, but for God? For what God? And
could one say anything more senseless than what he said? He said
that one must not live for one's own wants, that is, that one
must not live for what we understand, what we are attracted by,
what we desire, but must live for something incomprehensible, for
God, whom no one can understand nor even define. What of it?
Didn't I understand those senseless words of Fyodor's? And
understanding them, did I doubt of their truth? Did I think them
stupid, obscure, inexact? No, I understood him, and exactly as
he understands the words. I understood them more fully and
clearly than I understand anything in life, and never in my life
have I doubted nor can I doubt about it. And not only I, but
everyone, the whole world understands nothing fully but this, and
about this only they have no doubt and are always agreed.

"And I looked out for miracles, complained that I did not see a
miracle which would convince me. A material miracle would have
persuaded me. And here is a miracle, the sole miracle possible,
continually existing, surrounding me on all sides, and I never
noticed it!

"Fyodor says that Kirillov lives for his belly. That's
comprehensible and rational. All of us as rational beings can't
do anything else but live for our belly. And all of a sudden the
same Fyodor says that one mustn't live for one's belly, but must
live for truth, for God, and at a hint I understand him! And I
and millions of men, men who lived ages ago and men living now--
peasants, the poor in spirit and the learned, who have thought
and written about it, in their obscure words saying the same
thing--we are all agreed about this one thing: what we must live
for and what is good. I and all men have only one firm,
incontestable, clear knowledge, and that knowledge cannot be
explained by the reason--it is outside it, and has no causes and
can have no effects.

"If goodness has causes, it is not goodness; if it has effects, a
reward, it is not goodness either. So goodness is outside the
chain of cause and effect.

"And yet I know it, and we all know it.

"What could be a greater miracle than that?

"Can I have found the solution of it all? can my sufferings be
over?" thought Levin, striding along the dusty road, not noticing
the heat nor his weariness, and experiencing a sense of relief
from prolonged suffering. This feeling was so delicious that it
seemed to him incredible. He was breathless with emotion and
incapable of going farther; he turned off the road into the
forest and lay down in the shade of an aspen on the uncut grass.
He took his hat off his hot head and lay propped on his elbow in
the lush, feathery, woodland grass.

"Yes, I must make it clear to myself and understand," he thought,
looking intently at the untrampled grass before him, and
following the movements of a green beetle, advancing along a
blade of couch-grass and lifting up in its progress a leaf of
goat-weed. "What have I discovered?" he asked himself, bending
aside the leaf of goat-weed out of the beetle's way and twisting
another blade of grass above for the beetle to cross over onto
it. "What is it makes me glad? What have I discovered?

"I have discovered nothing. I have only found out what I knew.
I understand the force that in the past gave me life, and now too
gives me life. I have been set free from falsity, I have found
the Master.

"Of old I used to say that in my body, that in the body of this
grass and of this beetle (there, she didn't care for the grass,
she's opened her wings and flown away), there was going on a
transformation of matter in accordance with physical, chemical,
and physiological laws. And in all of us, as well as in the
aspens and the clouds and the misty patches, there was a process
of evolution. Evolution from what? into what?--Eternal evolution
and struggle.... As though there could be any sort of tendency
and struggle in the eternal! And I was astonished that in spite
of the utmost effort of thought along that road I could not
discover the meaning of life, the meaning of my impulses and
yearnings. Now I say that I know the meaning of my life: 'To
live for God, for my soul.' And this meaning, in spite of its
clearness, is mysterious and marvelous. Such, indeed, is the
meaning of everything existing. Yes, pride," he said to himself,
turning over on his stomach and beginning to tie a noose of
blades of grass, trying not to break them.

"And not merely pride of intellect, but dulness of intellect.
And most of all, the deceitfulness; yes, the deceitfulness of
intellect. The cheating knavishness of intellect, that's it," he
said to himself.

And he briefly went through, mentally, the whole course of his
ideas during the last two years, the beginning of which was the
clear confronting of death at the sight of his dear brother
hopelessly ill.

Then, for the first time, grasping that for every man, and
himself too, there was nothing in store but suffering, death, and
forgetfulness, he had made up his mind that life was impossible
like that, and that he must either interpret life so that it
would not present itself to him as the evil jest of some devil,
or shoot himself.

But he had not done either, but had gone on living, thinking, and
feeling, and had even at that very time married, and had had many
joys and had been happy, when he was not thinking of the meaning
of his life.

What did this mean? It meant that he had been living rightly,
but thinking wrongly.

He had lived (without being aware of it) on those spiritual
truths that he had sucked in with his mother's milk, but he had
thought, not merely without recognition of these truths, but
studiously ignoring them.

Now it was clear to him that he could only live by virtue of the
beliefs in which he had been brought up.

"What should I have been, and how should I have spent my life, if
I had not had these beliefs, if I had not known that I must live
for God and not for my own desires? I should have robbed and
lied and killed. Nothing of what makes the chief happiness of my
life would have existed for me." And with the utmost stretch of
imagination he could not conceive the brutal creature he would
have been himself, if he had not known what he was living for.

"I looked for an answer to my question. And thought could not
give an answer to my question--it is incommensurable with my
question. The answer has been given me by life itself, in my
knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. And that knowledge
I did not arrive at in any way, it was given to me as to all
men, _given_, because I could not have got it from anywhere.

"Where could I have got it? By reason could I have arrived at
knowing that I must love my neighbor and not oppress him? I was
told that in my childhood, and I believed it gladly, for they
told me what was already in my soul. But who discovered it? Not
reason. Reason discovered the struggle for existence, and the
law that requires us to oppress all who hinder the satisfaction
of our desires. That is the deduction of reason. But loving
one's neighbor reason could never discover, because it's

In Chapter 13 Levin surmises that the only reason that we destroy religion is because we're spoiled by it. Like children who don't even think twice about playing with food because they know it'll always be there for them, and so are bored by it..
Whereas someone who discovers the truth of God on his own, like himself, would be overwhelmed by the beauty and truth and most of all, the necessity of it..

And Levin remembered a scene he had lately witnessed between
Dolly and her children. The children, left to themselves, had
begun cooking raspberries over the candles and squirting milk
into each other's mouths with a syringe. Their mother, catching
them at these pranks, began reminding them in Levin's presence of
the trouble their mischief gave to the grown-up people, and that
this trouble was all for their sake, and that if they smashed the
cups they would have nothing to drink their tea out of, and that
if they wasted the milk, they would have nothing to eat, and die
of hunger.

And Levin had been struck by the passive, weary incredulity with
which the children heard what their mother said to them. They
were simply annoyed that their amusing play had been interrupted,
and did not believe a word of what their mother was saying. They
could not believe it indeed, for they could not take in the
immensity of all they habitually enjoyed, and so could not
conceive that what they were destroying was the very thing they
lived by.

"That all comes of itself," they thought, "and there's nothing
interesting or important about it because it has always been so,
and always will be so. And it's all always the same. We've no
need to think about that, it's all ready. But we want to invent
something of our own, and new. So we thought of putting
raspberries in a cup, and cooking them over a candle, and
squirting milk straight into each other's mouths. That's fun,
and something new, and not a bit worse than drinking out of

"Isn't it just the same that we do, that I did, searching by the
aid of reason for the significance of the forces of nature and
the meaning of the life of man?" he thought.

"And don't all the theories of philosophy do the same, trying by
the path of thought, which is strange and not natural to man, to
bring him to a knowledge of what he has known long ago, and knows
so certainly that he could not live at all without it? Isn't it
distinctly to be seen in the development of each philosopher's
theory, that he knows what is the chief significance of life
beforehand, just as positively as the peasant Fyodor, and not a
bit more clearly than he, and is simply trying by a dubious
intellectual path to come back to what everyone knows?

"Now then, leave the children to themselves to get things alone
and make their crockery, get the milk from the cows, and so on.
Would they be naughty then? Why, they'd die of hunger! Well,
then, leave us with our passions and thoughts, without any idea
of the one God, of the Creator, or without any idea of what is
right, without any idea of moral evil.

"Just try and build up anything without those ideas!

"We only try to destroy them, because we're spiritually provided
for. Exactly like the children!

"Whence have I that joyful knowledge, shared with the peasant,
that alone gives peace to my soul? Whence did I get it?

"Brought up with an idea of God, my whole life
filled with the spiritual blessings religion has given me,
full of them, and living on those blessings, like the children I
did not understand them, and destroy, that is try to destroy,
what I live by. And as soon as an important moment of life
comes, like the children when they are cold and hungry, I turn to
Him, and even less than the children when their mother scolds
them for their childish mischief, do I feel that my childish
efforts at wanton madness are reckoned against me.

"Yes, what I know, I know not by reason, but it has been given to
me, revealed to me, and I know it with my heart, by faith in the
chief thing taught by religion.

He turned over on the other side, and leaning on his elbow, fell to gazing
into the distance at a herd of cattle crossing over to the river.

"But can I believe in all that religion teaches?" he thought, trying
himself, and thinking of everything that could destroy his
present peace of mind. Intentionally he recalled all those
doctrines of my religion which had always seemed most strange and
had always been a stumbling block to him.

"The Creation? But how did I explain existence? By existence?
By nothing? The devil and sin. But how do I explain evil?...
The atonement?...

"But I know nothing, nothing, and I can know nothing but what has
been told to me and all men."

And it seemed to him that there was not a single article of faith
of the church which could destroy the chief thing--faith in God,
in goodness, as the one goal of man's destiny.

Under every article of faith of the church could be put the faith
in the service of truth instead of one's desires. And each
doctrine did not simply leave that faith unshaken, each doctrine
seemed essential to complete that great miracle, continually
manifest upon earth, that made it possible for each man and
millions of different sorts of men, wise men and imbeciles, old
men and children--all men, peasants, Lvov, Kitty, beggars and
kings to understand perfectly the same one thing, and to build up
thereby that life of the soul which alone is worth living, and
which alone is precious to us.

Lying on his back, he gazed up now into the high, cloudless sky.
"Do I not know that that is infinite space, and that it is not a
round arch? But, however I screw up my eyes and strain my sight,
I cannot see it not round and not bounded, and in spite of my
knowing about infinite space, I am incontestably right when I see
a solid blue dome, and more right than when I strain my eyes to
see beyond it."

Levin ceased thinking, and only, as it were, listened to
mysterious voices that seemed talking joyfully and earnestly
within him.

"Can this be faith?" he thought, afraid to believe in his
happiness. "My God, I thank Thee!" he said, gulping down his
sobs, and with both hands brushing away the tears that filled his

I think that Anna's entire character is just there to paint a dazzling contrast to Levins discovery. Annas life and death is entirely dictated by selfishness and her own desires albeit under the guise of happiness and love and that leads to he horrendous downfall.