The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy was a prolific writer and master stylist whose novels, particularly War and Peace and Anna Karenina, have achieved world-wide acclaim and become household names. The young Tolstoy was a recalcitrant student and staunch supporter - and partaker - of dissolute and privileged society. This would change.
The latter day man experienced a spiritual conversion which led him to devote his energies to the production of philosophical and metaphysical texts. These religio-philosophical works differed in style considerably from his novels. He no longer seemed to care about the form of his work, and his style in works such as his Kingdom of God is Within You has been described by one translator as "slipshod, involved, and diffuse." It seemed he had more to be concerned about than crafting mellifluous prose. The writing mattered less than the message being written. This is excusable in Tolstoy. After all he had had his heyday, achieved critical and commercial success already. What more was there to prove.
But can reading an author's words, or even writing them oneself, ever take the place of actual experience? Another mystic and author, the theologian Thomas Aquinas, was reported to have said, after having experienced first-hand the divine, "All that I have written seems like straw to me."
This from the man who wrote Summa Theologiae. So much for doing.
This seems an interesting counterpoint to the current mode of society, which is so action driven. We are praised for striving, inventing, seizing the moment and attaining the worldly goal. Consider this week's Time magazine, which features its 100 most influential people, the movers and shakers of the world. Self-assertion is to be praised, if you believe Time. Kanye West is on the cover. Egoism's poster child.
The question is: Haven't we learned anything that the world's great thinkers over the course of centuries have expressed or better still left unsaid?
Eastern philosophy maintains that we live in a world dominated by the rajasic guna. Rajas is action, passion. But it is sattwa which should prevail. Harmony, tranquility, peace.
French mathematician Blaise Pascal once remarked: "The sum of evil would be much diminished if men (and women) could only learn to sit quietly in their rooms."
As Tolstoy said (we think rather eloquently): "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Learn to tread softly through life and help bring heaven to earth. If nobody gets your message but you the world is still better for having you in it.