Path of Life was the last book written by Lev Tolstoy. Although the great nineteenth century Russian novelist is known in English-speaking countries for his major novels War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Resurrection, he is less known for his numerous religious writings, which present a challenging and original point of view. These works have been undervalued, as evidenced by the fact that Path of Life is translated here fully in English. The reader will notice that Tolstoy anticipated many of the ideas presented in contemporary books on spirituality, such as the observation that our thoughts determine our lives. Tolstoy began to write this book on January 31, 1910 in the last year of his life, when he was 82 years old. Given that he began the book in January and completed it in October of the same year, one think the writing went quickly; but it only seems that way. Tolstoy actually had been developing the themes presented in Path of Life for the last thirty years of his life.
In Path of Life Tolstoy defines how to find continuous happiness in life and how to die without fear. In presenting his views, he cites his own ideas and includes many quotations from an eclectic collection of ancient and modern philosophers and religious figures. The choice of quotations is a unique reflection of Tolstoy’s view of life reached through his “dialogue” with the world’s best religious minds. Tolstoy deliberately marshals a chorus of religious thinkers who voice similar religious insights. By identifying religious themes that are consistent over time and from country to country, Tolstoy seeks to prove their eternal verity. Besides frequent quotations from the New Testament, Path of Life includes excerpts from the sacred texts of major religions, including Chinese, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist writings. His respect for all the world’s religions distinguishes him from many religious teachers whose dogmatic interpretation of their own religion’s sacred texts often leads them to disdain other beliefs and to deny the brotherhood they claim to espouse. He believed that the only true religion is the one that all humanity can believe in.
This translation is from the Russian version of Path of Life found in volume 45 of the Jubilee Edition of the Complete Works of Tolstoy (90 volumes). Because Tolstoy extensively modified the quotations he cited, the author translated all quotations, even those citing well known American and English authors, such as Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin, and Carlyle directly from the Russian text without seeking to quote the original wording. Most, but not all, unattributed quotations are Tolstoy’s. Tolstoy deliberately used simple Russian words and comparisons to convey his meaning. He believed that truth must be expressed simply and clearly.