Not finding an explanation in science I began to seek for it
in life, hoping to find it among the people around me. And I
began to observe how the people around me — people like myself
— lived, and what their attitude was to this question which had
brought me to despair.
And this is what I found among people who were in the same
position as myself as regards education and manner of life.
I found that for people of my circle there were four ways out
of the terrible position in which we are all placed.
The first was that of ignorance. It consists in not knowing,
not understanding, that life is an evil and an absurdity. People
of this sort — chiefly women, or very young or very dull people
— have not yet understood that question of life which presented
itself to Schopenhauer, Solomon, and Buddha. They see neither the
dragon that awaits them nor the mice gnawing the shrub by which
they are hanging, and they lick the drops of honey. but they lick
those drops of honey only for a while: something will turn their
attention to the dragon and the mice, and there will be an end to
their licking. From them I had nothing to learn — one cannot
cease to know what one does know.
The second way out is epicureanism. It consists, while knowing
the hopelessness of life, in making use meanwhile of the
advantages one has, disregarding the dragon and the mice, and
licking the honey in the best way, especially if there is much of
it within reach. Solomon expresses this way out thus: "Then
I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the
sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: and that this
should accompany him in his labour the days of his life, which
God giveth him under the sun.
"Therefore eat thy bread with joy and drink thy wine with
a merry heart.... Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest
all the days of the life of thy vanity...for this is thy portion
in life and in thy labours which thou takest under the sun....
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for
there is not work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the
grave, whither thou goest."
That is the way in which the majority of people of our circle
make life possible for themselves. Their circumstances furnish
them with more of welfare than of hardship, and their moral
dullness makes it possible for them to forget that the advantage
of their position is accidental, and that not everyone can have a
thousand wives and palaces like Solomon, that for everyone who
has a thousand wives there are a thousand without a wife, and
that for each palace there are a thousand people who have to
build it in the sweat of their brows; and that the accident that
has today made me a Solomon may tomorrow make me a Solomon's
slave. The dullness of these people's imagination enables them to
forget the things that gave Buddha no peace — the inevitability
of sickness, old age, and death, which today or tomorrow will
destroy all these pleasures.
So think and feel the majority of people of our day and our
manner of life. The fact that some of these people declare the
dullness of their thoughts and imaginations to be a philosophy,
which they call Positive, does not remove them, in my opinion,
from the ranks of those who, to avoid seeing the question, lick
the honey. I could not imitate these people; not having their
dullness of imagination I could not artificially produce it in
myself. I could not tear my eyes from the mice and the dragon, as
no vital man can after he has once seen them.
The third escape is that of strength and energy. It consists
in destroying life, when one has understood that it is an evil
and an absurdity. A few exceptionally strong and consistent
people act so. Having understood the stupidity of the joke that
has been played on them, and having understood that it is better
to be dead than to be alive, and that it is best of all not to
exist, they act accordingly and promptly end this stupid joke,
since there are means: a rope round one's neck, water, a knife to
stick into one's heart, or the trains on the railways; and the
number of those of our circle who act in this way becomes greater
and greater, and for the most part they act so at the best time
of their life, when the strength of their mind is in full bloom
and few habits degrading to the mind have as yet been acquired.
I saw that this was the worthiest way of escape and I wished
to adopt it.
The fourth way out is that of weakness. It consists in seeing
the truth of the situation and yet clinging to life, knowing in
advance that nothing can come of it. People of this kind know
that death is better than life, but not having the strength to
act rationally — to end the deception quickly and kill
themselves — they seem to wait for something. This is the escape
of weakness, for if I know what is best and it is within my
power, why not yield to what is best? ... I found myself in that
So people of my class evade the terrible contradiction in four
ways. Strain my attention as I would, I saw no way except those
four. One way was not to understand that life is senseless,
vanity, and an evil, and that it is better not to live. I could
not help knowing this, and when I once knew it could not shut my
eyes to it. the second way was to use life such as it is without
thinking of the future. And I could not do that. I, like Sakya
Muni, could not ride out hunting when I knew that old age,
suffering, and death exist. My imagination was too vivid. Nor
could I rejoice in the momentary accidents that for an instant
threw pleasure to my lot. The third way, having under stood that
life is evil and stupid, was to end it by killing oneself. I
understood that, but somehow still did not kill myself. The
fourth way was to live like Solomon and Schopenhauer — knowing
that life is a stupid joke played upon us, and still to go on
living, washing oneself, dressing, dining, talking, and even
writing books. This was to me repulsive and tormenting, but I
remained in that position.
I see now that if I did not kill myself it was due to some dim
consciousness of the invalidity of my thoughts. However
convincing and indubitable appeared to me the sequence of my
thoughts and of those of the wise that have brought us to the
admission of the senselessness of life, there remained in me a
vague doubt of the justice of my conclusion.
It was like this: I, my reason, have acknowledged that life is
senseless. If there is nothing higher than reason (and there is
not: nothing can prove that there is), then reason is the creator
of life for me. If reason did not exist there would be for me no
life. How can reason deny life when it is the creator of life? Or
to put it the other way: were there no life, my reason would not
exist; therefore reason is life's son. Life is all. Reason is its
fruit yet reason rejects life itself! I felt that there was
something wrong here.
Life is a senseless evil, that is certain, said I to myself.
Yet I have lived and am still living, and all mankind lived and
lives. How is that? Why does it live, when it is possible not to
live? Is it that only I and Schopenhauer are wise enough to
understand the senselessness and evil of life?
The reasoning showing the vanity of life is not so difficult,
and has long been familiar to the very simplest folk; yet they
have lived and still live. How is it they all live and never
think of doubting the reasonableness of life?
My knowledge, confirmed by the wisdom of the sages, has shown
me that everything on earth — organic and inorganic — is all
most cleverly arranged — only my own position is stupid. and
those fools — the enormous masses of people — know nothing
about how everything organic and inorganic in the world is
arranged; but they live, and it seems to them that their life is
very wisely arranged! ...
And it struck me: "But what if there is something I do
not yet know? Ignorance behaves just in that way. Ignorance
always says just what I am saying. When it does not know
something, it says that what it does not know is stupid. Indeed,
it appears that there is a whole humanity that lived and lives as
if it understood the meaning of its life, for without
understanding it could not live; but I say that all this life is
senseless and that I cannot live.
"Nothing prevents our denying life by suicide. well then,
kill yourself, and you won't discuss. If life displeases you,
kill yourself! You live, and cannot understand the meaning of
life — then finish it, and do not fool about in life, saying and
writing that you do not understand it. You have come into good
company where people are contented and know what they are doing;
if you find it dull and repulsive — go away!"
Indeed, what are we who are convinced of the necessity of
suicide yet do not decide to commit it, but the weakest, most
inconsistent, and to put it plainly, the stupidest of men,
fussing about with our own stupidity as a fool fusses about with
a painted hussy? For our wisdom, however indubitable it may be,
has not given us the knowledge of the meaning of our life. But
all mankind who sustain life — millions of them — do not doubt
the meaning of life.
Indeed, from the most distant time of which I know anything,
when life began, people have lived knowing the argument about the
vanity of life which has shown me its senselessness, and yet they
lived attributing some meaning to it.
From the time when any life began among men they had that
meaning of life, and they led that life which has descended to me.
All that is in me and around me, all, corporeal and incorporeal,
is the fruit of their knowledge of life. Those very instruments
of thought with which I consider this life and condemn it were
all devised not be me but by them. I myself was born, taught, and
brought up thanks to them. They dug out the iron, taught us to
cut down the forests, tamed the cows and horses, taught us to sow
corn and to live together, organized our life, and taught me to
think and speak. And I, their product, fed, supplied with drink,
taught by them, thinking with their thoughts and words, have
argued that they are an absurdity! "There is something
wrong," said I to myself. "I have blundered somewhere."
But it was a long time before I could find out where the mistake