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Leo Tolstoy : From Knowledge to Wisdom

Dernière mise à jour : 1 mai 2023

Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

Extracts from :

Leo Tolstoy

A Calendar of Wisdom

[A Calendar of Wisdom, also known as Path of life, A Cycle of Readings or Wise Thoughts for Every Day, is a collection of insights and wisdom compiled by Leo Tolstoy between 1903 and 1911 that was published in three different editions.]

January 1

Better to know a few things which are good and necessary than many things which are useless and mediocre.

The difference between real material poison and intellectual poison is that most material poison is disgusting to the taste, but intellectual poison, which takes the form of cheap newspapers or bad books, can unfortunately sometimes be attractive.


January 9

Knowledge is real knowledge only when it is acquired by the efforts of your intellect, not by memory.

A thought can advance your life in the right direction only when it answers questions which were asked by your soul. A thought which was first borrowed from someone else and then accepted by your mind and memory does not really much influence your life, and sometimes leads you in the wrong direction.

Read less, study less, but think more. Learn, both from your teachers and from the books which you read, only those things which you really need and which you really want to know.


January 17

Live for your soul, and without trying or even under­standing that you’re doing it, you will contribute to the improvement of society.

It would be nice if wisdom had such a quality that it could flow from one man who is full of wisdom to another man who has no wisdom, just as with two connected vessels water flows from one vessel to the other until the water level is the same in both of them. The problem is that to obtain wisdom, you must make an independent, serious effort of your own.

Improve your own soul, and be confident that only in so doing can you contribute to the improvement of the larger society of which you are part.


January 18

We live a senseless life, contrary to the understanding of life by the wisest people of all times. This happens because our young generations are educated in the wrong way — they are taught different sciences but they are not taught the meaning of life.

The only real science is the knowledge of how a person should live his life. And this knowledge is open to everyone.


February 5

All events, whether in the lives of human individuals, or human societies, have their beginnings in thought. There­ fore, to fully understand other people and other societies, we must look beyond previous events to the thoughts which gave rise to them.

Perhaps it is even more important to know what one should not think about than what one should think about.

In order to change the nature of things, either within yourself or in others, one should change, not the events, but those thoughts which created those events.


February 15

There is simplicity of nature, and there is simplicity of wisdom. Both of them evoke love and respect.

The greatest truth is the most simple one.


March 13

The condition of wisdom is purity; the consequence of wisdom is the peace of your soul.

A man who follows his wishes changes his attitude with time. Very soon he is not satisfied any more with the things he does.


March 16

Real wisdom is not the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge of which things in life are necessary, which are less necessary, and which are completely unnecessary to know.

Among the most necessary knowledge is the knowledge of how to live well, that is, how to produce the least possible evil and the greatest goodness in one’s life.


March 17

If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself.


March 26

Individuals die, but the wisdom they have obtained in their lives does not die with them. Mankind keeps all this wisdom, and a person uses the wisdom of those who lived before him.

The education of mankind reminds me of the creation of the ancient pyramids, in that everyone who lives puts another stone in the foundation.


December 23

Wisdom is understanding how eternal truth can be applied to life.

The goodness given to us by wisdom compares to all other knowledge in the same way that in a desert, a vessel filled with water compares to mountains of gold.

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Source :

Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom
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