Tolstoy - Confession
The first 3/4 of the work describe his disenchantment with religion, his descent first into epicurianism, then into writing and teaching, and business affairs. The crux of the work is the buildup to his existential crisis and his search for the meaning of life and his purpose, first in the rational world, and then concluding that he would not find the answers in the rational world, embracing the irrational world of faith...
Tosltoy's biggest struggle is looking for a reason to live:
These are the direct replies that human wisdom gives when it replies to life’s question.Reason leads him to believe that the only reasonable thing to do is to end his life and first attributed his inability to kill himself to weakness and hypocracy. But as he thought more about it, he was troubled by the fact that millions of people, simple, uneducated, managed to find a reason to live. Tolstoy felt that perhaps there was something there which he needed to explore and understand...
“The life of the body is an evil and a lie. Therefore the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should desire it,” says Socrates.
“Life is that which should not be — an evil; and the passage into Nothingness is the only good in life,” says Schopenhauer.
“All that is in the world — folly and wisdom and riches and poverty and mirth and grief — is vanity and emptiness. Man dies and nothing is left of him. And that is stupid,” says Solomon.
“To life in the consciousness of the inevitability of suffering, of becoming enfeebled, of old age and of death, is impossible — we must free ourselves from life, from all possible life,” says Buddha.
And what these strong minds said has been said and thought and felt by millions upon millions of people like them. And I have thought it and felt it.
So my wandering among the sciences, far from freeing me from my despair, only strengthened it. One kind of knowledge did not reply to life’s question, the other kind replied directly confirming my despair, indicating not that the result at which I had arrived was the fruit of error or of a diseased state of my mind, but on the contrary that I had thought correctly, and that my thoughts coincided with the conclusions of the most powerful of human minds.
It is no good deceiving oneself. It is all — vanity! Happy is he who has not been born: death is better than life, and one must free oneself from life.