Tolstoy quote from Buddha: which Sutta is this?

In A Calendar of Wisdom from around 1903–1911, Tolstoy writes (in Russian):

Будда сказал: человек, посвятивший себя религии, подобен человеку, который вносит свет в темный дом. Темнота тотчас же рассеивается, и становится светло. Только упорствуй в искании мудрости, старайся приобрести знание истины, и в тебе совершится полное просветление.

One modern English translation puts this as:

Buddha said: “A man who starts to live for his soul is like a man who brings a lantern into a dark house. The darkness disappears at once. You have to be persistent in this, and your soul will have this light.”

An alternative translation, using an online Russian-to-English translator, is this:

The Buddha said: “A man who devotes himself to religion is like a man who brings light into a dark house. The darkness is immediately dispelled, and there is light. Only persevere in the pursuit of wisdom, strive to acquire knowledge of the truth, and complete enlightenment will be accomplished in you.”

Which Sutta might Tolstoy have taken this from?

I can find Suttas with lamp similes. However, none of them seem to come close to this.


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Just searching around:

  • Iti 104

    Such mendicants are called ‘teachers’, ‘leaders of the caravan’, ‘vice-discarders’, ‘dispellers of darkness’, ‘bringers of light’, ‘luminaries’, ‘lamps’, ‘candlebearers’, ‘beacons’, ‘noble ones’, and ‘seers’.

  • Thag 10.3

    they light up the world,
    like the moon freed from a cloud

    The phrase “like the moon freed from a cloud” occurs 5 times in the Suttas in slightly different contexts.

  • Snp 3.11

    If you welcome solitude,
    you’ll light up the ten directions.

  • And well, there’s of course this stock formula when someone is inspired by the teaching:

    As if he were righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, Master Gotama has made the teaching clear in many ways.

    And then they take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saṅgha.

I have a dim memory of something that might come really closer to what you describe. But I can’t pin it down.


Thank you @Ric and @sabbamitta. :slight_smile:

I think I may have found it, thanks to @sabbamitta’s pointer in another thread.

Here’s what Mil 3.1.15 says in T.W. Rhys Davids’ translation (1890):

‘[wisdom’s (paññā) characteristic mark of enlightenment (obhāsanalakkhaṇā)] is like a lamp, O king, which a man might introduce into a house in darkness. When the lamp had been brought in it would dispel the darkness, cause radiance to arise, and light to shine forth, and make the objects there plainly visible. Just so would wisdom in a man have such effects as were just now set forth.’

I wonder where Tolstoy got the notion of “perserverance, persistance” (упорствуй) from? Maybe he read another translation?


Well traced! This would be a good one for our friend @Bodhipaksa

He did a similar one from Tolstoy:


I believe the only other translation published in Tolstoy’s lifetime was Otto Schrader’s Fragen des Königs Menandros (1905). But this reads about the same as the Rhys Davids one.

Possibly he got it from some anthology of the Paul Carus or Henry Clarke Warren type.


I think have a look at Paul Carus’ book “The Gospel of Buddha”. Tolstoy and Carus corresponded. Chapter 69 is called “The Light of the World”.


Thank you, @Dhammanando, I much appreciate the pointers. :slight_smile:

It seems to me, Otto Schrader’s translation does in some aspects come closer to what Tolstoy wrote. In particular, Schrader translates yogāvacaro into Religionsbeflissene (“the one who’s diligent about religion”).

What remains unclear, is why Tolstoy attributes this to Buddha as opposed to Nāgasena. Otherwise, it seems like a very close match.

In the work of Paul Carus and Henry Clarke Warren, I found no close matches so far.


@sujato Thanks for the pointer. I enjoyed reading about @Bodhipaksa’s investigation. Thanks to Dhammanando’s pointer, I today uncovered that Tolstoy mentions his references in letters. For example, for Ramakrishna see here.


Oh wow, I didn’t know that.