Notes on

A Calendar of Wisdom

by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy and the Creation of "A Calendar of Wisdom"

He would often return in his diary to meditate upon this book, repeating variants of “What can be more precious than to communicate every day with the wisest men of the world?”


When you hear people speak about the viciousness of other people, do not share in pleasure by discussing these issues. When you hear about the bad deeds of people, do not listen to the end and try to forget what you have heard. When you hear about the virtues of other people, remember them and tell them to others. —EASTERN WISDOM

(1) Do not postpone for tomorrow what you can do today. (2) Do not force another person to do what you can do by yourself. (3) Pride costs more than all that is necessary for food, drink, shelter, or dress. (4) We suffer so much, thinking about what could have happened, but not about what has actually happened. (5) If you lose your temper, count up to ten before you do or say anything. If you haven’t calmed down, then count to a hundred; and if you have not calmed down after this, count up to a thousand. —After THOMAS JEFFERSON

When an arrow does not hit its target, the marksman blames himself, not another person. A wise man behaves in the same way. —CONFUCIUS

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. —MATTHEW 7:15-20

We should be ready to change our views at any time, and slough off prejudices, and live with an open and receptive mind. A sailor who sets the same sails all the time, without making changes when the wind changes, will never reach his harbor. —HENRY GEORGE

Do not be embarrassed by your mistakes. Nothing can teach us better than our understanding of them. This is one of the best ways of self-education. —THOMAS CARLYLE

A wise man seeks wisdom; a madman thinks that he has found it. —PERSIAN PROVERB

It is not the place we occupy which is important, but the direction in which we move. —OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

The merit of a man is not in the knowledge he possesses, but in the effort he made to achieve it. —GOTTHOLD EPHRAIM LESSING

When people wanted to kill a bear in the ancient times, they hung a heavy log over a bowl of honey. The bear would push the log away in order to eat the honey. The log would swing back and hit the bear. The bear would become irritated and push the log even harder, and it would return and hit him harder in return. This would continue until the log killed the bear. People behave in the same way when they return evil for the evil they receive from other people. Can’t people be wiser than bears? You should respond with kindness toward evil done to you, and you will destroy in an evil person that pleasure which he derives from evil.

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.

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

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.

We would think a man insane who, instead of covering his house with a roof and putting windows in his window frames, goes out in stormy weather, and scolds the wind, the rain, and the clouds. But we all do the same when we scold and blame the evil in other people instead of fighting the evil which exists in us. It is possible to get rid of the evil inside of us, as it is possible to make a roof and windows for our house. This is possible. But it is not possible for us to destroy evil in this world, just as we cannot order the weather to change and the clouds to disappear. If, instead of teaching others, we would educate and improve ourselves, then there would be less evil in this world, and all people would live better lives.

When you have doubts about what to do, just imagine that you might die at the end of that same day, and then all your doubts will disappear, and you will see clearly what your conscience tells you, and what is your true personal wish. A man condemned to immediate execution will not think about the growth of his estate, or about achieving glory, or about the victory of one group over another, or about the discovery of a new planet. But one minute before his death a man may wish to console an abused person, or help an old person to stand up, or to put a bandage on someone’s injury, or to repair a toy for a child.

A person becomes happy to the same extent to which he or she gives happiness to other people. —JEREMY BENTHAM

Our thoughts, depending on whether they are good or bad, can bring us either to paradise or to hell; this happens, neither in heaven nor under the earth, but here, in this life. —LUCY MALORY

Three temptations torture people: sexual desire, pride, and lust for wealth. All the misfortunes of mankind come from these three cravings. Without them, people would live in happiness. But how can we get rid of these terrible illnesses? … Work on yourself and improve yourself; this is the answer. Start the improvement of this world from within. —F. ROBERT DE LAMENNAIS

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

Those people who have nothing to lose are very rich. —CHINESE PROVERB

If you notice someone in error, then correct this person and his mistake in a humble way. If he does not listen to you, blame yourself only; or, even better, do not blame anybody, but continue to be humble. —MARCUS AURELIUS

We should get ready for death, because it will come, sooner or later. The best thing to do is to live a good life. If you live a good life, you should not be afraid of death.

Physical work, physical exercise for your body, is a necessary condition of life. A man can force others to do things for him, but he cannot free himself from the necessity of his own physical work. And if a man does not work at necessary and good things, then he will work at unnecessary and stupid things

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.

When you carry your burden, you should know that it is good for you to have it. Make the best of this burden and take from it everything which is necessary for your intellectual life, as your stomach takes from food everything necessary for your flesh, or as fire burns brighter after you put some wood on it. —MARCUS AURELIUS

Be attentive to what you do; never consider anything unworthy of your attention. —CONFUCIUS

The scholar who thinks but does not create is like the cloud which does not give rain. —EASTERN WISDOM

Try to understand and remember that a person always tries to do what is best for himself. And if he is right when he does the best thing for himself, it is good; but if he is mistaken, it is bad, because suffering will follow after such mistakes. If you remember this, then you will never be upset by anybody, you will never reproach anybody, and you will never be an enemy to anybody. —After EPICTETUS

What is important is not the quantity of your knowledge, but its quality. You can know many things without knowing that which is most important.

Ignorance in itself is neither shameful nor harmful. Nobody can know everything. But pretending that you know what you actually do not know is both shameful and harmful.

Nothing will bring you peace except yourself. —RALPH WALDO EMERSON

He who is looking for wisdom is already wise; and he who thinks that he has found wisdom is a stupid man. —EASTERN WISDOM

Every thought a person dwells upon, whether he expresses it or not, either damages or improves his life. —LUCY MALORY

To vanquish sin, you must accept that the root of each sin is in a bad thought. We are all only the consequences of what we think. —BUDDHA

Remember that you are more free if you change your opinion and follow those who have corrected your mistakes, than if you are stubborn about your mistakes. —MARCUS AURELIUS

The simplest, quickest, and surest means to becoming known as a virtuous person is to work on yourself, to actually be virtuous. Examine each virtue, and you will see that they all were achieved with work and exercise. —SOCRATES

If there is something great in you, it will not appear on your first call. It will not appear and come to you easily, without any work and effort. —RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Do not allow yourself to be infected by the mood or spirit of those who abuse you; do not step onto their path. —MARCUS AURELIUS

A wise man looks for everything inside of himself; a madman seeks for everything in others. —CONFUCIUS

We cannot prevent birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from making nests on top of our heads. Similarly, bad thoughts sometimes appear in our mind, but we can choose whether we allow them to live there, to create a nest for themselves, and to breed evil deeds. —MARTIN LUTHER

Real goodness is not something that can be acquired in an instant, but only through constant effort, because real goodness lies in constantly striving for perfection.

What is not clear should be cleared up. What is not easy to do should be done with great persistence. —CONFUCIUS

Everyone knows that our habits are improved and strengthened through their exercise. In order to be a good walker, you need to walk a lot; in order to be a strong runner, you need to run frequently; in order to be a perceptive reader, you ought to read as much as you can. The same is true of your soul: if you become angry, you must know that you not only perform evil, but you also create an evil habit, and you increase your potential for further evil. —EPICTETUS

Do not be concerned too much with what will happen. Everything which happens will be good and useful for you. —EPICTETUS

A person understands himself not through thoughts, but with actions. It is only through making an effort that a person will understand his worth. —JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

A good thing is always done with an effort, and when the effort is repeated several times, then a good thing becomes a habit.

If you want to do a good deed, do it now. The time will pass, and you will not have the chance again.

When you approach a man, you should think not about how he can help you, but how you might serve and help him.

Those things which we call happiness and those which we call unhappiness are useful for us, especially when we see them as opportunities to try ourselves.

You should abstain from arguments. They are very illogical ways to convince people. Opinions are like nails: the stronger you hit them, the deeper inside they go. —DECIMUS JUNIUS JUVENALIS

The virtue of a person is measured not by his outstanding efforts, but by his everyday behavior. —BLAISE PASCAL

One of the worst things possible is to follow the rule: “Be like everyone, follow the crowd.”

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