One of the most interesting pairs of characters I have encountered in The Brothers Karamazov is the pair of Alyosha and his elder, Zossimov. Although both are spiritually devout, the type of spirituality that they adhere to seem to differ quite markedly. Alyosha’s spirituality is a naive one. Born and raised lovingly, Alyosha’s natural love for humanity is unmistakable, and he is able to tolerate all equally except God Himself. For this, I will speak of Alyosha’s perception of God as child-like: innocent, pure, and wondering. His is a strong faith, but a naive one nonetheless. When I read about Zossimov, on the other hand, I could have easily mistake him for Tagore, the Dalai Lama, or Thich Nhat Hanh. Zossimov’s spirituality seems to be a pantheistic, yet distinctly Eastern spirituality. The first idea that lead me to this was conclusion was Zossimov’s encounter with his brother. His brother, when confronted with a terminal illness, was suddenly stricken with mortality. Formerly a philosophy student and a harsh skeptic, his illness helped him re-evaluate the direction and purpose of his life to a more meaningful state. From his brother, Zossimov learned to love every waking moment, not hope for the future, and to realize that the he is already in heaven if he would simply look around to see it. Zossimov didn’t understand this concept until the morning of his duel. There, confronted with the possibility of ending another life, and admiring the grandeur of the orderly world around him, Zossimov came to his own discovery of the Kingdom of Heaven right in his consciousness. During the duel, Zossimov, instead of stopping the duel before it began, decided to allow his adversary the first shot. To me, this act was because of a higher realization that he had already discovered nirvana or heaven in life. Zossimov must have yearned as the Buddha did, to, if surviving the blast, to help bring enlightenment to the greater masses. The second idea that really stuck out in the reading was Zossimov’s belief in equality. In his last dying soliloquy, Zossimov mentions many times his idea that man is irrevocably linked by love, by God, and most of all by equal consideration for each other. Thus, Zossimov, a high elder, never would refuse to bless or to talk with anyone in spite of their rank. Zossimov also believed in the highest rank of Russian monks, believing them to be the first and strongest link to the common people. This idea of equality, long propounded by the Buddha in his living years carries on to modern Buddhism.
Buddha himself was the first to disregard the caste system of India and preached to all equally. He even clad himself in simple attire and walked everywhere to prove his devotion to humanity, and not a particular class. Finally, Buddha was probably one of history’s first advocate of Women’s rights and created a sect of his nuns to allow women to undergo the same spiritual rigors as men. Lastly, and perhaps the most substantial reason I believe Zossimov to be an Easterner is his belief in the Middle Way. In Buddhism, a fundamental principle that separates it from Hinduism is the belief that in order to be spiritually capable, one must avoid the extremes of asceticism and maintain good balance in all practices. The Middle Way was a concept well endorsed by Father Zossimov. Unlike Father Ferapont who practiced extreme asceticism, Zossimov asked of his monks physical disciple, but would not deny them proper nourishment and even advocated the use of conventional medicine if the fasting did not cure a disease. To Zossimov, the health of a monk who could help ten more people in good health, was much more important than selfish dietary or physical asceticism. Zossimov was highly reprimanded for this by Ferapont and at his funeral when his body started to stink, Ferapont and others accused him of indulging in these activities that lead to his un-saintly death. Zossimov’s death was quintessentially, an earthly death- stinkking, rotting, and decaying. To many, this was proof that God had judged him poorly, but if one were to follow my idea of Zossimov being an Eastern spiritualist, one would see that Zossimov’s organic death to be quite a finale of a death. To the Eastern spiritualist, the realm of heaven is in every day and thus, if life is lived perfectly in the moment, happiness will enter and death will simply be a nonexistence and a passing of the physical body back into the earth that it arose from. Thus, an “organic” death and decay would be looked upon as saintly indeed. Zossimov’s decay, faster than natural, could then be seen as his final return.