In the book “Reading Circle” (1910), Leo Tolstoy collected the most important thoughts of famous artists, scientists, and philosophers and arranged them in a calendar of daily and monthly readings. In this book, you can read inspiring thoughts about God, art, death, upbringing, love, peace, compassion, the meaning of life and more. I highlighted the thoughts that Tolstoy wrote regarding compassion for animals and the human habit of eating meat.

There was a time when people ate each other. Then there came a time when they stopped doing that, but continued to eat animals. Now the time has come when they are increasingly rejecting that terrible habit. By feeding on meat, people kindle the greatest fire of cruelty within themselves. L. Malory

From the delusion that our actions towards animals have no spiritual meaning, or speaking in the language of accepted morality — that there is no duty towards animals — comes unbearable rudeness and barbarism. A. Schopenhauer

A traveler visited African cannibals at a time when they still ate human flesh. He asked them what they were eating, and they answered: human flesh. “How can you eat that?” shouted the passenger. “Well, salted it is very tasty,” the Africans answered him. They were so used to what they were doing that they could not understand what the traveler’s cry was referring to. Likewise, meat eaters do not understand the indignation experienced by vegetarians when they see pigs and lambs that they eat only because their meat is tasty if it is salted. L. Malory

Killing animals and then eating animal flesh stems mainly from man’s belief that animals were created by God to serve humans and that there is nothing wrong with killing them. But that’s not true. Not a single book says that it is not a sin to kill animals, and in the hearts of all of us it is written more clearly than in books that animals should be pitied just like humans. And we all know that, if we don’t silence the voice of our conscience. L. N. Tolstoy

Compassion for animals is so innate to us that just because of habit, tradition, and suggestion, we can be callous towards their torture and death. L.N. Tolstoy

Compassion for animals is so strongly connected with good meaning that it can be said with certainty that a person who is cruel to animals cannot be a good person. Compassion towards animals comes from the same source as a good attitude towards humans. So, for example, if a man, remembering how being in a bad mental mood, in anger or in the rage of drunkenness, beat his dog, horse, or monkey, violently or excessively painfully, feels such dissatisfaction with himself, as when he remembers insults inflicted on a person. We call this the voice of conscience. A. Schopenhauer

Man is not on a higher level than animals because he can torture them mercilessly, but because he can pity them. Buddhist wisdom

Don’t let your kids kill insects: that’s the beginning of the urge to kill people. Pythagoras

The joy that a feeling of compassion for animals provides to man, compensating him multiple times for the pleasures that he is deprived of by giving up hunting and eating meat. L.N. Tolstoy

In the past, people ate meat and saw nothing wrong with it. Although there are still such wild people today, they still, little by little, stopped eating human flesh. In time, they will also stop eating animal flesh and very soon the time will come when they will feel the same aversion to animal flesh as they now feel towards human flesh. Alphonse de Lamartine

We cannot consider ourselves masters of animals that live on land, that eat the same food as us, that breathe the same air as us, and drink the same water as us. When we kill them, we are always disturbed by their horrible screams that make us feel ashamed of our actions. That’s what Plutarch thought, excluding marine animals for some unknown reason. However, in relation to land animals, we are far behind him. L. N. Tolstoy

Do not lay your hand on your brother and do not shed the blood of any living creature that lives on the earth — neither man, nor domestic animal, nor beast, nor bird. In the depths of your soul, a prophetic voice forbids you to shed blood, because it is life, and life cannot be returned. Alphonse de Lamartine

Compassion for all living beings is the most sincere and reliable guarantee of moral behaviour. A person who is truly compassionate will most likely not humiliate anyone, will not offend, will not cause pain to anyone, will not demand anything from anyone, but will forgive everyone, and all his actions will bear the stamp of justice and mercy. When someone says: “This is a good man, but he does not know mercy”, or “This is an unjust and evil man, but he is merciful”, you will feel that this is a contradiction. A. Schopenhauer

When you feel the pain of watching another being suffer, do not give in to the first instinctive urge to turn your head away from the suffering, to run away from the one who is suffering, but, on the contrary, run to him and find a way to help him. L. N. Tolstoy

It would be forgivable to take meat food if it was necessary and justified by any reasons. But it’s not like that. It is simply a bad deed that has no justification in our time. L. N. Tolstoy

What struggle for survival or what unimaginable insanity forced you to stain your hands with blood in order to feed on animal flesh? Why do you do that? Is the earth unable to feed you without animal flesh? Plutarch

If we were not so blindly subjected to the custom that has ensnared us, none of so many sensitive people could reconcile themselves to the thought that for our food it is necessary to kill so many animals every day, regardless of the fact that our fertile earth is a treasure house of the most diverse plants. Bernard de Mandeville

You ask me, for what reason did Pythagoras refrain from eating animal meat? I, for my part, do not understand what feeling, thought, or cause guided that man who first decided to defile his mouth with blood and allowed his lips to taste the flesh of a slain being. I wonder at the one who accepted on his table the distorted forms of dead bodies and demanded for his daily diet what was until recently a being endowed with the ability to move, understand, and vote. Plutarch

The indifference of children towards meat food and the preference they always give to vegetables, fruit, pastries and the like can serve as proof that meat food is unnatural to humans. J. J. Rousseau

There is a great difference between a man who has no other food than meat, who has never heard anything about the sin of eating meat, and naively believes in the Bible which permits the feeding on animals, and every literate man of our time who lives in a land where there are vegetables and milk and who knows everything that the teachers of mankind have said against the consumption of meat. Such a person commits a great sin by continuing to do what he can no longer deny is bad. L. N. Tolstoy

The commandment “Thou shall not kill” does not refer to a human being, but to the killing of any life. This commandment was written in man’s heart before it was pronounced on Sinai. L. N. Tolstoy

However persuasive the evidence against vegetarianism may be, one cannot but feel sorrow and disgust at the killing of a sheep or a chicken. Most people will give up the pleasure and use of meat food rather than kill animals with their own hands. L. N. Tolstoy

If we have to pity sheep and rabbits, then we have to pity wolves and rats, say the opponents of vegetarianism. We pity them and try to pity them, answer the vegetarians, and we look for other means than murder to protect ourselves from the harm they inflict on us, and we succeed in that. If you mention cockroaches, we don’t feel pity for them (Lichtenberg said that our pity for animals is proportional to their size), but we think that we can feel pity for them too (like Silvio Pellico for the spider), and we can find others against them to means other than murder.

“And plants are also living beings, and you destroy their life”, add the opponents of vegetarianism. But it is precisely this evidence that best defines the essence of vegetarianism and indicates the means to satisfy the needs. Ideal vegetarianism is eating fruits: apples, peaches, pumpkins, strawberries… Doctors believe that this food is the healthiest and does not harm human health. It is also important that these fruits, when they are eaten and harvested, spread over the earth with the help of seeds and thus reproduce. L. N. Tolstoy

With enlightenment and an increase in the number of inhabitants, people switched from cannibalism to carnivory, from carnivory to eating grains and roots, and from this way of eating they switched to the most natural way of eating: fruits. L. N. Tolstoy

The folly, lawlessness, moral and material harmfulness of eating meat has recently become so clear that meat-eating can no longer be justified by debates but by referring to custom, habits, and the past. Therefore, today it is no longer necessary to prove the obvious senselessness of carnivory. It will disappear on its own. L. N. Tolstoy

L.N. Tolstoy is one of the characters in the vegan book “The Turtle Who Fights for Animal Rights“, in which he defends animals as he did in real life.

All quotes in the book “Reading Circle” that are not signed are by Tolstoy or by an unknown author.