In a straightforward question-and-answer format, Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda responds to the complicated issued facing American young people. Addressing adolescents as the leaders of the future, Ikeda touches on topics of peace, human rights, and environmental degredation as he urges young people with warmth and understanding to see the great potential they have as the hope for humanity. The book also provides easy-to-understand explanations of Nichiren Buddhism and the benefits of its practice.
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About the Author
Daisaku Ikeda is a poet, a writer, and a peace activist recognized as one of the leading interpreters of Buddhism. He is the president of the Soka Gakkai International, a lay Buddhist association that pursues the values of peace, culture, and education and that is committed to fostering a sense of responsibility for the shared global community. He is the author or coauthor of dozens of books on various topics and in diverse genres, including Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy, dialogues with world leaders, children’s titles, and others. He is the recipient of the United Nations Peace Award, the Rosa Parks Humanitarian Award, and the International Tolerance Award of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Read an Excerpt
Discussions on Youth
For the Leaders of the Future
By Daisaku Ikeda
World Tribune PressCopyright © 2010 Soka Gakkai
All rights reserved.
The Worries and Hopes of Youth
Thank you so much, President Ikeda, for making this discussion series for youth possible. I believe it will become a lifelong treasure for the high school division members. We look forward to learning from your rich wisdom and experience.
It is I who must thank you. I am determined to give my all to these discussions. I wish to speak honestly, to leave the truth as my legacy to all of you. Why? It is because my sole desire now is to raise genuine leaders for the twenty-first century. The cultivation of truly humanistic leaders is imperative — for the sake of the world, humanity, kosen-rufu and peace. The whole world cries out for this.
Raising young leaders is also my greatest joy. The second Soka Gakkai president, Josei Toda, once said, "Nothing is more enjoyable than meeting young people who are pure-hearted and searching for the correct path in life." I feel exactly the same way.
The members of the Soka Gakkai's future division — collectively comprising the elementary, junior high and high school divisions — are very important. I have the greatest expectations for each of you, as people who will take on active roles in the twenty-first century, a critical time for all humanity. I am praying for your success and victory in life. Your growth and activities, after all, are in themselves kosen-rufu. I have no intention of treating the members of the high school division like children. I hold you in the highest esteem and think of you as adults of fine character; I regard you as ladies and gentlemen.
As such, I will speak with you frankly and unreservedly. You may not understand everything I have to say to you right now. And you may not agree with everything I have to say. That's perfectly all right. I would be happy if, however, from this discussion, you could glean something, however small, that might help you and be of benefit to your growth. That is all I seek.
Please know that my most fervent wish is that each of you, whom I hold close to my heart, spends your youth without regrets. It is especially important not to leave behind regrets about your teens, the time to establish the all-important foundation for the rest of your lives.
I would like all of you to experience the satisfaction of having accomplished something — it doesn't matter what — in your own way and capacity, even if it's something as simple as cleaning, participating in club activities, doing volunteer work or whatever. The main thing is to be satisfied knowing that you've contributed something, that you've done your best. Please become individuals of whom others can say with admiration: "There is something different about him that sets him apart" or "She is someone I can really respect."
We are looking forward to learning much from these discussions.
Many high school students today want to take on a challenge, but they don't know exactly what to challenge. Others don't seem to be interested in anything, or if they do show an interest, they don't have the courage to pursue it. They become angry at themselves and at their indecision and weakness, which gives way to despair. I think many youth feel this way.
One high school student said to me recently, "In schools these days, students who have trouble learning are treated as less than human." These words struck me deeply. Many students are extremely discouraged because grades seem to be the basis of everything, ultimately determining their overall evaluation and ranking in school. They feel like failures when they cannot gain admission to a school with a high academic reputation.
Even among those who excel in their studies, many are so drained and exhausted that they have no room to form big dreams or aspirations. So the important question is how to live in a way true to ourselves.
Press Forward in the Midst of Problems
What you are describing are the harmful effects of society's overemphasis on academics. In Japan, students are not taught the all-essential whys and wherefores of things and events, nor are they taught the path they should follow as human beings. This negligence causes them needless suffering. Japan has truly become a lamentable country.
So what do you do in such a situation? Hold a grudge against society, your schools, your parents or yourselves? Will you feel happy then? I don't think so.
You are each precious and irreplaceable. Please do not allow yourselves to succumb to negativity and cynicism. Suffering is to be found in any era. Youth is a time of problems, pain and confusion.
And grades are probably not the only source of worry or anguish you face. You may have problems at home, with your health, with how you feel about your looks, with members of the opposite sex or with friends. Feelings of pain, insecurity, frustration and sadness may assail you. Youth means grappling with all kinds of problems. It means resolving them, in spite of all difficulties, pushing aside the dark clouds of despair and advancing toward the sun, toward hope. This strength is the hallmark of youth.
Having problems, making mistakes or feeling regrets is only natural. What's important is to be undefeated by them. In the midst of worries and struggles, always look forward and advance.
Suppose you are lost in the jungle. You want to find your way out and reach the ocean but don't know which way to go. What do you do? The answer is to keep moving ahead, taking a course that leads to a river. If you follow the river downstream, you will eventually reach the ocean.
The important thing is to keep pressing forward. While struggling with various problems, it is vital that you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and advance somehow — even if it's only one or two inches. If you do so, when you look back, you'll see that you have actually made your way through the jungle in no time.
Your lives will be enriched and deepened in proportion to the pain and grief you suffer, the degree to which you struggle and how much you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The hardships you face now will all serve to nourish your growth into leaders of the twenty-first century.
For example, if your life is made miserable by the present overemphasis on school performance and educational background, you might well decide to bring about truly humanistic education in the future that, instead of demoralizing students, will leave them with hope. One who undertakes such an endeavor would certainly be considered a leader of the twenty-first century.
A Great Leader Is a Friend to the Suffering
Your studies are of course important. But the grades you get in high school will not determine the course of your entire life. Your future depends on the efforts you make and whether you are walking the correct path. It's not important how you compare yourself to others but how you compare yourself to whom you were yesterday. If you see that you've advanced even one step, then you've achieved a victory.
A famous person once told his son, "Your grades can be mediocre, but please become a person of outstanding character." Greatness as a human being is not determined by educational background or social position. Even people who graduate from top universities may engage in criminal activities. And there are some among the so-called elite who are overbearing and arrogant. I want to foster leaders, not elitists.
A truly great person is a friend to those in suffering, pain and misery. Such a person can be called a leader of the new century.
More often than not in today's society, the suffering and disadvantaged are ostracized, despised and pushed to the margins. Many of our current leaders are guilty of doing this. This is a deplorable mistake.
Study should be for the purpose of finding a way to help those who are suffering. Many leaders today, however, look down on them and only add to their misery. There is no society as cruel, arrogant, cold or cowardly as ours. I want to change this at all costs. And it is toward this end that I have devoted all my energies. I pray that you will understand my sentiments and carry on this work with the same spirit in the future.
What about students who are discouraged because the school they are attending was not their first choice?
Not attending the school of your choice may certainly be disappointing. But viewed in the long term and from the essential point of study, it doesn't really matter that you graduate from a well-known school.
I studied at night school. Like many others in those turbulent years following World War II, I had no money, so I had to work during the day to put myself through school in the evening. It was a painful struggle, but an experience of which I will always be proud.
Later, President Toda tutored me privately. He taught me everything he had learned. He once told me, "Become an inspiration for those who cannot attend good schools." Those who start out under difficult circumstances and go on to become first-rate individuals can be sources of hope and inspiration for many. Please remember always that academic background isn't everything.
At any rate, since you have been accepted to a school — even if it is not your first choice and regardless of how society judges it — it's important to decide that the place where you are is the very best, that it is the perfect place for you to learn all you want. This way of thinking is far more constructive and beneficial in the long run.
It's foolish to allow your confidence to be undermined by the opinions of others. You are all in your teens; limitless possibilities are open to all of you.
Is going on to university the best thing?
I'm all for it. In many cases, a university can provide an environment conducive to fostering students' abilities, to equipping them with certain qualifications that may enable them one day to contribute to more people in society.
Realizing Your Inherent Potential
Nevertheless, you are free to choose your path. If you feel the road you must follow to fulfill your mission lies somewhere other than in a university classroom, then that's perfectly OK.
The important thing is not to cause your parents to worry. I hope each of you will cherish a dream of what you would like to do — something that is just right for you — and continue to challenge yourselves to achieve it.
The purpose of study is not just to get into a university. Study contributes to your growth and self-enrichment. There is a saying "Not to learn is to debase yourself." What makes human beings human is their art of learning.
We are now living in an advanced age of information. If you do not continue to study throughout your lives, you will soon be left behind. To develop a lifelong study ethic is an important requisite for future leaders. The deadlocks society faces today are in fact the deadlocks of its leaders. And the reason for this is usually that they do not study. They lack the spirit and broad-mindedness to listen to the ideas and opinions of the younger generation and to incorporate and implement those that have value.
Especially during your teens, I'd like to see you develop a passion and enthusiasm for learning that will endure throughout your lives. Consider this time as training for your brain in order to develop such a foundation.
I cannot say this too strongly: Do not compare yourselves to others. Be true to who you are, and continue to learn with all your might. Even if you are ridiculed, even if you suffer disappointments and setbacks, continue to advance and do not be defeated. If you have such a strong determination in your heart, you are already halfway to victory.
When you hold fast to your beliefs and live true to yourself, your true value as a human being shines through. Buddhism teaches the concept of manifesting one's true nature. This means to reveal your genuine innate self, your true inherent potential, and bring it to shine, illuminating all around you. It refers to your most refined individuality and uniqueness.
It's like the story of the hare and the tortoise. I think some people are hares and others tortoises. But those who make their way forward steadily and continuously until they reach the finish line win in the end. Completing the race is itself a victory. It's all a question of staying focused on your goal and never giving up on yourself, isn't it?
One runner in the men's marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was the twenty-year-old Abdul Baser Wasiqi from Afghanistan. Because of an interruption in his education by the protracted war in his country, he was still a high school student. Mr. Wasiqi finished the marathon in last place, a full two hours behind the winner. He was the slowest Olympic marathon runner in history. But he crossed the finish line, undaunted.
His goal, Mr. Wasiqi said, was not to come in first or second place; it was to go to Atlanta and run. "It is very important to finish," he said in halting English. "I run for Afghanistan. I represent my country to the world, to show that Afghanistan is living, that they have not died during sixteen years of civil war."
I was very moved to see this young man run for the sake of the people of his war-torn country.
A Mission Only You Can Fulfill
The important thing is to be patient, to have the confidence and determination that you will achieve something meaningful in the future. Youth is not a time for impatience. Your true substance as human beings will be determined ten, twenty or thirty years from now. What matters is the kind of people you become and whether you are fulfilling your mission then. Each of you has a mission that only you can fulfill. If you did not have such a mission, you would not have been born.
There are many kinds of mountains in this world. There are high ones and low ones. And there are a great many different kinds of rivers. There are long and short rivers. Despite their differences, however, we cannot dispute the fact that all mountains are mountains and that all rivers are rivers.
There are serene mountains like the ones in the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, and there are active volcanoes like Mount Aso. Then there are the grand snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas. All of these mountains are beautiful and impressive in their own way.
The same is so with rivers. There is Japan's Ishikari River, home to magnificent salmon, as well as our poetic Chikuma River. There is the Yellow River in China, and there is the Amazon in South America, rivers so wide that in some places, the opposite shore cannot be seen. Each of them has its own special beauty.
The same is true of people. Each of you has a unique mission in life. Moreover, you have encountered the Mystic Law while still young. You have a mission that is yours and yours alone. That is an indisputable fact, one in which I would like you to have conviction and pride.
How do we become aware of our own unique missions in life?
You won't find them by standing still. You must challenge yourselves in something, it doesn't matter what. Then, by your making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally. It's important, therefore, to have the courage to ask yourselves what you should be doing now, this very moment.
The key, in other words, is to climb the mountain before you. As you ascend its slopes, you will develop your muscles, increasing your strength and endurance. Such training will enable you to challenge still higher mountains. It is vital that you continue making such efforts. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo will enable you to bring forth the life force necessary to succeed.
Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and climb the mountain in front of you. When you reach the summit, wide new horizons will stretch out before you. Little by little, you will understand your own mission.
Those who remember they have a unique mission are strong. Whatever problems they have, they will not be defeated. They can transform all their problems into catalysts for growth toward a hope-filled future.
Be confident we have a mission, and climb the mountain before us. That seems very clear, but challenging.
Yes. Life is about scaling one mountain, then facing the next one, and the one after that. Those who persevere and finally succeed in conquering the highest mountain are victors in life. On the other hand, those who avoid such challenges and take the easy route, descending into the valleys, will end in defeat. To put it simply, we have two choices: We can either climb the mountain before us, or descend into the valley.
Excerpted from Discussions on Youth by Daisaku Ikeda. Copyright © 2010 Soka Gakkai. Excerpted by permission of World Tribune Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PREFACE by SGI President Ikeda,
PART ONE The Hopes of Youth,
1 The Worries and Hopes of Youth,
2 Youth: A Time of Challenge,
3 Friendship and Perspectives on Life,
PART TWO The Heartbeat of Youth,
4 What Is Love?,
5 Finding Happiness in Your Work,
6 What Is a Global Citizen?,
7 Bringing Out Your Best,
8 What Is Kindness?,
9 The Essence of Human Rights,
PART THREE Youth and Self-Improvement,
10 The Joy of Reading,
11 Knowing History Is Knowing Yourself,
12 Appreciating Art and Culture,
13 Dialogue With Nature,
14 Discovering Great Literature,
PART FOUR Youth and Faith,
15 Why Do We Chant Every Day?,
16 Why Do We Have an Organization?,
17 Weaving the Fabric of Peace,
PART FIVE The Questions of Youth,
18 What Is Freedom?,
19 What Is Individuality?,
20 What Is the Power of Prayer?,
PART SIX Youth and the Future,
21 What Is a Good Friend?,
22 It Takes Courage,
23 Why Are the Good Despised?,
24 Why Go to College?,
PART SEVEN The Energy of Youth,
25 Life and Death Are One,
A You Are the Hope of the World,
B Effort Determines Your Future,