The Way of Youth: Buddhist Common Sense for Handling Life's Questionsby Daisaku Ikeda
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Daisaku Ikeda, who offers spiritual leadership to the 12 million Soka Gakkai members throughout the world, responds to the complicated issues facing American young people in a straightforward question-and-answer format. He addresses topics that include building individual character, the purpose of hard work and perseverance, family and relationships, tolerance, and preservation of the environment. Written from a Buddhist perspective, this collection of answers to life's questions offers timeless wisdom to people of all faiths.
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The Way of Youth
Buddhist Common Sense for Handling Life's Questions
By Daisaku Ikeda
Middleway PressCopyright © 2000 Soka Gakkai
All rights reserved.
Too Little Money
Getting Along With Parents
Too Many Restrictions
My parents are always nagging me. I can't stand to be home for more than ten minutes!
How often have I heard that! While, of course, there are those who have good, open family communication, many young people get angry at their parents for telling them what to do. Often they end up not speaking to them at all.
I, too, fought with my mother from time to time about how I chose to live my life. I'd say: "Leave me alone! Let me do things my way!"
Mothers and fathers always seem to be giving their kids a hard time. From prehistoric times, mothers have been saying things like: "Do your homework!" "Turn off the television!" "Wake up or you'll be late!" It's not something we can change. But you'll understand how your parents feel when you become a parent yourself.
So it is important for you to be big-hearted. If a parent yells at you, you can think: "A loud voice means she is healthy; that's great," or, "Oh, he is expressing his love for me. I appreciate it." Your ability to view parents in this way is a sign of your increasing maturity.
Throughout the animal world, parents teach their young how to survive — how to hunt, how to eat, etc. Accordingly, our parents teach us so many things, launching us in the right direction. This is something we learn to appreciate as we become adults ourselves.
There is a well-known story about a forlorn young man sitting dejectedly by the road after quarreling with his father. He believed his father was narrow-minded, unfair and a fool. An older acquaintance came along and, guessing the cause of his sadness, said: "When I was around eighteen, my father told me nothing but dull, stupid things that infuriated me. I got really sick of hearing them. But ten years later, I started feeling that everything my father was saying made a lot of sense. I wondered, 'When did my father develop so much wisdom?'"
I think it's important that you use your own wisdom to avoid fighting with your parents. Furthermore, when your parents quarrel between themselves, as many do from time to time, the wisest thing is for you to stay out of it.
My parents are always criticizing my clothes and my hair. But these express who I am.
I can well imagine that you feel your individuality is being restricted if you are forced to do what your parents tell you. Expressing your individuality, however, and simply rebelling for rebellion's sake are two different things altogether.
As part of a larger whole — be it a family or social group — it's important for us to have the spirit and wisdom to get along with others. Being flexible and accommodating different views are signs of a solid sense of self. Rather than blindly following the crowd or blindly rebelling against it, it's crucial that we seek balance and harmony. To demonstrate such wisdom shows a strong self-identity.
It's a huge mistake to allow ourselves to become self-absorbed and insensitive to those around us. No one is an island. We live surrounded by our family, our friends and the rest of the world. We are all connected. The key is to display our individuality while living harmoniously within that web of relationships.
True individuality is not self-centered. It is a way of life that leads both ourselves and others in a positive direction in the most natural of ways.
TOO LITTLE MONEY
Everything I want to do takes money — and I don't have any! I wish my family was rich.
You may come from a poor family and feel frustrated because you can't buy the things you want. Maybe your parents struggle just to pay the rent much less provide extras for you. These are not uncommon situations. Many young people are in the same boat as you. Often they think that money equals happiness. But they are making a grave mistake.
Being born in a stately mansion is no guarantee of happiness, any more than being born in a shack dooms one to misery. Whether a person is happy or unhappy has nothing to do with how many material possessions he or she has. Even an affluent and seemingly enviable family can be struggling with some serious problem that may not be apparent. Often people may appear happy, but underneath they may be hiding some personal agony. No matter how together people might appear on the outside, it's difficult to see what's inside their hearts. So never be ashamed over your economic status. What's disgraceful is to have an impoverished heart, to live dishonestly.
A world-renowned businessman once told me: "Even though I have achieved fame and fortune, I felt a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment when I was poor. I had goals, and life was filled with challenge. To regain that sense of fulfillment, I realize now that I have to create a new goal: to contribute to the well-being and happiness of others."
We often see people embroiled in bitter battles over money; people plunged into misery and depression if their popularity should fade; people ruining their lives when they let fame and power go to their heads; and people living in luxurious homes where family members can't stand one another. Too often those who live in seemingly ideal, well-to-do, distinguished families are bound by formality, tradition and appearances. They have difficulty expressing genuine warmth, emotion and spontaneity. And too often privileged young people have difficulty setting goals and achieving them since their every need is taken care of. So when you get right down to it, do wealth, fame or luxury assure happiness? The answer is an emphatic "No."
Everything depends on your viewpoint. Instead of thinking you're unfortunate just because your parents don't have a lot of money or lack education, adopt the view that this is a common situation. You will see that this perspective will allow you to develop into a truly humane person. You'll realize that your hardships are the very material that will enable you to develop a big heart and become an individual of depth and substance.
The fact is, it's only by experiencing difficulties that you can become the kind of person who can understand others' feelings. Your pain and sorrow will cultivate the earth of your inner being. And from there, you can bring forth the beautiful flower of compassion and a desire to work for people's happiness.
Money, fame and material possessions offer only fleeting satisfaction, something that can be called "relative" happiness. Buddhist practitioners learn, however, to establish absolute happiness by transforming their lives from within. When we develop a state of mind as vast and resplendent as a magnificent palace, then nothing — no matter where we go or what we may encounter in life — can undermine or destroy our happiness.
GETTING ALONG WITH PARENTS
I wish I had better parents.
Every family has its own set of circumstances and problems that only its members can fully understand. You may wonder why you were born into your family. Or why your parents aren't as kind as others. Or why you are not blessed with a more beautiful home and a more loving and supportive family. You may even want to leave home. One thing I can say, however, is that no matter what kind of people your parents are, they are your parents. If you did not have them, you would not be alive. Please understand the deep significance of this point. You were born to this particular family in this particular place and on this planet Earth at this particular time. You were not born into any other family. This fact encompasses the meaning of everything.
Buddhism explains that nothing happens by chance and that people already possess within them all that they need to be happy. Therefore, there is no treasure more precious than life itself. No matter how difficult your situation, no matter how much you feel ignored by your parents, you are alive now — still young and blessed with a youthful spirit with which you can construct the happiest of lives from this moment forward. Do not destroy or harm your precious future by giving way to despair today.
Courageously spur yourself on, reminding yourself that the deeper the pain and grief, the greater the happiness that awaits you. Have the determination to become a pillar of support for your family. Buddhism teaches this way of life. Whether you have a parent suffering from alcoholism or a serious illness, whether your family is experiencing difficult times because of a parent's failed business, whether you have to endure the pain of seeing a parent criticized and attacked even falsely, or whether you are abandoned by a parent — all of these seemingly adverse situations can be viewed as nourishment to make you grow even stronger.
Regardless of how you are treated by your parents, ultimately, it is your responsibility, not theirs, that you become happy. It is up to each of us to have the determination to become the "sun" that can dispell all the darkness in our lives and within our families. Nichiren Buddhists know that this resolve can be fortified by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo each morning and evening.
No matter what happens, it is vital that you live confidently with the conviction that you are the "sun." Of course, in life there are sunny days and cloudy days. But even on cloudy days, the sun is still shining. Even if we are suffering, it is vital that we strive to keep the sun shining brightly in our hearts.
One young person I know has no father, his mother is incapacitated by serious health problems, and his older sister is in the hospital. While enduring so many hardships in youth, he has already scaled a high mountain in life, well ahead of others. I believe that young people who confront such hardships will be the leaders of the twenty-first century.
I don't like it when people, especially my parents, point out my shortcomings.
One of the more frustrating things in life is when we think we are one way, while the people around us think we are just the opposite. Other people, however, can often see things about us that we can't. This is good, because in the same way that a mirror allows you to see your face, the people around you can serve as a mirror to let you see many other aspects of yourself.
The comments of people close to you can help you focus your individuality in a positive direction. The education, guidance, advice, warnings and even rebukes you receive can all be used constructively to steer you along the right path. On the other hand, refusing to listen to others' advice, rebelliously doing only what you want and making things unpleasant for everyone under the guise of expressing your individuality are just forms of stubbornness that don't benefit anyone.
Having people point out your shortcomings and help you weed out your bad habits at the root allows you, in the long run, to forge your individuality in a way that will be of value to you. If, on the other hand, the roots of those bad habits remain, they will gradually affect your life adversely, moving you in a harmful, destructive direction. When you can realize this, you will see that refusing to listen to advice is foolish. It's important to be wise.
TOO MANY RESTRICTIONS
My parents place too many restrictions on me. They don't seem to understand that I'm not a kid anymore. How can I convince them of this?
I can certainly understand what you're saying. No one likes to be controlled by others, and it's only natural to wish we could do our own thing without people hassling us all the time. I know some students dream of the freedom they would enjoy if there were no rules, if they had plenty of money and time and no parents nagging them. But, really, that is a superficial perspective of human society.
Real freedom ultimately hinges on what you decide to dedicate yourself to with all your heart. It doesn't mean loafing around with nothing to do. It isn't spending money like water. It isn't having all the free time in the world. It isn't taking long vacations. Doing only as you please is not freedom — it is nothing more than self-indulgence. True freedom lies in the ongoing challenge to develop yourself, to achieve your chosen goal.CHAPTER 2
Choosing Good Friends
Good Friends vs. Bad Friends
People You Don't Like
Dealing With Envy
Being a Loner
How can I tell who my real friends are?
First, it is a good idea to consider what friendship is. True friendship is a relationship where you empathize with your friends when they are suffering and encourage them not to lose heart. And they, in turn, do the same for you.
Friendship often begins simply by liking someone because he or she spends a lot of time with you or, perhaps, helps you with your homework. You may start by liking someone who is nice to you and with whom you get along well and have a lot in common. While friendships may begin spontaneously and develop by themselves, deep friendships are supported by a spirit to grow and advance. Between you and your friends there must be a commitment to always be there to encourage and help one another as you work toward your respective goals in life.
To have some ambition, such as graduating from a university or making a meaningful contribution to society, is important. Those who lack a clear, positive purpose or direction in life tend to have friendships that lead nowhere or are based on dependency. In some cases, these types of friendships actually encourage destructive behavior. But friendships among people who cheerfully encourage one another while striving to realize their dreams are the kind that deepen and endure.
Character and integrity are indispensable for making friends. True friendship is unconcerned with social status or rank. You can make real friends only when you open up, when you share with others what's in your heart. A selfish, egotistical person cannot make true friends.
The tie that links one person's heart to another is sincerity. For adults, self-interest or personal gain often comes into play, and fleeting friendships are formed as the result of temporary circumstance. But friendships made in one's youth are generally free of artificiality. Nothing is more wonderful or precious than the true friendships formed when you are young.
Your friends from junior high and high school, even elementary school, are like your fellow actors, appearing in the same play with you on the stage of life. Some you may never forget for the rest of your life.
Such friendships flow as beautifully as a pure, fresh stream. The clear and unspoiled currents of two people converge in sincerity, moving positively toward their respective dreams. Struggling and growing together, they share each other's hardships, always encouraging and supporting each other, creating an even broader, deeper and purer river of friendship. The beauty and clarity of this river will inspire all who see it to want to drink from its waters, too.
Friendship is true wealth. There have been many famous sayings about it throughout the ages, such as Cicero's "Friendship is closer than kinship" and "A life without friendship is like a world without sunshine" and Aristotle's "A friend is like another self." No matter how much status or wealth people may gain, those without friends are indeed sad and lonely. A life without friendship leads to an unbalanced, self-centered existence.
CHOOSING GOOD FRIENDS
I want to have good friends in my life. What do you suggest?
You are wise to understand the importance of friendship. You probably have many different kinds of friends — friends who live in the same neighborhood and with whom you go to school every day; friends in the same class; friends in extracurricular activities; friends with whom you just hang out. Sometimes, too, friendship starts out as a casual thing, with two people just sitting around talking. Then one day something happens that inspires them both to try to achieve some goal. They then become good friends who positively influence each other. The best friends to have are those with whom you can advance together toward a shared goal. While we can't choose our family, we can choose our friends. And it's an important choice. I often hear, "School is fun because I have friends there." Others lament, "I have friends, but I don't have any close enough to speak with heart to heart."
You were born into this vast universe on the tiny planet Earth and in the same era as the people around you. Yet it is extremely rare to find, among the billions of people on this planet, genuine, unconditional friends with whom you can totally be yourself, who will understand your thoughts and feelings even without words.
Among your fellow students, I'm sure most of you have at least one or two whom you regard as true friends — please treasure them. But if you feel that you don't have any close friends right now, don't worry. Just tell yourself that you will have wonderful friends in the future. Concentrate your energies now on becoming a fine individual who is considerate, who does not speak badly of others, and who does not go back on your word. I'm sure that in the future you will have many friends, perhaps all over the world.
In any event, it's important to understand that friendship depends on you, not on the other person. It all comes down to your attitude, what you are willing to contribute to the relationship. I hope you will not be a fair-weather friend, helping others only when circumstances are good and leaving them high and dry when problems occur; instead, strive to become a person who sticks by friends no matter what.
You can prepare your life for great friendships by what you do today. There are things you can do to become the kind of great friend you hope to have. For example, when you notice someone is worried about something, offer a kind word: "You look down. What's wrong?" Treat others' problems as your own and try to help. This kind of strong resolve is important.
And if someone should betray your trust, vow to yourself that you'll never do the same thing to anyone else. When you make a promise, always keep it, no matter what. If you make an effort to be that kind of person, you'll soon come to find yourself surrounded by good friends.
GOOD FRIENDS VS. BAD FRIENDS
My parents don't approve of the friends I hang out with.
Parents who worry about the friends you keep are truly concerned about your welfare. The same can be said of teachers. They're not just trying to give you a hard time.
Excerpted from The Way of Youth by Daisaku Ikeda. Copyright © 2000 Soka Gakkai. Excerpted by permission of Middleway 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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Meet the Author
Daisaku Ikeda is the author of more than 60 books including The Living Buddha, Buddhism: The First Millennium, Choose Life, and Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death. He is the president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist renewal movement and has received the United Nations Peace Award.
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This is a wonderful book for youth. Have read it many times and have been encouraged everytime.
This book is a gem that I refer to often when I need encouragement about how to handle the various challenges in life. The guidance about love and relationships is particularly inspiring and has given me hope and courage to develop new and deeper relationships with people.
Mr. Ikeda has really touched on the importance of youth with this book. It was very easy to read and as an adult helped me to be able to understand youth better. I have had the pleasure of reading some of Mr. Ikedas' other work, but this really touched my life and made me think of questions that I had as a young person, but, were never answered until now. I recommend this book to Parents, Young Adults, and anyone with love in their hearts for this World we live in. Remember, Youth Are The Hope Of The World.
Created from the popular 'Discussions on Youth' series in the World Tribune (America's premier weekly Buddhist newspaper), this new book by Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai International, is an excellent collection of Ikeda's responses to the questions of today's young people. 'The Way of Youth - Buddhist Common Sense for Handling Life's Questions' includes topics such as how to build confidence and character, learning to respect both yourself and those around you, developing lasting happiness from within, dealing with peer pressure and ways to contribute to a happy, free and peaceful society. Although Dr. Ikeda is the current leader of the world's largest Buddhist organization, this book is written for a general audience and will appeal to both teens and parents regardless of their religious background. As Arun Gandhi, grandson and founding director of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence recently said - 'The Way of Youth is an outstanding guide to humanity. I recommend it to all who seek self-improvement.'