Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 20: Encouragement for Youth [20.18]

20.18 “Learning Is Light, Ignorance Is Darkness”

Those who keep learning throughout life remain youthful. President Ikeda discusses the importance of cultivating the habit of learning while we are young.

There is a Russian saying: “Learning is light, ignorance is darkness.” Of course, “learning” here does not refer only to studying at a university. In a broader sense, learning is self-improvement, while ignorance is stagnation. The spirit of learning leads to peace, progress, and prosperity, while ignorance leads to misery, misfortune, and impoverishment.

In my youth, I studied while working. Around 1950, when Mr. Toda’s businesses were in serious trouble, was the most difficult period for me, as I was also in poor health. Yet, I never felt unhappy. Spending my days working alongside the person I had chosen as my mentor, I hadn’t the slightest regret. My only frustration was that I couldn’t study as much as I wanted to.

As if he knew my thoughts, Mr. Toda said to me: “Don’t worry. I will teach you everything you would learn at a university. Just be patient. Leave your education to me.”

From that time, I spent every Sunday at Mr. Toda’s home, receiving private instruction from him. With his wide-ranging scholarship, which encompassed government, economics, literature, physics, astronomy, and other fields of science, he became a perfect tutor, imparting to me all of the knowledge he had acquired in his lifetime.

Eventually, in addition to Sundays, the classes expanded to weekday mornings before work. Mr. Toda’s classes were extremely demanding. Through this training by my mentor in the midst of our arduous struggles, I built the foundation for my life.

Mr. Toda was always studying. Two weeks before he died, he sternly asked me what I had been reading, adding: “Never forget to keep reading. I’m presently up to volume three of the [ancient Chinese classic] Compendium of Eighteen Histories.” At that time, he was extremely weak, to the extent that he could no longer stand or walk unaided. The intense resonance of his voice, however, still reverberates in my ears.

Those who continue learning, who stay active and engaged, remain forever young. Lives that continue improving are like the water of a ceaselessly flowing river, always fresh and pure.

Of the many people I have met, it was the eminent British historian Arnold J. Toynbee who impressed me most deeply with his unwavering devotion to learning.

After repeated invitations from Professor Toynbee, I had the opportunity to meet and engage in discussion with him for a total of forty hours over ten days in 1972 and 1973. The content of our dialogue was published in 1975. Since then it has been translated into English under the title of Choose Life, as well as into French, German, and many other languages, and been well received around the world. I am delighted at the result, hoping it might repay in some small way the sincerity of Professor Toynbee, who took the time to engage in those lengthy discussions with me, someone many years his junior.

The year after our dialogue ended, Professor Toynbee was incapacitated by illness. Unfortunately, the outlook for his recovery was not good, and it appears that he never fully regained his faculties. In a letter I received from his wife, Veronica, she wrote that even in that condition her husband asked for books, and although it was doubtful that he could actually read, he turned the pages as if he could.

I was deeply moved by this. Even when illness deprived him of his full awareness, Professor Toynbee’s dedicated efforts in scholarly research had become an expression of his life itself, always seeking to learn and aiming higher. I felt he was the model of a great individual, who fully deserved of the recognition he had gained as one of the leading thinkers of the 20th century.

It is easy to pay lip service to lifelong learning. With Japan’s emergence as an economic superpower, its people have more free time. They engage in a wide range of hobbies. But simply having the time and attending classes somewhere won’t guarantee inner enrichment. The key is whether one has a vibrant desire to improve and grow.

Professor Toynbee kept books beside him even when he was bedridden. Learning had become a habit, a good habit, for him. Those who acquire that habit when they are young are fortunate.

In the workplace and the home, as well as in the events of daily life, we can always find precious opportunities to learn. There are those who use five spare minutes to read a newspaper, open a book, listen to the news, or gain something from an encounter with another person. Though they may seem busy, such people are able to transform that very busyness into learning. Laziness is the first step toward stagnation. Let us lead lives nourished by the rich wellspring of a love of learning, maintaining a lively interest and curiosity about everything.

From Kokoro no shiki (Seasons of the Heart), published in Japanese in May 1993.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.