Chapter IV – Part 1 – Never Had Before

Ryusho2016- Chap 4 - What We Never Had BefireChapter IV is written from the voice of the Pratyekabuddhas, the elders of the Sangha.  This group of people and the World, in the Ten Worlds, it represents is sometime called the self-enlightened or the contemplatives.  In both of my art pieces for this chapter I used translucent layers in a variety of ways.  The idea was to show how even though our appearance or behavior at times seems to not be that of the Buddha or of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, underneath however because of our practice we are changing.  Underlying the outward appearance is the emerging manifestation of Enlightenment.

The Murano translation calls this chapter “Understanding by Faith” whereas the Threefold Lotus Sutra translation by Buno Kato is called ‘Faith Discernment’, a title which caries a different meaning to me.  In the one it seems to indicate that faith enables us to understand the Dharma.  That is definitely true in my opinion, so I don’t disagree.  In fact the notion of faith being the key to our understanding of the Lotus Sutra is supported in many instances throughout the Lotus Sutra, and this was certainly Nichiren’s approach.  By taking faith, by practicing, by living and doing the Lotus Sutra from our heart we naturally take on the characteristics of the truth of the Lotus Sutra, that being we all possess inherently the World of Buddha.  Merely intellectualizing this concept does not automatically lead us to change within the core of our lives. 

Discernment, as I have stated previously in other writings is not a term frequently used by Buddhists, as far as I have experienced.  It is a term heard quite frequently in Christian circles.  Discernment in some instances is a formalized practice of asking questions until the correct question has been found, and then listening deeply for the response.  I have in fact offered the practice of discernment to various individuals and have put it as a formal practice for prisoners in my book Incarcerated Lotus.  The idea here in its simplest form is to differentiate between the voice of our intellectual self, the voice of the mind, the voice of the heart, and the voice of a deeper self, the Buddha self.

The voice of the intellect is one which is valuable in some instances because it measures things, it quantifies things, it compares things.  Those are all valuable and should not be discounted.  Yet when it comes to things which cannot be measured or quantified, such as faith or even religious belief, then it is small value.   We need something else in those instances.

The voice of the heart is about passion and emotion.  Where the voice of the mind is cold and calculating the voice of the heart is spontaneous.  Think of love, which comes from the heart, often cannot be reduced to facts, figures, numbers, or even logic or reason.  In fact sometimes the voice of the heart becomes even louder and reactive when it is being limited by the voice of the mind.

I believe there is the possibility of a third voice, a voice that is sometimes called intuition, or a ‘feeling’ a sense of, or an awareness of.  This is a the voice that connects with the Buddha within and without.  This voice of the spirit transcends emotion and logic.  I believe it can know facts long before the mind ever becomes aware there are facts to examine.  This voice also can provide the heart voice with a connection deeper and greater than any white hot passion.

There are those who will disagree with this notion and that is all right.  Neither of us are able to prove otherwise, and I’m all right with that as well.  My experiences do not require the validation of others.  That is something I hope each of us can experience, the deep conviction that what we are doing and what we believe is beyond the need for approval.  Knowing what you believe, and knowing the effect of your belief is all part of the discernment process and enables a person to live free. 

If this awareness is from the mind however, it will always be subject comparison, if the awareness is based upon the heart it will be subject to a waning of interest or desire.  When it can arise from a deep place within one’s self then it will endure because it is based  solely upon the connection to Buddhahood.

Discernment is a process, a practice which can enable a person to open up to listening to a deeper response to questions asked about direction or action. Let me emphasize it is a beginning point for action.  Action always follows discernment.  In Chapter IV we have that action as the Pratyekabuddhas awaken to a deeper self or deeper connection than their intellect had previously led them.

I’ve written at length many times about the Lotus Sutra inviting us to consider Buddhism from a different perspective.  In stead of approaching Buddhism from the point of figuring out what all the words mean, what all the text might be saying, I’ve suggested an experiential approach. By this I mean to feel what the scripture tells us, to experience it from an emotional level.  How do you feel when you read the sutra?  How does it feel to practice this teaching?  Please do not misunderstand and think I am saying that theory and study to understand and comprehend are bad things.  Please do not think I am implying that doctrine scholarship is not important or to be avoided.  These approaches are critical and should never be abandoned.  All of these approaches can exist side by side and when they do I believe that the sutra will be illuminated in a new and different way than if one relies solely on one approach to the exclusion of others.  This is not a matter of picking one over the other or pointing at one and saying it is wrong.  As Nichiren says in the Shoho Jisso Sho we need both faith and practice and that together they will enable us to understand the heart of the message of the Buddha.

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About Ryusho 龍昇

Nichiren Shu Buddhist priest. My home temple is Myosho-ji, Wonderful Voice Temple, in Charlotte, NC. You may visit the temple’s web page by going to I am also training at Carolinas Medical Center as a Chaplain intern. It is my hope that I eventually become a Board Certified Chaplain. Currently I am also taking healing touch classes leading to become a certified Healing Touch Practitioner. I do volunteer work with the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (you may learn more about them by following the link) caring for individuals who are HIV+ or who have AIDS/SIDA.