The Gohonzon:
The Object of Worship

The significance of the object of devotion-the Gohonzon-in the practice of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, lies not in the literal meaning of the characters but in the fact that it embodies the life of the original Buddha, or the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. No extra benefit accrues to those who can read the Gohonzon, and knowing what is written on the Gohonzon does not mean that one understands the Gohonzon itself. Some of the characters on the Gohonzon are historical persons, mythical figures or Buddhist gods. Nichiren Daishonin used them to represent the actual functions of the universe and of our own lives. All these functions are clustered around Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; therefore, the Gohonzon is the embodiment of the life of Buddhahood within us.

At one time, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, explained the purpose of embracing the Gohonzon as follows:

The natural power of human beings is very weak. No matter how hard one tries to live one's own life in one's own way, in the end one is easily influenced by others and by external factors.... I believe that to make one's life its strongest, most brilliant and happiest, there is no way but to live the Buddhism of ichinen sanzen [a single life-moment possesses three thousand realms] and the mutual possession of the ten worlds. This is the ultimate philosophy that Nichiren Daishonin delivered to the vast universe more than seven hundred years ago. He perceived people's ignorance of this profound principle and bestowed upon them the gem of ichinen sanzen so that they could attain the state of happiness. This gem of ichinen sanzen is nothing other than the Dai-Gohonzon that he inscribed.... (Buddhism in Action, vol.7, pp. 107-08)

The Gohonzon, in a sense, can be compared to a map pointing to the location of the supreme treasure of life and the universe-the Mystic Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This treasure map tells us that the treasure is found within our lives. To those who can understand the map, it is not just a piece of paper but an invaluable object equal in value to the "treasure," that is, life's supreme condition and potential itself. To those who fail to grasp its message, however, the map's worth will be reduced to that of a mere scroll.

As Nichiren Daishonin says:

"As for the characters of the Lotus Sutra [the Gohonzon], a blind person cannot see them at all. A person with the eyes of a common mortal sees them as black in color. Persons in the two vehicles see them as void. Bodhisattvas see various different colors in them, while a person whose seeds of Buddhahood have reached full maturity see them as Buddhas. So the sutra states: 'If one can uphold this [sutra], he will be upholding the Buddha's body"' (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol.7, p.112).

How then can we correctly understand this map and locate the treasure it leads to? The Daishonin encourages us, "When you chant the Mystic Law and recite the Lotus Sutra, you must summon up deep conviction that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself" (MW-1, 4). Nichiren Daishonin teaches us, in other words, that one's life is the greatest treasure. Hence he also writes: "Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (MW-1, 213). This realization is what Buddhism calls the condition of enlightenment.

To convey his message, the Daishonin used the theory of a life-moment possessing 3,000 realms-especially the mutual possession of the ten worlds-as a basis for the Gohonzon's graphic image. The Gohonzon itself is the world of Buddhahood in which all the other worlds are represented. This is the depiction of mutual possession.

Down the center of the Gohonzon is written "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo-Nichiren" (Nos. 1 and 2 respectively on the chart). This illustrates the oneness of the person and the law, or that the Daishonin's life itself embodies the Mystic Law, as he writes, "The soul of Nichiren is nothing other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" (MW-1, 120). It also indicates that our lives are fundamentally one and the same with the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, as the Daishonin demonstrated through his life. Put another way, the inscription of "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo -Nichiren" tells us that we have the identical qualities of the original Buddha's life. To the degree we strive for kosen-rufu and pray with the same desire as the Daishonin, we will manifest the same courage, hope and wisdom. This is what the Daishonin meant when he wrote:

"You, yourself, are a true Buddha who possesses the three enlightened properties. You should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with this conviction" (MW-1, 30).

To the left and right of "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo-Nichiren" are various Buddhist figures that represent the ten worlds in the life of Nichiren Daishonin. The Daishonin included them on the Gohonzon to indicate that even the Buddha's life inherently contains the lower nine worlds.

By writing "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo - Nichiren" prominently down the center with the other, smaller characters around it, the Daishonin graphically indicated that the figures representing the lower nine worlds are illuminated by the Mystic Law, as the Daishonin writes: "Illuminated by the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the enlightened nature they inherently possess. This is the true object of worship" (MW-1, 212). In other words, these figures signify the nine worlds contained within Buddhahood.

How the ten worlds are represented on the Gohonzon varies. On some Gohonzon each of the ten worlds is represented by a separate character or characters found in Buddhist scriptures. On other Gohonzon, however, the ten worlds are represented as groups, like the four noble worlds. The Daishonin used both styles, as did later high priests.

Nature and Meaning of Offerings to the Gohonzon

Diagram of the Nichikan-transcribed Gohonzon


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