The Object of Devotion
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
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.
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
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,
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