The Gohonzon

The object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism, called the Gohonzon, takes the form of a scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters. SGI members receive their own Gohonzon that they enshrine in their homes and which they focus on when they chant.

 

The significance of the Gohonzon lies not in the literal meaning of the characters, but in the fact that it is was created by Nichiren as the physical embodiment, in the form of a mandala, of the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren" is written in bold characters down the center of the scroll.

 

Nichiren inscribed a Gohonzon for the happiness of all humanity on October 12, 1279, in this case with the letters carved into wood. In doing so, it was his sole purpose to help any person, regardless of gender, race or status, experience the same enlightened state of being that he had attained.

 

The Gohonzon is an embodiment of the Buddha state that exists within every one of us. However, for most of us, this state remains an unrealized potential; it is latent but needs to be "activated." Through daily practice in front of the Gohonzon we can reveal that latent Buddha nature. The Gohonzon is in a sense like a spiritual exercise machine--through using it we develop our lives; simply possessing it is not enough.

 

Nichiren encourages us, "when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p.3). Nichiren teaches us, in other words, that one's life is the greatest treasure.

 

Our inner life-condition changes constantly as we come into contact with different external stimuli: people, the weather, a piece of music, the color of the walls. . . all create some kind of influence on us. A painting can cause the viewer to feel enraptured, calm or disgusted, and a letter can cause joy or shock and dismay. The Gohonzon is the stimulus that helps us draw forth this most enlightened state of life, perceive the Buddha state as the true nature of our life, and live in harmony with our environment.

 

To convey his message, Nichiren based the graphic image of the Gohonzon on a scene from the Lotus Sutra and on the theory of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, which expresses that the world of Buddhahood exists as a potentiality in any given moment or life-condition of an individual. In other words, the world of Buddhahood does not lie outside of one's daily existence or being--it is inherent in one's life.

 

The large characters "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" down the center of the Gohonzon depict this realization. To the left and right of "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," written in smaller characters, are various figures that represent the Ten Worlds in the life of the Buddha. Nichiren graphically indicated that all ten worlds are illuminated by Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or the Mystic Law, and are contained within the world of Buddhahood and vice versa.

 

Simply stated, all beings are Buddhas. It is just a matter of awakening to this realization and living in a way that manifests this truth. In Nichiren Buddhism, chanting to the Gohonzon and taking action for the sake of others is the way to achieve this.

 

"Nichiren's contribution was to establish a clear mirror, the Gohonzon, which perfectly reflects the state of Buddhahood inherent in life, and which could thus enable all people, regardless of their circumstances or ability, to draw out and manifest this Buddha nature. Nichiren's use of script rather than images reflects his commitment that this 'mirror' be universal, free of the connotations of race and gender inherent in depictions of specific personages."

 

For most people, the word "Buddha" conjures up the image of a statue of an Asian male seated in meditation. It may seem contradictory for a religion that is otherwise considered relatively abstract to give such a central place to images of this kind.

 

These images, however, are generally not worshipped by Buddhists in the same sense that the Biblical "heathens" are said to have worshipped their idols. Rather, they are symbolic depictions of the sublime qualities possessed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas to which practitioners aspire. Ideally, they function as a kind of mirror to aid practitioners in perceiving the profound dignity of their own lives and in manifesting that dignity in their actions.

 

For Buddhist practitioners, this is the core challenge, to perceive the life condition of Buddhahood in their own life. In the Buddhism of Nichiren (1222--1282) and the tradition from which it draws, this is called the practice of "observing the mind." The difficulty of achieving this is such that practitioners had traditionally to devote their lives exclusively to meditative practice. Nichiren's contribution was to establish a clear mirror, the Gohonzon, which perfectly reflects the state of Buddhahood inherent in life, and which could thus enable all people, regardless of their circumstances or ability, to draw out and manifest this Buddha nature.

 

The Gohonzon (lit. "object of devotion") is a scroll containing Chinese and Sanskrit script. Nichiren's use of script rather than images reflects his commitment that this "mirror" be universal, free of the connotations of race and gender inherent in depictions of specific personages. On the scroll are arranged the names of figures from the Buddhist canonthat collectively symbolize the various potentialities of life. Down its center is inscribed "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren," in bold Chinese characters.

 

Myoho-renge-kyo is the Japanese version of the title of Shakyamuni's Lotus Sutra (Skt Saddharma-pundarika-sutra). For the tradition within which Nichiren is situated, this sutra is regarded as Shakyamuni's most essential teaching. Nichiren regarded Myoho-renge-kyo itself as the fundamental Law or principle of the universe--of life--to which Shakyamuni was enlightened, the "essence" of Buddhahood. He writes, "Shakyamuni's practices and the virtues he consequently attained are all contained in the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo."

 

Nichiren's name below Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on the Gohonzon expresses his conviction that the state of Buddhahood is not an abstract concept but is manifest in the life and behavior of human beings living in the real world.

 

Nichiren inscribed Gohonzons for his individual followers, and believers today enshrine a printed transcription of the Gohonzon in their homes. The practice of Nichiren Buddhism is to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, facing the Gohonzon, thereby harmonizing your life with--or calling forth from within--the Buddha nature which it reflects. "Nam," meaning devotion, signifies this intent of summoning or harmonizing with.

 

The Buddhist view of life is a profoundly holistic one that sees no essential separation between our lives and the life of the universe. When we draw forth the power of wisdom and compassion through prayer, we are drawing forth and directing the same universal wisdom and creative compassion that manifests in everything from the intelligent bonding of molecules to the symbiotic evolution of species, to the decay and formation of galaxies.Ultimately it is belief in their own potential that enables human beings to develop and to advance in the face of difficulties. The Gohonzon is an embodiment of a belief in the unlimited potential of life. The practice associated with it is an expression and actualization of this belief.

 

As a "mirror," the Gohonzon could be said to perform a dual function. While it reflects and awakens us to the limitless richness and potential of our inner life, it also, in provoking introspection, helps us confront the bare reality of our life at that moment in time.Regardless of our religious beliefs, the success of any effort to guide our life toward fulfillment and value depends largely on an ability to honestly and courageously look within--to both confront the demons of our shadow and to seek out within our own lives those qualities with which we have invested our saints and idols. It seems that now, more than ever, our collective survival depends on our ability to carry this out.

 

[Courtesy April 2003 SGI Quarterly]

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The paragraph/statement below seems to be more conjecture of the Daishonin's belief rather than why he put his name below Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on the Gohonzon....

"Nichiren's name below Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on the Gohonzon expresses his conviction that the state of Buddhahood is not an abstract concept but is manifest in the life and behavior of human beings living in the real world."

 

It seems the Daishonin would have chosen his name with great care.  Just to add some more light as to why Nichiren is inscribed beneath Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, here is another take....

 

(Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren):

 

Nichi means Sun, which illuminates darkness. The Jinriki chapter of The Lotus Sutra states: Just as the light of the sun and moon illuminates all obscurity, this person will practice among the people and dispel the darkness of all mankind.

 

Ren means the Lotus Blossom: The pure Lotus blooms from the muddy pond with out being tainted by it. --- So to put it another way, the purity of our life, from whatever background, through the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can bring forth our highest potential and radiate such a life force as to relieve the suffering of all mankind, which includes ourselves.

 

Best always and always be happy....

 

 

Dear Friend,

 

Today has been a day of reflection, which sort clarification about some general questions. 

Thanks  for having this here! 

Tanyea 

this is a very good article. thank you. 

I'm still trying to understand what people are connecting to (or with) when we chant to the gohonzon. I really am trying to grasp that. For me, it has been very hollow, without meaning or substance, yet i have practiced daily since I was introduced to this practice (September of 2010). I have logged to date just under 3.5 million diamoku. I have generally chanted 2 hours a day. many people have talked about their many benefits. I'm sure I too have received many unseen benefits, desperately, I would love to see the benefits I started chanting for when I initiated my practice. 

I merely chant with hope for the future that my life will become better, I will gain a job and contribute positively to my family's financial future and to our retirement.

You see, I lost my job over 10 years ago. We had to sell our historic preservation condo in DC, and move to Texas. We now live in Houston, TX. My spouse has been the sole wage earner all this time. We had to put down our pets because we couldn't provide for them. We lost all of our savings to keep up with bills. 

I have been on a handful of job interviews, yet I have sent out hundreds of thousands resumes. All the interviews I've been on I was over qualified for, but I was more than willing to take them because of our financial situation. Unfortunately, none of those positions were offered to me. 

I am happy to have found SGI. The people are wonderful, every one of them.

I would really like to figure out how to show actual proof in my life.

If this is as good as it gets, well, at least I'm surrounded by good people. 

Chant knowing that YOU ARE

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

That you are the Gohonzon, the Gohonzon is inside you, it is just the Mirror that reflects your own innate Buddhahood!

Never Chant thinking that the Gohonzon is outside of you!

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