Nichiren Buddhism is revolutionary among Buddhist teachings in that it teaches that all people are capable of manifesting Buddhahood in this lifetime, in their present form.
The Gohonzon is a scroll containing Chinese and Sanskrit characters that aids practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism in the process of perceiving and bringing forth the life condition of Buddhahood from within their lives.
Nichiren inscribed the Gohonzon as a means of depicting this sublime life condition, using a scene in the Lotus Sutra known as the Ceremony in the Air. In the Ceremony in the Air a colossal tower bedecked with precious gems and other treasures emerges from the earth, and buddhas and other beings from throughout the universe gather to hear the Buddha preach the law.
Down the center of the Gohonzon is written Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and on either side of it are inscribed the names of these buddhas, bodhisattvas and living beings representing various inner states of life, known as the Ten Worlds. Their inclusion on the Gohonzon signifies that all living beings can reveal their inherent enlightened nature when illuminated by Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or the entity of the eternal Buddha’s wisdom and compassion.
Gohonzon (Jpn.) can be translated as “object of devotion.” Practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism have altars in their homes where they enshrine the Gohonzon. Their daily practice, which consists of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra while facing the Gohonzon, is an act of reaffirming and revering the dignity of their own lives as well as the dignity of all life.
Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon activates the Buddha nature inherent in one’s life. This is experienced as a welling up of wisdom, courage, compassion and life force, empowering one to overcome the various challenges of life and making one’s life shine brightly just as it is.
In one sense, the Gohonzon is a blueprint of the limitless potential of our inner lives. It is not a representation of something we lack or must acquire from a source outside ourselves.
It is also an expression of the world as it should be, a place where all the problems of this troubled age have been overcome.
A key moment in the Ceremony in the Air described in the Lotus Sutra is the sudden appearance of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who arrive in vast numbers. These Buddha-like beings are disciples of the Buddha who have pledged to uphold the Buddha’s teachings in the time after his passing, to transform the suffering- and conflict-ridden age and bring happiness to all people.
On the deepest level, to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, as taught by Nichiren, is to awaken in one’s own life the mission of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
In this way, inheriting the spiritual legacy of Shakyamuni and Nichiren to actualize a world of peace and happiness for all beings, Soka Gakkai members strive to reveal their Buddhahood amidst the realities of their daily lives and help others do the same.
Chanting to the Gohonzon embodies the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.”