Chapter 6: Embracing the Gohonzon Is in Itself Observing One’s Own Mind

The purpose of Buddhist practice is to establish, in this lifetime, the state of a buddha, a life condition of absolute happiness unaffected by changes in one’s circumstances or surroundings. It was for this purpose that Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon, or object of devotion, thereby establishing the way for everyone to open and reveal within their own lives the world of buddhahood, to win in their daily affairs and to become victors in life.

This section will explain the significance of the Gohonzon and the principle that embracing the Gohonzon is in itself observing one’s own mind, which makes it possible for all people to attain buddhahood.

1. The Significance of the Gohonzon

An object of devotion or worship is that which is revered most highly in any religious tradition. In Buddhism, the object of devotion is most often a statue or image of a buddha or bodhisattva. What a religious faith regards as its object of devotion indicates what is fundamental to its beliefs. It is the core element that determines how people embrace and carry out their faith in that religion.

The object of devotion fundamental to the faith of Soka Gakkai members is the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which was established by Nichiren Daishonin.

The Seed of Buddhahood

Shakyamuni awakened to the fundamental Law that permeates all life and the universe, and for this reason he was called Buddha, or awakened one. He made it clear that all buddhas attain enlightenment by awakening to this fundamental Law, the Mystic Law. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the Law that enables all people to attain buddhahood, and it is also the name of that Law. In other words, Nichiren Daishonin taught and directly expressed the Law that constitutes the fundamental cause for attaining enlightenment as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

The Mystic Law, which is the cause, or seed, of buddhahood, is essentially inherent in the lives of all living beings. This innate cause is also known as the buddha nature, or the world of buddhahood.

In this regard, the Daishonin states:

“When we revere Myoho-renge-kyo inherent in our own life as the object of devotion, the buddha nature within us is summoned forth and manifested by our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This is what is meant by ‘buddha.’ To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, birds who are flying in the sky are thereby summoned and gather around, and when the birds flying in the sky gather around, the bird in the cage strives to get out. When with our mouths we chant the Mystic Law, our buddha nature, being summoned, will invariably emerge. The buddha nature of Brahma and Shakra, being called, will protect us, and the buddha nature of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, being summoned, will rejoice.” (WND-1, 887)

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the name of the world of Buddhahood inherent in one’s own life and in all things. When one believes in the Gohonzon and chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, one awakens and summons the world of buddhahood within one’s life; and further, one calls forth the world of buddhahood from within all things in the universe. In other words, one opens up the limitless potential of one’s own life and activates the functions of the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and heavenly beings—that is, the protective forces in one’s environment.

“I, Nichiren, Have Inscribed My Life”

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the teaching hidden in the depths of the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people are capable of becoming buddhas. Nichiren Daishonin awakened to the Mystic Law within his own life, realizing that it is synonymous with the world of buddhahood. This Law, he said, is none other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and he taught and spread it widely. He then expressed it in the Gohonzon as a focus for Buddhist practice.

The Daishonin says, “I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart. The Buddha’s will is the Lotus Sutra, but the soul of Nichiren is nothing other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND-1, 412).

The Gohonzon is an expression of the world of buddhahood in Nichiren Daishonin’s life—the fundamental Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that he awoke to, revealed, and embodied.

Down the center of the Gohonzon are inscribed the words “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren.” Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental Law for attaining enlightenment, and Nichiren Daishonin, who revealed and taught the Law for all people, is none other than the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

The Clear Mirror That Reflects One’s Life

As an ordinary person, Nichiren Daishonin opened and revealed within his life the world of buddhahood (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo). This is the most ideal state of life, which all people can aspire to attain. Therefore, the Daishonin expressed it in the form of a mandala as the object of devotion, establishing the way for ordinary people to make their innate world of buddhahood the foundation of their being. When they believe in and pray to the Gohonzon, they can immediately observe the world of buddhahood inherent in their lives, just as the Daishonin did.

Nichiren Daishonin delved deeply into the Lotus Sutra, which teaches that all people are endowed with the world of buddhahood, and found in its depths the fundamental Law for attaining buddhahood. He revealed that Law directly as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and established the Gohonzon as its concrete expression, in order to assist people in their practice for attaining buddhahood. The Gohonzon, in this sense, can be viewed as a clear mirror that reflects the world of buddhahood within ordinary people and allows them to observe it and bring it forth.

The Ceremony in the Air

Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon as a mandala depicting in written characters the Ceremony in the Air described in the Lotus Sutra. The ceremony begins in “The Emergence of the Treasure Tower” (11th) chapter of the sutra with the appearance of the treasure tower of the buddha named Many Treasures and the entire assembly being suspended in the air. It ends in the “Entrustment” (22nd) chapter with the closing of the doors of the treasure tower.

The core elements of this ceremony are as follows: Shakyamuni, having revealed his true identity as the eternal buddha, entrusts to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, his eternal disciples whom he has summoned from beneath the earth, the task of spreading the Lotus Sutra in the evil age after his passing, in order to save the people of that age from suffering and lead them to happiness.

These events occur over eight chapters, beginning with the “Emerging from the Earth” (15th) chapter and continuing through the “Entrustment” chapter. The Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon based on the description of this ceremony of entrustment in the Lotus Sutra.

A key element for attaining buddhahood taught in the Lotus Sutra is to make people aware that the world of buddhahood is inherent in their own lives and to enable them to unlock and bring forth that world of buddhahood from within. The Daishonin made use of the motif of the treasure tower, which is central to the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air, in creating the image of the Gohonzon. He depicted the treasure tower as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which he inscribed down the center of the Gohonzon. He states, “In the Latter Day of the Law, no treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 299), clarifying that the treasure tower represents the very life of all those who believe in the Mystic Law.

The Daishonin teaches that Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, as they appear in the Ceremony in the Air, represent the world of buddhahood inherent in all living beings and that the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices and others, indicate the world of bodhisattvas also innate within all people. Assembled at the Ceremony in the Air are voice-hearers, heavenly gods and benevolent deities, and other living beings. Representatives from among these various beings of each of the Ten Worlds are included on the Gohonzon.

The Daishonin expressed his enlightenment in the Gohonzon, which he called a mandala. This Sanskrit word refers to a depiction of the Buddha and those who have gathered to hear him preach and is also interpreted as meaning “perfectly endowed” and “cluster of blessings.” This Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is perfectly endowed because it includes all of the Ten Worlds. It is a cluster of blessings because it possesses all the wonderful attributes of the Ten Worlds. In essence, the Gohonzon is the mandala that is fully endowed with the Ten Worlds.

The Gohonzon represents the life state of the buddha, which is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo itself, eternally endowed with all of the Ten Worlds, as well as the superior attributes inherent in each of these worlds. When people believe in this Gohonzon and base their lives on it, aware that they themselves are Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, they can freely and fully display the dignified, unique attributes of each of the Ten Worlds inherent in their lives.

The Actual Three Thousand Realms in a Single Moment of Life

The Gohonzon, which is fully endowed with the Ten Worlds, expresses the principle of their mutual possession—that life in any of the Ten Worlds is endowed with all the Ten Worlds. This means that a living being in any of the Ten Worlds can, through encountering the right condition or influence, manifest the world of buddhahood and become a buddha.

The mutual possession of the Ten Worlds is core to the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life, which crystallizes and explains, for the purpose of putting it into practice, the philosophy that all people are capable of attaining buddhahood.

The doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life is described by Great Teacher Tiantai (Zhiyi) in his work Great Concentration and Insight. It explains that all people innately possess the essential cause for attaining enlightenment and makes it conceptually clear that all people have the potential to become buddhas. But while Tiantai refers to this doctrine as the three thousand realms in a single moment of life, it is at this point still in the realm of theory.

In contrast, Nichiren Daishonin, through his wisdom, perceived the fundamental Law of enlightenment that is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. And, out of his compassionate desire to save all people, he endured countless obstacles and hardships, exhibiting the behavior of a buddha as an ordinary human being.

The Gohonzon, in which the Daishonin directly revealed his life state of buddhahood—a state he had brought forth from within as an ordinary person—is a concrete expression of the principle of three thousand realms in a single moment of life. The Gohonzon is therefore referred to as the “actual” three thousand realms in a single moment of life.

Nichiren Daishonin called the Gohonzon the “banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 831). In the Ceremony in the Air, Shakyamuni entrusts the Bodhisattvas of the Earth with the mission of spreading the Mystic Law in the evil age after his passing. The Gohonzon exemplifies this intent of the Buddha. To spread faith in the Gohonzon is to spread the Lotus Sutra, opening the way for kosen-rufu, the widespread propagation of the Mystic Law.

2. Embracing the Gohonzon Is in Itself Observing One’s Own Mind

The Lotus Sutra makes clear that all people innately possess the wisdom and compassion of a buddha. It teaches that the ultimate purpose of a buddha’s appearance in this world is to open up this buddha wisdom in all living beings.

Meditation, a central element of Buddhist practice, means to focus one’s mind on cultivating and bringing forth wisdom. In particular, it means to observe one’s own life, or mind, based upon the principles taught in the Buddhist scriptures. “Observing the mind” is a practice carried out in order to attain buddhahood.

By deeply observing the workings of his own mind, Tiantai came to realize that his life possessed all of the Ten Worlds, and in this way he understood the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. He taught the practice of observing the mind as the means for awakening to the reality that life at each moment is endowed with three thousand realms, or all phenomena. This is the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life.

To prepare people for the practice of observing the mind, Tiantai formulated a variety of disciplines for leading people through graduated levels of development, or awakening. But these were in reality extremely difficult, requiring superior capacity and intensive effort. Those who arrived at a genuine awakening through such methods were very few indeed.

In contrast to Tiantai and his approach, Nichiren Daishonin studied and searched for a way of Buddhist practice that would be accessible to everyone and make it possible for anyone to attain buddhahood. This search culminated in his teaching the practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon as the way for all people to achieve genuine happiness.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental Law to which all buddhas awaken when they attain enlightenment, and it is the basis for the various workings of the life states of the Ten Worlds. The Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo reveals the true nature of the lives of all people as being fully endowed with the Ten Worlds.

Those who believe in and pray to the Gohonzon are able to observe the Ten Worlds operating within their own lives. Prior to the Daishonin revealing his teaching, the practice for attaining buddhahood was based on observation of the mind. But in Nichiren Buddhism, it is accomplished through faith in and practice to the Gohonzon. This is the teaching that embracing the Gohonzon is in itself observing one’s own mind.

In “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind” the Daishonin states: “Shakyamuni’s practices and the virtues he consequently attained are all contained within the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo. If we believe in these five characters, we will naturally be granted the same benefits as he was” (WND-1, 365).

All of the vast number of practices (causes) that Shakyamuni carried out and which enabled him to attain buddhahood and the benefits and virtues (effects) he attained as a result of those practices are encompassed within the seed of buddhahood, the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, that is, in Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Having expressed Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the form of a mandala that is the Gohonzon, or object of devotion for Buddhist practice, the Daishonin is saying in the above passage that when ordinary people of the Latter Day of the Law embrace this Gohonzon, they will be able to obtain for themselves the benefits of all the causes and effects of all the practices carried out by the Buddha.