Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.1]
3.1 The Gohonzon—the Fundamental Object of Devotion
Nichiren Buddhism teaches the importance of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with faith in the Gohonzon in order to transform our lives and manifest the life state of Buddhahood. Here, President Ikeda explains the meaning of the Gohonzon as the fundamental object of devotion.
The Japanese word honzon means “object of fundamental respect or devotion”—in other words, the object that we respect and devote ourselves to as the basis of our lives. It is only natural, therefore, that what we take as our object of devotion will have a decisive impact on the direction of our lives.
Traditionally, objects of devotion in Buddhism were often statues of the Buddha. In some cases, paintings of the Buddha were used. While statues of the Buddha did not exist in early Buddhism, they later began to appear in the Gandhara region of northwest India, due to the influence of Hellenic culture. They were, if you like, a product of cultural exchange on the ancient Silk Road. Through statues and paintings, people became familiar with the image of the Buddha, leading them to arouse faith in the Buddha and revere him.
The object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism, however, is the Gohonzon,1 which consists of written characters. In that sense, rather than simply a visual or graphic depiction, I would call it the highest and noblest expression of the world of the intellect, of the great wisdom of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law. In this respect alone, Nichiren Daishonin’s object of devotion is fundamentally different from those traditionally worshipped in Buddhism.
Written words are wondrous; they have tremendous power. Take people’s names, for example. When people sign their names, it embodies everything about them—their character, social position, power, emotional and physical condition, personal history, and karma.
Similarly, the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo [which is inscribed down the center of the Gohonzon] encompasses all things in the universe. All phenomena are expressions of the Mystic Law, as the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai indicates when he states [in Great Concentration and Insight]: “Arising is the arising of the essential nature of the Law [Dharma nature], and extinction is the extinction of that nature” (WND-1, 216).
The true aspect of the ever-changing universe (all phenomena) is perfectly expressed, just as it is, in the Gohonzon. The true aspect of the macrocosm of the universe is exactly the same for the microcosm of each of our lives. This is what the Daishonin tells us in his writings. In addition, the Gohonzon expresses the enlightened life state of Nichiren Daishonin, the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.
In that sense, the Gohonzon inscribed by the Daishonin is an embodiment of the fundamental law of the universe that should be revered by all people; it is the true object of fundamental devotion.
The universe contains both positive and negative workings or functions. Representatives of the Ten Worlds2 are all depicted on the Gohonzon—from the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, who represent the world of Buddhahood, to Devadatta, who represents the world of hell. The Daishonin teaches that such representatives of the positive and negative workings of the universe are all without exception illuminated by the light of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, enabling them to display “the dignified attributes that they inherently possess,” and that this is the function of the Gohonzon (cf. WND-1, 832).
When we do gongyo and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before the Gohonzon, both the positive and negative tendencies in our lives begin to manifest “the dignified attributes that they inherently possess.” The world of hell with its painful suffering, the world of hungry spirits with its insatiable cravings, the world of asuras with its perverse rage—all come to function to contribute to our happiness and to the creation of value. When we base our lives on the Mystic Law, the life states that drag us toward suffering and unhappiness move in the opposite, positive direction. It is as if sufferings become the “firewood” that fuels the flames of joy, wisdom, and compassion. The Mystic Law and faith are what ignite those flames.
In addition, when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the positive forces of the universe—represented by all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and heavenly deities such as Brahma and Shakra [the protective gods of Buddhism]—will shine even more brightly, their power and influence increasing and expanding endlessly. The gods of the sun and moon that exist in the microcosm of our lives will also shine brilliantly to illuminate the darkness within. All of the workings—both positive and negative—of the Ten Worlds and the three thousand realms3 function together at full power, propelling us toward a life of happiness, a life imbued with the four virtues of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity.
In life, it is only natural that we sometimes fall ill. Based on the teaching of the Mystic Law, however, we can look at illness as an inherent part of life. Seeing it this way, we will not be swayed by illness when it happens to us, or allow it to be a source of suffering and distress. Viewed from the perspective of the eternity of life, we are definitely on the way to establishing a “greater self” overflowing with absolute happiness. In addition, we will be able to overcome any obstacle we encounter in life, using it as a springboard for developing a new, more expansive state of being. Life will be enjoyable, and death will be peaceful, marking the solemn departure for our next wonderful lifetime.
When winter arrives, trees are, for a while, bare of flowers and leaves. But they possess the life force to grow fresh green leaves when spring comes. Similar to this, but on an even more profound level, for us, as practitioners of the Mystic Law, death is the dynamic process by which our life itself transitions, without pain, to quickly begin its next mission-filled existence.
From a speech at an SGI-USA youth training session, U.S.A., February 20, 1990.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1The word Gohonzon is formed in Japanese by appending the honorific prefix go to the word honzon, object of fundamental respect or devotion.
- *2Ten Worlds: The realms of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, heavenly beings, voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. They are also referred to as the ten life states of hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, heaven, learning, realization, bodhisattva, and Buddhahood.
- *3Three thousand realms in a single moment of life: A philosophical system established by the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai of China based on the Lotus Sutra. The “three thousand realms” indicates the varying aspects that life assumes at each moment. At each moment, life manifests one of the Ten Worlds. Each of these worlds possesses the potential for all ten within itself, thus making one hundred possible worlds. Each of these hundred worlds possesses the ten factors and operates within each of the three realms of existence, thus making three thousand realms. In other words, all phenomena are contained within a single moment of life, and a single moment of life permeates the three thousand realms of existence, or the entire phenomenal world.