Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.4]

3.4 The Real Aspect and Power of the Gohonzon

President Ikeda discusses the significance and layout of the Gohonzon, citing passages from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren Daishonin states that he inscribed the Gohonzon as the “banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra” (WND-1, 831). In other words, it is the object of devotion for kosen-rufu—that is, for accomplishing the wide propagation of the Mystic Law. In “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” he says:

“How wondrous it is that, around two hundred years and more into the Latter Day of the Law, I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala [the Gohonzon of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] that even those such as [the learned Indian Buddhist monks] Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, [and the Great Teachers of China] T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo were unable to express.” (WND-1, 831)

Carrying on the Daishonin’s spirit, the Soka Gakkai is propagating the “object of devotion for kosen-rufu” that the Daishonin, while enduring great persecution, inscribed for the happiness of the people of the Latter Day of the Law.

The Daishonin models the Gohonzon after the Ceremony in the Air1 as depicted in the Lotus Sutra when the “Life Span” (16th) chapter is being expounded. The “Life Span” chapter reveals the eternity of the Mystic Law on three levels: the eternity of the Buddha (true effect), the eternity of living beings (true cause), and the eternity of the land (true land). [The true effect, true cause, and true land are together referred to as the three mystic principles.]

The significance of the Ceremony in the Air becomes clear with the integration of the three mystic principles in the “Life Span” chapter. The Ceremony in the Air symbolically reveals that the Buddha, the living beings, and the land are all entities of the eternal Mystic Law. In other words, the eternal Mystic Law pervades the entire universe. Nichiren Daishonin expressed this Law as Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” the Daishonin discusses the aspect or layout of the Gohonzon in detail.

The true object of devotion is described as follows:

“The treasure tower sits in the air above the saha world that the Buddha of the essential teaching [identified as the pure and eternal land]; Myoho-renge-kyo appears in the center of the tower with the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures seated to the right and left, and, flanking them, the four bodhisattvas, followers of Shakyamuni, led by Superior Practices. Manjushri, Maitreya, and the other bodhisattvas, who are all followers of the four bodhisattvas, are seated below. All the other major and minor bodhisattvas, whether they are disciples of the Buddha in his transient status or of the Buddhas of the other worlds, are like commoners kneeling on the ground in the presence of nobles and high-ranking court officials. The Buddhas who gathered from the other worlds in the ten directions all remain on the ground, showing that they are only temporary manifestations of the eternal Buddha and that their lands are transient, not eternal and unchanging.” (WND-1, 366–67)

In form, the Gohonzon depicts a multi-tiered structure, with the treasure tower of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as its central axis. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in the center indicates the fundamental truth. Since Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the central axis of life and the universe, it is expressed by the treasure tower that soars up in the center of the Ceremony in the Air.

On either side are the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, who represent functions of Myoho-renge-kyo (cf. WND-1, 384). Many Treasures is the Buddha of the past, signifying eternal truth, and represents the Law as the object of wisdom, or that which wisdom perceives. Shakyamuni is the Buddha of the present, and represents the wisdom to perceive the Law. Indeed, these are two aspects of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The two Buddhas seated together indicates the “fusion of reality and wisdom.”2

The important point is that we make neither Shakyamuni nor Many Treasures our object of devotion. Both Shakyamuni and Many Treasures, too, became Buddhas through Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. It is always Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental Law for attaining Buddhahood, that we make our object of devotion. In terms of the layout of the Gohonzon, this is clear from Nam-myoho-renge-kyo being written large in the center with Shakyamuni and Many Treasures positioned to either side.

Awakened to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Buddhas unfailingly carry out bodhisattva practice to lead all people to enlightenment. The four bodhisattvas—Superior Practices, Boundless Practices, Pure Practices, and Firmly Established Practices—represent such bodhisattva practice.

The reason these four bodhisattvas—the leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth3—all have “practices” in their names [as indicated by the Chinese character that means “practice” or “action”] is that they express their wisdom of enlightenment as action. That is to say, they exhibit actions that are “superior,” “boundless,” “pure,” and “unwavering” based on infinite life force that is one with the Mystic Law.

They can be said to correspond to the four noble virtues of Buddhahood—a state of life that is forever (eternity) secure (true self), refreshed (purity), and joyful (happiness).

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth, displaying the power inherent in life, seek to protect and free from suffering all living beings and the entire world.

The Daishonin says that all the other major and minor bodhisattvas of the theoretical teaching and those from other lands are not elevated into the air but are “on the ground.” These bodhisattvas could be said to represent various altruistic practices, or concrete actions taken to further the enlightenment of all people according to their individual circumstances.

These bodhisattvas are innumerable, and therefore they cannot all be depicted in the Gohonzon. Nevertheless, the Gohonzon unmistakably includes all of their benefit.

Each of these beings of the Ten Worlds4 who have gathered before the treasure tower of the Mystic Law express a part of the functions of the Mystic Law. Illuminated by the light of the Mystic Law, they embody the Mystic Law and “display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess” (WND-1, 832). Displaying their unique character, they express the richness of the Mystic Law. This is the meaning of “illuminating and manifesting one’s true nature” (cf. WND-1, 746).

When the light of the sun passes through a prism, it divides into a continuous spectrum of colors from red to violet. Sunlight is the totality of these individual colors, each being a component of that light. The light of the sun contains countless hues. Therefore, when it shines on something, some of its colors are absorbed and some are reflected back, producing the various shades we see.

The Mystic Law is the ultimate source of life. It gives birth to and encompasses all things. Illuminated by the sunlight of this all-inclusive Mystic Law, everything shines with rich individuality.

The Daishonin explains that myo (of myoho or Mystic Law) has three meanings: to open, to be fully endowed, and to revive (cf. WND-1, 146). The benefit of the Gohonzon naturally includes these three functions. The Gohonzon (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) has the power to unlock the Buddha nature in all people; it contains all benefit and embraces all capacities; and it has the revitalizing power to liberate people from any kind of negative karma and misery. In short, it has the power to enable everything to display its highest potential. It is a life-giving teaching.
The Ceremony in the Air is a “realm transcending time and space.” It does not take place in some historically specific time or place. That is precisely why we are able to join in the Ceremony in the Air anytime and anywhere.

By chanting to the Gohonzon, which is modeled on the Ceremony in the Air, we become one with the eternal and universal life in the present, and we open a state of life in which we can survey the entire universe from right where we are. Through our daily practice of gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we join the eternal Ceremony in the Air here and now. We cause the treasure tower to shine within us and in our daily lives and activities. That is the wonder of the Gohonzon. A magnificent “cosmos” of life opens to us, and reality presents itself as a world of value creation.

From The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 2, published in Japanese in January 2004.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.

  • *1Ceremony in the Air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, in which the entire gathering is suspended in space above the saha world. The heart of this ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who are led by Bodhisattva Superior Practices.
  • *2Fusion of reality and wisdom: The fusion of the objective reality or truth and the subjective wisdom to realize that truth, which is the Buddha nature inherent within one’s life.
  • *3Bodhisattvas of the Earth: An innumerable host of bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth and to whom Shakyamuni Buddha entrusts the propagation of the Mystic Law, or the essence of the Lotus Sutra, in the Latter Day of the Law.
  • *4Ten 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.