Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 3: The Practice for Transforming Our State of Life [3.5]

3.5 The Gohonzon Is the “Mirror” That Reflects Our Lives

Discussing one of Nichiren’s writings in which he likens the Gohonzon to a mirror that reflects our mind, President Ikeda describes how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before the Gohonzon enables us to polish our lives.

I would like to speak about an important point with regard to our attitude in faith through the analogy of mirrors. In Buddhism, mirrors have a wide variety of meanings and are often used to explain and illustrate various doctrines. Here, I would like to briefly discuss an example related to our Buddhist practice.

Nichiren Daishonin writes:

“A bronze mirror will reflect the form of a person but it will not reflect that person’s mind. The Lotus Sutra, however, reveals not only the person’s form but that person’s mind as well. And it reveals not only the mind; it reflects, without the least concealment, that person’s past actions and future as well.” (WND-2, 619)

Mirrors reflect our face and outward form. The mirror of Buddhism, however, reveals the intangible aspect of our lives. Mirrors, which function by virtue of the laws of light and reflection, are a product of human ingenuity. On the other hand, the Gohonzon, based on the law of the universe and life, is the ultimate expression of Buddha wisdom. It enables us to attain Buddhahood by providing us with a means to perceive the true reality of our lives. Just as a mirror is indispensable for grooming our face and hair, we need a mirror of life that allows us to look closely at ourselves and our lives if we are to lead a happier and more beautiful existence.

In “On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime,” the Daishonin writes:

“A tarnished mirror . . . will shine like a jewel when polished. A mind now clouded by the illusions of the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but when polished, it is sure to become like a clear mirror, reflecting the essential nature of phenomena [Dharma nature] and the true aspect of reality.” (WND-1, 4)

Originally, every person’s life is a brilliantly shining mirror. Differences arise depending on whether one polishes this mirror. A polished mirror corresponds to the life state of the Buddha, whereas a tarnished mirror corresponds to that of an ordinary unenlightened being. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is how we polish our lives. Not only do we undertake this practice ourselves, we also endeavor to teach others about the Mystic Law so that they can make the mirror of their lives shine brightly, too. In this respect, we could be called master “mirror polishers” in the realm of life. Even though people work hard at polishing their appearance, they often tend to neglect polishing their lives. While they fret over blemishes on their face, they remain unconcerned about blemishes in the depths of their lives!

In the famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, the youthful protagonist, Dorian Gray, is so handsome that he is called a “young Adonis.” An artist who wishes to immortalize Dorian’s beauty paints his portrait. It is a brilliant work, an embodiment of Dorian’s youthfulness and beauty. It is then that something mysterious begins to happen. Dorian’s beauty does not fade, even as he is gradually tempted by a friend into a life of hedonism and immorality. Although the years go by, he remains as youthful and radiant as ever. Strangely, however, the portrait begins to turn ugly and lusterless, reflecting Dorian’s dissolute life.

Then, one day, Dorian cruelly breaks a young woman’s heart, driving her to commit suicide. At that time, the face in the portrait takes on an evil and savage expression that is frightening to behold. As Dorian’s disreputable behavior continues, so does the hideous transformation of the portrait. Dorian is filled with horror. This picture would forever portray the face of his soul in all its ugliness. Even if he were to die, it would continue to eloquently convey the truth.

Though Dorian makes a token effort to be a better person, the picture does not change. He decides to destroy the portrait, thinking that if it were gone, he would be able to break free from his past. So he plunges a knife into the painting. At that moment, hearing screams, his neighbors rush over to find a portrait of the handsome, young Dorian and, collapsed before it, an aged, repulsive-looking man, Dorian, with a knife sticking in his chest. The painting had been a portrait of Dorian’s soul, his inner face, into which the effects of his actions had been etched without the slightest omission.

Though we can cover imperfections on our face with cosmetics, we cannot conceal imperfections on the inner face of our lives. The law of cause and effect is strict and inexorable.

Buddhism teaches that unseen virtue brings about visible reward. In the world of Buddhism, everything counts. Being two-faced or pretentious, therefore, serves us absolutely no purpose.

Our inner face that is engraved with the positive and negative causes we make is to an extent reflected in our appearance. There is also a saying “The face is the mirror of the mind.”

Just as we look into a mirror when we groom our face, we need a mirror that reflects the depths of our life to beautifully polish our inner face. This mirror is none other than the Gohonzon for “observing the mind.”

In “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” Nichiren Daishonin explains the meaning of “observing the mind,” saying: “Only when we look into a clear mirror do we see, for the first time, that we are endowed with all six sense organs [eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind]” (WND-1, 356).

Similarly, “observing the mind” means to perceive that one’s mind, or life, contains the Ten Worlds,1 and in particular, the world of Buddhahood. It was to enable people to do this that Nichiren Daishonin bestowed the Gohonzon for “observing the mind” upon all humankind.

In his Commentary on “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” Nichikan Shonin [a great restorer of Nichiren Buddhism who began the task of systematizing the Daishonin’s teachings] likens the Gohonzon to a mirror, stating: “The true object of devotion can be compared to a clear mirror.”2 And in The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin says: “The five characters Myoho-renge-kyo [embodied in the Gohonzon] similarly reflect the ten thousand phenomena [i.e., all phenomena], not overlooking a single one of them” (OTT, 51). The Gohonzon is the clearest of all mirrors, reflecting the entire universe exactly as it is. When we chant before the Gohonzon, we can perceive the true nature of our lives and manifest the world of Buddhahood.

Our attitude or determination in faith is perfectly reflected in the mirror of the Gohonzon and mirrored in the universe. This accords with the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.”3

In a letter to Abutsu-bo, one of his loyal disciples on Sado Island, the Daishonin writes: “You may think you offered gifts to the treasure tower of the Thus Come One Many Treasures, but that is not so. You offered them to yourself” (WND-1, 299).

An attitude in faith that reveres and honors the Gohonzon dignifies and honors the treasure tower of our own lives. When we chant before the Gohonzon, all Buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the universe will instantly lend their support and protection. On the other hand, if we slander the Gohonzon, the opposite will be true [i.e., such support and protection will not be forthcoming]. Accordingly, our attitude or mind is extremely important. Our deep-seated attitude or determination in faith has a subtle and far-reaching influence.

There may be times, for instance, when you feel reluctant to do gongyo or take part in Soka Gakkai activities. That state of mind will be unerringly reflected in the universe, as if on the surface of a clear mirror. The heavenly deities will then also feel reluctant to play their part, and they will naturally fail to exert their full protective powers.

On the other hand, when you joyfully do gongyo and carry out activities for kosen-rufu with the determination to accumulate even more good fortune in your life, the heavenly deities will be delighted and actively function to support you. If you are going to take some action anyway, it is to your advantage to do so willingly and joyfully.

If you carry out your Buddhist practice reluctantly with a sense that it’s a waste of time, doubt and complaint will erase your benefits. Of course, if you continue in this way, you will fail to perceive any benefit from your practice, only further reconfirming your incorrect conviction that there’s no point in practicing. This is a vicious circle. If you practice Nichiren Buddhism filled with doubt and skepticism, you will get results that are, at best, vague and unsatisfactory. This is the reflection of your own weak conviction in faith on the mirror of the universe. On the other hand, when you stand up with strong conviction in faith, you will accrue limitless good fortune and benefit.

It’s important that we vibrantly open up and free our mind of faith, which is both extremely subtle and far-reaching, while striving for self-mastery. When we do so, both our life and state of mind will expand limitlessly, and every action we take will become a source of benefit. Deeply mastering the subtle and far-reaching workings of the mind is the key to faith and to attaining Buddhahood in this lifetime.

There is a Russian proverb that says: “Don’t blame the mirror if your face is awry.” The reflection in the mirror is our own. But some people get angry with the mirror!

In the same way, our happiness or unhappiness is entirely a reflection of the positive and negative causes accumulated in our lives. We cannot blame others for our misfortunes. This is even more so in the realm of faith.

There is a Japanese folk tale about a small village where no one had a mirror. In those days, mirrors were priceless. A man, returning from a trip to the capital, handed his wife a mirror as a souvenir. It was the first time for her to see one. Looking into the mirror, she exclaimed: “Who on earth is this woman? You must’ve brought a girl back with you from the capital!” And so a big fight ensued.

Though this is an amusing anecdote, many people become angry or distraught over phenomena that are actually nothing but a reflection of their own lives—their state of mind and the causes that they have created. Like the wife in the story who exclaims, “Who on earth is this woman?” they do not realize their own folly.

Ignorant of the mirror of life of Buddhism, such people cannot see themselves as they really are. And ignorant of their own true self, they naturally cannot give proper guidance and direction to others, nor can they discern the true nature of occurrences in society.

From a speech at an SGI-USA women’s division meeting, U.S.A., February 27, 1990.

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

  • *1Ten 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.
  • *2Translated from Japanese. Nichikan, Kanjin no honzon-sho mondan (Commentary on “The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind”), in Nichikan Shonin mondan-shu (The Commentaries of Nichikan Shonin), (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1980), p. 472.
  • *3Three thousand realms in a single moment of life (Jpn. ichinen-sanzen): 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.