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The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon

- Nichinyo Gozen Gohenji -


Nichiren Daishonin wrote "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon" at Mount Minobu on August 23, 1277, when he was 56. Its recipient, Lady Nichinyo, is thought to have been either the wife of Ikeganii Munenaka, the elder of the Ikegami brothers, or the daughter of Lady Matsuno. The evidence for her identity is not clear. judging from the two extant Gosho addressed to her - this one and "An Outline of the 'Zokurui' Chapter" written the following year -she appears to have been a middle-aged woman of some culture and position, and rather well versed in Buddhist doctrines.

Almost certainly she was a devout believer, for this letter indicates that she had received the Gohonzon, a privilege granted in those days only to disciples of exceptionally strong faith.

The Dai-Gohonzon, the true object of worship for attaining Buddhahood bestowed upon all people of the Latter Day of the Law, was inscribed on October 12, 1279. However, even before then, after revealing his identity as the original Buddha of the Latter Day during the Tatsunokuchi Persecution on September 12, 1271, Nichiren Daishonin began to inscribe Gohonzon for a few of his most committed followers. These personal Gohonzon inscribed by the Daishonin are called "Gohonzon of specific receptivity and relatedness" (ikki ichien no Gohonzon). In this letter, the Daishonin explains the significance of the Gohonzon and the importance of faith in it.

In the first part of this Gosho, he explains that no one before him had ever inscribed the Gohonzon "in the more than 2,000 years that have passed since Shakyamuni Buddha's death." So fully was the Daishonin enlightened to the eternal Law of life that he could embody his enlightenment - the oneness of his life with the Mystic Law - in a concrete material form that could be transmitted to future generations, thus providing the external cause for all other people throughout the Latter Day of the Law to manifest their ultimate Buddha nature.

The twenty-eight-chapter Lotus Sutra expresses the historical Buddha's enlightenment to the fundamental Law of life in symbolic terms as the magnificent Ceremony in the Air, an event transcending time and space in which Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas sat side by side in the Treasure Tower, and all Buddhas from throughout the universe as well as countless beings of the nine worlds assembled to hear the Buddha's preaching.

The Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai expressed his enlightenment to the fundamental Law of life as the principle of ichinen sanzen, a comprehensive view of life that clarifies the inter-penetration of the ultimate reality and the phenomenal world. Yet, awe-inspiring as they are, these are merely theoretical expressions of enlightenment.

It was Nichiren Daishonin, though, who first expressed his enlightenment to the Law of life in physical form, so that all other people might attain Buddhahood as well. He did not formulate vast new systems of doctrine or theory but brought what had hitherto been purely theoretical into the realm of actuality. Because he was the true or original Buddha, he could give actual form to the original Law or True Cause for attaining Buddhahood.

The Gohonzon, then, is not a symbol but the actual manifestation of the eternal law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and of the life of the eternal Buddha who is enlightened to it. When we chant daimoku with faith in the Gohonzon, we manifest the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo within ourselves.

This is the attainment of Buddhahood as a common mortal, in accordance with the principle taught by Nichiren Daishonin that "embracing the Gohonzon is in itself enlightenment" Yuji soku kanjin).

This Gosho is called "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon" because it contains a description of what is written on the Gohonzon. Down the center of the Gohonzon are inscribed in Chinese characters the words "Nam-myohorenge-kyo, Nichiren." This indicates that the Gohonzon embodies the oneness of the Law (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the fundamental truth of the universe) and the Person (the original Buddha of beginning-less; time, who appears in the Latter Day of the Law as Nichiren Daishonin).

This central inscription represents the entity of the original Buddha's life. On either side of this central inscription are written the names of the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Taho, as well as those of the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth and other bodhisattvas, shomon disciples, gods, human beings, demons and others, just as described in the magnificent Ceremony in the Air depicted in the Lotus Sutra. These figures represent the ten worlds or all phenomena of the original Buddha's life.

The Gohonzon, Nichiren Daishonin explains, is the ultimate meaning of the Lotus Sutra's statement that "all phenomena reveal the true entity" (shoho jisso).


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The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon

- Nichinyo Gozen Gohenji -

I have received your offerings to the Gohonzon of five kan1 of coins, one horse-load of rice, and fruit. Of the fifty years of teachings in the Buddha's lifetime, only during his last eight was this teaching revealed. The Lotus Sutra, which was expounded during that period, explains the Gohonzon in the eight chapters from the Yujutsu through the Zokurui chapter. After the Buddha's death, in the two thousand years of the Former and Middle Days of the Law, not even the term "object of worship of the essential teaching" was mentioned, let alone the object itself being inscribed. Nor was there anyone capable of inscribing it. T'ien-t'ai, Miao-lo and Dengyo perceived it in their hearts but for some reason never expounded it, just as Yen Hui2 realized the true meaning of Confucius' teaching but kept it secret. Yet the sutra itself as well as T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo's annotations explicitly state that the Gohonzon will appear in the first five hundred years of the Latter Day of the La! w, a little more than two thousand years after the Buddha's death.

Now, over two hundred years have passed since the beginning of the Latter Day of the Law. How awesome that Nichiren was the first to inscribe this great mandala as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra, when even such great masters as Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo were unable to do so! This mandala is in no way Nichiren's invention. It is the object of worship which perfectly depicts Lord Shakyamuni in the Treasure Tower and all the other Buddhas who were present, as accurately as the print matches the woodblock. The five characters of the Lotus Sutra's title are inscribed in the center of the Treasure Tower, while the Four Heavenly Kings are seated at the four corners. Shakyamuni and Taho Buddhas, as well as the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, are lined across the top. Seated below them are the Bodhisattvas Fugen and Monju, and men of Learning, including Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. Beside them are posted the gods3 of the sun and the moo! n, the Devil of the Sixth Heaven, the Dragon King and ashura; Fudo and Aizen take up their stations to the south and north, respectively. The devilishly treacherous Devadatta and the Dragon King's ignorant daughter attend, too. The demon Kishimojin appears with her ten daughters, who sap the lives of people throughout the universe. Also present are the guardian deities of Japan: Tensho Daijin and Bodhisattva Hachiman, representing the seven ranks of heavenly gods, the five ranks of earthly gods, and all other major and minor gods in general. As all the gods appear in their essence, so must they appear in their manifestations. The Hoto chapter states, "All the assembly were lifted and present in the air." Dwelling in the Gohonzon are all the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and great saints, as well as the eight groups of sentient beings of the two realms4 who appear in the first chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Illuminated by the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the enlightened! nature they inherently possess. This is the true object of worship.

This manifestation is what the sutra means by "all phenomena reveal the true entity."5 Miao-lo states, "The true entity is invariably revealed in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably possess the Ten Factors. The Ten Factors invariably function within the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably entail both life and its environment."6 T'ien-t'ai states, "The profound principle of 'true entity' is the original Law of Myoho-renge-kyo."7 The Great Teacher Dengyo wrote, "The entity of ichinen sanzen is the Buddha who obtained enlightenment for himself, and that Buddha assumes no august attributes."8 Therefore this Gohonzon is the supreme mandala never before known, for it has not appeared until more than twenty-two hundred and twenty years after the Buddha's death.

A woman who devotes herself to the Gohonzon invites happiness in this life; and in the next, the Gohonzon will be with her and protect her always. Like a lantern in the dark, like a strong supporting arm on a treacherous path, the Gohonzon will protect you, Lady Nichinyo, wherever you go. Therefore you should ward off slanderers as you would prevent a courtesan from entering your house. That is the meaning of "Part with bad friends and seek out good ones."9

Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The body is the palace of the ninth consciousness10, the unchanging reality which reigns over all life's functions. To be "endowed with the Ten Worlds" means that all the Ten Worlds without exception are contained in the one world of Buddhahood. That is why the Gohonzon is called a mandala. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning "perfectly endowed" or "cluster of blessings." The Gohonzon is found in faith alone. As the sutra states, "Only with faith can one enter Buddhahood."11

Since Nichiren's disciples, both priests and laymen, believe in the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra, which states, "...honestly discarding the provisional teachings"12 and "Never accept even a single phrase from other sutras,"13 they can enter the Treasure Tower of the Gohonzon. How reassuring! Make every possible effort for the sake of your next life. The most important thing is to chant only Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and attain enlightenment. All depends on the strength of your faith. To have faith is the basis of Buddhism. That is why the fourth volume of the Maka Shikan states, "Buddhism is a vast ocean, but only those with faith can enter." In interpreting this passage, Miao-lo writes in the fourth volume of his Guketsu, "Even Confucius teaches that faith is first and foremost. This is all the more true with the profound doctrines of Buddhism! Without faith, how can one possibly approach them? That is why the Kegon Sutra defines faith as the basis of practice and the mother of ble! ssings." The first volume of the Maka Shikan further states, "How does one hear, believe in and practice the perfect teaching to attain perfect enlightenment?" Volume One of the Guketsu interprets this: "To 'believe in the perfect teaching' means to awaken faith through doctrine and make faith the basis of practice." A classical document tells of the Emperor of Han, who so implicitly believed his aide's report that he found the river actually frozen. Another relates how Li Kuang14, eager to revenge his father, pierced with his arrow a boulder hidden in the grass. T'ien-t'ai and Miao-lo's annotations make it absolutely clear that faith is the cornerstone. Because the Han emperor believed without doubt in his retainer's words, the river froze over. And Li Kuang was able to pierce a rock with his arrow because he fully believed it to be the tiger which had killed his father. Faith is still more powerful in the world of Buddhism.

Embracing the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo encompass all five practices which the Great Teacher Dengyo personally inherited from Priest Tao-sui15 when he journeyed to China. This is the primary teaching for Nichiren's disciples and believers. It is the practice which appears in the Jinriki chapter. I will give you more details later.



The twenty-third day of the eighth month in the third year of Kenji (1277)



Kan: An old monetary unit cosisting of 1000 coins strung together with a cord. The holes in some modern coins are derived from this tradition.

Yen Hui (521-490): One of the most favored and trusted disciples of Confucius. Seven ranks of heavenly gods and the five ranks of earthly gods: See p. 92, footnote 10.

Two realms: The realms of desire and matter. Lotus Sutra, chap. 2. Kongobei-ron. Source unknown.

Himitsu Shogon-ron. Lotus Sutra, chap. 3. Ninth consciousness: It indicates the fundamental purifying force that is the essence of our lives -- the law of Nam-myoho- renge-kyo.

Lotus Sutra, chap. 3. Ibid., chap. 2. Ibid., chap. 3.

Li Kuang: (d. 119 BC): A general from the Former Han dynasty. See p. 227, footnote 4.

Tao-sui: The tenth successor of the T'ien-t'ai sect in China. He studied under Miao-lo and devoted himself to transmitting the doctrines to his followers, including Dengyo from Japan.

Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin; Vol. 1, p. 211.