Jun 28, 2013

One Daimoku can Permeate the Entire Universe

Even one daimoku can permeate the entire universe. 

How much greater then is daimoku's capacity to move anything when it is chanted with sincerity and determination! Daimoku chanted with the profound conviction that "my life is the entity of the Mystic Law" or with the resolve that: "I will dedicate my life to spreading the Mystic Law as an emissary of the Buddha" cannot fail to draw a response from the Gohonzon. 

Such daimoku cannot fail to permeate the universe. Invisible radio waves travel vast distances through space, reaching Mars and Venus. In the same way, our inner determination, which is unobservable to common mortals, activates the forces in the universe—the heavenly deities and the Buddhas throughout the ten directions—and appears as solid actual proof in accordance with the principle of 3,000 realms in a single moment of life. 

Faith means making 100 percent effort—in our daimoku and in our actions. When we practice in this way, the Buddhist gods will lend us their protection. We mustn't have a complacent, dependent attitude in faith, chanting haphazardly without definite goals, making only halfhearted efforts in the belief that we'll be protected automatically. Deep determination and unshakable character are vital. Those with these qualities are second to none in faith. 

When your determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to he victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think, "This is never going to work out," then at that instant every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight. Then everything really will move in the direction of failure. Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength of that determination fades in time. The moment you feel that is when you should make a fresh determination. Tell yourselves: "OK! I will start again from now!" If you fall down seven times, get up the eighth. Don't give up when you feel discouraged just pick yourselves up and renew your determination each time. 

Life is a struggle with ourselves. It is a tug-of-war between progress and regression, between happiness and unhappiness. Those short on willpower or self-motivation should chant daimoku with conviction to become people of strong will who can tackle any problem with seriousness and determination. 

Daisaku Ikeda

Jun 25, 2013

Differing Views on the Mentor/Disciple Relationship

"The purpose of Buddhism is not to produce dupes who blindly follow their leader. It is to produce people of wisdom who can judge right from wrong on their own in the clear mirror of Buddhism." (SGI President Ikeda, My Dear Friends in America, p. 103)

The importance of the mentor–disciple relationship is clearly stated in the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin. He writes: “If there is someone who knows which of the Buddhist teachings are true and which are false, then I must seek him out, make him my teacher, and treat him with appropriate respect.” (WND-1, 105) Both Nichiren Shoshu and the Soka Gakkai teach the way of mentor and disciple. But their teachings are quite different. They can’t both be right, can they?
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Shakyamuni Buddha who attained enlightenment countless kalpas ago, the Lotus Sutra that leads all people to Buddhahood, and we ordinary human beings are in no way different or separate from one another. To chant Myoho-renge-kyo with this realization is to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death. This is a matter of the utmost importance for Nichiren’s disciples and lay supporters, and this is what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra.” (“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” WND-1, 216,)
There is no distinction or separation between the Buddha, the Law and ordinary people. They are equal. They are one. This is the essence of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. As he says this is the essence of what it means to embrace the Lotus Sutra. It is the basis for the heritage of the lifeblood of the ultimate Law of life and death. 
He also states: “Never seek any other way to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment, and that the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith.” (WND-1, 218)
In stark contrast with what the Daishonin says are the teachings of Nichiren Shoshu:"Concerning the relation between the priesthood and the laity, according to the lineage of the Master and disciple, a difference does exist between a priest and a lay person. More specifically, while this difference is a matter of course to members of the faith in regards to the High Priest, who possesses the Bestowal of the Living Essence of the Law, as regards a member’s local temple head priest, the Master to whom the Living Essence of the Law had been passed on by hand, it is only when members of the faith persevere in the practice of their faith through the Master and disciple relationship that the Daishonin’s Living Essence of the Law begins to flow in their lives, with the priest and lay members together fusing with the Body of the Law of the Gohonzon, becoming the one Buddha of the True Buddha of the Mystic Law of the Lotus. In this way, through the True Body and True Appearance of attained faith, although the priest and lay believer become one equal body, because one reaches that stage through the actual aspect of the observance of faith, an absolute difference between priest and lay person exists in the lineage of the Master and disciple. (Dai-Nichiren Special Edition III, Nichiren Shoshu Bureau of Religious Affairs)
No matter how lofty and noble they try to make it sound, Nichiren Shoshu teaches, in fact, that the Buddha, the Law and we ordinary people are indeed different and separate from one another. They teach “an absolute difference between priest and lay person exists in the lineage of the Master and disciple.”There is no oneness or equality in their understanding of mentor and disciple. There is no oneness or equality in Nichiren Shoshu. If, as they say, there is an   absolute distinction between us several questions arise: Is it, according to Nichiren Shoshu, even possible for lay believers to attain Buddhahood in their present form? Would the enlightenment of lay believers be somehow different or diminished from the enlightenment of priests? If our enlightenment is not the equal of the priests, it is certainly much different from the enlightenment of the High Priest who is the Master who possesses the Bestowal of the Living Essence of the Law. What does that mean? In what way are we different?It seems clear that Nichiren Shoshu misrepresents what the Daishonin means when he says we “are in no way different or separate from one another”. 
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “The Buddha is like a person awake and living beings are like persons dreaming. Therefore when the latter wake from their empty dreams of birth and death and return to their waking state of original enlightenment, they are said to attain Buddhahood in their present form, to gain the great wisdom of equality, the Law that is without distinctions, and to understand that all are able to achieve the Buddha way, for there is only this one doctrine.” (WND-2, 841)
In his “Reply to the Lay Believers in the Province of Sado,” Nikko Shonin states: “The Daishonin teaches following the correct path of mentor and disciple to attain Buddhahood. If one makes even the slightest mistake in the way of mentor and disciple, then even though one upholds the Lotus Sutra one will fall into the hell of incessant suffering” (Nichiko Hori, Fuji Nikko Shonin Shoden, Detailed Biography of Nikko Shonin, p. 429).  
Nikko Shonin, which Nichiren Shoshu professes to follow, was clear about this point. I don’t know how one could reach any other conclusion than that Nichiren Shoshu has made more than “the slightest mistake.” They seem to be leading others along the certain path to the hell of incessant suffering.
In sharp contrast, we should look at what Josei Toda experienced in prison after pondering a passage from the Lotus Sutra that confused him; and had confused Buddhist scholars for more than 2000 years. What Toda realized is ‘the Buddha’ is ‘my life’! The Buddha, the Law and the ordinary person, Josei Toda, are in no way different or separate, but one and the same. He realized the ‘oneness of mentor and disciple’. 
This realization revitalized Buddhism in the modern world. Toda realized the oneness of Buddha and ordinary people. And as a result, members of the SGI can chant to the Gohonzon with this realization and inherit the ultimate Law of life and death for ourselves, as we are, in our present form—exactly as the Daishonin intended.
SGI President Ikeda writes: “When a movement imagines it can assume absolute, inviolable authority, it has stagnated. Then, though some of the original ideals may linger, the movement no longer has the vibrant power to realize them.
“Some people incorrectly interpret the mentor-disciple relationship as one of formalized superiority and submission. But, according to the Buddhist teachings, this should not be the case. The Buddhist philosophy that all are equally worthy of respect is no abstract doctrine. It must become the core of one’s own way of life.
“To truly achieve this in Buddhist practice, the disciple needs a mentor who is both a great teacher and a fellow pursuer of self-improvement. Herein lies the true mentor-disciple way. In the simplest terms, it is a relationship of equality between companions who share the will for self-improvement.” 

Greg Martin, SGI-USA Vice General Director
 (March 26, 2010 World Tribune, p. 8)

Jun 20, 2013

Freeing the Caged Bird Within


by indraajeet

The Buddha nature refers to the potential for attaining Buddhahood, a state of awakening filled with compassion and wisdom.
Shin Yatomi SGI-USA Study Department Leader

Key Points

1) The Lotus Sutra stresses the universality of Buddhahood by recognizing its potential in those denied enlightenment in other Buddhist teachings. The tradition of the Buddha nature concept teaches that we must challenge our delusions to reveal our Buddha nature.
2) Nichiren Daishonin teaches that when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we are praising the Buddha nature of all living beings and, at the same time, bringing forth this supreme potential of life from within our own lives. The key to manifesting our Buddha nature lies in our confidence in its existence.

Food for Thoughts

  • Do you sometimes feel like "I can never attain enlightenment" or "I'm already a Buddha, so I don't have to do anything"?
  • What is wrong with these two attitudes?
  • How does each attitude distort the teaching of the Buddha nature?

The Buddha nature refers to the potential for attaining Buddhahood, a state of awakening filled with compassion and wisdom. Although the Buddha nature and Buddhahood are sometimes used interchangeably, strictly speaking, the Buddha nature is one's potential for becoming a Buddha, and Buddhahood is the manifest state of that potential. Through the development of the Buddha nature concept, Buddhahood became the universal principle of authentic happiness rather than the isolated awakening of one gifted person.

Of all the early Mahayana scriptures, the Lotus Sutra stands out in terms of representing the view of salvation from within. The Lotus Sutra-part of which possibly dates from the first century bce-repeatedly emphasizes the universality of Buddhahood. For example, it states, "If there are those who hear the Law, / then not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood" (ls, 41). It also states, "The original vow of the Buddhas / was that the Buddha way, which they themselves practice, / should be shared universally among living beings / so that they too may attain this same way" (ls, 41).

The Lotus Sutra stresses the universality of Buddhahood by recognizing its potential in those denied enlightenment in other Buddhist teachings. For example, many Mahayana sutras asserted that monastics and solitary mendicants were incapable of attaining Buddhahood. Incapable as well, in some Buddhist traditions, were women and evil men. The Lotus Sutra, however, recognizes the potential for Buddhahood in all categories of people denied enlightenment elsewhere.

Another important feature of the Lotus Sutra is that all people are acknowledged as the children of the Buddha. The Buddha's disciples proclaim: "So we did not know that we were in truth the sons of the Buddha. But now at last we know it" (ls, 86). The sutra also explains, "And if in future existences / one can read and uphold this sutra, / he will be a true son of the Buddha" (ls, 181). All people, the sutra teaches, are related to Shakyamuni-that is, they share the Buddha's spiritual makeup and therefore will eventually develop into Buddhas, just as a child inevitably grows into an adult.

Nichiren writes: "Myoho-renge-kyo is the Buddha nature of all living beings.... The Buddha nature that all these beings possess is called by the name Myoho-rengekyo" (wnd, 131). Regarding how to manifest one's innate Buddha nature, Nichiren explains: "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" (wnd, 887).

In Nichiren's metaphor, our innate Buddha nature, whose name is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, is a bird trapped in the cage of ignorance. In other words, our deluded minds create this cage that imprisons our Buddha nature. But when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, which expresses Nichiren's enlightened life and the potential of all people, our dormant Buddha nature becomes activated.

The singing of the caged bird is our chanting, and the birds flying in the sky are the Buddha nature in our environment, particularly as it is expressed in the Gohonzon. Through our chanting, the Buddha nature within our lives and the Buddha nature inherent in the universe begin their dynamic interaction.
For Nichiren's metaphor to work, however, it is necessary for the caged bird to recognize the birds in the sky as being its own kind. In other words, when we pray to the Gohonzon, rather than thinking of it as an external power or deity, we must think of it as the mirror image of our own Buddha nature. If the caged bird thinks of itself as an elephant, it is unlikely to give the slightest thought to flying.

Nichiren Buddhism clarifies that the teaching of the Buddha nature is a teaching of faith and practice. All people have it, but not many can believe in it. Furthermore, some of those who believe in their Buddha nature may not practice to manifest it, erroneously thinking-I'm already a Buddha, so I don't have to do anything. One's faith in the Buddha nature must be expressed in one's actions to manifest it.

Those who see the universal Buddha nature of oneself and others and work to awaken it in all people are already Buddhas, for such actions belong to none other than a Buddha. As we cultivate our inherent Buddha nature through our conviction and actions to manifest it no matter our circumstances, we begin to see it and experience it. In our everyday lives, seeing may be believing. But in the world of Buddhism, believing in the Buddha nature is the first step toward seeing it.

Jun 11, 2013

The Object of Devotion

By Shin Yatomi SGI-USA Vice Study Department Leader

The following essay was presented at the SGI-USA Study Department conference held at the Florida Nature and Culture Center on April 21-23, 2000.

One of the most debated issues regarding any religious object is whether it is sacred or represents the sacred. Put another way, is it an actual embodiment or symbol of what is to be revered in worship? Those questions about the nature of religious objects have played no small part in the history of religion.

The Iconoclastic Controversy in which Christians debated the merits of religious icons is considered the last step toward the great schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church in 1054.1 The interpretation of the Eucharist—the consecrated bread and wine used in Holy Communion—has been another source of doctrinal disputes in the Christian Church since the earlier Middle Ages, especially during the Reformation period. At the thirteenth session of the Council of Trent held in 1551, the Roman Catholic Church reaffirmed its doctrine of transubstantiation, asserting the conversion of the whole substance of the bread and wine into the whole substance of the Body and Blood of Christ, only the appearances of the bread and wine remaining after the consecration.2

The Protestants opposed this view. For example, Martin Luther claimed that after the consecration, the substances both of the Body and Blood of Christ and of the bread and wine coexist in union with each other.3 Ulrich Zwingli, on the other hand, affirmed that the Lord's Supper was primarily a memorial rite, and that there was no change in the elements whatever.4

As evident in the history of Christianity, religious objects often trigger tension and anxiety for those who think that the divine is beyond material expression. At the same time, people tend to seek something tangible as an object or expression of their devotion. Some people regard a sign of the divine as the divine itself while others reduce the significance of a sacred object to a ritual symbol devoid of its own spirituality. The nature of a religious object, in this way, is often at the center of theological debate and confusion in many religions.

Is the Gohonzon a Symbol or the Embodiment?

In the case of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, its object of devotion works as both symbol and embodiment. When people look at the Gohonzon5 for the first time, what do they see? What do they make of it' It is a scroll with unfamiliar inscriptions, but is it a religious icon or sacred formula? Whatever their reaction, it is difficult not to notice oriental calligraphic characters arranged in a specific pattern— though most have no idea what those characters mean or why they are arranged that way. As our first impressions of things often reveal some important insights into their nature, what most of us first notice about the appearance of the Gohonzon, that is, its written characters and their graphic arrangement, provides us with some clues to Nichiren Daishonin's intent in creating this object of devotion.

In one sense, the Gohonzon represents the Daishonin's enlightenment and, thereby, our innate Buddha nature. The Gohonzon is a symbol of all people's potential Buddhahood; it signifies something other than itself. This is why the Daishonin explains to his elderly disciple Abutsu-bo the meaning of his offerings to the Gohonzon—which is referred to as “the treasure tower”—as follows: “You may think you offered gifts to the treasure tower of the Thus Come One Many Treasures,6 but that is not so. You offered them to yourself. You, yourself, are a Thus Come One who is originally enlightened and endowed with the three bodies.7 You should chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with this conviction” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, pp. 299-300). Here the Daishonin explains that when we pray to the Gohonzon, the Gohonzon is pointing our attention to our own innate Buddha nature. The Gohonzon reflects our reverence back to our supreme inner potential. In this sense, the Gohonzon functions as a pointer to our Buddhahood; it is a symbolic representation. In the above passage, therefore, the Daishonin cautions us not to mistake the sign for the signified, which would externalize and objectify the Buddhahood that actually resides within us.

From another perspective, however, the Gohonzon functions as an embodiment of the Daishonin's enlightenment. The Gohonzon is not intrinsically a self-conscious, living entity embodying the Daishonin's enlightenment, but it functions in our practice as if it were. The Daishonin explains: “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, 412). When we put our faith in the Gohonzon and pray to it in the spirit of this passage, the Gohonzon transforms itself from mere paper and ink into a concrete manifestation of the Daishonin's enlightenment in the reality of our consciousness. The Gohonzon thus works as an external stimulus that calls forth our inner potential of Buddhahood. On one hand, we know that the Gohonzon is a symbolic representation of our Buddha nature. In our practice, on the other hand, we pray to it as if it were the actual embodiment of the Daishonin's enlightened life so that we may gain confidence that the selfsame nature exists within our lives as well. Viewing the Gohonzon as the embodiment of the Daishonin's enlightenment is not simplistic make-believe, although the Gohonzon physically remains as paper and ink; it is the affirmation of our faith in the Daishonin's enlightenment and in our own enlightened potential. The Gohonzon, in a sense, serves on behalf of the absent Daishonin as a concrete example of attaining enlightenment.

The Gohonzon, in this way, helps our practice as both symbol and embodiment of Buddhahood. It must be noted, however, that the Gohonzon as an embodiment of enlightenment should not be taken to mean the mysterious presence of the divine in the inanimate object. The Gohonzon becomes an embodiment of Buddhahood through our faith and practice. In other words, the importance of the Gohonzon as the embodiment of the Daishonin's enlightenment is meaningful and real only to the extent that practitioners pray to it with faith and view it as an example to follow, not as an external saving force. The meaning of the Gohonzon as intended by the Daishonin, in this sense, is created through a dynamic interaction between the object of devotion and its devotee. The significance of the Gohonzon, therefore, would be incomplete without the practitioner's faith and practice.

The Treasure Tower: the Imagery of the Gohonzon

The design of the Gohonzon dates back to the origin of Mahayana Buddhism, which took shape around the turn of the first century in India. In reaction to monastic Buddhism, which emphasized personal salvation through austerities, Mahayana Buddhists stressed the importance of altruism and the role of lay practitioners (i.e., bodhisattvas) to spread the teachings. The Mahayanists called their doctrine “Mahayana” or “the greater vehicle” to carry the masses to the shore of enlightenment while referring to monastic Buddhism as “Hinayana” or “the lesser vehicle.” The popular Mahayana movement developed around the worship of stupas—mounds or towers originally built to enshrine Shakyamuni's relics. After Shakyamuni's death, which is dated by many scholars around the fourth or fifth century before the Common Era, his lay followers started to build these stupas, especially during the reign of King Ashoka (268-232 BCE), who was the third ruler of the Maurya dynasty and the first king to unify India. Many lay followers gathered around the stupas and paid homage to the Buddha, who was now absent.

The popularity of stupa worship is evident in the central role of the jeweled tower in the Lotus Sutra, one of the early Mahayana sutras, which is thought to have been compiled around the first century.8 The Daishonin used the stupa or “treasure tower” from the Lotus Sutra as a chief graphic motif for inscribing the Gohonzon. Down the center of the Gohonzon is written “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren,” which signifies his awakening to the universal law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or Buddhahood. As he explains, “The treasure tower is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (WND, 299), the Daishonin views the treasure tower depicted in the Lotus Sutra as symbolic of the Buddha nature inherent within the lives of all people. Thus he addresses one of his disciples as follows: “Abutsu-bo is therefore the treasure tower itself, and the treasure tower is Abutsu-bo himself” (WND, 299).

The inscriptions on both sides of “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren” on the Gohonzon depict the assembly of various living beings who gather around the treasure tower to listen to Shakyamuni's preaching as described in the Lotus Sutra. Some of them are not even humans, such as the dragon king's daughter who demonstrates her enlightenment. The diversity of this so-called Assembly in the Air in the Lotus Sutra reflects the nature of the early stupa worship, which was not limited to the elite priestly class but was open to people from all walks of life. These inscriptions on the Gohonzon represent the ten states of existence (i.e., the Ten Worlds): intense suffering and despair (Hell); insatiable desires (Hunger); selfish foolishness (Animality); arrogance and belligerence (Anger); transient calmness (Humanity); intense yet temporary rapture (Heaven); self-improvement (Learning); self-awakening to the partial truths of nature and humanity (Realization); altruism (Bodhisattva); and the indestructible state of happiness rooted in compassion and wisdom (Buddhahood). The Gohonzon graphically shows that each of these ten states of existence—when firmly grounded in the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—exhibits its most positive functions to nurture one's life and happiness. For example, although we may find ourselves in the state of Hell, through our prayer to the Gohonzon, we can transform our intense suffering and despair into a source of strength and hope to overcome our difficulties. Incidentally, some ritual aspects involving our practice to the Gohonzon may be reminiscent of the stupa worship of the early Mahayana Buddhists. For example, the sounding of the bell may derive from the offerings of music often performed in front of a stupa. Other offerings to the Gohonzon may also be traced backed to early stupa worship, such as the offerings of flowers and incense as depicted in the Lotus Sutra.

Words and Imagery: Subjective Universality

The mode of expression that the Daishonin chose for the imagery of the treasure tower is unique. He depicted the treasure tower and the surrounding assembly of various beings in written characters. While there are examples of pictorial depictions of the treasure tower or calligraphic religious objects that predate the Gohonzon,9 the Daishonin's imagery of the treasure tower depicted solely in written characters was rare if not unprecedented. His use of graphic characters follows the emphasis placed on scriptures in the Buddhist tradition .After Shakyamuni's death, stupas containing Shakyamuni's relics became objects of veneration among lay practitioners. Soon the pictorial and sculptural images of Shakyamuni and other imagined Buddhas, as well as bodhisattvas and Buddhist deities, were produced as religious icons. Furthermore, especially within the Mahayana tradition, greater emphasis was placed on scriptures, even to the point where people literally worshiped the scrolls of Buddhist texts. For example, in medieval India, the Wisdom (Skt Prajnaparamita) sutras became the objects of devotion among many Mahayana Buddhists.10 Regarding the religious importance of scriptures within the Mahayana tradition, Jacob N. Kinnard comments: “Relics and stupas are certainly worthy of veneration…but the book is more valuable and more valued, because the book is the source of the Tathagata's wisdom, and consequently the source of his attainment of enlightenment, and thus the source of the value of the relics.”11

The Daishonin also often stresses the important role of written materials, particularly the Lotus Sutra. For example, he states: “The Lotus Sutra is both the teaching of the Buddha and the embodiment of the Buddha wisdom. If one puts sincere faith in each character and brushstroke in it, then one will become a Buddha in one's present form” (WND, 969). In refuting medieval Zen Buddhism, which rejected the role of Buddhist scriptures, the Daishonin states: “If one disregards written characters, what else could one regard as the Buddha's work?” (Gosho Zenshu, p. 153). He also writes: “Characters are the forms that manifest the minds of all living beings” (GZ, 380).

The Daishonin's use of written characters as a medium for the Gohonzon reflects his strong belief in the role of written materials in communicating not only the material reality of things, but also the spiritual reality of humanity. The Daishonin's use of the treasure tower's imagery as a graphic motif for the Gohonzon and his use of written characters as a medium of expression show his profound insight into the nature of religious worship. He seems to have understood how an image and a written text speak differently to our minds. In inscribing the Gohonzon as an image expressed in characters, the Daishonin unifies the specificity of a graphic image with the universality of written characters to convey the reality of the Buddha nature that is unique to each person and simultaneously universal to all people. The subjective yet universal aspect of the Buddha nature is at the core of the Daishonin's teaching, which promotes our awareness of the supreme potential not only in our lives but in the lives of others as well.

The Gohonzon is concrete in the sense that it depicts a specific image. But it is not a pictorial image of the treasure tower, Shakyamuni or Nichiren Daishonin himself. If the Gohonzon took such a form, it would be easy to view the Gohonzon as a depiction of someone else's life or an event far removed from our lives. If the Gohonzon were rendered as the Daishonin's image, for example, we might respect it, but we would not identify with it. For we simply don't look like a thirteenth-century Japanese monk! The Daishonin instead created the Gohonzon in characters to depict the specific imagery of the treasure tower from the Lotus Sutra, which symbolizes our innate Buddhahood. Written characters are suited to express universal concepts. But they are often abstract and lack a sense of immediacy. Images, on the other hand, are better suited to elicit personal responses from their viewers because they are more immediate to our senses. The Gohonzon, in terms of its graphic motif and calligraphic medium, is a hybrid of written and visual communication. Judging from the way the Daishonin chose to inscribe the Gohonzon, he probably intended it to communicate both conceptually and sensuously to our minds the universality of the Buddha nature and its immediacy to our lives.

Jean Paul Friedrich Richter, a German literary critic, explains the subjective yet universal nature of poetry as follows: “Poetry should become like the moon, which by night follows one wanderer in the woods from peak to peak and at the same time another from wave to wave and thus attends each, while it simply describes its great arc across heaven and yet ultimately draws it around the earth and around the wanderers also.”12

Richter's analogy of the moon is fit to describe the functions of the Gohonzon. The Gohonzon illuminates the existence of Buddhahood for each practitioner. At the same time, the Gohonzon traces the orbit of enlightenment for all people to see. The Gohonzon—like the moon individually following all travelers on earth—sheds light on the innate Buddhahood in each of us.

The Daishonin's intent to make the Gohonzon's meaning universal to all people is also evident in the linguistic and cultural aspects of the Gohonzon. He used the words and personages of India, China and Japan to depict the Gohonzon.13

Two Buddhist deities are inscribed in a medieval Sanskrit orthography; Great Bodhisattva Hachiman comes from Japanese mythology, and there is the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai, who established the Lotus Sutra's supremacy in medieval China. In medieval Japan, those three countries were viewed as the entirety of the civilized world. In other words, the Daishonin probably wished to make the Gohonzon universal in its language and content as well.

Some of the physical features of the Gohonzon suggest the Daishonin's minute considerations to make the object of devotion suited to the message that it carries to each and all practitioners: the personal yet universal reality of the Buddha nature. Of course, what is most important in our practice is the act of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. The seemingly minor details of the Gohonzon, however, sometimes reveal much about the Daishonin's wisdom and compassion. The goal of this article is that knowing those details may help us become more aware of the Daishonin's intent behind his inscription of the Gohonzon and thereby pray more strongly and confidently.
1. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. “Iconoclastic Controversy,” pp. 815-16.
2. Ibid. “Eucharist,” p. 567; “Transubstantiation,” p. 1637.
3. Ibid. “Consubstantiation,” p. 408.
4. Ibid. “Eucharist,” p. 567.
5. The object of devotion in Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is called the Gohonzon. “Go” is an honorific prefix, and “honzon” means an object of fundamental respect.
6. Many Treasures is a Buddha who appeared, seated within the treasure tower at the Ceremony in the Air, in order to lend credence to Shakyamuni's teachings in the Lotus Sutra.
7. Three kinds of body that a Buddha possesses, namely: (1) the Dharma body, which indicates the fundamental truth or Law to which a Buddha is enlightened; (2) the reward body, which indicates the wisdom; and (3) the manifested body, or the merciful actions of a Buddha to save people and the physical form that he assumes for that purpose. The three bodies are generally considered to be three different types of Buddhas, but in the Lotus Sutra they are shown to be the three aspects of a single Buddha (“Glossary, ”WND, 1275).
8.Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1989. p. 186.
9. Stone, Jacqueline I. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. pp. 272-88.
10. Kinnard, Jacob N. Imaging Wisdom: Seeing and Knowing in the Art of Indian Buddhism. Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999. pp. 114-47.
11. Ibid. p. 119.
12. Richter, Jean Paul Friedrich. “School for Aesthetics.” German Romantic Criticism. The German Library: Vol. 21. Ed. A. Leslie Willson. New York: Continuum, 1982. p. 45.
13. For the meaning of each inscription on the Gohonzon, see the “Diagram of the Gohonzon Transcribed by High Priest Nichikan” and “Further Explanation” in Living Buddhism, November 1997, pp. 16-17, pp. 19-24.

Jun 1, 2013

Moon and Flowers

by !w-35

The image of blooming flowers and the bright moon in the sky of the Buddha's teachings, helps paint an inviting vision of the Buddha land we create by chanting.   

by ~Darla-Illara