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Nichiren Buddhism is revolutionary in that it teaches that all people are capable of manifesting Buddhahood in this lifetime, in their present form. However, it can be very difficult to actually believe in and respect the infinite potentiality of our lives, much less manifest, on a consistent basis, the sublime life condition of Buddhahood that exists within us all.
The Gohonzon is a scroll containing Chinese and Sanskrit characters that aids practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism in the process of perceiving and bringing forth the life condition of Buddhahood from within their lives.
It is a physical representation of the fundamental law that permeates all life, the sublime reality to which Shakyamuni was enlightened. Shakyamuni’s revelation of this law is distilled within the Lotus Sutra, the title of which is rendered in Japanese as Myoho-renge-kyo. The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren defined the “Mystic Law” described within the Lotus Sutra as “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and represented it in graphic form as the Gohonzon, establishing a way for all people to connect with it.
In one sense, the Gohonzon is a blueprint of the limitless potential of our inner lives. It mirrors the qualities of our inherent Buddha nature, such as wisdom, courage, compassion and life force. It is not a representation of something we lack or must acquire from a source outside ourselves.
Gohonzon (Jpn.) can be literally translated as “object of devotion.” Practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism have altars in their homes where they enshrine the Gohonzon. Their daily practice, which consists of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra while facing the Gohonzon, is an act of reaffirming and revering the dignity of their lives as well as the dignity of all life. By revering the Buddha nature inherent within their own lives and depicted in the Gohonzon, practitioners are able to manifest the qualities of Buddhahood.
related article Nam-myoho-renge-kyo The essence of Buddhism is the conviction that we have within us at each moment the ability to overcome any problem or difficulty that we may encounter in life; a capacity to transform any suffering. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written down the center of the Gohonzon in bold characters. Nam, meaning devotion, signifies the intent of summoning or harmonizing with. It expresses a vow to believe in our Buddhahood and take action in alignment with this vow.
On either side of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo are characters that represent the various positive and negative tendencies and energies within life. All such energies are intrinsic to life, but harmonized by the law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, all reveal an enlightened aspect and function to create value and happiness.
In addition, Nichiren inscribed his name below Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on the Gohonzon, expressing that the state of Buddhahood is not an abstract concept but is manifest in the life and behavior of human beings. His use of script rather than a painted image or sculpted object reflects his commitment to the principle that this “mirror” of our inherent Buddha nature is universal, free of the connotations of race and gender inherent in depictions of specific personages.
The characters on the Gohonzon are arranged in such a way as to depict a scene from the Lotus Sutra known as the “Ceremony in the Air” during which Shakyamuni reveals the essence of the Lotus Sutra and entrusts his disciples, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, to uphold and spread this teaching and lead others to happiness. Concern and effort for the happiness of others are thus intrinsic to the manifestation of one’s Buddha nature.
related article The Ten Factors of Life Underlying the astounding diversity of life’s manifestations are ten common elements. Buddhism calls these the “Ten Factors of Life.” The Gohonzon also expresses the concept of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds (ten life states), which reveals that Buddhahood exists as a potentiality in any given moment of an individual’s life and does not lie outside of one’s daily existence or being.
In this way, the Gohonzon represents a state of life in which the inexhaustible power of the Mystic Law is in full bloom as well as an ideal world where all people in society are manifesting their strengths and capabilities to their fullest.
The key, as Nichiren stressed repeatedly, is to believe that we are “perfectly endowed” beings—that we can reveal our Buddha nature in our present form, at any place and at any time. As Nichiren states, “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself.”
Inheriting the legacy of Shakyamuni and Nichiren to actualize a world of peace and happiness for all beings, the practice of SGI members is one of striving to reveal their Buddhahood amidst the joys and sorrows of daily life and helping others do the same.