Nichiren Shonin
Gohonzon Shu

O'Mandalas by St. Nichiren
[1222-1282]




Early Mandala inscribed by Nichiren Shonin



Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren, abbreviated style.


Dr. Jacquie Stone on the Object of Worship, cont.

[Previous text]

In addition to its meaning as ultimate truth or principle, Nichiren also used the term honzon in its more conventional sense to mean a physical icon forming the focus of practice, in this case, Lotus Sutra recitation and the chanting of daimoku. His honzon in this sense had plural forms. During Nichiren's lifetime, the honzon most commonly used by his followers appears to have been a calligraphic mandala of his own devising, which he refered to variously as the "great mandala" (daimandara) or the "revered object of worship" (gohonzon). On this mandala the daimoku is written vertically as a central inscription, flanked by the names of Sakyamuni, Many Jewels, and the other personages who were present at the assembly in open space above Eagle Peak where the core of the origin teaching of the Lotus Sutra was expounded. Nichiren widely inscribed these mandalas for individual followers as personal honzon. More than 120 of them still survive [most are online here], and there are likely to have been many more. Some larger mandalas may have been enshrined in Hokkedo--lodging temples of disciples or other chapels maintained by lay followers--where congregations met. Nichiren's writings also refer occassionally to the scrolls of the Lotus Sutra being enshrined as an object of worship. At the same time, at least three of his extant letters suggest that he or his disciples occassionally peformed the eye-opening ritual (kaigen kuyo) for Buddha images made by his followers. He is also known to have kept by him throughout much of his life a small personal image of Sakyamuni Buddha, which he enshrined wherever he happened to be living. Yet another form of honzon possibly adopted during Nichiren's lifetime is known as the "one Buddha and four attendants" (isson shishi). It probably derives from passages in Nichiren's writings such as the following, in a letter to his follower Toki Jonin (1216-1299), dated 1279:
You say in your letter: "I have heard before that an object of worship should be made of the Lord Sakyamuni of the origin teaching, who attained enlightenment in the remote past, and that, as atendants, [images] should be made of the four leaders of the bodhisattvas emerged from the earth who are his original disciples. But when [is this object of worship to be established] as I have heard?"

...Now in the Final Dharma age, in accordance with the Buddha's golden words, [an object of worship] should be made of the original Buddha and his original attendants.
And in fact, Toki Jonin's index of the writing, icons, and ritual implements preserved at the temple he established after Nichiren's death includes "a standing image of Sakyamuni and also the four bodhisattvas (in a small shrine)." The presence of the four bodhisattvas signals that the central icon is the original or eternal, rather than the merely historical, Sakyamuni. The "one Buddha and four attendants" came into fairly widespread use among Nichiren's followers as a honzon almost immediately after his death. There was also a more complex configuration consisting of the two Buddhas, Sakyamuni and Many Jewels, seated together in the jeweled stupa and flanked by the four bodhisattvas (itto ryoson shishi). The earliest attested grouping was made by Jogyoin Nichiyu (1298-1374) of the Nakayama lineage in 1335.

[Click here to learn more from Dr. Stone]

Source: Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. A Kuroda Institute Book by Jacqueline Ilyse Stone. University of Hawai'i Press: Honolulu. 1999. pp. 274-275.

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Gohonzonsh»u (129 halographs)
Published by Rissho Ankokukai. 1947, 1999.
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