Nichiren Shonin
Gohonzon Shu

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




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Early Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren, formal style.


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

[Previous text]

Nichiren's mandala draws on a number of earlier, sometimes overlapping iconographic traditions. Representations of the Buddhas and their auditors found in the sutras revered in particular schools, ranged together in mandala-like "assemblies" with the patriarchs of those schools, are attested in Japan as early as the eighth century and appear to have played a role in expression of sectarian doctrine and the formation of sectarian identity; Nichiren's mandala may well represent an extension of these older forms. It is certainly linked to the extremely widespread and varied iconographic depictions of the two Buddhas Sakyamuni and Many Jewels seated side by side with the jeweled stupa. Such representations appear in the Tendai tradition early on; for example, a jeweled stupa of Taho Nyorai together with images of Sakyamuni Buddha flanked by Manjusri and Maitreya are said to have formed the central images of the ordination platform erected on Mt. Hiei five years after Saicho's death. Jeweled stupa representations are also associated with Taimitsu and with broader, nonsectarian currents of Lotus-centered practice and devotion. Nichiren's use of a mandala as an object of worship was also clearly influence by the use of mandalas within esoteric Buddhism, in which contemplation of mandalas or deities represented thereon was regarded, among the three mysteries of Mikkyo practice, as the "mystery of the mind," by which the Buddha's mind and the practitioners mind were identified. In particular, Nichiren's mandala shows structural similarities to the Lotus mandala (Hokke mandara), employed in a Taimitsu ritual known as the "Lotus rite" (Hokke ho). This mandala, which depicts Sakyamuni and Many Jewels together on a lotus in its central court, reflects a synthesis of Lotus and Mikkyo thought.

Nichiren's mandala also shows connections with more contemporaneous Tendai developments in Buddhist ritual iconography. By the late thirteenth century, the practice hall of the cloister Ryozen-in at Yokawa is said to have been adorned with a group of large paintings depicting the assembly of the Lotus Sutra. Centering on a lifesize image of Sakyamuni Buddha, the configuration included to one side, a jeweled stupa flanked right and left by paintings of the four leaders of the bodhisattvas of the earth and the bodhisattvas of the provisional teaching, and to the other side, by paintings of other bodhisattvas and great sravaka disciples. The two adjoining walls were hung with silk paintings of further bodhisattvas, deities, King Ajatasatru of the human world, the kings of the dragons and of other nonhuman beings, and other figures present in the assembly of the Lotus Sutra. The effect would have been to make those entering the hall feel as though they were actually there in the assembly. Or, to give another example, the kuden text Shuzenji-ketsu, discussed in the preceeding chapter [in the book], contains the following passage:
The transmission concerning the Master [Tao-sui]'s profound and secret practice states: "You should make pictures of images representing the ten realms [of beings] and enshrine them in ten places. Facing each image, you should, one hundred times, bow [with your body], chant Namu-myoho-renge-kyo with your mouth, and contemplate with your mind. When you face the image of hell, contemplate that its fierce flames are themselves precisely emptiness, precisely conventional existence, and precisely the middle, and so on for all the images. When you face the image of Buddha, contemplate its essence being precisely the threefold truth.
While Nichiren did not recommend the threefold contemplation, the use of iconographic representations of the ten realms as an aid to meditation as described in this passages is similar to his mandala. Since the chronology of such icons is not definite, it is impossible to say whether they came before or after Nichiren's mandala or whether one may have influenced the other; it is more useful to see Nichiren's honzon and these Tendai configurations as stemming from shared conceptions of Lotus-related thought and imagery of the early medieval period.

[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. 278-279.

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Explanation below refers to halograph #89.
explanatory text explanatory text

Gohonzonsh»u (129 halographs)
Published by Rissho Ankokukai. 1947, 1999.
1 | 2 | 3A | 3B | 3C | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32A | 32B | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65 | 66 | 67 | 68A | 68B | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 77 | 78 | 79 | 80 | 81 | 82 | 83 | 84 | 85 | 86 | 87 | 88 | 89 | 90 | 91 | 92 | 93 | 94 | 95 | 96 | 97 | 98 | 99 | 100 | 101 | 102 | 103 | 104 | 105 | 106 | 107 | 108 | 109 | 110 | 111 | 112 | 113 | 114 | 115 | 116 | 117 | 118 | 119 | 120 | 121 | 122 | 123 | 124 | 125

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