Who's Who on the Gohonzon?

by Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick

The most common Gohonzon issued by Nichiren Shu to its members (made of silk) This Great Mandala is #81 in the GohonzonShu...

The Vedic Cosmology

Several deities and beings who appear on the mandala originate in the Vedic cosmology of ancient India which the Buddha also accepted but on his own terms. The Vedic cosmology is a mythic view of the world based on the liturgical hymns known as the Vedas. The Vedas were brought into India by the Aryans or Noble Ones, Indo-Eurpeans who migrated into northwestern India from southern Russia and northern Iran during the second millennium BCE. The Vedas were the divine revelation of the religion of the brahmins, the Aryan priestly caste, and their religion came to be called Brahmanism; named not after the priests but after the divine itself which they called "Brahman." Brahmanism would eventually evolve into the very diverse tradition which is now referred to as Hinduism. While the Buddha rejected the divine authority of the Vedas and many of the key assumptions of brahmanism, he also affirmed on the basis of his own direct knowledge the existence of many of the elements of the Vedic world view, including the existence of many hells, heavens, and various supernatural beings like gods, demons, and hungry ghosts. The Buddha not only claimed to have seen these realms and beings for himself with his "divine sight", but he also claimed to have observed how sentient beings cycle through these many diverse forms of existence in the interminable process of transmigration. The Buddha, or at least those who recorded his teachings, therefore took for granted the Vedic cosmic geography wherein all these natural and supernatural beings lived.

In order to understand who these deities and other beings are and what role they play, one must also understand ancient Indian cosmology. According to the Vedas and also the Buddhist sutras, our world is a series of disks made of wind, water, and "golden earth" on the top of which float four continents in a vast circular ocean. We live on the southern continent called Jambudvipa (which not coincidentally resembles the Indian subcontinent). Below Jambudvipa are many hot and cold hells as well as the region of the hungry ghosts. Around the perimeter of the world ocean is a vast iron mountain range. In the center of the ocean are seven golden mountain ranges forming concentric squares with seven fresh water seas in between. At the center of these seven golden mountain ranges is a large mountain called Mt. Sumeru. On the slopes of Mt. Sumeru and above it are the various heavenly realms which become more rarefied the higher one goes. The inhabited world is divided into three major realms: desire, form, and formlessness. The realm of desire extends from the lowest hell all the way up to the 6th heaven. The realm of form consists of 17 more rarefied heavens which rise above and beyond the realm of desire. Above these heavens are the four heavens of the formless realm. Everything from the vast wind disk at the very bottom of this structure all the way up to the first three heavens of the realm of form make up what is known as a Mt. Sumeru world because Mt. Sumeru forms its centerpiece. According to this ancient cosmological system, our world is one of countless such Mt. Sumeru worlds. The higher heavens preside over increasingly huge numbers of Mt. Sumeru worlds. In this system, our Mt. Sumeru world is known as the Saha World, which means "The world of endurance" because there is so much suffering which must be endured by the sentient beings who live here undergoing samsara, the constant cycle of birth and death.

One of the easiest ways to make sense of the Mt. Sumeru cosmology in more depth is to break it down into six realms. The six realms are not literally different realms but are actually different forms of existence which correspond to six different states of mind. These six are the worlds of hell-dwellers, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, fighting demons, and the gods. Later on, four higher realms were added for a total of ten realms. The higher four consist of the disciples of the Buddha, the solitary contemplatives, the bodhisattvas, and the Buddhas. The four higher realms transcend the basic geography of a Mt. Sumeru world system, so they will not be covered here.

The Realm of the Hell-Dwellers

The eight hot hells and eight cold hells lie thousands of miles beneath the surface of the southern continent Jambudvipa. The major hells are stacked one on top of the other with the worst hell on the bottom. Here, those who have killed, stolen, indulged in sexual misconduct or intoxicants, lied, or committed other more heinous crimes against family, holy people or the Dharma receive the karmic retribution for their deeds at the hands of brawny ox-headed and horse-headed demons. It is important to remember that in Buddhism one is not thrown into hell or punished by some deity. Rather, the hells are the fruition of one's misdeeds and the externalization of one's own character which is shaped by one's deeds.The following are the eight hot hells in order of increasing severity:

Samjiva (Reviving): This hell is reserved for those who kill or cause the death of sentient beings by denying them the means to live and who show no remorse but instead feel justified and pleased by what they have done. There are many torments to be found here, but the most common involves being tormented and killed in the same way that one tormented and killed others and then being revived for further punishment. But not all of the punishments are so straightforward. One particularly gruesome punishment for hunters involves the hell-dwellers being forced to eat a mixture of excrement and molten copper filled with diamond beaked maggots which precede to consume the evildoers from the inside out. This hell is divided into several regions with names like Place of the Cooking Pot, Hell of Torments Received in the Air, or the Black Weasel Hell.

Kalasutra (Black Rope): This hell is reserved for those who steal, exploit others, or otherwise take what is not their due. Here the hell-dwellers are stretched out on the ground and their bodies are marked off by ink or charcoal blackened ropes. The demons then use the markings to guide them as they hack the unfortunates into tiny pieces with fiery swords, axes, and saws. There are various other torments to be found here as well. Another one involving the black ropes has the evildoers forced to tight-rope walk on them over boiling cauldrons with heavy iron packs strapped on their backs. Inevitably, the hell-dwellers lose their balance and fall into the cauldrons.

Samghata (Crushing): This hell is reserved for those who indulged in sexual misconduct either through various forms of infidelity, inappropriate sexual practices, or rape. The torment for which this hell is named involves iron mountains which slam together to crush the sexually indiscreet into jelly. Another torment involves seeing a sexually irresistible man or woman beckoning one from the top of a tree. When the hell-dweller climbs to the top they are cut to pieces by the hot iron leaves which point downward against the climber. Upon reaching the top, the beloved is no longer there but beckons from the bottom of the tree as the sharp blazing iron leaves turn to point upwards. This cycle repeats itself indefinitely. Other torments involve hooks and the pouring of molten copper into various orifices until they bore their way out of various other orifices.

Raurava (Howling): This hell is reserved for those who abuse alcohol and other intoxicants and/or those who cause others to use and abuse intoxicants. It is said that substance abuser fall into this hell laughing because they are still too drunk to realize what is going to happen to them. Many of the torments here involve the drinking of molten copper. Other torments involve being pounded into jelly by an iron pestle. Needless to say, these tortures cause the howling for which this hell is named.

Maharaurava (Great Howling): This hell is reserved for liars, slanderers, those who abused others or spread stories to cause dissension and all other manner of verbal wrongdoing. In one region of this hell, demons stretch out the evildoers tongue out for several miles. Then they dig a trench in the tongue and fill it with molten copper. The rest of the tongue is then devoured by worms. In another punishment, a multitude of snakes are hatched within the body of the evildoer which then proceed eat their way out. These and many other tortures are the cause of the great howling for which this hell is named.

Tapana (Hot): This hell is for those who not only commit the misdeeds punished in the former hells, but who also cling to or even propagate false views which they use to rationalize their actions. Various extreme views and false practices are punished here with flames and molten copper, crocodiles, swarms of hornets, spears, swords, axes, and even flowers with diamond thorns and many other instruments of tortures. The heat here is said to be as much as 16 times greater than in the previous hells.

Pratapana (Very Hot): This hell is reserved for those who violated religion or family in order to gratify their sexual desires. This hell is ten times hotter than even the previous Tapana or Hot Hell. This hell includes various lakes of fire, poisonous insects which bite and sting as they invade various orifices, and fierce demons with swollen back bellies, hooked fangs, and blazing eyes who administer the many tortures to be found here.

Avichi (Uninterrupted): This hell is reserved for those who deliberately and coldbloodedly commit one or more of the most heinous acts of all - the murder of one's father or mother, the murder of an arhat, the harming of a Buddha (who can not be murdered), and creating a schism in the Sangha. These crimes are not just acts of violence, but a rejection of the very basis of morality and liberation from suffering. Those who commit such acts fall into the flames upside down for 2,000 years. The tortures here are so great and the flames so hot that the other hells seem like heavens in comparison. This hell is often described as a gargantuan red hot iron cube with two doors. One door opens in order to entice the evildoers to run across the cube in a desperate race to get out but it always shuts just as they arrive. Then the other door opens and the process repeats itself without interruption.

"In the Abhidharmakosha, each of the eight hot hells has an entrance in each of its four sides, each entrance leading into four kinds of sub-hell (utsada), making a total of 128 sub-hells (see figure 16). The four kinds are Kukula ('heated by burning chaff'), Kunapa ('corpses and dung'), Ksuramarga ('razor road'), and Nadi Vaitarani ('burning hell').

"In the first sub-hell, evildoers are forced to walk over hot ash. In the second they wallow in a quagmire of corpses and excrement, and maggots infest their skin chewing the bone to the marrow. The third is of three kinds: (a) the razor road, where evildoers have to walk along a road of upward-facing sword blades; (b) the razor forest, where leaves like blades fall when the wind blows, nearly severing the evildoer's arms and legs, which are then pulled off and eaten by dogs with black spots; and (c) the forest of blades, where evildoers are forced at sword point to climb trees whose trunks are embedded with blades, so that if they try to climb up or down they are impaled, but if they stop hordes of ravens peck out and eat their eyes. The fourth is a hell in the form of a long, narrow moat or river of boiling water; evildoers are thrown in, tossed up to the surface, and drawn under again by the currents like grains of rice. If they try to pull themselves out by putting their hands on the bank, guards sweep off their hands with swords and spears." (Buddhist Cosmology, pp. 51-2)

Next to the eight hot hells and their sub-hells are the eight cold hells, bringing the total number of hells up to 144. There is no specific correlation between the different cold hells and specific actions as there are with the eight hot hells. However, one might imagine that the cold hells deal with coldheartedness and sins of omission rather than sins of commission. Which is to say that one receives the recompense for refusing to do that which ought to be done rather than with the act of doing what ought not to be done. These cold hells are:

Arbuda (Blistering): In this hell the cold is so intense that it raises blisters or chilblains.

Nirarbuda (Broken Blisters): In this hell it is even colder and the blisters break open.

Atata: This hell is named after the sound of chattering teeth.

Hahava: This hell is named after the sound made by those shivering in the cold.

Huhuva: This hell is also named after the sound made by those shivering in the cold.

Utpala (Blue Lotus): This hell is so cold that the skin of the evildoers here turns blue and splits open like the petals of a blue lotus.

Padma (Red Lotus): In this hell the skin splits open like a blood red lotus.

Mahapadma (Deep Red Lotus): In this hell the skin splits open like a deep red lotus.

The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts

"Hungry spirits are the dead; the Sanskrit term preta means 'the departed.' The idea of hunger was added later to express the miserable condition in which the dead spirits were thought to exist. The original abode of these spirits lies 500 yojanas beneath Jambudvipa. Among the dead spirits, some are virtuous and some are not. The former pass a pleasant life in groves and trees or escape this nether world to sport in heavenly palaces. The latter live in holes filled with urine and feces, and suffer from continuous hunger. The typical description of a hungry spirit without virtue is a being with a distended stomach and a long, thin neck like a needle who, though starving, cannot ingest anything through the throat. Some are shown managing to catch moths by attracting them to flames from their mouths, and others appear eating excrement, snivel, pus, and scum." (Buddhist Cosmology, p. 54)

"There are three classes of hungry ghosts (preta, gaki), each with three sub-classes. Firstly, there are the ghosts with no possessions, divided into 'torch-mouthed ghosts', who breath flames; 'needle-throated ghosts', who have needle-thin throats and distended bellies; and 'ghosts with foul-smelling mouths'. Secondly, there are ghosts with a few possessions, divided into 'needle-haired ghosts', whose bodies are covered with hairs like needles; 'ghosts with foul smelling hair'; and 'ghosts with large ulcers'. Thirdly, there are the 'ghosts with many possessions', divided into 'ghosts who receive discards', who live on food thrown away after being used as offerings; 'ghosts who receive lost food', who live on the food left by the wayside by travelers; and 'powerful ghosts', such as yakshas (yasha), pisacas (bishaja) and rakshasas (rasetsu)." (pp. 99-100, The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon Buddhism)

As the above passage states, the world of hungry ghosts includes the flesh-eating rakshasas who supposedly lived in Sri Lanka; the grave haunting vampires known as pisacas, and the powerful wilderness spirits known as yakshas. The rakshasas and the yakshas are especially important in Buddhism and may in fact be synonymous or at least overlapping terms. The rakshasa may be particularly monstrous yakshas, or the yakshas may be rakshasas who have pledged to serve the devas and become guardians of the forests, villages, and towns.

The Realm of Animals

Animals are of course very familiar to us. They inhabit the seas, the land, and the air. The world of animals consists of all those creatures who are ruled by instinct. They do not show any forethought but live only for immediate gratification of their desires. In addition, with few exceptions, they live by the rule of the stronger over the weaker. This is the world of predator and prey, territoriality, and rule by the alpha male.

The Buddhist world of animals also encompasses the very powerful supernatural beings like the nagas, the garudas, the kimnaras, the gandharvas and the mahoragas that inhabit many of the gardens and palaces of heaven. These beings, together with the devas, the yakshas, and the asuras, are known collectively as the eight kinds of non-human beings who protect the Dharma. The nagas are dragons who live in the oceans, rivers, and clouds and who control the rains and waters. The garudas are giant birds who are always hunting for the nagas. The kimnaras are half-human half-animal musicians of the heavenly realms. The gandharvas are also heavenly musicians who are sometimes classed with these other divine "animals" though they are themselves fully human in form. The mahoragas are giant snakes.

The Realm of the Fighting Demons

The fighting demons are the asuras who dwell in a huge city beneath the ocean ruled by the Asura King Rahula. The asura are immensely strong and quarrelsome. They are jealous of Indra and the gods who dwell at the summit of Mt. Sumeru and are constantly plotting against them and on occasion they even try to scale Mt. Sumeru to attack the gods. Indra, the four heavenly kings, and the hosts of heaven always defeat them however.

The Realm of Human Beings

Human beings of various kinds live on the four continents which surround Mt. Sumeru. The southern continent is called Jambudvipa, which is the name of a mythical rose-apple tree that is supposed to grow there. Jambudvipa is shaped like the Indian sub-continent and has two small islands off the tip, one of which corresponds to Sri Lanka. Jambudvipa, of course, corresponds to India which was the entire known world to those who created the Mt. Sumeru cosmology.

West of Mt. Sumeru is the continent called Aparagodaniya. Here, the inhabitants herd cattle and live very comfortable lives in this rich land. This continent is circular and also has two islands.

East of Mt. Sumeru is the continent called Purvavideha. The people who live here are very gentle, refined, and have a noble bearing. This continent is shaped like a half moon and has two islands.

North of Mt. Sumeru is the continent called Uttarakuru. The people here are extremely virtuous and live for a thousand years. This continent is very much like the Garden of Eden in that there is no crime, or disease, or violence and food is easily attainable without work. It is shaped like a square and has two islands.

The Realm of the Gods

There are three major divisions to the god realms. The first six heavens are still a part of the realm of desire along with the previous five worlds. The next 18 heavens are collectively known as the realm of form. The last four heavens make up the realm of formlessness. The realm of desire, from the hells to the lower heavens, consists of all those realms wherein the beings who live in them are motivated by sensual desires and in turn undergo sensual experiences of varying degrees of pleasure or pain. The following are the six heavens of the realm of desire:

Catur-maharaja-kayikah Heaven (Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings): Halfway up Mt. Sumeru is a terrace upon which dwell the Four Heavenly Kings. It is also at this height that the sun and moon are said to circle Mt. Sumeru in their chariots. Beneath this terrace are three more terraces where the servants and armies of the Four Heavenly Kings live and guard the slopes of Mt. Sumeru from the depredations of the ashuras. The full range of sensual pleasures are enjoyed here, though children are not born but rather appear fully formed at the age of five.

Trayatrimsha (Heaven of the Thirty-three gods): At the summit of Mt. Sumeru are the palaces and gardens of Indra and the rest of the thirty-three gods. This celestial city is called Lovely View and in the center is the Palace of Victory which belongs to Indra. The buildings of this city are all made of gold, and the ground is soft like cotton. Four major gardens and four peaks surround the central palace. Eight deities dwell on each of these peaks. As in the previous heaven, all sensual pleasures are enjoyed here. Children appear miraculously at the age of six.

The next four heavens are each just as large as the entire Heaven of the Thirty-three. They are located far above one another over the peak of Mt. Sumeru in order of increasing refinement.

Yama (Heaven of Time): Far above the summit of Mt. Sumeru is the palace of King Yama and his attendants. King Yama is supposed to have been the first mortal man to have died, and for this reason he is in charge of the newly deceased. He is also the chief magistrate of the underworld - consisting of the hells and the world of the hungry ghosts where he holds his court. The sensual pleasures here are more refined than in the lower heavens, and an embrace is all that is needed to conceive children. The children appear miraculously at the age of seven.

Tushita (Heaven of Contentment): This heaven is far above the previous heaven. It's name means "contentment."This is the heaven where bodhisattvas are reborn just before their final birth as a buddha. It is currently the residence of Maitreya Bodhisattva. Children are conceived through simply holding hands, and the children miraculously appear at the age of eight.

Nirmana-rati (Heaven of Joy in Transformations): This heaven is also far above it's predecessor. This is the heaven of those who create their own pleasure. Children are conceived when those who live here simply smile upon one another and they appear at the age of nine.

Para-nirmita-vasavartin (Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Transformation by Others): This heaven is also far above it's predecessor. This heaven is for those who are able to control and enjoy that which is created by others. In other words, all things are provided for them, and the beings who live here have great influence over those who dwell in the lower heavens. It is in this heaven that Mara, the Devil King of the Sixth Heaven, makes his home. Children are conceived here through a mere glance, and they appear at the age of ten.

The realm of form is much more refined the heavens in this realm correspond to different degrees of mental concentration and stability which are called the "dhyanas." The four dhyanas are brought about through meditation and all are characterized by the temporary suppression of the five hindrances of sensual desire, ill-will, sloth-and-torpor, restlessness-and-worry, and doubt. The four dhyanas are distinguished by different degrees of mental stability and each is more subtle and refined than the one before. The heavens of the realm of form are reached by those who have not only cultivated good conduct but were also able to abide in the dhyanas through meditation. Each of these heavens is spatially located above the others.

The first three heavens of the realm of form are associated with first dhyana. The first dhyana is characterized by thinking of and thinking about the subject of meditation, the joy of having achieved the state of meditative absorption, a sense of happy abiding in the state of meditative absorption, and one-pointedness of mind. These heavens are much larger than the previous heavens, and are the same diameter as the Mt. Sumeru world with it's four continents.

Brahma-parisadya (Brahma Assembly): This heaven is the residence of the followers of Brahma.

Brahma-purohita (Brahma Officials): This heaven is where Brahma's officials reside.

Maha Brahma (Great Brahma): This heaven is the residence of Great Brahma.

The next three heavens of the realm of form are associated with second dhyana. The second dhyana is characterized by the sublimation of discursive thought, and the presence of the joy of having achieved the state of meditative absorption, a sense of happy abiding in the state of meditative absorption, and one-pointedness of mind. These heavens are the size of a thousand Mt. Sumeru worlds.

Parittabha (Little Light)

Aparamanabha (Unlimited Light)

Abhasvara (Sound of Light): In this heaven, light actually becomes the main mode of communication.

The next three heavens of the realm of form are associated with third dhyana. The third dhyana is characterized by the sublimation of all but serene happy abiding in the state of meditative absorption and one-pointedness of mind. These heavens are the size of a million Mt. Sumeru worlds.

Parittasubha (Little Purity)

Apramanasubha (Unlimited Purity)

Subhakrtsna (Universal Purity)

The next nine heavens of the realm of form are associated with the fourth dhyana. The fourth dhyana is characterized by the the transcendence of all conceptual thoughts, and also pleasure and pain. In their place is a sense of perfect equanimity and one-pointedness of mind. These heavens are the size of a billion Mt. Sumeru worlds.

Anabhraka (Cloudless)

Punyaprasava (Blessed Rebirth)

Brhatphala (Fruitfulness)

Asajnisatva (No-Thought): This heaven is the destination of those who believe that simply eliminating conscious thought itself is nirvana. While it is a very exalted state, it is still only temporary and can be considered a spiritual dead-end.

The last five of the nine heavens of the fourth dhyana are also known as the Pure Abodes, because they are where those who have attained the stage of Non-returner are reborn and where they attain nirvana.

Abriha (Devoid of Troubles)

Atapa (Free from Heat)

Sudrisha (Beautiful Activity)

Sudarshana (Beautiful Appearance)

Akanistha (Highest): This is the residence of Ishvara, the Freedom God, who is sometimes known as Maheshvara, the Great Freedom God.

The realm of formlessness is much more ephemeral and is the result of the attainment of states of consciousness that transcend material existence altogether.

Space: This heaven corresponds to the state of mental concentration on the vastness of space.

Consciousness: This heaven corresponds to the state of mental concentration on the vastness of conscious awareness itself.

Nothingness: This heaven corresponds to the state of mental concentration which has transcended all particular things.

Neither-perception-nor-non-pereception: This heaven corresponds to the state of mental concentration which has transcended perception and non-perception altogether.

Eight Kinds of Supernatural Beings

In addition to the geography of the Mt. Sumeru world system and the six worlds which compose it, one should know something about the population. In addition to human beings and animals, there are many kinds of gods, demons, and other supernatural creatures. The major ones are included in the group called the eight kinds of supernatural beings who protect and revere the Dharma. These are:

1. Devas or gods: This category includes all those who live in the heavenly realms, from the celestial courtiers, the apsaras, to the Four Heavenly Kings, Indra, Brahma, and all the other devas, or shining ones. The major devas and groups of devas who inhabit the heavenly realms are:

Apsaras: These are the attendants, retainers, entertainers, and celestial nymphs who populate the heavenly palaces.

The Four Heavenly Kings: These are the guardians who defend the world and the four sides of Mt. Sumeru from the fighting demons. They are: Vaishravana - Heavenly King of the North; Dhritarashtra - Heavenly King of the East; Virudhaka - Heavenly King of the South; and Virupaksha - Heavenly King of the West. They dwell in the Heaven of the Four Heavenly Kings, and from there command their armies under the direction of Indra.

The Thirty-three Gods of the Heaven of the Thirty-three: According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (cited in The Myths and Gods of India by Alain Danielou) there are thirty-three gods and these consist of their ruler, Indra; the lord of creation, Prajapati; the eight spheres-of-existence, the Vasus; the eleven divinities-of-life, the Rudras; and the twelve sovereign-principles, the Adityas.

The Vasus rule the elements of the earthly realm. Their name means "dwellings" because they rule the dwelling places of all that exists. Danielou lists them as follows:

"The eight Vasus include the earthly-sphere (prthiva) and the fiery energy which dwells in it, Agni; the sphere-of-space (antariksa) and the fiery energy which dwells in it, Vayu, the Wind; the heavenly-sphere (dyaus) and the fiery energy which dwells in it, the Sun (Surya); then comes the sphere-of-constellations (naksatra) and the gentle energy which dwells in it, the Moon or Offering (Soma). " (The Myths and Gods of India, pp. 85-86)

The Rudras rule the life-forces and their dynamism keeps the world in motion and change. Their name means "howlers" and they are called this because of the suffering that is caused when the life forces withdraw upon death. They are fearsome warlike deities and are aspects of the god Shiva. According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, there are ten Rudras corresponding to the ten life-forces of human beings and an eleventh corresponding to the self or atman. Danielou states: "Eight of the Rudras are equivalents to eight of the auspicious manifestations of Siva (asta-murti); the others represent the fearful forms of fire. The first can be propitiated through worship; man should keep aloof from the others." (Ibid, p.103). The eleven could also possibly be the five deities who are the components of Siva, the five deities who are the five faces of Siva, and the self.

The Adityas rule the intellect and the celestial sphere. They are the sons of Aditi, the Primordial-Vastness. Danielou lists them as: "The twelve-sovereign principles are generally given as Mitra (solidarity), Varuna (fate), Aryaman (chivalry), Daksa (ritual skill), Bhaga (the inherited share), Amsa (the god's given share), Tvastr (craftsmanship), Savitr (the magic power of words), Pusan (prosperity), Sakra (courage), Vivasvat (social laws), and Visnu (cosmic law)." (Ibid, p. 115)

Yama: The first human being to have passed away was Yama, and he then became the first ancestor and eventually the ruler and judge of the dead. Though he presides over the worlds of the hells and hungry ghosts, his palace is in the Heaven of Time.

Mara: The "murderer" who rules over the realm of desire from the Heaven of Free Enjoyment of Transformation by Others, the sixth and highest heaven of the realm of desire.

Maha Brahma: The Great Brahma who dwells in the Maha Brahma Heaven dwells in the realm of form and transcends the realm of desire and the machinations of Mara, but there is still a subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) egotism which keeps him bound to the six worlds of rebirth. The Great Brahma believes himself to be the omnipotent creator of the world.

Ishvara: The Freedom God who dwells in the Highest Heaven. Sometimes he is called Maheshvara, the Great Freedom God. He is the highest and most sublime of the devas.

2. Ashuras or fighting demons: These are the anti-gods who fight against the devas out of pride and envy.

3. Nagas or dragons: These are the serpents or dragons who live in the ocean and rule over the rain, rivers, and tides. They also guard the hidden treasures of the world. They are classified as supernatural animals.

4. Gandharvas: These are the court musicians of the heavenly realms. They are classified as supernatural animals.

5. Kimnaras: These are court singers and dancers. The men are said to have horse heads and sing, while the women are fully human in form and dance. Kimnaras are also portrayed as birds with human heads and torsos. They are classified as supernatural animals.

6. Garudas: These are either giant birds who hunt and eat the nagas, or they are humanoids with wings and the heads of birds. They often serve as mounts for the devas. They are classified as supernatural animals.

7. Mahoragas: These are also celestial musicians. They are either giant snakes or humanoids with the heads of snakes. They are classified as supernatural animals.

8. Yakshas: The Yakshas are the spirits of the forests, fields, villages, and towns. They are also serve as the armed forces of the Heavenly King Vaishravana. This last type of supernatural being is actually part of a much larger category, the rakshasas, who are themselves a powerful type of hungry ghost. The Matrix and Diamond World Mandalas in Shingon Buddhism states: "The sutras of both exoteric and Esoteric Buddhism describe three types of Raksasas: firstly, the demons who belong to the company of Yaksas; secondly, the unbelievers, who are the enemies of the gods; and thirdly, those who haunt cemetaries at night and hinder the offerings of the sacrifice, the evil demons who raised up corpses and capture and eat men." (p. 492)

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2002.

Lotus World by Rev. Ryuei
NewLotus World: an Illustrated Guide to the GohonzonNew
This portion of Nichiren's Coffeehouse was converted into a book to celebrate their 25th anniversary by the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose and the Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick in 2005. Ryuei updated the text and it was illustrated by Matt Miller and Rika Williams. It is now the most comprehensive guidebook to Nichiren's Lotus Sutra Mandala in the English language and includes a framable 8.5x11 Pictoral Gohonzon of the Great Mandala of the Nichiren School!

If you have any questions, please Email Ryuei. To order this gem of a book, mail your check or money order for $20 (incl. shipping) to the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose.

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Table of Contents: The Odaimoku | The Buddhas | Four Bodhisattvas | Provisional Bodhisattvas | Esoteric Deities | The Shravaka Disciples | Vedic Deities | Four Heavenly Kings | More Devas... | Shinto Deities | Lineage Chart | Vedic Cosmology | Bibliography | GohonzonShu

More Articles by Ryuei
Odaimoku as Hua-t'ou
What is the Gohonzon?
Life of Nichiren Shonin
History of the Hokke-shu
Building the Treasure Tower
The Sole Efficacy of Odaimoku
Nam or Namu? Does it really matter?
Map of the Shutei Mandala
1. Dai Jikoku Tenno
2. Namu Muhengyo Bosatsu
3. Namu Jogyo Bosatsu
4. Namu Taho Nyorai
5. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
6. Namu Shakyamuni Buddha
7. Namu Jyogyo Bosatsu
8. Namu Anryugyo Bosatsu
9. Dai Bishamon Tenno
10. Fudo Myo-o
11. Dai Nittenno (Sun)
12. Dairokuten Ma-o (Mara)
13. Dai Bontenno (Brahma)
14. Namu Sharihotsu Sonja
15. Namu Yaku-o Bosatsu
16. Namu Monjushiri Bosatsu
17. Namu Fugen Bosatsu
18. Namu Miroku Bosatsu
19. Namu Dai Kasho Sonja
20. Shakudaijannin Dai-o (Indra)
21. Dai Gattenji (Moon)
22. Myojo Tenji (Stars)
23. Aizen Myo-o
24. Daibadatta
25. Ashura King
26. Wheel Turning King
27. King Ajatashatru
28. Naga-raja (Dragon King)
29. Kishimojin (Demon Mother)
30. Jurasetsunyo
31. Namu Tendai Daishi
32. Namu Ryuju Bosatsu
33. Namu Myoraku Daishi
34. Namu Dengyo Daishi
35. Dai Komoko Tenno
36. "This Great Mandara was
for the first time revealed in the
Jambudvipa 2,220 and some years
after the extinction of the Buddha."

37. Tensho Daijin
38. The signature of Nichiren
39. Hachiman Dai Bosatsu
40. Dai Zocho Tenno
41. The 3rd month of the 3rd year
of Koan, Kanoe-tatsu

CLICK HERE to see an enlarged image of the WHEEL OF BECOMING (Bhavachakra)
The Wheel of Becoming (Skt. Bhavachakra; view enlargement)
Bhavachakra artwork copyright by Ryuei. 2000.

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