Answers to Commonly Asked Questions About the New Nichikan Gohonzon
Q: The Nichikan Gohonzon now being conferred by the SGI does not have some of the characters that appear on the Gohonzon transcribed by Nittatsu or Nikken. Why? Does it affect one's prayer or benefits from chanting?
A: The Daishonin's purpose in inscribing the Gohonzon was to allow all people, through the power of their faith and practice, to develop the indestructible core of Buddhahood within their lives. The essence of the Gohonzon is, therefore, the inscription that embodies the powers of the Buddha and the Law, or "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren" written boldly down the center of the scroll.
This inscription is the enlightened life of Nichiren Daishonin; this is the heart of the Gohonzon. All other names on the Gohonzon, which indicate the mutual possession of the ten worlds, are secondary.
We might think that all Gohonzon are identical. But to the contrary, even Nichiren Daishonin did not always use the same names and figures when he inscribed various Gohonzon. For example, Devadatta only appears on about a third of the 120 extant Gohonzon the Daishonin inscribed from the time he was on Sado Island to just before his death in 1282.
The transient Bodhisattvas Fugen and Monju appear on only 65, and the Two Vehicles represented by Shariputra and Maudgalyayana are on only 63.
The characters that do not appear on the Nichikan Gohonzon include Devadatta, representing Hell; Ashura, representing Anger; and the Wheel-Turning Kings, representing Humanity. These characters are missing on about half of the Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin himself. After the Daishonin died, the successive high priests exercised their own judgment in deciding what names to include on the Gohonzon they transcribed.
The powers of faith and practice within each one of us are what tap the benefit of the Gohonzon and draw forth the power of the Buddha and the Law. As Nichiren Daishonin wrote in the oft-quoted passage, "The Gohonzon is found in faith alone" (MW-l, 213). It is interesting to note that the members who joined during the Soka Gakkai's postwar reconstruction and laid the early foundation for the SGI practiced to a Gohonzon also transcribed by Nichikan.
Q: What is the relationship between the Dai-Gohonzon, the Gohonzon enshrined at a community center or culture center and the Gohonzon in our homes?
A: The Buddhist principle of disbursement (bunshin santai) describes how a source retains its uniformity even as it branches outward, just as river flowing from a lake to the ocean contains the same water as the source. Similarly, today the Dai-Gohonzon is the source for tapping into our inherent Buddha nature and attaining absolute happiness.
The Gohonzon enshrined at SGI facilities and those in private homes also contain this same source. All Gohonzon derive from the Dai-Gohonzon and all represent the same potential to create change in our lives, depending on our faith and practice.
Q: Why are there different sizes of Gohonzon? I have heard the terms joju, okatagi, and omamori. What do they mean and do the different sizes have any significance in terms of the power to be derived from chanting to the different Gohonzon?
A: Joju (literally, "eternally dwelling") Gohonzon are those transcribed with the recipient's name in the margin.
Okatagi (literally, "woodblock") is a term used to differentiate those Gohonzon manufactured via a printing process from those written by hand.
Originally, of course, Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon by hand in sumi ink for each individual. Successive high priests have also transcribed the Gohonzon personally for each recipient. These personally inscribed Gohonzon are called joju Gohonzon. As more people began requesting the Gohonzon, eventually a woodblock printing process was employed. The woodblock was based on a Gohonzon transcribed either by the current or a previous high priest. These Gohonzon are called okatagi Gohonzon.
Although produced today using advanced printing techniques that allow sharper, more precise reproduction, the Gohonzon most members receive when they begin practicing are still called okatagi Gohonzon.
There is also a smaller Gohonzon, about the size of a large pendant, called an omamori (literally, "protection") Gohonzon. This Gohonzon is for use when traveling and is intended to encourage a person's faith when he or she is away from the Gohonzon at home for an extended period.
Eventually, these smaller Gohonzon will be available to anyone who requests one through the SGI organization.
The size of the Gohonzon is unimportant. The various sizes generally correspond to the size of the room in which it is enshrined, thus making it easier for members to chant to it. No matter the size, it is our faith in the Gohonzon that determines the benefit we gain from our practice.
Q: Why have the side inscriptions been omitted on the Nichikan Gohonzon?
A: The original Gohonzon transcribed by Nichikan contains the following side inscriptions: "The thirteenth day of the sixth month, the fifth year of Kyoho (1720)" and "Bestowed upon Daigyo Ajari Honsho-bo Nissho of Hon'nyo-zan Joen-ji temple of Kogusuri Village of Shimotsuke Province." Nissho was then the chief priest of Joen-ji.
It is an old tradition that a transcribing high priest write the date of transcription and the name of a recipient on the Gohonzon. But side inscriptions such as recipient names have no bearing upon the doctrinal significance of the Gohonzon and thus are not regarded as essential elements. Nowhere in the Daishonin's writings or transfer documents can we find a passage stating that the name of a recipient is necessary to signify the concept of the mutual possession of the ten worlds or as praise of the Gohonzon. Side inscriptions have nothing to do with the essential significance of the Gohonzon.
The 2nd high priest, Nikko Shonin, added the names of receiving priests or lay believers to some Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin. Regarding this, he states: "I have added the names of the recipients to extol them for the posterity."
The 59th high priest, Nichiko, comments as follows: "The side inscriptions of the names of recipients written on the object of worship are meant to praise their honorable names to the multitude of posterity as pioneers of kosen-rufu for their efforts to protect the Law." (Fuji Nikko Shonin Shoden [Detailed Biography of Nikko of the Fuji School]).
In other words, the side inscriptions of recipients' names were added to praise believers who remained steadfast in faith throughout their lives.
Since side inscriptions on the Gohonzon have no doctrinal significance, both the date of transcription and the name of the recipient on the Nichikan Gohonzon were not included in the reproduction. The Soka Gakkai never erased anything from an existing Gohonzon.
However, the priesthood has actually erased side inscriptions — ones that read "At the request of Daisaku Ikeda" — from the wooden Gohonzon enshrined at branch temples that were built and donated to the priesthood by the Soka Gakkai. That is an act that tramples on the noble spirit with which the previous high priest transcribed these Gohonzon.
Furthermore, some older and prestigious branch temples have many Gohonzon whose side inscriptions have been damaged or erased by accident or on purpose. According to the priesthood's journal Renge, the catalog of treasures kept at Josen-ji in Tokyo records that the names of the recipients of three Gohonzon transcribed by Nikko Shonin — dated respectively March 1, 1306, October 9, 1308, and October 13, 1314 — were erased and missing. And the name of a recipient of a Gohonzon by the 8th high priest, Nichiu — dated December 29, 1473 — was "cut off and missing."
Also, some Gohonzon transcribed by Nichiren Shoshu high priests contain side inscriptions such as: "To extol the magnificence of the emperor and to conquer Russia" from the period of the Russo-Japan War; or "To commemorate the grand coronation of the emperor."
At the Nishinoyama Hachiman Shinto shrine that stands in the vicinity of Taiseki-ji, a wooden Gohonzon transcribed by the 51st high priest, Nichiei, with the side inscriptions: "The guardian god of the Hachiman shrine, November 28, 1984," and "Bestowed upon the Shinto parish of Sakashita and Koyashiki villages in Fuji County," is enshrined. It should be noted that Nichiei transcribed this Gohonzon for the Shinto parish, not for the believers of the Daishonin's Buddhism.
In light of these historical records, can the priesthood still continue to assert that side inscriptions are an important, essential aspect of the Gohonzon?
When someone pointed out to Nikken that he forgot to write a part of the short inscription of praise on a Gohonzon he had transcribed, he responded, "As long as the recipient is unaware, pretend that you don't know." From Nikken's statement, it becomes clear that he is not one who is qualified to discuss the merit of side inscriptions on the Gohonzon.
Q: What about the claim that the Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai are counterfeit because they are not made by priests?
A: The Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai are not the Soka Gakkai's own invention. As already stated, in response to a proposal from Sendo Narita, chief priest of Joen-ji temple, the Soka Gakkai reproduced Nichikan's Gohonzon and made it available to its membership. Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai are okatagi Gohonzon (i.e., Gohonzon reproduced through a printing process) based upon a Gohonzon transcribed by Nichikan in 1720.
Also, the term priest (Jpn. so) in Buddhism derives from the Sanskrit word samgha, which indicates not individual priests, but a congregation of believers, both lay and clergy. In the time of Shakyamuni, the Buddhist order was itself highly valued, and this gathering of believers was considered one of the three treasures to be respected in Buddhism.
In his "Twenty-six Admonitions," Nikko Shonin, who is specifically regarded as the treasure of the priest in the Daishonin's Buddhism, states: "Until kosen-rufu is achieved, propagate the Law to the full extent of your ability without begrudging your life" (Gosho Zenshu, p. 1618). The Soka Gakkai has been dedicated to spreading the Daishonin's Buddhism exactly in accord with the spirit expressed here. In this sense, the Soka Gakkai is qualified-based on its significant role and function — to be regarded as the treasure of priesthood in the Daishonin's Buddhism at this time.
The Daishonin writes in "The True Object of Worship":
"Know this: in the time for shakubuku the Four Bodhasattvas appear as wise kings who rebuke and convert evil kings, and in the time for shoju they appear as priests to protect and spread true Buddhism."In "Kanjin no Honzon Sho Mondan" (Commentary on "The True Object of Worship"), High Priest Nichikan interprets "shakubuku by wise kings" to mean the kosen-rufu of substantiation, which he refers to as "the time in which kosen-rufu is achieved through positive relationships," or a time when people can readily form a connection with Buddhism. He also comments that "priests to protect and spread true Buddhism" means shakubuku based upon the entity of the Law, that is, the Gohonzon, and that "priests" here refers to Nichiren Daishonin himself.
The Soka Gakkai has been creating this "time in which kosen-rufu is achieved through positive relationships" through the efforts of many people practicing the Daishonin's Buddhism. The Soka Gakkai has been taking on the difficult task of spreading faith in the Gohonzon among the people to save them from the depths of suffering and unhappiness. The Soka Gakkai, therefore, should rightly be called a gathering of "wise kings," of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who received the Buddha's decree to spread Buddhism.
Regarding the first Soka Gakkai president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who died a martyr to protect the Law, High Priest Nichiko expressed appreciation for his efforts, stating that he "surpassed ordinary priests." Also the 65th high priest, Nichijun, gave his highest praise to President Makiguchi, saying, "Mr. Makiguchi, who was born an emissary of the Buddha, revealed his identity through the Lotus Sutra and lived up to it." Regarding the second president, Josei Toda, Nichijun said, "In accord with the significance of the five and seven characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, President Toda called forth 750,000 people on this earth." Furthermore, Nittatsu, the high priest previous to Nikken, recognized President Ikeda's role as a leader of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, stating, "Following in the footsteps of the Four [leaders of the] Bodhisattvas of the Earth, President Ikeda is advancing kosen-rufu as a general of shakubuku."
In light of the Daishonin's teachings, the words of the successive high priests and, most of all, the actual proof seen today in the global spread of the Daishonin's Buddhism, the Soka Gakkai has never been merely a group of lay believers belonging to Nichiren Shoshu, but a Buddhist order directly connected to the Daishonin.
Q: Is the faith of new SGI members diminished since they no longer receive gojukai (i.e., a ritual to accept Buddhist precepts) from Nichiren Shoshu priests?
A: "Precepts" in Buddhism are guidelines for Buddhist practitioners aimed at enabling them to "stem wrongdoing and curtail evil." "Bestowing the precepts" (Jpn. jukai) signifies a believer's acceptance of the Buddhist precepts upon converting to Buddhism. From the perspective of the recipient, then, the term jukai of gojukai indicates "accepting the precepts."
There is a well-known episode concerning acceptance of the Buddhist precepts involving Shakyamuni Buddha. When Shakyamuni first started to preach after having attained enlightenment, one priest among those who heard his sermon asked him to bestow the Buddhist precepts upon him, saying, "My teacher, let me be ordained under the World-Honored One and receive the precepts." To this, Shakyamuni replied, "Come, you, priest. The Law has been preached well. So practice the Law to eradicate your suffering." (Seikyo Shimbun, February 7, 1992).
In other words, the spirit behind accepting the Buddhist precepts lies in a practitioner's pledge to seek the Buddha's teaching and carry out Buddhist practice; the spirit behind bestowing the Buddhist precepts lies in the Buddha's compassion and his guidance in response to the practitioner's seeking spirit. Accepting or bestowing the Buddhist precepts required no complex rituals or ornate temple halls.
In the Mahayana precepts for Bodhisattvas, the emphasis was shifted from simply stemming one's own evil acts to a more active, positive attitude of striving to do good. In Mahayana Buddhism, a practitioner's acceptance of the Buddhist precepts was also regarded not as a condition to enter the Buddhist order, but as a means for the practitioner to be directly connected to the Buddha. It is because Mahayana Buddhism placed greatest emphasis on a believer's self-awareness as a Buddhist and his or her pledge to carry out the Buddhist practice.
Such emphasis is most clearly seen in one of the Bodhisattva precepts called "the acceptance of the precepts by pledging to oneself." The Yoraku Hongo Sutra states:
"After the Buddha's passing, if there is no teacher of the Law within a distance of a thousand miles, practitioners should accept the precepts by pledging to themselves before the statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, with their palms pressed together in reverence."Put simply, what matters most is one's pledge and resolve in accepting the precepts. Priests who bestow the precepts on practitioners serve merely as messengers to convey the Buddhist precepts or teachings on behalf of the Buddha. Priests of the Nikken sect, who are themselves bereft of the spirit contained in the Buddhist precepts, are not qualified to bestow the precepts upon anyone.
In "Teaching, Practice and Proof," the Daishonin states:
"The five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo, the heart of the essential teaching of the Lotus Sutra, contain all the benefits amassed by the beneficial practices and meritorious deeds of all the Buddhas throughout the past, present and future. Then, how can this phrase not include the benefits obtained by observing all of the Buddha's precepts? Once the practitioner embraces this perfectly-endowed mystic precept, he cannot break it, even if he should try. It is therefore called the precept of the diamond chalice."Here the Daishonin teaches us that since the Mystic Law is endowed with "the benefits obtained by observing all of the Buddha's precepts," once we embrace it, our lives become like a diamond chalice, eternally indestructible. Commenting on this passage from "Teaching, Practice and Proof," Nichijun, the 65th high priest, states:
"Once people embrace this mystic precept of Myoho-renge-kyo, their lives will be indestructible throughout past, present and future. In contrast, when people observe other precepts, their lives will be destroyed once they break the precepts."In the Latter Day of the Law, there is no precept for us to accept other than the Mystic Law. To take faith in and embrace the Mystic Law is to accept the precepts. From the viewpoint of the essential meaning of the Buddhist precepts in the Daishonin's Buddhism, it becomes obvious that believers do not receive benefit simply by attending a ritual to accept the precepts. There is no record that the Daishonin conducted any ritual to bestow the precepts other than in one instance, when he conducted a ceremony for Sairen-bo who had once received the ritual as a student priest of the Tendai school.
The priesthood started to conduct the gojukai, ceremony in 1937 in response to first President Makiguchi's suggestion. He proposed that new Gakkai members receive a ceremony to allow them to develop a clear awareness as practitioners of the Daishonin's Buddhism. Chairperson Satoru Izumi of the Soka Gakkai's Advisory Council, who began practicing under President Makiguchi, once said:
"Back in 1952, a Gakkai member went to Fukushima Prefecture for an activity and brought one prospective new member to a temple there for the gojukai ceremony. But the priest as at a loss, not knowing the words to conduct the gojukai ceremony. So that Gakkai member had to teach the priest how to conduct the ceremony."This clearly attests to how the priesthood's tradition of the gojukai ceremony developed in response to the Gakkai's great efforts to spread the Daishonin's
Also, although the priesthood claims the importance of a ritual to accept the precepts, Nikken himself has proven, through his lavish tastes and habits, to be a person who constantly breaks the precepts. As Nichiu states,
"Those who break the precepts and lack wisdom should not remain in high status."Q: Since the Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai are not mounted on a scroll, but part of the scroll itself; aren't they merely copies of the Gohonzon?
A: This is a claim the priesthood is making to attack the Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai for one-press production, that is, for the portion that contains the inscriptions and the scroll around it being made together one whole sheet of paper.
The essential element of the Gohonzon is the white portion with black lettering. The frame around it is merely an ornament. How the Gohonzon scroll is produced is of no consequence to the benefit we can receive from chanting to it.
As has been explained elsewhere in this pamphlet, the priesthood condemns the Gohonzon issued by the Soka Gakkai as being a "copy." But the Gohonzon conferred by the priesthood are also "copies." All Gohonzon conferred to new believers are reproduced by way of a printing press. Again, okatagi means "woodblock" and indicates Gohonzon reproduced through a printing process, [though actual woodblock prints stopped being produced decades ago].
All okatagi Gohonzon, whether produced by the head temple or the Gakkai, are copies. If all "copied" Gohonzon are counterfeit, then all okatagi Gohonzon, including ones based on Nikken's transcription and printed and issued by Taiseki-ji, must also be counterfeit.
The Soka Gakkai has been criticized for printing the main inscribed part of the Gohonzon on the same paper as the surrounding scroll. But until recently, the priesthood did not even bother to prepare the surrounding mount part. It was a matter left to each local temple or the individual recipient.
In the past, branch temples would buy unmounted Gohonzon, in quantities
of 100 sheets per bundle, from Hodoin temple where they were printed. Each
branch temple would then send these sheets to a mounter to have them mounted
on scrolls. Believers in outlying areas sometimes received unmounted Gohonzon
and had them mounted on the paper of their choice—with whatever material,
color or quality that they pleased.