Gohonzon means “object of devotion.” There are many forms of the gohonzon in Japanese Buddhism, depending on the sect — some are statues, calligraphic writings, paintings, mandalas and artistic interpretations. In Nichiren Buddhism, the gohonzon represents the Eternal Buddha who transmitted the Lotus Sutra to everyone, and is represented as a calligraphic mandala.

The gohonzon is a tool to help us focus our minds on the realization that we are all buddhas. It is a direct path to the Mystic Law of the universe, and by chanting to the gohonzon we are connected to the universe; in other words, we connect with the eternal all!  Pretty bad-ass stuff if I man say so myself, and I intend on sharing much more about this Mystic Law in future post, but, for now, just know that the gohonzon can help reel in our “monkey mind” and motivate us to concentrate on the dharma, and yes, a wishing stone of sort -- more on this later. 

Unless you know kanji characters, most people cannot read what is written on the gohonzon, so I've ended this post with a definition of each item on the gohonon, but note, you don't need to know what it means, for chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the gohonzon is all you need to know, as Nichiren stated in his conversation between a Sage and Unenlightened Man: "It is like the case of a baby being given milk to drink. Even though the baby may not understand the flavor of milk, the milk naturally nurtures the baby's growth....) and so, just chant to the gohonzon and get the understandings you need; however, if you are like me, you probably want to know what the characters mean, and here they are.

Down the middle is the odaimoku, which is the sacred title of the Lotus Sutra (Namu Myoho Renge Kyo), written in a stylized form with the lines extending out like sun rays. Nichiren’s signature is visible underneath. To the immediate left is Sakyamuni Buddha, and to the immediate right is Many Treasures Buddha. Next to them are the Four Bodhisattva Leaders from Underground, who are said to be an infinite number of bodhisattvas who emerged from a fissure in the ground, as mentioned in the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. Below them are many bodhisattvas, pratyekabuddhas (buddhas who achieved enlightenment without teachers or guides), and deities. The gohonzon also lists previous expounders of the Lotus Sutra, such as Tendai Daishi, Nagarjuna, Myoraku Daishi, and Dengyo Daishi. Included are two of Japan’s main deities: Tensho Daijin, the Shinto sun goddess, and Hachiman Great Bodhisattva, the god of war or the guardian deity.

Surrounding the four corners of the scroll are the four heavenly gods, representing each of the cardinal directions of the world. Finally, rounding out the outer-middle portion of the gohonzon are the vidyaraja (esoteric deities) with the Sanskrit symbol for Ragaraja in the middle left and the Sanskrit symbol for Acalanatha Vidyaraja in the middle right.

The following is the key to the accompanying diagram. The key gives the phoneticized original, English translation and Sanskrit of characters on the Gohonzon transcribed by Nichikan.

  1. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo
  2. Nichiren
  3. Zai gohan-This is Nichiren Daishonin's personal seal.
  4. Dai Bishamon-tenno-Great Heavenly King Vaishravana (Skt.), also called Tamon-ten (Hearer of Many Teachings).
  5. U kuyo sha fuku ka jugo-Those who make offerings will gain good fortune surpassing the ten honorable titles [of the Buddha. Note: In Buddhism, making offerings has a broad meaning; here it means to respect and praise.
  6. Namu Anryugyo Bosatsu-Bodhisattva Firmly Established Practices (Skt. Supratishthitacharitra). Note: The word namu is added to some names in the Gohonzon as a sign of great respect.
  7. Namu Jyogyo Bosatsu-Bodhisattva Pure Practices (Skt. Vishuddhacharitra).
  8. Namu Shakamuni-butsu-Shakyamuni Buddha.
  9. Namu Taho Nyorai-Many Treasures Thus Come One (Skt. Prabhutaratna Tathagata).
  10. Namu Jogyo Bosatsu-Bodhisattva Superior Practices (Skt. Vishishtacharitra).
  11. Namu Muhengyo Bosatsu-Bodhisattva Boundless Practices (Skt. Anantacharitra).
  12. Nyaku noran sha zu ha shichibun-Those who vex and trouble [the practitioners of the Law] will have their heads split into seven pieces.
  13. Dai Jikoku-tenno-Great Heavenly King Upholder of the Nation (Skt. Dhritarashtra).
  14. Aizen-myo'o-Wisdom King Craving-Filled (Skt. Ragaraja). Note: The name is written in Siddham, a medieval Sanskrit orthography.
  15. Dai Myojo-tenno-Great Heavenly King Stars, or the god of the stars.
  16. Dai Gattenno-Great Heavenly King Moon, or the god of the moon.
  17. Taishaku-tenno-Heavenly King Shakra (also known as Heavenly King Indra).

  1. Dai Bontenno-Great Heavenly King Brahma.
  2. Dai Rokuten no Mao-Devil King of the Sixth Heaven.
  3. Dai Nittenno-Great Heavenly King Sun, or the god of the sun.
  4. Fudo-myo'o-Wisdom King Immovable (Skt. Achala). Note: The name is written in Siddham, a medieval Sanskrit orthography.
  5. Hachi Dairyuo-Eight Great Dragon Kings.
  6. Dengyo Daishi-Great Teacher Dengyo.
  7. Jurasetsunyo-Ten Demon Daughters (Skt. Rakshasi).
  8. Kishimojin-Mother of Demon Children (Skt. Hariti).
  9. Tendai Daishi-Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai.
  10. Dai Zojo-tenno-Great Heavenly King Increase and Growth (Skt. Virudhaka).
  11. Hachiman Dai Bosatsu-Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.
  12. Kore o shosha shi tatematsuru-I respectfully transcribed this.
  13. Nichikan, personal seal-Signature of the high priest who transcribed this Gohonzon, in this case, Nichikan, consisting of his name and personal seal.
  14. Tensho-daijin-Sun Goddess.
  15. Butsumetsugo ni-sen ni-hyaku san-ju yo nen no aida ichienbudai no uchi mizou no daimandara nari-Never in 2,230-some years since the passing of the Buddha has this great mandala appeared in the world.
  16. Dai Komoku-tenno-Great Heavenly King Wide-Eyed (Skt. Virupaksha).
  17. Kyoho go-nen roku-gatsu jusan-nichi-The 13th day of the sixth month in the fifth year of Kyoho [1720], cyclical sign kanoe-ne.

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