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The Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings, commonly known as the Dai-Gohonzon (Japanese: 大御本尊 The Supreme (Great) Gohonzon), is a venerated calligraphic mandala image inscribed with Sanskrit and Chinese characters on a plank of Japanese camphorwood. The image is under the ownership and custody of the Nichiren Shōshū priesthood and is currently enshrined in the Shumidan high altar within the Hoando storagehouse building of Taiseki-ji.
According to the doctrinal beliefs of Nichiren Shōshū, the image was created by Nichiren Daishonin and is the supreme object of worship and veneration by the Nichiren Shoshu faithful. Unlike common Gohonzons enshrined by Nichiren Buddhists, the Dai-Gohonzon is not enshrined with Shikimi Japanese evergreen plants. Furthermore, the image is not exposed for ordinary public viewing except on major events deemed such by Nichiren Shoshu. Due to beliefs of its sacred nature, its "audience" is restricted to only believing Hokkeko pilgrims. The recitation of gongyo ritual is not directly performed to the mandala, rather the ritual of Gokaihi is directly offered instead.
On 7 November 2014, the president of Soka Gakkai Minoru Harada declared in SGI publication Seikyo Shimbun that the Dai-Gohonzon enshrined in Taisekiji Temple is no longer their main object of worship, a decision that came along with changes to their Gongyo prayers, which no longer mentioned any explicit prayers for the high priests of Nichiren Shōshū nor the Buddhist protection gods of Shoten Zenjin. 
Previously, the Dai-Gohonzon image was widely venerated among Soka Gakkai historical founding leaders and its members. After the excommunication of the Soka Gakkai International by Nichiren Shoshu on 28 November 1991, the devotion to the Dai-Gohonzon became less prominent due to the claim of ownership by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood along with the declined emphasis of Soka Gakkai on traditional Japanese Buddhist piety and religiosity.
The High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, or at times his proxy, offers the daylight prayers called Ushi-Tora Gongyo to the image daily at 2:30 AM via a specialized window inside the Dai-Kyakuden from a distanced area facing the Hoando building. The encounter between a believer and the image is highly discouraged as a tourist sightseeing event, but rather the ultimate fusion of a believer and his or her own Enlightenment. Among Gongyo prayers, the second recitation of the Lotus Sutra is offered and dedicated in honor of the Dai-Gohonzon. Out of the five authorised prayers by Nichiren Shoshu, the second silent prayer is considered the most auspicious and most significant.
The Japanese word Dai means "great" or "supreme" while Go-honzon means "sacred object of devotion." The Dai-Gohonzon is housed at the Hoando building located at the Nichiren Shoshu's Head Temple, Taiseki-ji.
In the past, the Dai-Gohonzon image was enshrined in the Great Kaidan hall as well the Gohozo treasury building of Taisekiji. In October 1972, the image was enshrined in the Shohondo building funded by Nichiren Shoshu members, Soka Gakkai members, Kempon Hokke Shu believers, and family relatives of Nichiren Shoshu temple priests. The building was demolished in 1998.
The image was removed from the Sho-Hondo on April 1998 and was temporarily stored in the Go-Hozo treasure house. The image is presently located in the Shumidan (Japanese: Mount Sumeru) high altar within the Hoando building of Taisekiji, which contains 5,004 reserved seats for Nichiren Shoshu members, 236 Tatami mats for priests, and a center chair for the High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu.
The Hoando building also boasts an advanced automatic metal door similar to an awning, while the Butsudan is manually opened but locked with a specialized toolbar preventing it from possible seismic, fire damage or criminal theft. Lay members are only permitted to enter the Hoando building in formal attire, with a validated ticket reservation obtained by a Koto leader, as each seat is always strictly accounted for.
The Dai Gohonzon is a wooden plank, composed of fragrant Japanese Camphorwood believed to be inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin and rendered into wood by Nippo Shonin. The image approximately measures 56.6" inches by 25.6" inches wide. It is coated in black Urushi with gilded characters composed of grounded 24k karat gold dust. On the bottom portion features the great Zo-han personal signature seal of Nichiren Shonin.
The image is notable for having two inscriptions, the words "Ya-Shiro-Kunishige-Hon-Mon-Kai-Dan-no-Hokke-shu" (Translation: Yashiro Kunishige, for the High Sanctuary of Essential Teachings of Image of Worship of the Lotus believers) and "Ichien-Bodai-So-Yo" which refers to the bestowal of this particular Gohonzon for the entire world and its benefit. The Soka Gakkai disputes the Ichien-bodai-Soyo inscription as either non-existent or forged by the Shoshu school.
The High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, or at times his proxy, offers the daylight prayers called Ushi-Tora Gongyo to the image in a distanced area at the Grand Reception Hall (Dai-kyakuden) daily at 2:30AM. At the Ushitora Gongyo conducted each midnight, the large bell are exactingly rung 68th times for each passed High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu. The encounter between a believer and the image is highly discouraged as a tourist sightseeing event, but rather the ultimate fusion of a believer and his or her own Enlightenment.
According to the doctrines of Nichiren Shoshu, the image was from the original Gohonzon made by Nichiren Daishonin himself and transferred into wood by Nippo Shonin, one of his disciples. Nippo underwent through immense fasting and prayer to the Dragon goddess Shichimen, who is the protective patroness of Yamanashi prefecture. The Dragon goddess answered his prayer by sending a log in a nearby river. Once stored in the Kuon-ji temple in Yamanashi Prefecture, the image was later carried by Nikko Shonin's disciple, Hyakken-bo to Taisekiji.
The priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu claims that due to the alleged superiority of the Dai-Gohonzon as its main object of veneration, it is not enshrined with Japanese Skimmia evergreen plants. In addition to this pious belief, the hierarchy believes that the Dai-Gohonzon will not be exposed for complete open public view until Kosen-rufu is achieved in the entire world, primarily referring to the beliefs of Nichiren Shoshu being the main dominant religion in the planet.
The twenty-sixth High Priest Nichikan Shonin declared in his treatise Kan-jin-no-Honzon-Sho (The Verified Object of Worship) the following regarding the image:
"The Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching, inscribed in the second year of Koan (1279), is the ultimate, the absolute, and the final cause of the Daishonin's advent. It is the greatest among the Three Great Secret Laws and the supreme object of worship in the entire world. (Mondan-shu, pp. 197) "
The Nichiren Shōshū school and for a while the Soka Gakkai organization before its 1991 excommunication, have supported the theory that Nichiren inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon on the twelfth day of the tenth month, 1279 (Japanese: Ko-an). Nichiren Shōshū adherents cite a passage in Nichiren's 'On Persecutions Befalling the Sage' that they assert supports the authenticity of the Dai-Gohonzon. The passage reads:
"The Buddha fulfilled the purpose of his advent in a little over forty years, the Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai took about thirty years, and the Great Teacher Dengyo, some twenty years. I have spoken repeatedly of the indescribable persecutions they suffered during those years. For me it took twenty-seven years, and the great persecutions I faced during this period are well known to you all."
The Second Silent Prayer
The second recitation of the Lotus Sutra is offered and dedicated in honor of the Dai-Gohonzon. Out of the five authorised Gongyo prayers by Nichiren Shoshu, the second silent prayer is considered the most auspicious and most significant, as stated by the following:
"I (name), express my sincere devotion to the Dai Gohonzon—the Soul of the Juryo Chapter of the Essential Teachings and the Supreme Law concealed within its depths, the fusion of the Realm of Original Infinite Law and the inherent Wisdom within the Buddha of Kuon Ganjo (Time Without Beginning), the manifestation of the Buddha of Intrinsic Perfect Wisdom—the Eternal Co–existence of the Ten Worlds, the entity of Ichi-nen-San-Zen, the Oneness of the Person and the Mystic Law, and the Supreme Object of Worship of the Most High Sanctuary. I also express my deep and heartfelt gratitude for its Beneficence, and pray that it's profound Benevolent Power may ever more widely prevail. " (Dai-Moku San-Sho 3x times. )
Account of the Fuji Branch
The Fuji Branch, sometimes referred to as the Fuji School, refers to the Nichiren Buddhist denominations stemming from Nichiren's disciple Nikkō. These schools believe that Nichiren inscribed the Dai Gohonzon, a Gohonzon unique to the Fuji Branch schools.
The Fuji Branch believes that in the autumn of 1279, a number of Nichiren's laypeople in the Fuji District were targeted by Gyōchi (行智), the chief priest of a temple where Nisshū (日秀), one of Nichiren's disciples, lived. The believers, uneducated peasant farmers from the village of Atsuhara, had come to help Nisshū with the harvest of his private rice crop. Gyōchi calls some local warriors to arrest the peasants, accusing them of illegally harvesting the rice. The peasants decide to defend themselves when the warriors arrive but were no match, and several were wounded; twenty were arrested and hauled off to Kamakura for trial. When they arrive, Hei no Saemon[who?] is waiting for them, and he attempts to intimidate the peasants into renouncing their faith — on pain of death if they do not, but in exchange for their freedom if they do. Despite repeated threats and even torture, they remain steadfast. Hei no Saemon has three beheaded, but the other 17 refuse to back down and he eventually frees them. The Fuji Branch believes that these events took place on 15 October 1279.
The Fuji Branch believes that Nichiren Daishōnin, observing from his disciples' reports, reveals the Gohonzon that he intended to fulfill the purpose of his advent in this world (出世の本懐: shusse no honkai). On 12 October 1279, he inscribes the Gohonzon known as the "Dai-Gohonzon," which – in contrast to other Gohonzon inscribed in this period – is intended for worship by all his disciples and believers, contemporary and future, rather than just the specific individual named on it.
Claims of forgery
Some skeptics and other religious groups claim that there is no existing letter from Nichiren Daishōnin claiming he inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon.
Most branches of non-Nichiren Shōshū Buddhism dispute this history by asserting that its inscription by Nichiren is not substantiated by any documentary evidence that can be attributed to Nichiren. Another issue brought forward by non-Nichiren Shoshu believers is that the first historical evidence to the Dai-Gonzon was not made before the 15th century during the tenure of 9th High Priest Nichiu. The Soka Gakkai, Nichiren Shū and Kempon Hokke — do not believe that the Daigohonzon is superior to other Gohonzons.
Former position of Soka Gakkai
Accordingly, in its one of major publications, Shakubuku-Kyo-Ten previously declared the following:
"There is no doubt that the true intention of Nichiren Daishonin was to establish the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the Essential Teaching of the second year of Ko’an (1279). This Gohonzon is the Gohonzon of the entire world. Nichiren Shoshu is the supreme and sole religion in the entire world."
Current position of Soka Gakkai
Today, the Soka Gakkai International asserts that a home-enshrined Gohonzon is equal in its significance and spiritual value as the Dai Gohonzon. In an effort to modernize Nichiren Buddhism, and move away from traditionalist Buddhist piety and religiosity that mixes Japanese folk traditions, the current SGI stance reads:
"The Gohonzon we pray to each day in our homes or at our SGI community centers is endowed with exactly the same power of the Law inherent in the Dai-Gohonzon, both reflecting our inherent Buddha nature. Those who assert that one must visit a particular place (i.e. High Sanctuary of Essential Teachings) to receive benefit are in effect turning on its head the very spirit of Nichiren Buddhism. The Daishonin’s teachings exist to relieve the suffering of, and bring happiness to, all people throughout the world."
On 8 November 2014, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada stated in the Soka Gakkai's daily newspaper, the Seikyo Shimbun:
"The Soka Gakkai no longer regards the Gohonzon that was inscribed in the second year of Koan , and is located at Taiseki-ji, now a center of slander of the Law, as the object to be accepted and upheld in terms of actual practice... All Gohonzon-script or character mandalas of the ten worlds inscribed by the Daishonin himself for humanity, as well as transcriptions thereof, are equally the object of devotion of the essential teaching."
The current SGI stance is that the power of the Gohonzon is not found in any external image, but through one's inner faith: "It is one’s faith in the Lotus Sutra, the Gohonzon, that brings forth Buddhahood in our lives." The same sentiment is echoed by using Nichiren's words: "Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself." from one of his significant writings, "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon".
The Dai-Honzon of Honmon Shoshu school
Aside from the Nichiren Shoshu school, the Fujisan Honmon Shoshu school also claim possession of a Nichiren-inscribed Dai Gohonzon called The "Dai-Honzon". The Dai-Honzon is the Object of Devotion of Fujisan school and it is enshrined at Hota Myohonji Temple. This dai mandala carries the description of “The Great Object of Worship to Save and Protect for Ten Thousand Years." and carries a signature of “Jogyo Nichiren “.
As for the authenticity of this Dai-Honzon, there is no mention of arguments among any of Nichiren schools questioning its validity. Neither the Dai Gohonzon at Taisekiji temple and the Dai Honzon at Hota Myohonji temple were mentioned in available Nichiren letters that are in existence.
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- The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Soka Gakkai, 1999 (available online here.)
- The Life of Nichiren Daishonin. Kirimura, Yasuji. NSIC, 1980
Note: NSIC, publisher of the foregoing the above work, is no longer connected with Nichiren Shoshu.
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- 聖教新聞の平成26年11月8日号の「創価学会の原田会長が大石寺の弘安2年御本尊受持対象否定を宣言」全文英訳 , (Seikyo Shimbun, 8 November 2014. page no.3)
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