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An example of a Moji Gohonzon in the form of Kakejiku scroll, believed to be inscribed by Nichiren at his deathbed, oftentimes issued, manufactured, distributed and at times sold by the Nichiren Shu sect.
An example of Butsuzo Gohonzon in the Pure Land tradition featuring the Amida Buddha.

A Gohonzon is the main object of worship and veneration in most Japanese Buddhist sects[1][2] while in mainstream Japanese culture and religious lexicon, a Go-Honzon refers to any tangible object of devotion within the scope of Buddhism in Japan,[3] whether a statue or set of statues, a painted scroll, an ancestry Ihai (spirit tablet), deceased ashes, representing ones ancestors, an elemental substance used in a ceremony, or some other religious object that is venerated by the Buddhist faithful.[4]

In mainstream English lexicography, a Gohonzon is accordingly referred to as the calligraphic scroll to which devotional chanting is directed in Nichiren Buddhism.[5][6][7] Linguistically, the word "honzon" is a main object of worship which may take the form of a scroll or statuary [8] and "go" is an honorific prefix.[9] "Gohonzon" has been translated in various different ways by differing Nichiren sects: "object of devotion" (Soka Gakkai),[10] "object of worship" (Nichiren Shoshu),[11] or "Supreme Venerable" (Nichiren-shū).[12]

The gohonzon falls within the category of Kakejiku Gohonzon paper scrolls also sometimes known as a moji-mandara (文字曼荼羅 "script mandala" or "mandala written with characters"). When the Gohonzon is in the form of a pigmented statue, it is referred to as Butsuzo Gohonzon. The Gohonzon is oftentimes, though not always, enshrined within a butsudan.

In Nichiren Buddhism[edit]

Early photograph of the Dai-Gohonzon at Taisekiji, allegedly created by Nichiren in the 13th century. Printed in Kumada Ijō's book Nichiren Shōnin, 8th edition, page 375, published in 1913.

The Moji-mandala gohonzon, or the "Mandala gohonzon" (曼荼羅御本尊), is the primary object of devotion in Nichiren Shū and some other Nichiren schools, and the exclusive object of veneration in the Nichiren Shōshū branch and formerly affiliated groups such as Kenshōkai, Shōshinkai and Soka Gakkai.[citation needed]


Nichiren-school gohonzons feature traditional kanji characters and two Siddhaṃ scripts intended to express Nichiren's inner enlightenment. Most prominent and common to all such gohonzons is the phrase Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō—the primary mantra in Nichiren Buddhism—written down the center. This is called the daimoku (題目) or shudai (主題, "title"), around which the names of various Buddhas, bodhisattvas, persons of the Two Vehicles, personages representing the Ten Worlds, and Buddhist and indigenous-Japanese deities are arranged hierarchically. The names of deities believed to protect the Buddha land, called the Four Heavenly Kings (Bishamonten, Jikokuten, Kōmokuten, and Zōjōten), further occupy the four corners, and Sanskrit characters depicting Aizen Myō-ō and Fudō Myō-ō are situated along the left and right outer edges. Each of these names represents some aspect of the Buddha's enlightenment or an important Buddhist concept.[13]

Nichiren Buddhist gohonzons are initially inscribed in ink on paper and are usually kept in the form of a hanging paper scroll. In some schools, the inscription of gohonzons intended for long-term enshrinement in temples called Joju Gohonzon and is often transferred to a wooden tablet into which the inscription is carved by a skilled artisan. The tablets are coated with black urushi and the engraved characters gilded. Gohonzons are almost always dated and have a dedication, sometimes naming the person for whom or purpose for which they were inscribed or even the person who asked for their inscription. The most notable of this is the Dai-Gohonzon of Nichiren Shoshu, to which similar Gohonzons in this format is enshrined within their respective temples.[citation needed]


The first gohonzons of this sort were inscribed by Nichiren[14] during his exile on Sado between late 1271 and early 1274. This follows the attempted and failed execution of him at Tatsunokuchi Beach in 1271. In various letters he referred to this event as his "casting off the transient and revealing the true" (Jpn hosshaku-kempon), at which time he claimed to have discarded his transient status and revealed his essential identity as the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.[15] According to Ikeda, Nichiren's intent in manifesting the Gohonzon was to allow people to connect directly with the Law so they, too, could discard the transient and reveal their essential enlightened selves.[16]:103

During his exile in Sado Island (1271-1274) Nichiren wrote two treatises explaining the significance of the object of devotion from the theoretical perspectives of the Person (The Opening of the Eyes) and the Law (The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind).[17]:109[18]:111 Nichiren wrote additional letters to his followers bestowing Gohonzon to them and further explaining their significance: "Letter to Misawa," "Reply to Kyo'o," "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon," and "On the Treasure Tower."[19]

Gohonzons inscribed by Nichiren's successors differ somewhat depending on the school because of differences in interpretation of the significance of the gohonzon. For instance, in the Nichiren Shū school, the priest who inscribes a gohonzon puts his own name underneath the daimoku or the phrase "Nichiren, Zai-Gohan" is written directly below the gohonzon with "respectfully transcribed by" to the left of the characters for Nichiren, whereas in the Nichiren Shōshū school, "Nichiren" appears directly underneath the daimoku. In this case, the transcribing high priest signs his name, preceded by the words "respectfully transcribed by," to the left of the characters for Nichiren.[citation needed]

In Nichiren Shōshū, only the high priest has the final authority to inscribe gohonzons, which are transcriptions of the Dai Gohonzon, a specific gohonzon that Nichiren is believed to have inscribed on the 12 October 1279. The Dai-Gohonzon has Nichiren's signature directly beneath the daimoku and is considered to be the physical embodiment of Nichiren's enlightenment and his life as the True Buddha, as well as the ultimate purpose of his advent in this world. This interpretation of the gohonzon's significance distinguishes Nichiren Shōshū from other branches of Nichiren Buddhism.[citation needed]

Pious beliefs concerning the origin of mandalas and devotional statues[edit]

All schools of Buddhism accept that the Dharma, being the Buddha's teachings about life, is the path leading to enlightenment. In order to follow the path of the Buddha, practitioners must devote their life to the Buddha's teaching. To facilitate focus in religious practice, an Object of Devotion embodying the spiritual essence of the Dharma is enshrined. For hundreds of years after the Buddha's passing the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha was adopted as the object of embodiment of the Dharma. However, while the physical features of the Buddha's person in a statue are easily observed by practitioners, the spiritual essence of the Dharma was not visible, because of the intangible nature of teachings.[citation needed]

To get around this problem, and include the Dharma in the Object of Worship, some schools of Buddhism placed Sutras – indicating the Dharma – before the Buddha's statue or put copy of the Buddha's teachings (Sutra) inside statue.[20] Combining Statue and a Sutra indicates the oneness of Person and Dharma, being the principle which leads to enlightenment.

Other forms of objects of worship were also used during prayers such as paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as well as coloured mandalas. In the view of Nichiren, a Buddhist reformer of 13th century Japan, statues and paintings were convenient for practice in the past period of Buddhist calendar,[21] while in the current era (Latter Day) a mandala manifesting the Oneness of Person and Dharma will appear, named the gohonzon, or the"Great mandala": "This Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known" [22]

Various Buddhist schools use the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and other statues as objects of devotion. Even within some Nichiren schools, statues are used with the gohonzon. However, all Buddhist schools based on the Lotus Sutra agree that the Object of Devotion is the Eternal Buddha [23] of the Lotus Sutra. Interpretations of the identity of this Eternal Buddha vary between schools, and most accept that it is simply Shakyamuni Buddha, though Nichiren Shōshū claims it to be Nichiren and SGI view it as the inherent Buddha nature. In his writings, Nichiren explained that the Eternal Buddha appeared together with the Bodhisattvas and the Treasure Tower, and that the Object of Devotion should include all, and not only Shakyamuni Buddha, as he inscribed in the gohonzon.[24]

A statue style is referred to as "Butsuzo (仏像) Gohonzon" while a scroll type is called "Kakejiku Gohonzon". Regardless of sectarian Buddhism, Gohonzons are traditionally enshrined in an altar called a butsudan (Buddha platform) while the venerated space which it occupies is called Butsuma. Not all Butsudan are cabinet style with doors, some have an open style with no doors, or simply an ornate pedestal that defines where the Gohonzon is enshrined.[citation needed]

Each of the Objects of Devotion implies a significant meaning for practitioners. In his letter "The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind" Nichiren described Shakyamuni's Buddhahood as that of the harvest (effect) :"Shakyamuni's, however, is the Buddhism of the harvest, and this is the Buddhism of sowing". Under the light of this statement, a statue of Shakyamuni represents the "Effect" of Buddhahood. The gohonzon on the other hand represents the "Cause" for attaining Buddhahood. Another difference is that a statue indicates the aspect of the "person" but does not indicate the "Dharma" - or the Law. The gohonzon embodies both in the principle of the oneness of the Universal Law (Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō) and the Person (represented by Nichiren).[citation needed]

A third difference between the implication of Statue and gohonzon is that the gohonzon manifests the whole spectrum of the states of Mind (called the Ten Worlds of Life), while a statue represents only the world of Shakyamuni's Buddhahood. Nichiren describes the gohonzon as the object for observing the Ten Worlds: "The observation of the mind means to observe one's own mind and to find the Ten Worlds within it" [25]

Just as characters may be used to represent the entirety of the Ten Worlds, there are valid statue arrangements that also represent the entirety of the Ten Worlds. Statue gohonzons are called nin-gohonzons. Nichiren wrote "Statues or paintings" on more than one occasion, including in his most important treatise, The True Object of Worship.[citation needed]

In Non-Nichiren Schools of Buddhism[edit]

In Pure Land Buddhism[edit]

The most common type of Gohonzon enshrined in the Pure Land sects are statues made of valuable wood or copper in gold plate also referred to as Butsuzo Gohonzon, in addition to a Spirit tablet enshrined nearby, or a Kakocho memorial book which can also serve the same purpose.[citation needed]

In Shingon esoteric Buddhism[edit]

In Mikkyō practices such as in Shingon Buddhism, the term refers to a tutelary figure whose role is similar to that of the yidam in Tibetan Buddhism. Tutelary deities in Vajrayana Buddhism, including Mikkyō, Tangmi and Tibetan Buddhism, are crucial to many religious practices. In the famous Goma fire ritual ceremony, the fire itself while it is being consumed and animated is also considered a temporary Gohonzon.[citation needed]


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  11. ^ "An Introduction to True Buddhism" (PDF). p. 3. 
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  14. ^ Nichiren; Zuiki Kataoka; Kihachi Yamanaka (日蓮, 1222-1282. 隨喜居士謹集 ; [編集山中喜八]. 片岡隨喜, 山中喜八) (1981). Nichiren Daishōnin goshinseki (日蓮大聖人御真蹟), Chiba-shi : Risshō Ankokukai (立正安国会). OCLC-No: 22309260, reproduces Nichiren's 740 holographs scattered throughout Japan. Description: 5 cases ; 51-69 cm, case 1: Gohonzonshū (125 leaves ; 66 x 47 x 5 cm)
  15. ^ The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism. "Casting off the transient and revealing the true". SGIlibrary. Soka Gakkai International. 
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  17. ^ Ikeda, Daisaku; Sato, Katsuji; Morinaka, Masaaki (2004). The World of Nichiren Daishonin's Writings, Volume 2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Soka Gakkai Malaysia. 
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  22. ^ The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon (Writings of Nichiren, p. 832)
  23. ^ The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind (Writings of Nichiren, p. 367)
  24. ^ The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind (Writings of Nichiren, p. 366)
  25. ^ The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind (Writings of Nichiren, p. 356)


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