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A gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren just before his death in 1280. The central logographs depict the official title of the Lotus Sūtra.[1]

Gohonzon (御本尊) is a generic term for a venerated religious object in Japanese Buddhism. It may take the form of a scroll or statuary. The term gohonzon typically refers to the mainstream use of venerated objects within Nichiren Buddhism, referring to the calligraphic paper mandala inscribed by the 13th Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren to which devotional chanting is directed.[2][3][4]

Linguistically, the rootword honzon (本尊) derives from ancient word konpon-sogyo, signifying a devotional object of respect or worship,[5] and with the honorific go- () prefix.[6]

Varying Nichiren groups accord their own meanings to the term gohonzon in different ways, signifying their treatment of the object:

Paper scroll gohonzon are sometimes known as kakejiku gohonzon or moji-mandala (文字曼荼羅, "script mandala"). The term butsuzo gohonzon is used for statuary.[citation needed] Gohonzon are often enshrined within an altar shrine (butsudan).[11]


Nichiren himself attached the greatest importance to his inscription of the gohonzon and claimed this as a pivotal moment in his life.[12] He stated that by using sumi ink to inscribe it, he was acting like a "lion king."[13] Nichiren's calligraphy shifted over the years he inscribed gohonzon.[14] Details of the composition of the gohonzon are clear from the approximately 120-125 inscribed in Nichiren's own hand, dating from 1271 to 1282, that are extant.[15][16][17]: 364  For example, a gohonzon he inscribed in July 1273 was inscribed on a piece of silk 2.5 by 5.5 ft (0.76 by 1.68 m).[18] Copies of the original gohonzon have been made by others[19] and can be found in varying sizes.

A joju gohonzon is inscribed for a specific person or organization, while an okatagi gohonzon is generic and produced through a woodblock printing process. Nichiren and his successors also inscribed smaller omamori gohonzon that are carried on the person.[20][21][22]

Opinions on its significance[edit]

  • Author Philip Yampolsky describes Nichiren's gohonzon as a mandala, a concretized object that Nichiren inscribed to transmit what he regarded as the essence of the Lotus Sutra.[23] It is also described as a depiction of the Ceremony in the Air in the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, "The Emergence of the Treasure Tower".[24][25] It is the first of the "three great secret laws" of Nichiren Buddhism, the others being Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and the platform of ordination or place of worship.[26]
  • Authors Robert Ellwood and Richard Pilgrim describe gohonzon as a "mandala of the cosmos as perceived inwardly by Nichiren."[27]
  • Masaharu Anesaki describes gohonzon as "a physical embodiment of the truth of cosmic existence as realized in the all-comprehensive conception of 'mutual participation, and illuminated by the all-enlightening power of the Truth.'"[28]
  • Jacqueline Stone claims that "By having faith in the daimoku and chanting it before this object of worship, [Nichiren taught] one could in effect enter the mandala and participate in the enlightened reality that it depicts."[29]

The founder Nichiren referred to gohonzon as "the banner of propagation"[30] and "a cluster of blessings."[31]

Calligraphic meanings[edit]

Without exception, all these Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great sages, and, in general, all the various beings of the two worlds and the eight groups who appear in the “Introduction” chapter of the Lotus Sutra dwell in this Gohonzon. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess. This is the object of devotion.

— Nichiren, The True Aspect of the Gohonzon [32]

A Nichiren gohonzon is usually written in traditional kanji characters with the addition of two Siddhaṃ scripts. Although exclusive to the other Buddhist sects of his contemporaneous society, Nichiren was highly inclusive of Vedic and Chinese traditions, viewing them as precursors of his own teachings[33][34] and personages from these traditions are present on the gohonzon.

Most prominent to all such gohonzon is the phrase 'Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō'—the primary mantra in Nichiren Buddhism—written down the center in bold calligraphy.[35] This is called the daimoku (題目) or shudai (主題, "title"). Right below, also in bold, Nichiren writes his name followed by his seal. This signifies Nichiren's conviction that his life had manifested the essence of the Lotus Sutra.[36]

On the top row can be found the names of Shakyamuni Buddha and Prabhutaratna and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.[37] 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. Within this frame are the names of various Buddhas, bodhisattvas, historical and mythological figures in Buddhism, personages representing the ten realms, and deities drawn from Vedic, Chinese, and Japanese traditions are arranged hierarchically. Each of these names represents some aspect of the Buddha's enlightenment or an important Buddhist concept.[38][39]


Research has documented that Nichiren inscribed 740 gohonzon.[40] He began inscribing gohonzon immediately before and 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" (hoshaku-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.[41] 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.[42]: 103 

The first extant gohonzon was inscribed by Nichiren on 12 October 1271 before his transport to Sado Island. Stone describes it as embryonic in form. On 8 July 1273, Nichiren inscribed a gohonzon in its full form with the inscription "Nichiren inscribes this for the first time."[43]

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).[42]: 109 [44]: 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."[45]

The gohonzon issue of Soka Gakkai[edit]

Early photograph of the Dai-Gohonzon at Taisekiji Temple. Printed in Kumada Ijō's book Nichiren Shōnin (1913).[46] This mandala is the artistic source of transcribed gohonzon copied both in Nichiren Shoshu, Kenshokai and Soka Gakkai.

The Nichiren Shoshu religion claims that the original Dai Gohonzon mandala at its head temple is the original source of power that is transcribed by the High Priests of Nichiren Shoshu. All gohonzon loaned by Nichiren Shoshu are copied from the Dai Gohonzon, including the ones currently used both by Soka Gakkai and Kenshokai for their services.[47]

In 28 November 1991, the Soka Gakkai was expelled by Nichiren Shoshu and thereby lost its source of gohonzon. By September 1993, the Soka Gakkai began to manufacture their own version and artistic format used today for current members. A gohonzon transcribed by Nichikan Shonin, the 26th chief abbot of Taisekiji was selected through one of the dissident breakaway priest who provided the woodblock copy when he sided with President Daisaku Ikeda.[48]

The gohonzon used today by Soka Gakkai was copied and transcribed from the Dai Gohonzon in July 1720 by Nichikan Shonin (1665–1726), the twenty-sixth High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu.[49] Another gohonzon in possession of the Soka Gakkai is the wooden copy manufactured in 1974 transcribed from the Dai Gohonzon by 64th High Priest Nissho Shonin, previously enshrined in Osaka, and now enshrined in the main SGI headquarters of Daiseido Hall in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.


The following inscriptions are found in the gohonzon transcribed by 26th High Priest Nichikan Shonin, as is the mainstream format also transcribed by the Successive High Priests of Nichiren Shoshu:

  • Nichiren Daishonin: — Butsumetsugo ni-sen hi-hyaku san-ju yo nen no aida ichienbudai no uchi misou no daimandara nari; "Never in 2,230-some years since the passing of the Buddha has this great mandala appeared in the world."
  • Nichikan Shonin: — Kyojo go-nen roku-gatsu jusan-nichi; "The 13th day of the sixth month in the fifth year of Kyoho, cyclical sign kanoe-ne."

There are also two inscriptions from Miao-lo's[53] commentary Hokke Mongu, The Annotations on "The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra":[54]

  • U kuyo sha Fuku ka jugo — "Those who make offerings will gain good fortune surpassing the ten honorable titles [of the Buddha]"
  • Nyaku noran sha zu ha shichibun — "Those who vex and trouble [the practitioners of the Law] will have their heads split into seven pieces."

The Soka Gakkai organization maintains that only the gohonzon conferred by their leadership brings both personal happiness and Kosen-rufu, claiming that they possess the true mandate of Nichiren for widespread propagation.

By contrast, Nichiren Shoshu Hokkeko members often omit the honorific term go- () when referring to gohonzon used outside their religion, most especially against the Soka Gakkai variant either as a pejorative derision or refusal to acknowledge the implied sacred nature of the gohonzon outside their sectarian beliefs, often citing them as either fake and lacking the aigen-shu ("eye-opening") ceremony prescribed to animate a gohonzon for its spiritual efficacy. The lesser value of hon-zon is used by Nichiren Shoshu members instead.[55]

Outside of Nichiren Buddhism[edit]

An example of butsuzo gohonzon in Pure Land Buddhism featuring Amitābha

The terms honzon and gohonzon are often used interchangeably and with some confusion. In the Japanese new religion Risshō Kōsei Kai, members receive and practice to a 'Daigohonzon' enshrined in their homes; the scroll consists of an image of Gautama Buddha.[56][57] At the Risshō Kōsei Kai headquarters there is a gohonzon that is a statue of Shakyamuni.[58]

In the Jōdo Shinshū school of Pure Land Buddhism, under Hōnen and Shinran, the use of honzon became more prevalent; they took the form of inscriptions of the sect's mantra Namu Amida Buddha, other phrases, images of the Buddha, statuary, and even representations of the founder.[59] Rennyo thought the written mantra was more appropriate than a statue but did not ascribe particular powers to it as do Nichiren's followers to their gohonzon.[60]

In Mikkyō practices such as in Shingon Buddhism, the term honzon to refers to the divinity honored in a rite but later came to represent the formal object of worship.[61] The tutelary figure's role is similar to that of the yidam in Tibetan Buddhism.[citation needed] Tutelary deities in Vajrayana, including Mikkyō, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stone, Jacqueline Ilyse (2003). Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press. p. 277. ISBN 978-0-8248-2771-7.
  2. ^ Turner, Bryan S.; Salemink, Oscar (2014). Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia. Routledge. p. 381. ISBN 9781317636465. What distinguishes Nichiren from other forms of Japanese Buddhism (Zen being one of these) is, among other things, the centrality of the Gohonzon, an object of devotion. The term "gohonzon" can be used generically to refer to any object that is venerated but in the Nichiren tradition, there is an immediate, initial meaning that "gohonzon" has. It refers to Nichiren's moji-Mandala Gohonzon, a hanging paper scroll with Buddhist phrases written in ink in both kanji and Sanskrit, and usually with the Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, the central mantra of Nichiren Buddhism. It translates to 'To devote oneself to the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra.'
  3. ^ "About Rissho Kosei-kai, a Buddhist organization". Archived from the original on 17 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Gohonzon". Dictionary.com. Colliers Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ Blum, Mark L.; Yasutomi, Shinya (2005). Rennyo. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195132755.
  6. ^ Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged (2012). HarperCollins Publishers
  7. ^ "Soka Gakkai (Global)".
  8. ^ "An Introduction to True Buddhism" (PDF). p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 August 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  9. ^ "International Nichiren Shu Temples | Nichiren Shu Portal".
  10. ^ Christensen, J. A. (2000). Nichiren. Fremont, Calif.: Jain Publishing Co. p. 100. ISBN 9780875730868.
  11. ^ Chryssides, George D.; Wilkins, Margaret (2006). A reader in new religious movements. London [u.a.]: Continuum. p. 29. ISBN 9780826461674.
  12. ^ Anesaki 2010, p. 86
  13. ^ Daishonin, Nichiren; editor-translator, The Gosho Translation Committee (1999). The writings of Nichiren Daishonin. [Japan]: Soka Gakkai. p. 412. ISBN 4412010244. I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart. {{cite book}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  14. ^ Hirota, Raido. "What is the Gohonzon?" (PDF). Udumbara Foundation.
  15. ^ Stone 1998, p.153
  16. ^ Murano, Senchu (1995). "Ippen-shudai". Nichiren-etudes (in French). Nichiren Shu HQ. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  17. ^ Dolce, Lucia (1999). "Criticism and Appropriation: Nichiren's Attitude toward Esoteric Buddhism". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 26 (3/4): 349–382.
  18. ^ Christensen, J. A. (2000). Nichiren. Fremont, Calif.: Jain Publishing Co. p. 100. ISBN 9780875730868.
  19. ^ Metraux, Daniel (1988). The history and theology of Sōka Gakkai: a Japanese new religion. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780889460553.
  20. ^ Stone 1998, p. 153
  21. ^ Macioti, Maria Immacolata; Capozzi (translated), R.M. (2002). The Buddha within ourselves : blossoms of the Lotus Sutra. Lanham: University Press of America. p. 26. ISBN 9780761821892.
  22. ^ Buswell, Jr., Robert E.; Lopez, Jr., Donald S. (2013). The Princeton dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 207. ISBN 9781400848058.
  23. ^ Nichiren (1990). Yampolsky, Philip B (ed.). Selected writings of Nichiren. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 148. ISBN 9780231072601. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo appears in the center of the Treasure Tower with the Buddhas Shakyamuni and Taho seated to the right and left and the four Bodhisattvas of the Earth, led by Jogyo, flank them.
  24. ^ Stone 2003, p. 281
  25. ^ Daschke, Dereck; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2005). New religious movements : a documentary reader. New York: New York university press. p. 120. ISBN 9780814707029.
  26. ^ Collinson, Diane; Plant, Kathryn; Wilkinson, Robert (2013). Fifty Eastern Thinkers. Routledge. p. 353. ISBN 9781134631513.
  27. ^ Ellwood, Robert S.; Pilgrim, Richard (2016). Japanese Religion: A Cultural Perspective. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-315-50711-8. mandala of the cosmos as perceived inwardly by Nichiren, with the daimoku as the sounds or words of power aligned to its central reality and the Lotus Sutra as its consummate spiritual text. Containing no pictorial image, the gohonzon suggests the overriding importance of word or sound in Nichiren Buddhism.
  28. ^ Anesaki, Masaharu (1906). Nichiren: The Prophet (1916). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780674730786.
  29. ^ Stone, Jacqueline (1988). Chanting the August Title of the Lotus Sutra: Daimoku Practices in Classical and Medieval Japan. In: Payne, Richard, K. (ed.); Re-Visioning Kamakura Buddhism. University of Hawaii Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780824820787.
  30. ^ Daishonin, Nichiren; editor-translator, The Gosho Translation Committee (1999). The writings of Nichiren Daishonin. [Japan]: Soka Gakkai. ISBN 4412010244. {{cite book}}: |last2= has generic name (help)
  31. ^ Writings of Nichiren Daishonin-1, p. 832
  32. ^ "The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon | WND I | Nichiren Buddhism Library". Archived from the original on 14 December 2013.
  33. ^ Burton, David (2011). Meister, Chad (ed.). A Buddhist Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 328. ISBN 9780195340136.
  34. ^ Dolce, Lucia (1999). "Criticism and Appropriation: Nichiren's Attitude toward Esoteric Buddhism". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 26 (3–4).
  35. ^ Morgan, 121
  36. ^ Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2013). The Princeton dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 2017. ISBN 9781400848058.
  37. ^ Gebert, Andrew (2016). Soka Gakkai. Oxford University. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.196. ISBN 978-0-19-934037-8. Retrieved 14 May 2017. Later in his career, Nichiren took the theoretical developments of T'ien T'ai Buddhism and gave them visual expression as a mandala, or Gohonzon, in which exemplars of the various conditions of life, from Hell to Buddhahood, are represented by their names written in Sino-Japanese characters. As Nichiren described in a letter written to a female follower in 1277: "It is the object of devotion that depicts Shakyamuni Buddha, the World-Honored One, seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha, and the Buddhas who were Shakyamuni's emanations as perfectly as a print matches its woodblock. Thus the five characters of the Lotus Sutra's title [myō hō ren ge kyō] are suspended in the center, while the four heavenly kings are seated at the four corners of the treasure tower. Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth are side by side at the top." Nichiren then describes the representatives of other states of life, including deluded, destructive ones, represented in the Gohonzon and states that, "Illuminated by the light of the five characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess." {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  38. ^ Stone, 2003, 277-278
  39. ^ "The Gohonzon: Diagram of the Gohonzon". Soka Gakkai International: USA. SGI-USA.
  40. ^ 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)
  41. ^ The Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism. "Casting off the transient and revealing the true". SGIlibrary. Soka Gakkai International. Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  42. ^ a b Ikeda, Daisaku; Sato, Katsuji; Morinaka, Masaaki (2004). The World of Nichiren Daishonin's Writings, Volume 2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Soka Gakkai Malaysia.
  43. ^ Stone, Jacqueline I. (2003). Original enlightenment and the transformation of medieval Japanese Buddhism (Pbk. ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 437. ISBN 9780824827717.
  44. ^ Fowler, Merv (1999). Buddhism : beliefs and practices. Brighton [u.a.]: Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 9781898723660.
  45. ^ An Introduction to Buddhism (PDF). Santa Monica, CA: SGI-USA. 2013. pp. 31–35. ISBN 9781935523550. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  46. ^ Kumada Ijō (熊田葦城) (1913). Nichiren Shōnin (日蓮上人), 8th edition, page 375
  47. ^ Lopez, Donald J. (2016). The Lotus Sutra: A Biography. Princeton University Press. pp. 189–90. ISBN 978-1400883349. Nichiren Shoshu asserts that it is superior to all other gohonzon. The other Nichiren sects either reject the claim that it is superior to the many other gohonzon that were made by Nichiren himself or completely reject that authenticity of the Taisekiji gohonzon, saying that there is no evidence to support the claim that it was made by Nichiren.
  48. ^ McLaughlin, Levi (2012). Prohl, Inken; Nelson, John (eds.). Soka Gakkai in Japan. Leiden: Brill. p. 301. ISBN 9789004234369.
  49. ^ Prohl, Inken; Nelson, John (2012). Handbook of contemporary Japanese religions. Leiden: Brill. p. 301. ISBN 9789004234369.
  50. ^ Morgan, Diane (2004). The Buddhist experience in America (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. p. 133. ISBN 9780313324918.
  51. ^ Palmer, Arvin (2012). Buddhist Politics: Japan's Clean Government Party. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 54. ISBN 9789401029964.
  52. ^ Seager, Richard Hughes (2006). Encountering the Dharma : Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai, and the globalization of Buddhist humanism. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 158. ISBN 9780520245778.
  53. ^ A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts. "Miao-lo".
  54. ^ "Annotations on "The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra," The | Dictionary of Buddhism | Nichiren Buddhism Library". Nichirenlibrary.org. Retrieved 7 May 2022.
  55. ^ MacWilliams, Mark (2006). "Techno-ritualization: The Gohonzon Controversy on the Internet" (PDF). Online: Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. 2 (1).
  56. ^ Dharma World, Volume 12. Kosei Publishing Company. 1985.
  57. ^ Guthrie, Stewart (1988). A Japanese new religion: Risshō Kōsei-kai in a mountain hamlet. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan. p. 120.
  58. ^ Guthrie 1988|page=136|URL=http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cjs/0914393.0001.001/150/--japanese-new-religion-rissho-kosei-kai-in-a-mountain-hamlet?rgn=full+text;view=image;q1=gohonzon
  59. ^ Blum, edited by Mark L.; Yasutomi, Shinʼya (2005). Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195350999. {{cite book}}: |first1= has generic name (help)
  60. ^ Foard, James; Solomon, Michael; Payne, Richard Karl (1996). The pure land tradition : history and development. Berkeley, Calif.: Regents of the Univ. of Calif. p. 137. ISBN 9780895810922.
  61. ^ Bogel, Cynthea J. (2009). With a Single Glance: Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyō Vision. University of Washington Press. p. 197. ISBN 9780295989204. University of Washington Press, 2009

Further reading[edit]