How wondrous it is that, around two hundred years and more into the Latter Day of the Law, I was the first to reveal as the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra this great mandala that even those such as Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu, T’ien-t’ai and Miao-lo were unable to express. This mandala is in no way my invention. 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 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. Seated below them are the bodhisattvas, including Universal Worthy and Manjushrī, and the voice-hearers, including Shāriputra and Maudgalyāyana. [Beside them are] the gods of the sun and moon, the devil king of the sixth heaven, the dragon king, and an asura. In addition,the wisdom kings Immovable and Craving-Filled take up their stations to the south and north. The evil and treacherous Devadatta and the ignorant dragon king’s daughter form a group. Not only the Mother of Demon Children and the ten demon daughters, who are evil demonsthat sap the lives of people throughout the major world system, but also the Sun Goddess, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, and the seven reigns of the heavenly gods and five reigns of the earthly gods, who are the guardian deities of Japan—all the various great and small gods, that is,the main gods, are ranged in rows. How then could the remaining subordinate gods be left out? The “Treasure Tower” chapter states, “[Shakyamuni Buddha used his transcendental powers to] lift all the members of the great assembly up into the air.”
Without exception, all these Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great sages, and, in general, all the various beings of the two worlds and the eight groups2 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.
This is what is meant when the sutra says “the true aspect of all phenomena.”3 Miao-lo stated: “The true aspect invariably manifests in all phenomena, and all phenomena invariably manifest in the ten factors. The ten factors invariably manifest in the Ten Worlds, and the Ten Worlds invariably manifest in life and its environment.”4 It is also stated that the profound principle of the true aspect is the originally inherentMyoho-renge-kyo.5 The Great Teacher Dengyō said, “A single moment of life comprising the three thousand realms is itself the Buddha of limitless joy; this Buddha has forsaken august appearances.”6 Therefore, this Gohonzon shall be called the great mandala never before known; it did not appear until more than 2,220 years after the Buddha’s passing.
In this reply to Nichinyo, Nichiren Daishonin expresses his gratitude for her offerings to the Gohonzon and explains the significance of the object of devotion. The exact identity of Nichinyo is unclear. She is thought tohave been either the wife of Ikegami Munenaka, the older of the Ikegami brothers, or a daughter of the lay priest Matsuno Rokurō Saemon, an earnest believer in Suruga Province. Judging from two letters theDaishonin sent her, she seems to have been a woman of good education and considerable affluence. Moreover, as the recipient of a Gohonzon, or object of devotion, she was evidently a sincere believer. This letter contains a description of the Gohonzon that details the figures represented therein and their significance. The Daishonin also underscores the importance of faith in the Gohonzon.
In the first half of the letter, the Daishonin points out the rarity and importance of the Gohonzon. He cites the Lotus Sutra and other worksto show that the Gohonzon is the embodiment of “the true aspect of all phenomena” and “the three thousand realms in a single moment of life.”
Nichiren Daishonin [states]: “This mandala is in no way my invention”. The Gohonzon, he assures us, is not his arbitrary creation. It is the object of devotion depicting the five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo —the Law for manifesting Buddhahood, which is inherent within our own life—embodied by Shakyamuni Buddha, seated in the treasure tower of Many Treasures Buddha, and all the Buddhas who were his emanations. In other words, the Gohonzon is a perfect representation of the “true aspect of all phenomena,” and the foundation principles of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds” and “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” all of which were elucidated during the Ceremony in the Air of the Lotus Sutra.
When we look at the layout of the Gohonzon, we see that Nam-myoho-rengekyo—referred to in this letter as “the five characters of the Lotus Sutra’s title”—is written down the center, flanked by representatives of each of the Ten Worlds. This indicates that all living beings of the Ten Worlds, from the Buddhas and bodhisattvas on down, are without exception embodied in the Gohonzon. This accords with the passage from “Treasure Tower,” the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, cited by Nichiren in this letter: “[Shakyamuni Buddha used his transcendental powers to] lift all the members of the great assembly up into the air”. The Gohonzon, therefore, includes without exception “all the various beings” of the Ten Worlds. It is a representation of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” the principle that all living beings, when illuminated by the light of the Mystic Law, can display the “dignified attributes that they inherently possess”. In short, when all of the functions of the Ten Worlds within our lives are enveloped in the light of the wisdom and compassion of the world of Buddhahood, we can give expression to the power of supreme goodness and create enduring value. It also means that each unique individual comes to shine as an entity of the Mystic Law and manifest their inherently dignified nature. The Gohonzon enables us to build what Mr. Toda described as “a joyful, pure and sunny realm of friends living together in harmony and peace.” In such a realm, everyone—irrespective of their circumstances or whether they are still in the process of transforming their karma— shines with the “dignified attributes that they inherently possess.” Those in the world of hell, for instance, manifest the world of hell contained within the world of Buddhahood, and though there may still be suffering, it is not the hopeless suffering of wandering lost in eternal darkness. They can bring forth the courage to face difficult realities head-on, the wisdom to surmount the obstacles and barriers arising from within and from without, and the powerful life force to make new strides forward. Sufferings become challenges that aid one’s personal transformation and growth, becoming springboards to great development. Illuminated by the light of the five characters of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the noble state of life that is one with the Mystic Law functions vibrantly even in the world of hell. The meaning of the sufferings of hell is thereby turned around completely. While in prison, founding Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi serenely wrote: “Concentrating intently on my faith is my work right now. If I can do that, I am not the least bit anxious . . . Depending on one’s frame of mind, even hell can be enjoyable.”6 Mr. Toda also said that if we base ourselves on the Gohonzon, we can gain a state of being in which we are filled with boundless joy wherever we go. Every person’s life is an entity that inherently embodies the principles of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds and the three thousand realms in a single moment of life. In essence, it is perfect and complete—there is nothing extraneous to be subtracted and nothing lacking that needs to be added. No existence is without its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs. And no matter how we might try, we cannot avoid the universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. The mutual possession of the Ten Worlds is the true aspect of life, and each of the mutually inclusive Ten Worlds is a manifestation of the Mystic Law. The Gohonzon and faith in the Mystic Law enable us to draw out the supreme life state of Buddhahood and firmly establish it in our being. The layout of the Gohonzon is based on the true aspect of all phenomena elucidated in the Lotus Sutra, clarifying that we as ordinary people can manifest the boundless life state of Buddhahood in our present form. No such object of devotion ever existed in Buddhism prior to this. Though there were many magnificent depictions of Buddhas and bodhisattvas in paintings and sculptures, there was no mandala embodying the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds that enabled ordinary people to attain enlightenment. Nichiren Daishonin was the first to reveal the Gohonzon that illuminates the dignified attributes that we inherently possess, in other words, an object of devotion for the enlightenment of all humanity. This Gohonzon was truly the “great mandala never before known”, depicting the realm of a truly humanistic Buddhism.