The Gohonzon as the Original Buddha

Both schools of Nichiren Shu and SGI teach that the Eternal Buddha was revealed in the Ceremony of the Air in the Lotus Sutra. 

In his published book Space and Eternal Life” (page 38) : D. Ikeda presents the beliefe of Soka Buddhism of the eternal Buddhahood of Shakyamuni:

“The Life Span chapter of the Lotus Sutra explains that Shakyamuni is eternally a Buddha”

This is exactly what both Nichiren Shu and SGI buddhism believe:

“The Ceremony in the Air continues as Shakyamuni Buddha calls forth a vast multitude of bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth. He reveals that these are his original disciples from the immeasurable ancient past......Shakyamuni Buddha reveals that he had in fact attained enlightenment in the beginningless past”. page 76 Lotus Seeds, The Essence of Nichiren Shu Buddhism, San Jose Temple.

The teaching of the Ceremony of the Air - which reveals the concept of the Original Buddha from the infinite past - is based on the emergence of the Treasure Tower, and on the transmission of the Law to Superior Practices. This means that any depiction of the Original Buddha had to include not only Shakyamuni, but also the Treasure Tower and Superior Practices: The original Buddha whose life is without beginning or end could not be revealed without the appearance of Superior Practices”.

The wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol.5 p164.

Some Nichiren Shu scholars acknowledge that a mere statue of Shakyamuni Buddha is not enough to indicate ‘the Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra’, and accordingly suggest adding statues of the Four Bodhisattvas (to relate to the presence at the Ceremony in the Air, which is the essence of the Object of Veneration). 

The Ceremony of the Air - which revealed the Original Buddha - was inscribed by Nichiren in the form of a mandala as the Object of Veneration, to make it possible for ordinary people to identify with the Eternal Buddha and to revive their own eternal state of Buddhahood. 

When we chant to the Gohonzon we become participants in the spirit of the Ceremony in the Air, and this means we open the world of Bodhisattva of the Earth in our life, becoming thus one with the original mentor of Buddhahood.

It is worth mentioning that the Gohonzon includes not only the Ceremony of the Air,

but the totality of the Lotus Sutra.

The Sutra’s text describing the Ceremony in the Air excludes the representatives of the lower worlds (including the Buddha’s enemy Devadatta) from attending the Ceremony.  Nichiren, however, chose - by own decision - to give a new dimension to the Ceremony by adding to its depiction in the Gohoznon - all the representatives of the lower worlds, condensing thus the totality of the Sutra in form of mandala Gohonzon. 

As Dr Jacqueline Stone mentions in her book on “Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Japanese Buddhism”:

“ Nichiren’s mandala includes not only Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and deities but also representatives of the evil realms such as raksasa demons and Devadatta. In including such figures, Nichiren followed not the text of the Lotus Sutra itself  - in which all beings in the six realms of transmigration are removed before the jeweled stupa is opened  - but the principle of the three thousand realms in one thought moment, according to which even the Buddha realm contains the nine unenlightened states. In short the mandala depicts the mutual inclusion of the ten realms.” page 277-278 

SGI literature regards the Gohonzon as: the Lotus Sutra of Nichiren DaishoninThe Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol 3 p.264, - or the Object of Devotion, which reveals the existence of the Original Buddha in all of the Ten Worlds, transforming also the lower worlds into the state of enlightenment.

The practical meaning of Original Buddha in our everyday practice

In daily circumstances, our state of life varies up and down in the Ten Worlds. However, even during experiencing lower states of the Ten Worlds, the state of Eternal Buddhahood exists as a potential in our lives - and is revived through our chanting to the Gohonzon:

“Kuon signifies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo; it signifies the Gohonzon. When we pray to the Gohonzon, that very instant is beginningless time. For us, each day is the beginingless time. Each day we can cause the supreme, pure, eternal life of time without beginning to well forth from our entire being . Each day we start anew. This is what it means to live based on the mystic principle of the true cause”. (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra vol 5 p.165).

That’s why the present time is the most important. We should not dwell on the past: those who exert themselves fully in the present moment, and burn with great hope for the future are the true sages in life.

In transmitting the essence of the Lotus Sutra (Nam-myoho-Renge-Kyo) to Bodhisattva Superior Practices, Shakyamuni entrusts him with achieving kosenrufu in the Latter Day of the Law. Therefore when we stand up in earnest and work for the propagation of the eternal Mystic Law, we experience the eternity of time without beginning in each moment.” (p.165)

In other words, chanting to the Gohonzon and carrying out the work of Superior Practices, (the spirit of Nichiren, which is the TrueSelf of Buddha) - then the chanting leads to revealing one’s eternal state of Buddhanature.


Author: Safwan Zabalawi

The Eternal Buddha of the Lotus Sutra

Nichiren Shu  and  SGI  Buddhism