The Object of Worship of the Original Doctrine
by Rev. Tetsujo Kubota
(from the Tradition of Nichiren Doctrine)
"The Three Great Secret Dharma" refers to:
(1) Object of Worship of the Original Doctrine (Hommon no Honzon),
(2) the Title of the Original Doctrine (Hommon no Daimoku), and
(3) Precept (Ordination) Platform of the Original Doctrine (Hommon no Kaidan).
"Object of Worship" (honzon: "the Principal Revered or Holy One") means the Object of Faith or Belief. Incidentally for a disciple of Nichiren an explanation concerning the "Object of Worship" which goes beyond the Patriarch's teaching is not allowed. The teaching of Nichiren Shonin is absolute.
After founding his sect at age thirty-two Nichiren Shonin spread the teaching in Kamakura. At this time it seems that he worshiped the Title "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" alone with the Hokekyo placed in front of it. After he received the standing image of Lord Shakya at Ito at age forty, that is, after the Ito Persecution for the Dharma, according to the "Letter on the Kings of the Country of the Gods", he installed the image of Lord Shakya and the ten fascicles of the Hokekyo.
According to the "Letter to the Great Assembly of Seichoji" written about this time, he says, "Having written an oath of the utmost sincerity, I, Nichiren, prayed with hands joined, to the Object of Worship..." And the fact that he prayed joined to the hands of the Object of Worship is proof that he was worshiping the statue of Lord Shakya. (It is presumed that behind the statue of Lord Shakya he worshiped the single Title "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo" but there is no evidence for this.) Moreover, as he says in his letter to the wife of Daigaku Saburo, "You worship the Seven Characters three times a day" (291), the believers at this time were worshiping the Single Title ("Namu Myoho Renge Kyo"
In the tenth month of the eighth year of Bun'ei (1271) after the Persecution at Tatsunokuchi Nichiren Shonin was kept in custody at the residence of the local chief (jito) of Echi (the modern Atsugi City), Homma Shigetsura. On the ninth, the day before they said he was to be exiled to Sado, he recorded an Object of Worship (gohonzon) with a willow twig. A single Title ("Namu Myoho renge kyo") (with Fudo to the right and Aizen to the left represented by Sanskrit characters, as we face it) and the side inscription "Written at the village of Echi in Homma in the Province of Sagami" with the year, month, and day of its revelation. It is said to have been written using a twig broken from a willow tree.
Throughout the first period after he had gone over to Sado, the Objects of Worship that he wrote had the Title, the Two Buddhas Shakya and Taho and also Fudo and Aizen written symbolically in Sanskrit characters, the side inscription "Drawn in the Province of Sado" and the year, month, and day of revelation. There are many examples of this form and it is called the "Hundred-copy Object of Worship of Sado".
In the second month of the ninth year of Bun'ei (1272) with the great motive that "they will put an end to the inconceivability of Nichiren" he composed "On Opening the Eyes (Kaimoku Sho)" and implied that in terms of his Original State (honji) he was the manifestation of the Bodhisattva Jogyo.
In the fourth month of the next year he composed On the Object Worship of Contemplation (Kanjin Honzon sho ). In this work, which he called "my own great matter", explained in doctrinal terms the substance of the Object of Worship of the Original Doctrine. On the eighth day of the seventh month in that same year he revealed and drew an Object of Worship called the "Mandala First Revealed onSado" (Sado Shiken Mandara), but regrettably the original autograph has not come down to us. But fortunately a copy still exists, so from this we can understand its arrangement. There is one at the Head Temple Myomanji which the disciple Temmoku received and was given in the sixth month of the following year. (A version on silk) There is a side inscription, "The Shramana Temmoku received and was given [it]. For some reason it does not say, "Bestowed and given [to the Shramana Temmoku"]. The arrangement of this is closest to "Mandala First Revealed on Sado".
On Sado the Saint himself kept the image of Lord Shakya enshrined:
"When I was in the Province of Sado between mountains and wilds far away from a village was a samadhi place (gosammaisho: a cremation ground or graveyard) called Tsukahara. There was a hall with a single room and four walls in that place. In the roof the boards did not meet and four walls were ruined. In the rain it was like being outside and the snow Piled up inside. There was no Buddha [image]. Neither was there a single reed tatami mat. However, I set up [the statue of] the Master of Teachings Lord Shakya which I have kept from the beginning and grasped the Hokekyo in my hand, put on a straw raincoat and held up an umbrella, yet for four years no person appeared and they gave me no food." ("Reply to the Bhikshuni Myoho", STN, v. 2, 15)
He kept and guarded this image of Lord Shakya after he entered Minobu as well. ("On the Matter of Forgetting the Sutra Which He Kept") Furthermore, he bestowed mandalas on believers.
"Although this mandala in terms of its written characters is five characters or seven characters, it is the Teacher of the Buddhas of the Three Ages; it the certifying text of the attainment of Buddhahood by all women. It becomes a torch on the paths of the underworld; it becomes an excellent horse on the Mountain of Going Forth in Death. It is like the sun and the moon in the heavens. It is like Mount Sumeru on earth. It is the ship for the Sea of Birth-and-Death. It is the Guiding Teacher for the Attainment of Buddhahood." (On Offering to the Mandala of the Sublime Dharma, STN, v. 1, 698)
The Saint, himself an exile and, what is more, in the countryside on an isolated island, was not able simply to obtain Buddha images and perform the "Eye-opening" dedication. In this respect a mandala could be drawn as soon as paper, ink, and writing brush were to be had and also was easy to transport. Moreover, there was nothing more welcome for lay donors than the mandala, which
was in the Saint's very own hand.
In the eleventh year of Bun'ei (1274) Nichiren Shonin entered Minobu and the laudatory text of the Mandala which he wrote out in the twelfth month of the same year is as follows:
"Since the Extinction of the Great Enlightened World Honored One there have passed in succession more than two thousand two hundred and twenty years. Even so among the Three Countries of India, Han [China] and Japan, there has not yet been this Great Obiect of Worship (dai honzon). Either they have known but not yet spread it or they have not known it. Our Compassionate Father, by means of the Buddha Wisdom, has hidden and retained it, leaving it for the Latter Age. At the time of the last five hundred years, the Bodhisattva Jyogyo come forth in the world and for the first time spreads and proclaims it."
What we should note on this Mandala is:
(1) The fact that the mandala is called the Object of Worship (honzon). There are those among one group of scholars who "say that the Mandala is not the object of Worship but assert as the Object of Worship the statue of the Buddha. However, the Saint himself said "the Mandala is the Object of Worship (honzon)".
(2) "Namu Tensho Hachiman to sho butsu" (Adoration to the Buddhas, Amaterasuomi-kami, Hachiman and so on) means he reveals the Original State (honji) of the national gods of Japan.
(3) He calls himself "the Bodhisattva Jogyo". The Saint was a person of humility and had only implied this in On Opening the Eyes (Kaimoku sho), the letter of the Revelation of the Person. It is on this Object of Worship that he first says this. The one other place he refers to this is only when he says through the mouth of Shijo Yorimoto, "His Reverence Nichiren Shonin is the Bodhisattva Jogyo, Messenger of the Lord of the Three Worlds, the Father and Mother of All Beings, the Tathagata Shakya." (The Deposition of Yorimoto, STN,v.2, 1358)
With the passage of time in the Bun'ei (1263-1274), Kenji (12751277), and Koan (1278-1282) periods the Saint wrote the Mandalas at various times in all sorts of forms, the Abbreviated Style, the Quintessential Style and the Expanded Style. The Abbreviated Style consists of the Title ("Namu Myoho renge kyo"), the Two Buddhas Shakya and Taho with the Two Spell Kings (Myoo), Fudo and Aizen, in Sanskrit characters. The Quintessential Style means he added the Four Bodhisattvas Converted by the Original Buddha. The Expanded Style means the whole of the Ten Realms are included.
When we view the more than one hundred twenty extant autograph specimens of the Mandala, there are various sorts, those of the first part of the Bun'ei period all having "Namu" affixed to the various deities and those of the Koan period having it affixed only to the Four Holy Ones (the Two Buddhas Shakya and Taho, the Four Bodhisattvas, Jogyo and the others, Shariputra and so on), those where there are the Branch Body Buddhas (Bun'ei) and those where there are not (Koan) and so on. Former Teachers have divided them into the Unrevised (Bun'ei and Kenji periods) and the Revised" (Koan period), separated them into those Following Others' Intentions (zui ta I) (Bun'ei and Kenji periods) and those Following His Own Intentions (zui ji I) (Koan Period), and classified the Bun'ei era as the Practice Period, the Kenji era as the Adjustment Period, and the Koan era as the Perfection (or Completion) Period. (Note)* "Revised": the word "Revised" means to "redo something incomplete". And so there are scholars who say we must not use the word "Revised", viewing Nichiren Shonin in the same way as a unenlightened worlding. However, is not the fact that the Saint studied and thought these out something superlative?