1279: October 12 -- Inscription of the Dai-Gohonzon
Members of SGI practice Buddhism as taught by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren, which involves chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and sections of the Lotus Sutra in front of a scroll called a Gohonzon. The Gohonzon that members of SGI enshrine in their own homes is based on the one originally inscribed by Nichiren on October 12, 1279, known as the Dai-Gohonzon. SGI members commemorate this anniversary each year on October 12.
The Gohonzon represents a physical embodiment, in the form of a mandala, of the eternal and universal law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the essence of the Lotus Sutra, and Nichiren's purpose in inscribing it was to make available to all humankind the means to achieve a state of ultimate happiness, or Buddhahood.
13th century Japan was a time rife with social unrest and natural disasters. The ordinary people, especially, suffered enormously. Nichiren wondered why the teachings of Buddhism had lost their power to enable people to lead happy, empowered lives. His intensive study of the Buddhist sutras convinced him that the Lotus Sutra contained the essence of the Buddha's enlightenment and that it held the key to transforming people's suffering and enabling society to flourish. The Lotus Sutra affirms that all people, regardless of gender, capacity or social standing, inherently possess the qualities of a Buddha, and are therefore equally worthy of the utmost respect. Nichiren started sharing the practice of chanting NMRK in 1253 and later began inscribing personal Gohonzon for particularly devoted disciples. This teaching of empowerment for all people, which spread quickly among both commoners and priesthood alike, was alarming to the government, which, in collaboration with influential temples, head priests and officials at every level, conspired to harass, suppress and even injure and kill Nichiren’s followers. Finally, in 1279, matters came to a head and in Atsuhara, 20 farmers were falsely accused of theft, arrested and imprisoned. In the face of torture and threats, his followers united and fought in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind.”
Unwavering in their faith, three of the farmers were later executed. Moved by their faith, Nichiren finally had confidence that his teachings would be maintained and practiced after his own passing. Where before he had inscribed Gohonzon only for individual believers, he now inscribed a mandala explicitly dedicated to the happiness and enlightenment of all humankind.
Some months later Nichiren inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon, of which all Gohonzon are replicas, in response to the powerful faith exhibited by ordinary people in the midst of the Atsuhara Persecution and expressed his deepest wish and vow for kosen-rufu, the propagation of the Law to free all people from misery and lead them to genuine happiness, enabling all humanity to attain Buddhahood everywhere and at any time. This symbolized the establishment of Nichiren Buddhism as a universal faith.