Gohonzon (Japanese: 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. In Nichiren Buddhism, it refers to the hanging calligraphic paper mandala inscribed by Nichiren to which devotional chanting is directed.[2][3][4]

Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren in 1280. The central characters are the title of the Lotus Sūtra.[1]

Linguistically, the root "honzon" (本尊) signifies a main object of devotion or worship[5] and "go" (御) is an honorific prefix.[6] Nichiren groups translate "Gohonzon" different ways: "object of devotion" (Soka Gakkai),[7] "object of worship" (Nichiren Shōshū),[8] or "Supreme Venerable" (Nichiren-shū).[9] It has also been translated as "the Great Mandala".[10]

Paper scroll Gohonzon are sometimes known as Kakejiku Gohonzon or moji-mandara (文字曼荼羅 "script mandala" or "mandala written with characters"). Butsuzo Gohonzon are statuary.[citation needed] The Gohonzon is often enshrined within a butsudan.[11]

In Nichiren BuddhismEdit

The moji-mandala gohonzon or "Mandala gohonzon" (曼荼羅御本尊) is the primary object of devotion in Nichiren schools. It is the exclusive object of veneration in the schools that follow the lineage of Nikkō Shōnin such as Kenshōkai, Nichiren Shōshū, Shōshinkai, and Soka Gakkai.[citation needed]


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 ft by 5.5 ft.[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, an "Okatagi Gohonzon" is generic and produced through a wood block process. Nichiren and his successors also inscribed smaller "Omamori" Gohonzon that are carried on the person.[20][21] Nichiren Shōshū's Dai Gohonzon is transcribed on camphor wood.[22]

The Gohonzon could be described through its significance and the literal meaning of its calligraphy.

Gohonzon inscribed by Nikken Abe used by the Nichiren Shoshu school


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] Ellwood and Pilgrim describe it as a "mandala of the cosmos as perceived inwardly by Nichiren."[27] Anesaki describes it 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] According to Stone, "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 Gohonzon has also been described in more colloquial terms. Nichiren himself referred to it as "the banner of propagation"[30] and "a cluster of blessings."[31] Jōsei Toda quipped the Gohonzon simply as "a happiness-producing machine,"[32] a means for harmonizing with "universal life force."[33] Daisaku Ikeda refers to it as a mirror that reflects one's inner life.[34]

Literal meaning of the calligraphyEdit

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 [35]

The Gohonzon is 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[36][37] 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.[38] 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.[39]

On the top row can be found the names of Gautama Buddha and Prabhutaratna and the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.[40] 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.[41][42]

Map of Nichikan GohonzonEdit

The Nichikan-inscribed Gohonzon consists of 34 blocks of calligraphy.[43] The original copy was inscribed in 1720 by Nichikan (1665-1726), the twenty-sixth chief abbot of Taiseki-ji. In 1993 the Soka Gakkai began to confer Gohonzon replicas based on this mandala. Many of its members opted to replace their old Gohonzon with this transcription.[44]


The bolded calligraphy of the central core of the Gohonzon has been compared to the stupa in the Ceremony in the Air. It is divided into three sections: (1) Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō, (2) the name of Nichiren, and (3) his seal (Zai gohan).


The core is framed on four sides. On the top row are the two Buddhas who are seated within the treasure tower that emerges in the 11th "The Emergence of the Treasure Tower" chapter of the Lotus Sutra: (4) Gautam Buddha and (5) Prabhutaratna or "Many Treasures" Buddha.

Flanking them are the four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth to whom Gautama, in the 22nd "Entrustment" chapter, entrusts the protection and propagation of the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Day of the Law. They are: (6) Jogyo Bosatsu, Bodhisattva Superior Practices (Skt. Visistacaritra); (7) Muhengyo Bosatsu, Bodhisattva Boundless Practices (Skt. Anantacharitra);[45] (8) Anryugyo Bosatsu, Bodhisattva Firmly Established Practices (Skt. Supratisthitacaritra) and (9) Jyogyo Bosatsu, Bodhisattva Pure Practices (Skt. Visuddhacaritra).

Guarding the corners are the Four Heavenly Kings[46] (counter-clockwise): (10) Dai Bishamon-tenno, Great Heavenly King Vaiśravaṇa; (11) Dai Zojo-tenno, Great Heavenly King Increase and Growth (Skt. Virūḍhaka); (12) Dai Komoku-tenno, Great Heavenly King Wide-Eyed (Skt. Virūpākṣa); (13) Dai Jikoku-tenno, Great Heavenly King Upholder of the Nation (Skt. Dhṛtarāṣṭra).

In the center of both sides, written in Siddhaṃ script, are the two Kings of Knowledge: (14) Aizen-myo'o, Wisdom King Craving-Filled (Skt. Rāgarāja) and (15) Fudo-myo'o, Wisdom King Immovable (Skt. Acala).

Guarding the bottom of the frame are two Japanese deities: (16) Hachiman Dai Bosatsu, Great Bodhisattva Hachiman and (17) Tensho-daijin, Sun Goddess (Amaterasu).


There is one inscription by Nichiren: (18) 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." There is one inscription by Nichikan: (19) Kyojo go-nen roku-gatsu jusan-nichi, "The 13th day of the sixth month in the fifth year of Kyoho [1770], cyclical sign kanoe-ne." There are also two inscriptions from Miao-lo's[47] commentary The Annotations on “The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra”[48]: (20) U kuyo sha Fuku ka jugo, "Those who make offerings will gain good fortune surpassing the ten honorable titles [of the Buddha]" and (21) Nyaku noran sha zu ha shichibun, "Those who vex and trouble [the practitioners of the Law] will have their heads split into seven pieces."

Historical figuresEdit

There are two historical figures who promoted Lotus Sutra-exclusiveness in China and Japan, respectively: (22) Tendai Daishi, Great Teacher T'ien-t'ai and (23) Dengyo Daishi, Great Teacher Dengyo.

Mythological personagesEdit

In the Nichikan Gohonzon there is a series of gods and personages drawn from Vedic, Chinese, and Japanese traditions. Among them are gods who vowed in the 26th "Dharani" Chapter of the Lotus Sutra to protect those who uphold and teach the Lotus Sutra. This includes: the prior-cited (10) Great Heavenly King Vaishravana and (13) Great Heavenly King Upholder of the Nation. Flanking the core characters in the third row are (24) Jurasetsunyo, Ten Demon Daughters (Skt. Rakshasi) and (25) Kishimojin, Mother of Demon Children (Skt. Hariti). There are representatives of the Twelve Directional Deities,[49][50] originally Hindu in origin, but incorporated into Buddhism as protectors of the Buddhist realm: (26) Taishaku-tenno Heavenly King Shakra (also known as Heavenly King Indra) and (27) Dai Bontenno Great Heavenly King Brahma flank the core in the second tier of characters. They are surrounded by three celestial deities that participated in the first "Virtuous Practices" chapter of the Lotus Sutra: (28) Dai Nittenno Great Heavenly King Sun, the god of the sun; (29) Dai Gattenno, Great Heavenly King Moon, or the god of the moon; (30) Dai Myojo-tenno Great Heavenly King Stars, the god of the stars (the "morning star," now astronomically identified as Venus).[51] (31) Dai Rokuten no Mao, Devil King of the Sixth Heaven[52][53] and (32) Hachi Dairyuo, the Eight Great Dragon Kings[54] are also present.


Completing the bottom frame is the seal of Nichikan, the transcriber of this Gohonzon: (33) Kore o shosha shi tatematsuru, "I respectully transcribed this" and (34) Nichikan's personal seal.


Research has documented that Nichiren inscribed 740 Gohonzon.[55] 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" (Jpn hosshaku-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.[56] 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.[57]:103

The first extant Gohonzon was inscribed by Nichiren on October 9, 1271 before his transport to Sado Island. Stone describes it as embryonic in form. On July 8, 1273 Nichiren inscribed a Gohonzon in its full form with the inscription "Nichiren inscribes this for the first time."[58]

Early photograph of the Dai-Gohonzon at Taisekiji. Printed in Kumada Ijō's book Nichiren Shōnin in 1913.[59]

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).[60]:109[61]: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."[62]


Nichiren Shoshu claims that the Dai Gohonzon at its head temple is superior to all other Gohonzon. This contention is disputed by others.[63] In 1991 the Soka Gakkai was excommunicated by Nichiren Shoshu and thereby lost its source of Gohonzon. In 1993 the Soka Gakkai began to confer to new members a copy of a Gohonzon inscribed by Nichikan Shonin, the 26th chief abbot of Taisekiji.[64]

There is also a controversy about the function and efficacy of Gohonzon that are now available for purchase or downloadable printing on various websites.[65]

Non-Nichiren Gohonzon and HonzonEdit

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[66][67] At the Risshō Kōsei Kai headquarters there is a Gohonzon that is a statue of Shakyamuni.[68]

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.[69] 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.[70]

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.[71] 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 alsoEdit


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  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.
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Further readingEdit