Honzon (本尊, "fundamental honored [one]"), sometimes referred to as a Gohonzon (ご本尊 or 御本尊), is the enshrined main image[1] or principal deity[2] in Japanese Buddhism. The buddha, bodhisattva, or mandala image is located in either a temple or a household butsudan.[3]

The image can be either a statue or a small scroll and varies from sect to sect. It can be a singular image or a group of images; the honzon in the main (hondou) or treasure (kondou) hall of the temple can be for that particular hall or the entire temple complex. Sometimes honzon is the central image (chuuson) of a cluster of three (sanzonbutu) or five (goson) images.[4]

The physical creation of an icon is followed by a consecration ceremony (known as kaigen, literally 'opening the eyes' or 'dotting the eyes'). It is believed this transforms the honzon into a 'vessel' of the deity which in its own right has power.[5]

Shingon-shu Buzan-ha Mikkyo altar


A honzon that takes the form of a statue is called a Butsuzō (仏像), most likely crafted out of cypress wood or metal such as copper or bronze. The Butsuzō is more common than other types of images.[6] Tori Busshi was an early and renowned creator of worship statues. The Butsuzōzui, originally published in 1690, is a compendium of reproductions of 800 Butsuzō.

An example of Butsuzō Honzon in the Pure Land tradition featuring Amida Buddha.

In various sectsEdit

Before the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the sixth century there is no evidence of honzon in Shinto worship. Instead, its use was a cultural influence from Buddhism.[7] Each sect of Japanese Buddhism has its own honzon which sometimes varies from temple to temple or even from hall to hall within a given temple. This is a practice that was criticized by Ekai Kawaguchi, a 20th century Japanese religious reformer.[8]

Some images (hibutsu, literally "secret buddhas") are considered too sacred for public presentation.[9][10]

Shingon BuddhismEdit

In Mikkyō practices such as in Shingon Buddhism, the term refers to the divinity honored in a rite. When Kūkai introduced Shingon Esoteric Buddhism and its Buddhist Pantheon to Japan in the 9th century, the statuary worship practices found in China were incorporated.[11][12] Over the centuries this developed into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon.

The role of the tutelary figure is similar to that of the yidam in Tibetan Buddhism. Tutelary deities in Vajrayana Buddhism, including Mikkyō, Tangmi and Tibetan Buddhism, are crucial to many religious practices.[citation needed]

Pure Land BuddhismEdit

In the Jōdo Shinshū school of Pure Land Buddhism, under the leadership of Honen and Shinran, the use of "honzon" became more prevalent. The honzon 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.[13] Rennyo thought a honzon in the form of a written mantra was more appropriate than that of statue.

Rissho KoseikaiEdit

In the Rissho Kosei Kai members receive and practice to a honzon enshrined in their homes they label a "Daigohonzon". The scroll consists of an image of Shakyamuni[14][15] At the Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters there is a Gohonzon that is a statue of Shakyamuni.[16]

Zen BuddhismEdit

According to Suzuki, the proper honzon for the Zen altar is Shakyamuni Buddha. He is often attended by other Bodhisattvas and arhats such as statues of Kwannon (Avalokitesvara), Yakusi (Bhaishajyaguru), Jizō (Kshitigarbha), or Miroku (Maitreya). Sometimes there is a trio of Amida (representing the past), Shakyamuni (the present), and Miroku (the future). There are other choices and combinations often influenced by the guiding philosophy of a temple.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Harding, edited by John S. (2012). Studying Buddhism in practice. London: Routledge. p. 82. ISBN 9781136501890.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Sharf, Robert H. (2001). Living images : Japanese Buddhist icons in context (Orig. print. ed.). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780804739894.
  3. ^ Borup, Jørn (2008). Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhism : Myōshinji, a living religion ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Leiden: Brill. p. 8. ISBN 9789004165571.
  4. ^ http://www.aisf.or.jp/jaanus/[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Boldrick, Stacy; Brubaker, Leslie; Clay, Richard (2013). Striking images, iconoclasms past and present. Farnham [u.a.]: Ashgate. p. 43. ISBN 9781472413673.
  6. ^ Horton, Sarah J. (2007). Living Buddhist statues in early medieval and modern Japan (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780230607149.
  7. ^ Kleiner, Fred S. (2010). Gardner's art through the ages : non-Western perspective (13th ed., Custom ed. for Santa Barbara City College ed.). [Boston, Mass.]: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. p. 89. ISBN 9780495573678.
  8. ^ Auerback, Micah L. (2016). A Storied Sage: Canon and Creation in the Making of a Japanese Buddha. University of Chicago Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780226286389. Kawaguchi recounted these details to illustrate the absurdity and disorder resulting from the lack of any single, unifying focus of devotion in Japanese Buddhism. His enumeration begins with deities inherited from India: transcendent, "cosmic" buddhas, and bodhisattvas, "wisdom-beings" who serve as compassionate saviors. The "Great Masters" whom he mentions each stand as the font of a different Buddhist denomination; in each case, the extraordinary life and works of the founder earned him a place as an object of devotion in his own right. The remaining "extreme cases" include a celebrated warrior of medieval Japan, along with lowly trickster animals, among a legion of Indian deities brought to Japan as part of the broader Buddhist pantheon.
  9. ^ Weinstein, Lucie R. (1989). [The Yumedono Kannon: Problems in Seventh-Century Sculpture], Archives of Asian Art 42, 29
  10. ^ Rambelli, Fabio (2002). Secret Buddhas: The Limits of Buddhist Representation, Monumenta Nipponica 57 (3), 271-307
  11. ^ Bogel, Cynthea J. (2009). With a Single Glance: Buddhist Icon and Early Mikkyō Vision. University of Washington Press. p. 197. ISBN 9780295989204. University of Washington Press, 2009
  12. ^ The body: toward an Eastern mind-body theory Yasuo Yuasa, Thomas P. Kasulis p.125 [1]
  13. ^ Blum, Mark L. (ed.); Yasutomi, Shinʼya (2005). Rennyo and the Roots of Modern Japanese Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195350999.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Dharma World, Volume 12. Kosei Publishing Company. 1985.
  15. ^ Guthrie, Stewart (1988). A Japanese new religion: Risshō Kōsei-kai in a mountain hamlet. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, the University of Michigan. p. 120.
  16. ^ Stewart Guthrie. "A Japanese new religion : Risshō Kōsei-kai in a mountain hamlet". p. 136. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  17. ^ Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (2005). Manual of Zen Buddhism (PDF). Buddha Dharma Education Association. pp. 108–109.

Further readingEdit