The Object of Devotion in Buddhism: 

why a mandala Gohonzon and not a Buddha statue?

The word “Buddha” - in various Hinayana and Mahayana schools - almost exclusively refers to the “person” of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. It may also refer to the imaginary heroic figures of Mahavairochana and Amida Buddha. This tendency for personification of “Buddha” is manifested by various depictions in paintings and statues. 

Apart from understanding the word “Buddha” as a person, the Lotus Sutra points to the “Buddha state of life”, a state of potential enlightenment inherent in the life of all people. 

The origin of the Buddha’s worship:  Shakyamuni’s life was based on the Dharma or the Universal Law of Life, and he instructed his disciples to base their lives on the Law : “Ananda! In the future, you should make yourself your light and depend upon your own self. You must not depend upon other people. You should also make the Law your light and depend upon the Law.”

After Shakyamuni passed away, his followers aspired to make their own life as “the life of Buddha”.  However, Shakyamuni became a Buddha only through following or fusing his life with the Dharma or the Universal Law. To have the Buddha as a role model, it was necessary for his disciples to find an object for spiritual focus and practice, an object which would contain the Cause of Buddhahood (The Dharma or Law). But this was difficult to depict because the Law was not revealed by Shakyamuni in specific terms or name - although was generally referred to in various Sutras. The only way for the disciples to focus on an object of devotion was to make a statue of Shakyamuni as an example of the Buddha state as a Person. In this way the focus of Object of Veneration in Buddhism was in form of “statue”. 

The Mandala Gohonzon:  After 20 years of studying and practicing Buddhism, Nichiren declared (1253) the Law (Nammyohorengekyo) as being the final Dharma of the Lotus Sutra. It took him a further 20 years to prepare his followers for the Object of Devotion, Gohonzon, he inscribed during his exile to Sado island (1273). Nichiren referred to the Gohonzon (Object of fundamental respect and devotion), as the embodiment of the “Life of Buddha”.

Schools of Buddhism which do not follow Nichiren still use paintings or statues as their Objects of Veneration.

The Difference between Shakyamuni’s Statue and Mandala Gohonzon

1.       The Gohonzon manifests the Principle of Attaining Buddhahood, which is the Oneness of a Person’s life with the Law. This principle is depicted in bold characters at the centre of the mandala Gohonzon: 
the oneness of the Universal Law (NamMyohoRengeKyo) and the Person (individual human being - represented by Nichiren).  The practice of “Chanting toward the Gohonzon” is an action of bringing our Personal life as an individual - 
to be in harmony with (or in fusion with) the Universal Law NamMyoHoRenGeKyo.
In a statue, the aspect of the “Person” is visible, but the aspect of “Law” is not included and the principle of attaining Buddhahood (The oneness of Person and Law) is not included. 

2.        The Ten Worlds: The mandala Gohonzon, manifests the whole spectrum of life, being the Ten Worlds of life, where the Nine Worlds of sufferings and illusion are the (Cause) transformed into the World of Buddhahood (Effect). A statue does not manifest the Nine Worlds of life.
Because the Gohonzon transforms all the Nine Worlds into enlightenment (mutual possession), then even if one’s state of life is weak (being in the lower worlds), nevertheless one can find a direct connection with the Gohonzon - because the Gohonzon has all possible states of our mind.

3.      The Oneness of Cause and Effect:  Nichiren defined the Object of Devotion as the Ceremony of the Air of the Lotus sutra, where the world of Bodhisattva - representing the Nine Worlds - (Cause) is one with the Buddha (Effect). The Buddha in the Lotus Sutra is inseparable from the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. For this reason, chanting towards the Gohonzon revives one’s inner state of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, and this state inseparably includes the Eternal Buddha (or our Buddha nature) as one state of Bodhisattva-Buddha. A statue - on the other hand - refers only the effect of Shakyamuni’s Buddhahood without including the Bodhisattva state (being inseparable of Buddhahood).

The “inner Gohonzon” and “enshrined Gohonzon”

In essence, the Gohonzon means “Life of Buddha”. For this reason it is possible to view Gohonzon from the perspective of “life-force of Buddha” - in terms of abilities, compassion, wisdom and the highest life-energy, that of the Buddha state.

Nichiren refers to his state of life (embodied in the Gohonzon) as a ‘fearless state’. In inscribing the Gohonzon, Nichiren uses expressions such as ‘the power of an attacking lion’, also as being as the ‘lion king’. The qualities of compassion and wisdom are also included in the essence of his identity as ‘sovereign, teacher and parent of all people’.
This means that the state of Nichiren’s life force (of fearlessness, compassion and wisdom) is embodied in the “enshrined Gohonzon”. The enshrined Gohonzon then indicates the highest possible level of life force that a human being can achieve in reality; that of “Buddha state”.  

According to Buddhism, each person has this highest level of lifeforce (Buddha nature) as a potential state, and which can be revealed in reality. One’s highest state of lifeforce is referred to also as the “inner Gohonzon”.  

To bring forth the highest level of our “inner Gohonzon” in daily life - to equal that of Buddha - efforts are required to overcome the obstacles blocking (or draining) our mind, obstacles such as: doubt of self-worth, arrogance, ignorance, complacency...etc. Removing the blocking barriers before inner enlightenment simply means transforming and raising one’s life-force to its highest level. 
Chanting towards the “enshrined Gohonzon” resonates with the “inner Gohonzon” and this action of chanting is the cause for removing the obstacles clouding the mind and blocking the flow of inner life force (of our Buddha nature). 
The “enshrined Gohonzon” works as a mirror (and as a trigger) for our “inner Gohonzon” which is our “life of Buddha”.   

           Safwan Zabalawi                                                                    Homepage


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