What Does the Term Gohonzon Mean?

The eternal life of the universe exists within each of us.

Photo: iStockphoto / Ron Thomas

The literal meaning of honzon is object of devotion. Go is an honorific. Even people who declare that they are not religious will surely have something that they value or esteem most highly. Whatever people cherish most dearly—that is their object of fundamental respect, or object of devotion. Though altar-e1475369671198-254x325-1they might claim otherwise, there are those for whom money is an object of devotion. For others, it might be social status. Some people make their boyfriend or girlfriend, or their family, their object of devotion. For some, knowledge is the altar at which they worship. And certainly there are people who venerate some deity or some concept of heaven or truth.

What you make the object of your greatest veneration will have a profound influence on your life. Nichiren Buddhism takes as its object of fundamental respect the life of the Buddha—the eternal essence of life at one with the universe. That object of veneration is not something abstract or out of reach, because it is life itself. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself. The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 832). The eternal life of the universe exists within each of us. The Gohonzon resides within each of us. Nichiren Buddhism is a philosophy of utmost respect for human beings and for life. Nichiren embodied the essence of his own life in the form of the Gohonzon to make it possible for us to summon forth the Gohonzon within our lives.

In a sense, there is no simpler Buddhist practice than reciting the sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. We do not have to undertake strange austerities as in some esoteric Buddhist traditions. In the case of a machine, for example, the more sophisticated the technology, the greater the ease of operation and use. Similarly, because Nichiren Buddhism is such a highly developed and powerful teaching, it enables us to tap the life state of Buddhahood through the simplest form of practice.

On the other hand, since we carry out Buddhist practice in the midst of our busy daily lives, it is easy for us to overlook or neglect it. In that respect, there is perhaps no more difficult practice when it comes to continuing. Nonetheless, if we challenge ourselves to keep up a little each day, before we realize it, we will have built a path to happiness in the depths of our lives; we will have established a solid embankment that will prevent our ever being swept in the direction of unhappiness.

—Excerpted from SGI President Ikeda’s book Discussions on Youth, new edition, pp. 234–35.