20 Life-Changing Buddhist Concepts

The Mirror That Reflects Our Truest Self

Concept #7: The Gohonzon

Photo by Kingmond Young


Words on paper can carry great weight and value—A love letter can make our hearts soar. Reading the will of a deceased wealthy uncle can bring about serious family drama. Finding a $100 bill on the sidewalk can make us feel super lucky.

The Gohonzon, the object of devotion in our Buddhist practice, consists of words on paper.

Briefly explaining the Gohonzon, Ikeda Sensei says: “A map is just paper. But if we trust in the map and use it, we will arrive at our intended destination. The Gohonzon is the object of devotion for bringing forth a great state of life so that we can become genuinely happy.”[1]The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 163.

Nichiren Daishonin inscribed the Gohonzon as a visual representation of the Mystic Law, the fundamental Law or truth of all life and the universe. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo[2]For more on Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, see Concept #1 in this series, published in the June 4, 2021, World Tribune, pp. 6–7. to the Gohonzon enables each of us to dynamically fuse our individual existence with the great life force of the entire universe and develop lives of unshakable happiness.

Let’s go over some basics about the Gohonzon.

What Is the Gohonzon?

The Gohonzon concretely expresses Nichiren’s awakening to the Mystic Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He was the first to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which literally means devotion to Myoho-renge-kyo (Lotus Sutra of the Wonderful Law)—the title of the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha’s highest teaching. A sutra’s title contains its essence, Nichiren believed, and he added nam to signify dedication to this sutra, which teaches that all people equally possess the Buddha nature.

He declares: “I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart. The Buddha’s will is the Lotus Sutra, but the soul of Nichiren is nothing other than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”[3]“Reply to Kyo’o,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412.

On the Gohonzon, Nichiren uses Chinese and Sanskrit characters to depict the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air.[4]Ceremony in the Air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, that spans chapters 11 through 22 of the sutra. The heart of this ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Down the center are the Chinese characters for Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, representing the treasure tower, the ceremony’s centerpiece, which symbolizes the world of Buddhahood.

“In the Latter Day of the Law,” Nichiren says, “no treasure tower exists other than the figures of the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra.”[5]“On the Treasure Tower,” WND-1, 299.

The Gohonzon expresses the reality that all people, without exception, can reveal their inherent Buddhahood by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

What Is the Significance of the Gohonzon?

While we use mirrors to reflect our physical appearance, what can we use to see the inner workings of our heart and mind?

The Gohonzon serves as a mirror that reflects our internal life condition. As the crystallization of the Buddha’s wisdom, it helps us clearly see and bring forth the ultimate truth that the Buddha’s virtues of compassion, wisdom and courage exist in our lives.

“Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself,” Nichiren writes. “The Gohonzon exists only within the mortal flesh of us ordinary people who embrace the Lotus Sutra and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”[6]“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832.

By chanting to the Gohonzon, we can tap our truest self and bring forth the immense power from within, while putting our lives in sync with the rhythm of the universe, with our surroundings.

In the mirror of the Gohonzon, “the Buddha,” rather than being a distant deity or ideal, is the most respectworthy state of life we can all strive to actualize amid our daily realities.

How Do We Use the Gohonzon?

To experience the most effective results in chanting to the Gohonzon, we must be aware of what’s in our hearts when we pray, and strive to orient our prayers toward becoming happy and helping others do the same.

If we pray to the Gohonzon as if begging for aid or if we chant reluctantly, filled with doubt and complaint, Sensei explains, “that state of mind is precisely reflected on the entire universe, as if on the surface of a clear mirror.”[7]My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 99.

He continues:

On the other hand, when you stand up with strong confidence, you will accrue limitless blessings. While controlling your mind, which is at once both extremely subtle and solemnly profound, you should strive to elevate your faith with freshness and vigor. When you do so, both your life and your surroundings will open wide before you, and every action you take will become a source of benefit.[8]Ibid., pp. 99–100.

Chanting each day to the Gohonzon is a process of overcoming negativity and bringing forth the most positive determination to break through any deadlock. The more we repeat this process, the more easily it will become to act based on this determination and positively transform each situation with the wisdom, compassion, courage and life force that emanate from our inherent Buddhahood.

Nichiren inscribed the Gohonzon with the resolve to lead all people to happiness. He also described it as “the banner of propagation of the Lotus Sutra.”[9]“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 831. In other words, the Gohonzon is a tool that helps us propagate the Lotus Sutra’s teachings and demonstrate our limitless potential to create happy, fulfilling lives.

Despite tremendous opposition to his propagation efforts, Nichiren never wavered. As Sensei writes:

In the process of teaching the Law and overcoming great persecution, Nichiren Daishonin manifested the life of the Buddha of limitless joy—the Buddha who has been enlightened since time without beginning and is one with the eternal Law. That is, the life condition of the Buddha of limitless joy enlightened since time without beginning is attained through one’s actions, words and thoughts. This is the state of life inscribed on the Gohonzon.[10]March 2003 Living Buddhism, p. 38.

Following the “map to happiness” that is the Gohonzon surely will be life-changing. As we align our prayers with Nichiren’s vow for kosen-rufu crystallized in the Gohonzon, chanting ourselves and sharing this practice with others, we, too, can transform all our negativity and suffering into the fuel for leading lives of limitless joy.

—Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department

Notes   [ + ]

1. The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 163.
2. For more on Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, see Concept #1 in this series, published in the June 4, 2021, World Tribune, pp. 6–7.
3. “Reply to Kyo’o,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412.
4. Ceremony in the Air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, that spans chapters 11 through 22 of the sutra. The heart of this ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth.
5. “On the Treasure Tower,” WND-1, 299.
6. “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832.
7. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 99.
8. Ibid., pp. 99–100.
9. “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 831.
10. March 2003 Living Buddhism, p. 38.