The Dai-Gohonzon
of Taiseki-ji

A cornerstone of faith, Nichiren Shoshu & Soka Gakkai believe it was inscribed by the DaiShonin. This is the only published photo of it, taken with their permission in 1910. Currently enshrined in the Hoanden at Taisekiji.

Only publ. photo of DaiGohonzon taken with their permission in 1910

ShoHondo at Taiseki-ji where the DaiGohonzon was enshrined from 1972-1998

The High Sanctuary of the Essential Teachings

Artist rendering of the Hoando, being built on the remains of the ShoHondo for the Dai-Gohonzon
Artist rendering of the Hoando, being built on
the site of the old ShoHondo for the DaiGohonzon

Issues Regarding Nichiren Shoshu Claims

I. The Transfer Documents

II. The Dai-Gohonzon, a.k.a. Ita-Mandala:

The Nichiren Shoshu claim that on October 12, 1279 Nichiren Shonin inscribed the Dai-Gohonzon. This Dai-Gohonzon (above) is allegedly the supreme object of worship for all people. However,  no one outside the priesthood of Nichiren Shoshu (including the priests and scholars of other Fuji school lineages of Nikko)  gives any credence to this story.

The legend is that the Dai-Gohonzon was inscribed by Nichiren after the Atsuhara persectution in which laymembers gave their lives to uphold the Odaimoku. The Dai-Gohonzon was dedicated to someone named Yashiro Kunishige. The Dai-Gohonzon was then carved from a log of camphor wood found in a stream at Mt. Minobu by a disciple of Nichiren named Nippo. Supposedly, Nichiren referred to the creation of the Dai-Gohonzon in the "Shonin Gonan Ji" gosho where he says:

 "The Buddha fulfilled the purpose of his advent in a little over forty years; T'ien-t'ai took about thirty years, and Dengyo, some twenty years. I have repeatedly spoken of the indescribable persecutions they suffered during those years. For me it took twenty-seven years, and the persectuions I faced during this period are well known to you all."
 There is nothing in this gosho, however, to make it clear what Nichiren was actually referring to. There is certainly no direct reference to any kind of Omandala let alone a Dai-Gohonzon. A gosho called the "Jogyo Shoden Sho" refers to Nippo carving a statue of Nichiren from a log found in a river but this gosho is believed to be a pious forgery.

 The legend of the Dai-Gohonzon goes on to say that Nikko took the wooden carving of the Dai-Gohonzon with him when he left Mt. Minobu. More specifically the legend states that a priest named Hakken-bo, one of Nikko's disciples, carried it on his back and that it was later deposited at Taisekiji.

The problem is that none of the extant writings of Nikko refer to the Ita-mandala or any kind of specific Dai-Gohonzon carved for all mankind. In fact, Nikko's writings indicate that he didn't even approve of wooden mandals like the Dai-Gohonzon. In the aforementioned "Fuji Isseki Monto Zonchi-no-koto", Nikko states his disapproval of honzons should not be enscribed on planks of wood because it would devalue the hand written Omandalas. He was worried that if sturdier wooden copies were made then the paper Omandala originals would be neglected. On the other hand, in the "Hara dono gohenji" Nikko also states that the use of mandalas was only a temporary expedient until such time as carvings of the Original Buddha flanked by the four Original Disciples, the Four Leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, could be established. Would Nikko have written such things if he had been in possession of the Dai-Gohonzon?

Furthermore, Nikko did leave four authentic Nichiren Omandalas at Kitayama Honmonji where he spent the rest of his life. Those Omandalas were eventually given to other Nikko lineage temples: Myokakuji in Kyoto, Honnoji in Kyoto, Honmonji in Kyoto, and Hokkeji in Kagawa Prefecture. On these, Nikko wrote: "Hanging it up in Honmonji, one should make it the esteemed jewel of the Latter Age." The reference to Honmonji is most obviously to Kitayama Honmonji and not to Taisekiji. It is also odd that Taisekiji, the other temple founded by Nikko and claimed to be the location of his main lineage by the Nichiren Shoshu, did not receive any of these authentic Nichiren Omandalas. That by itself proves nothing, but it is a curious comment on Nikko's attitutde towards Taisekiji. Some have suggested that he left Taisekiji and founded Kitayama Honmonji because he did not want to entrust the future of his (really Nichiren's) teachings to the family of Nanjo Tokimitsu who controlled it as their family temple. In any case, Nikko's grave is at Kitayama Honmonji and it is oriented not towards Taisekiji and the alleged Dai-Gohonzon, but towards Nichiren's grave at Mt. Minobu.

The first mention of the Dai-Gohonzon is during the tenure of Nichiu, the ninth high priest of Taisekiji. He allegedly revealed it's existence  in 1488. Nichiu claimed that it had been given to Taisekiji by Yashiro Kunishige, who the Dai-Gohonzon is edicated to, but Nichijo a contemporary of Nichiu and the head priest of Kitayama Honmonji actually accused Nichiu of forging the Dai-Gohonzon himself. Again, no one has been able to determine who Yashiro Kunishige was. He could not have been one of the Atsuhara peasants who were being persecuted since peasants did not have family names. And why would Nichiren inscribe a Dai-Gohonzon for all mankind to anyone but one of his major disciples or perhaps the ruler of the country? In any case, the story of Yashiro Kunishige bestowing the Dai-Gohonzon contradicts the story that it was kept at Mt. Minobu until Hakken-bo carried it there on his back when Nikko left for the environs of Mt. Fuji.

So where did the Ita-mandala come from if it is not the Dai-Gohonzon inscribed for all mankind by Nichiren Shonin and left to Nikko who brought it to Taisekiji? In the Muromachi period after 1333, board mandalas like the Ita-mandala were used by the Hokke Koshu (Dharma Flower Assemblies) which followed Nichiren's teachings. In fact, "Hokke (Ko)shu" is written on the Ita-mandala after the name Yashiro Kunishige. It is therefore most likely that the Ita-mandala was carved sometime after 1333 at the earliest.

The question must then be asked, is the Ita-mandala a copy of a Nichiren Omandala at all? In 1910 a photograph was taken of the Ita-mandala with the permission of Taisekiji (see above). This photo was then analyzed by Suzuki Ichiro and Yamanaka Kihachi who had exhaustively studied and analyzed Nichiren's handwriting on all his extant gosho and Omandalas. In their estimation, the Ita-mandala is from the year 1280 and not 1279. They especially refer to the size of the Odaimoku which got larger in the years 1280-1282. They pointed out that the Ita-mandala is virtually identical to an authenticated Nichiren Omandala found at Myokaiji Temple in Numatsu near Mt. Fuji.

Since the Nichiren Shoshu are not merely claiming that the Ita-mandala is a carved copy of a Nichiren Omandala, but rather that it is the Dai-Gohonzon which all people must worship in order to attain enlightenment the burden of proof is on them. However, Nichiren never makes any reference to having carved or to having commissioned the carving of any such item. While Nichiren does speak of Omandalas and statue arrangements to depict the Gohonzon, it is clear from his writings that he, like other Buddhists, regarded the Gohonzon as the primary reality of the Buddha and/or the Dharma and that such plastic representations were secondary.

Neither Nikko, nor the other five major disciples, nor any of their immediate successors ever mention the existence of a Dai-Gohonzon that was supreme to all the other Omandalas that Nichiren had inscribed and bestowed. This is especially curious, because if Nikko had taken such a treasured item from Mt. Minobu, one would think this would raise some complaint or at least comment. If the Ita-mandala was actually the all important Dai-Gohonzon, it is curious that no mention is made of it until 1488. Furthermore, the earliest text to discuss it at any length is the "Kechu Sho" in 1662, and it is believed that even the references to it in that writing have been tampered with.

 It would seem, therefore, that the Ita-mandala is a "Gohonzon" which was carved in imitation of an authentic Nichiren Omandala from 1280, but there seems to be no concrete evidence that it is The Gohonzon which the Nichiren Shoshu claims it is. In fact, there is evidence to indicate that it was most likely created after the time of both Nichiren and Nikko.

III. Nichiren as the Buddha of True Cause of the Latter Age of the Dharma

My thanks to Senchu Murano, Jackie Stone, Bruce Maltz, and Chris Holte for providing all this information.

Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

Life of Nikko Shonin
The Fuji Lineage Ryuei
In Defense of Nichiu Holte
NShu Manual of Nichiren Buddhism Murano
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