Who's Who on the Gohonzon?

by Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick

This Great Mandala is #81 in the GohonzonShu...

Namu Shakamuni Butsu

Namu Taho Nyorai

The most common Gohonzon issued by Nichiren Shu to its members (made of silk)

The Buddhas

Two Buddhas are shown on the Omandala, Shakyamuni Buddha and Many-Treasures Tathagata, but there are other buddhas who are present at the Ceremony in the Air. Also present are the Emanation Buddhas of the Worlds of the Ten Directions. This last group is compromised of all the buddhas of the pure lands throughout the universe who are in actuality the emanations of the Original Shakyamuni Buddha. These buddhas are not shown on the Shutei Mandala, but their presence is implied. Altogether, Shakyamuni Buddha and the Emanation Buddhas show the unity of all the buddhas in all directions with the Odaimoku.

Since the Omandala shows all the sentient beings of the ten worlds illuminated by the Odaimoku, the representatives of the other nine worlds on the Omandala are the buddhas of the future. In that sense, Shakyamuni Buddha and his emanations represent the buddhas of the present, Many-Treasures Tathagata represents all the buddhas of the past, and the other sentient beings are the buddhas of the future. This shows the unity of all the buddhas in all times with the Odaimoku.

Namu Shakamuni Butsu

(Shakyamuni Buddha)

On the Great Mandala, Shakyamuni Buddha is the Original Buddha who can not be spoken or thought of in terms of birth and death, self or other and is the source of all other manifestations of buddhahood. He is the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha who is unborn and undying.

In the sutras prior to the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha is the historical Buddha who attained enlightenment about 2,500 years ago and taught the way to enlightenment to others for approximately 50 years in northeastern India until his death at the age of 80. This view does not change until the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In that chapter, Many-Treasures Tathagata appears in his stupa of treasures and testifies to the veracity and excellence of the One Vehicle teaching which Shakyamuni Buddha expounded in the first 10 chapters of the sutra. The assembly then ask to see Many-Treasures Tathagata, but in order to open the stupa of treasures Shakyamuni Buddha must recall his many emanations who are the buddhas of the ten directions. Shakyamuni Buddha purifies the world three times and then recalls his emanations. In doing this, he is no longer merely the historical Buddha but the source of all the ideal buddhas of the pure lands throughout the universe. He then opens the stupa of treasures, joins Many-Treasures Tathagata in the stupa which is already floating in the sky, and then uses his supernatural power to enable the entire assembly to rise up into the air as well. This is the beginning of the ceremony in the air. In chapter 15, Shakyamuni Buddha summons forth the bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth and reveals that they are his original disciples from the remote past. In response to the question of how he could have taught these innumerable bodhisattvas beginning in the remote past when he has only been teaching for the past forty years, the Buddha reveals in chapter 16 that he did not attain enlightenment for the first time beneath the Bodhi Tree forty years before the events in the Lotus Sutra. Rather, he attained enlightenment in the unquanitifiably remote past. It is in chapter 16 that Shakyamuni Buddha shows himself as the Eternal or Original Buddha and not simply the historical buddha or even merely the source of the emanated buddhas of the present. It is this view of Shakyamuni Buddha in the 16th chapter which is the key to the true nature of enlightenment according to Nichiren Buddhism.

Shinjo Suguro explains that the original and eternal Shakyamuni Buddha provides Buddhism with a united faith:

In Buddhism, various Buddhas have been established as objects of devotion for different pious believers. Since each Buddha has a good reason for being venerated, Buddhism permits us to worship any or all of them. Nevertheless, the Most-Venerable-One should be One, just as the Truth is One. The second half of the Lotus Sutra (Hommon) emphasizes such a Buddhist position regarding the unity of faith. As the object of faith is absolute, it must relate to the realm of eternity. Generally we think of Sakyamuni as a historical figure, bound by the limitations of time and space, and only a provisional manifestation of the infinite, eternal Buddha. According to the Lotus Sutra, however, every Buddha, including the historical Sakyamuni Buddha, is a representation of the eternal original being of Sakyamuni.

Sakyamuni, when seen as the eternal being, is called the Original Buddha (Hombutsu), who was enlightened in the remotest past. The other Buddhas are called 'manifestations of the Buddha." The existence of each of them is a provisional manifestation in some time or place of the Original Buddha. The second half of the Lotus Sutra (Hommon) reveals the concept of the eternity of Sakyamuni, in contrast with the historical Buddha, who is a temporal representation of himself.
(Introduction to the Lotus Sutra, p. 223)

The Original Shakyamuni Buddha represents the unity of all three bodies (Trikaya) of a Buddha which are the Dharma-body (Dharmakaya), the Bliss-body (Sambhogakaya) and the Manifested-body (Nirmanakaya). The Original Shakyamuni Buddha is distinguished from the historical Shakyamuni Buddha by the presence of the Four Bodhisattvas who are the leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. The historical Shakyamuni Buddha, however, is only accompanied by his monk disciples, such as Ananda and Mahakashyapa and only represents the Manifestation-body. The more exalted Shakyamuni Buddha of the provisional Mahayana teachings is accompanied by such bodhisattvas as Manjushri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, but only represents the Bliss-body perceived by the advanced bodhisattvas. Only the Original Shakayamuni Buddha accompanied by the Four Bodhisattvas represents all three bodies at once, all the other buddhas are merely emanations or aspects of this Buddha. For this reason the Original Shakyamuni Buddha is considered to be the Buddha who is most worthy of reverence.

The Original Shakyamuni Buddha also displays the three virtues of parent, teacher and sovereign of all who live in this Saha-world. Which is to say, the Original Buddha nourishes, teaches, and protects humanity through the power of the Wonderful Dharma. This is because faith in the Lotus Sutra enables our wisdom to mature, opens our eyes to the truth, and frees us of suffering.

The pure land of the Original Shakyamuni Buddha is the true reality of this world where the Buddha is always present preaching the Dharma. As such, it is sometimes called the Pure Land of Eagle Peak. In the Sutra of Meditation on Samantabhadra Bodhisattva this pure land is called the Pure Land of Tranquil Light.

Icon: Buddha seated in meditation with hands in gassho. His body aureoles contains three jewels.

Namu Taho Nyorai

Prabhutaratna Tathagata ~ Many Treasures Thus Come One

Many-Treasures Tathagata appears within the stupa of treasures which emerges from beneath the earth and ascends into the sky above Vulture Peak in the 11th chapter of the Lotus Sutra. In that chapter he testifies to the truth of what Shakyamuni Buddha has been preaching. Shakyamuni Buddha then tells the congregation that the Many-Treasures Tathagata taught in the world Treasure-Purity many ages ago, and that he made a vow even after his extinction he would appear to testify to the truth of the Lotus Sutra if anyone should preach it after his passing. Many-Treasures Tathagata also made a vow that he will allow the stupa to be opened and his body revealed if the Buddha who preaches the Lotus Sutra should recall all his emanated buddhas from throughout the universe. This is in fact what Shakyamuni Buddha does, and after all he has purified the Saha-world and recalled all his emanations, he ascends into the sky, opens the sutra and, at the invitation of Many-Treasures Tathagata, he enters the stupa of treasures. Then Shakyamuni Buddha uses his supernatural power to raise the entire congregation in the sky as well. In this way, the ceremony in the air begins. Senchu Murano points out that at first Shakyamuni Buddha is the guest, but after he reveals his true status as the Original Buddha he becomes the host and Many-Treasures Tathagata becomes the guest of honor. Many-Treasures Tathagata and his stupa return to their place of origin after the general transmission of the Lotus Sutra in chapter 22, though an offering is made to him and the stupa by Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Kuan Yin Bodhisattva) in chapter 25.

Many-Treasures Tathagata represents many things. On one level, he represents all the buddha's of the past, and his testimony shows that Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings are in accord with the universal truth which is valid in all ages and in all worlds. On another level, the Many-Treasures Tathagata personifies objective reality while Shakyamuni Buddha personifies subjective wisdom, so when they share the seat within the stupa of treasures they are actually demonstrating the unity of reality and wisdom, subject and object. The emergence of the stupa of treasures itself and the testimony of the Many-Treasures Tathagata from within it could also indicate the emergence of Buddhahood from within our own lives and our own inner recognition of and response to the truth when we are able to hear it.

Icon: Buddha in meditation with hands in gassho. His body aureole contains a stupa.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2002.

Lotus World by Rev. Ryuei
NewLotus World: an Illustrated Guide to the GohonzonNew
This portion of Nichiren's Coffeehouse was converted into a book to celebrate their 25th anniversary by the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose and the Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick in 2005. Ryuei updated the text and it was illustrated by Matt Miller and Rika Williams. It is now the most comprehensive guidebook to Nichiren's Lotus Sutra Mandala in the English language and includes a framable 8.5x11 Pictoral Gohonzon of the Great Mandala of the Nichiren School!

If you have any questions, please Email Ryuei. To order this gem of a book, mail your check or money order for $20 (incl. shipping) to the Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose.

Nichiren Buddhist Temple of San Jose
3570 Mona Way
San Jose, CA 95130

Table of Contents: The Odaimoku | The Buddhas | Four Bodhisattvas | Provisional Bodhisattvas | Esoteric Deities | The Shravaka Disciples | Vedic Deities | Four Heavenly Kings | More Devas... | Shinto Deities | Lineage Chart | Vedic Cosmology | Bibliography | GohonzonShu

More Articles by Ryuei
Odaimoku as Hua-t'ou
What is the Gohonzon?
Life of Nichiren Shonin
History of the Hokke-shu
Building the Treasure Tower
The Sole Efficacy of Odaimoku
Nam or Namu? Does it really matter?
Map of the Shutei Mandala
1. Dai Jikoku Tenno
2. Namu Muhengyo Bosatsu
3. Namu Jogyo Bosatsu
4. Namu Taho Nyorai
5. Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
6. Namu Shakyamuni Buddha
7. Namu Jyogyo Bosatsu
8. Namu Anryugyo Bosatsu
9. Dai Bishamon Tenno
10. Fudo Myo-o
11. Dai Nittenno (Sun)
12. Dairokuten Ma-o (Mara)
13. Dai Bontenno (Brahma)
14. Namu Sharihotsu Sonja
15. Namu Yaku-o Bosatsu
16. Namu Monjushiri Bosatsu
17. Namu Fugen Bosatsu
18. Namu Miroku Bosatsu
19. Namu Dai Kasho Sonja
20. Shakudaijannin Dai-o (Indra)
21. Dai Gattenji (Moon)
22. Myojo Tenji (Stars)
23. Aizen Myo-o
24. Daibadatta
25. Ashura King
26. Wheel Turning King
27. King Ajatashatru
28. Naga-raja (Dragon King)
29. Kishimojin (Demon Mother)
30. Jurasetsunyo
31. Namu Tendai Daishi
32. Namu Ryuju Bosatsu
33. Namu Myoraku Daishi
34. Namu Dengyo Daishi
35. Dai Komoko Tenno
36. "This Great Mandara was
for the first time revealed in the
Jambudvipa 2,220 and some years
after the extinction of the Buddha."

37. Tensho Daijin
38. The signature of Nichiren
39. Hachiman Dai Bosatsu
40. Dai Zocho Tenno
41. The 3rd month of the 3rd year
of Koan, Kanoe-tatsu

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