Who's Who on the Gohonzon?

by Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick

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

Namu Muhengyo Bosatsu

Namu Jogyo Bosatsu

Namu Jyogyo Bosatsu

Namu Anryugyo Bosatsu

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

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth

In the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, innumerable bodhisattvas emerge from the sky beneath the Saha-world with their four leaders: Superior-Practice, Limitless-Practice, Pure-Practice, and Steadily-Established-Practice. They are the original disciples of the Original Buddha who are possessed of the thirty-two physical marks of greatness and are incomparably greater in stature and power than even the celestial bodhisattvas of the provisional teachings. In chapter 15, Shakyamuni Buddha does not commission the celestial bodhisattvas who are already present with the task of spreading the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Age, and summons these bodhisattvas instead. In chapter 21 they are given the specific transmission of the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Sutra consisting of the teachings, the supernatural powers, the treasury, and the achievements of the Tathagata. Therefore, they are the ones who are responsible for propagating the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Age of the Dharma. Anyone who upholds the Odaimoku in this age is said to be a Bodhisattva of the Earth or, more humbly, one of their followers.

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are intimately related to the Original Buddha, because the eternal presence of the Original Buddha also means that his original disciples are also present. In Bodhisattva Archetypes, Taigen Daniel Leighton observes:

"The Lotus Sutra is also known for its teaching abut the vast extent of Shakyamuni Buddhas lifetime, that Buddha is always present, intentionally choosing to appear to pass away or else to reveal himself, whichever is most beneficial. Thanks to his cosmic omnipresence, bodhisattvas are also pervasive in time and space. Although we do not always know of them, when needed they can pop out of the ground, from the soil of the earth and from the ground or roots of our own being." (p.33)

Shinjo Suguro, commenting on the 15th chapter of the Lotus Sutra in his book Introduction to the Lotus Sutra, says of them:

"It is important to note that the Bodhisattvas who sprang up from beneath the earth, who first appear in this chapter, are not recognized by anyone in the congregation, not even by Maitreya, who is destined to be our next Buddha. These great Bodhisattvas appear only in this sutra and not in any other. Only these Bodhisattvas, who sprang up from beneath the earth, have the qualifications necessary to spread the Lotus Sutra in the evil and degenerate World of Endurance. Later on, in Chapter Twenty-one, 'Supernatural Powers of the Tathagata,' Shakyamuni will transmit the Lotus Sutra directly to them.

"Here it is revealed that the Bodhisattvas who sprang up from beneath the earth are the exemplary Bodhisattvas of the Lotus Sutra. Many other Bodhisattvas have appeared before this chapter, but these are the only ones who fully live up to the Sutra's teachings. Thus they symbolize the ideal, the models for dynamic activity. Their sphere of action is summarized in the lines 'They are no more defiled by worldly desires than a lotus flower is by the water in which it grows.'" (p. 127)

The Bodhisattvas of the Earth are also the representatives of the Original Gate of the Lotus Sutra, the latter half of the sutra which contains the essential teaching. In the first half of the sutra, the Imprinted Gate, the theoretical teaching of the One Vehicle is taught. This teaching is called theoretical because it teaches that "in theory" all people can become buddhas because all along the Buddha was teaching the One Vehicle that leads to buddhahood. The provisional bodhisattvas, like Maitreya Bodhisattva and Accumulated-Wisdom Bodhisattva, represent this principle by providing a model of gradual cultivation to attain buddhahood. For them, bodhisattva practice is the cause of buddhahood which must precede it. The latter half of the Lotus Sutra, however, is the essential teaching of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. The essential teaching reveals that buddhahood has no beginning or end and that the "cause" of bodhisattva practice is actually simultaneous with the "effect" of buddhahood in the eternal enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddhafs. One enters into this unity of practice and enlightenment through faith in the living actuality of buddhahood already present in the figure of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. This is the teaching of the Original Buddha, and it is only his original disciples, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, who are entrusted to propagate such a teaching during the critical time of the Latter Age of the Dharma.

The four leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth represent the four characteristics of Nirvana or Buddhahood as taught in the Nirvana Sutra: true self, eternity, purity, and bliss.

Namu Jogyo Bosatsu

Visistacaritra Bodhisattva ~ Superior-Practice

This bodhisattva represents the true self which is the selflessness of Nirvana. Nichiren Shonin is considered by the Nichiren Shu to be the appearance of Bodhisattva Superior-Practice because he alone fulfilled the role of Bodhisattva Superior-Practice by being the first person to spread the Odaimoku.

Namu Muhengyo Bosatsu

Anantacaritra Bodhisattva ~ Limitless-Practice

This bodhisattva represents eternity which is the unborn and undying nature of Nirvana.

Namu Jyogyo Bosatsu

Visuddhacaritra Bodhisattva ~ Pure-Practice

This bodhisattva represents purity which is Nirvana's freedom from all that is impure.

Namu Anryugyo Bosatsu

Supratisthitacaritra Bodhisattva ~ Steadily-Established Practice

This bodhisattva represents bliss which is Nirvana's liberation from suffering.

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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