Who's Who on the Gohonzon?

by Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick

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

Amaterasu Omikami

Hachiman Daibosatsu

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


The Shinto Deities

A Popular Dictionary of Shinto defines the kami as follows:

"Kami may refer to the divine, sacred, spiritual and numinous quality or energy of places, and things, deities of imperial and local mythology, spirits of nature and place, divinised heroes, ancestors, rulers, and statesman." (p. 84)

In Japan, a theory called honji-suijaku was created in order to explain the relationship between the kami of Shinto, and the buddhas and bodhisattvas of Buddhism. The term means "root essence and trace manifestation" and it was based on the Tendai teaching that the historical Buddha of the first half of the Lotus Sutra was the trace manifestation of the Eternal Buddha of the second half of the Lotus Sutra. The honji-suijaku theory was that the Shinto kami were actually temporary manifestations of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. In Foundations of Japanese Buddhism (Vol. II), Nichiren's relationship to the kami is summarized:

"Nichiren was confronted with the same problem all Kamakura leaders faced in respect to the role of the native gods. Like the founders of other movements, he instinctively identified the kami with the land of Japan itself and was keenly aware of the importance of the gods and folk beliefs to the masses, whom he sought to influence. In order to explain the role of the gods within his teachings, Nichiren used the honji-suijaku (true-nature-manifestation) theory. He considered every Shinto god commencing with the Sun Goddess to be a suijaku (manifestation) of the Eternal Shakyamuni of the Lotus Sutra and he also believed that the gods had an obligation to protect the followers of the Lotus, as well to punish their enemies. Faced with what he considered to be so many strange heresies dominating the land, Nichiren could merely conclude that the gods had abandoned the nation and returned to their heavenly abodes." (pp.167-168)

"Nichiren's attitude toward the native gods tended to be quite ambivalent. On Sado Island, observers who watched him cry out on a mountain top to the sun and moon, believed he had gone mad, but this was Nichiren's way of communing with the gods, imploring them to fulfill their obligation, and strike down the enemies of the Lotus and end the heresies prevailing throughout the land. He also scolded them for neglect of their duties. Thus he wavered between hostility when he considered them derelict, to the certain belief that they hovered above him and protected him against evil." (p. 168)

Nichiren also may have felt that the Shinto kami were also local gods and therefore not as important as the more powerful Vedic devas who had been universalized through Buddhism. In The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra, a writing attributed to Nichiren, the Shinto kami are compared to the Vedic devas, and both kami and devas are said to be servants and protectors of the votary of the Lotus Sutra:

"Although I myself may be insignificant, I propagate the Lotus Sutra and therefore am the envoy of Shakyamuni Buddha. The Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, who are insignificant, are treated with great respect in this country, but they are only petty gods as compared with Brahma, Shakra, the gods of the sun and moon, and the four heavenly kings... As I am the envoy of Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of the teachings, the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman should bow their heads before me, press their palms together, and prostrate themselves. The votary of the Lotus Sutra is attended by Brahma and Shakra on either side, and the gods of the sun and moon light his path before and behind." (pp.772-773)

Tensho Daijin

This deity is the Shinto sun goddess otherwise known as Amaterasu Omikami. A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts relates the following information about her:

"The Sun Goddess in Japanese mythology, who was later adopted as a protective god in Buddhism. According to the oldest extant histories, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), she was the chief deity and also the progenitor of the imperial family. In many of his writings, Nichiren Daishonin views Tensho Daijin as a personification of the workings which protect the prosperity of those people who have faith in the True Law." (p. 438)

Dr. Barbara Mori of the California Polytechnic State University gives the following account of the story about Amaterasu Omikami according to the ancient Japanese myths:

"A long, long time ago, there was the female deity known as Amaterasu. One account says she was born from the god Izanagi when he used water to purify his left eye after a visit to the nether world. Another says she was born after intercourse between Izanagi and Izanami (Nihon Shoki 720). She was the sun goddess and assigned to rule the High Celestial Plain (Takamagahara). Later she sent her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto, to pacify the Japanese islands, having given him the sacred mirror, sword and jewels that became the Imperial Regalia. His great-grandson became the first Emperor Jimmu. She had a beautiful garden in heaven. When she was around, birds sang merrily and flowers bloomed happily. She had a younger brother, Susanoo, who was a storm deity and very mischievous.

"One day Susanoo looked around his sister's garden, and finding no one around, had a bad idea to show off what the could do. He blew strong winds and scattered Amaterasu's beautiful flowers all over the area. Having seen her garden totally ruined by his misdeeds, Amaterasu was deeply saddened, and hid herself in a cave behind a thick, heavy rock door. The whole world became completely dark and very cold. Days and weeks passed without sun, and everybody became sick and depressed. One day a female deity said, "I cannot stand this anymore. I will dance to cheer you all." So she started dancing a lewd dance. Then musicians started playing enticing music with drums and instruments. The dance and the music were so outrageous that everyone began laughing out loud. It turned out to be a big party in the darkness.

"Meanwhile, behind the rock door in the cave, Amaterasu heard the strange noises outside and wondered what they were. She approached the door, and found that the noise was music. She felt that something interesting must be going on outside, so she came even closer to the door. Outside, the strongest deity was awaiting for that moment. as soon as he saw the first line of light coming through the rock door, he pulled on the door with his full strength. Amaterasu came out and shined again and order was restored. This was the beginning of the country of Japan."

Nichiren apparently felt that it was very significant that there was a connection between his home in Awa where he first began to propagate the Odaimoku and an important shrine of Amaterasu Omikami. In the letter Reply to Niiama he states:

"Though it is a remote place, Tojo Village in Awa Province is like the center of Japan because the Sun Goddess resides there. Though in ancient times she lived in Ise Province, when the emperors came to have deep faith in Hachiman and the Kamo shrines, and neglected the Sun Goddess, she became enraged. At that time, Minamoto no Yoritomo, the general of the right, wrote a pledge and ordered Aoka no Kodayu to enshrine her in the outer shrine of Ise. Perhaps because Yoritomo fulfilled the goddess's wish, he became the shogun who ruled all of Japan. This man then decided on Tojo District as the residence of the Sun Goddess. That may be why this goddess no longer lives in Ise but in Tojo District in Awa Province...Out of all the places in the entire land of Jambudvipa, Nichiren began to propagate this correct teaching in Tojo District, in Awa Province in Japan." (p. 468)

In The Swords of Good and Evil which is attributed to Nichiren, is the following statement:

"Of all the many places in Japan, Nichiren was born in the province of Awa. It is said that the Sun Goddess first dwelt in this province, where she began exploring the land of Japan. An estate exists there dedicated to the goddess, who is the compassionate father and mother to all living beings in this country. Therefore, this province must be of great significance. What karma from the past caused Nichiren to be born in this same province?" (p. 452)

Icon: A Japanese noblewoman or nun.

Hachiman Daibosatsu

This Shinto deity presides over archery, agriculture, and other important parts of Japanese life. A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts relates the following information about him:

"One of the main deities in Japanese mythology, along with Tensho Daijin (Sun Goddess). There are several views concerning the question of how he came to be worshipped. According to one explanation, in the reign of the twenty-ninth emperor, Kimmei, the god Hachiman appeared as a smith in Usa, Kyushu, the southern part of Japan, and declared that in a past life he had been Emperor Ojin, the fifteenth emperor of Japan. His aid was sought after in his capacity as the god of smiths when the great image of Vairochana was erected at Todai-ji temple in Nara, and from that time on, Hachiman came to be more and more closely associated with Buddhism. Early in the Heian period (794-1185), the imperial court named him Great Bodhisattva (Jap daibosatsu), an early example of the fusion of Buddhist and Shinto elements. Around the mid-ninth century Hachiman was revered as a protector of the capital, and later, with the rise of the samurai class, he was particularly venerated by the Minamoto clan. In the latter part of the twelfth century, Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, built a Hachiman shrine at Tsurugaoka in Kamakura, and, with the spread of the samurai government, the worship of Hachiman as a protective deity of the villages became a predominant throughout Japan. In his writings, Nichiren Daishonin views Hachiman as a personification of the function which promotes the agricultural fertility of a land whose inhabitants embrace the Law." (p. 150)

In a letter called The Great Bodhisattva Hachiman which is attributed to Nichiren, the Kamakuran belief that Hachiman is a manifestation of Amitabha Buddha is denied and instead Hachiman is explicitly identified as a manifestation of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. In fact, because the Japanese people insisted on identifying him with Amitabha Buddha, he burned down his shrine in Kamakura and returned to the heavens. The letter also refers to the legendary early 9th century oracle in which Hachiman is reputed to have vowed to protect the reign of one hundred emperors. The fall of the emperors to the bakufu (military government) seemed to have invalidated that oracle. However, if Hachiman was a manifestation of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha, then he was under no obligation to protect sovereigns who turned their backs on the Lotus Sutra and that is why Hachiman withdrew his protection from the emperors and bestowed it upon the shoguns instead. The assumption is that Hachiman only protects those with integrity who uphold the truth. The letter states:

"On considering this, we can see that, because persons who put their faith in the Lotus Sutra are following an honest doctrine, Shakyamuni Buddha himself will protect them. How then could it happen that Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, who is his manifestation, would fail to protect them?" (p.1082)

Nichiren also reportedly berated Hachiman at the Hachiman shrine in Kamakura just before the attempt to execute him at Tatsunokuchi. This incident is recounted in the writing called The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren's scolding illustrates his attitude towards Hachiman and the other gods:

"That night of the twelfth, I was placed under the custody of the lord of the province of Musashi and around midnight was taken out of Kamakura to be executed. As we set out on Wakamiya Avenue, I looked at the crowd of warriors surrounding me and said, 'Don't make a fuss. I won't cause any trouble. I merely wish to say my last words to Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.' I got down from my horse and called out in a loud voice, 'Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, are you truly a god? When Wake no Kiyomaro was about to be beheaded, you appeared as a moon ten feet wide. When the Great Teacher Dengyo lectured on the Lotus Sutra, you bestowed upon him a purple surplice as an offering. Now I, Nichiren, am the foremost votary of the Lotus Sutra in all of Japan, and am entirely without guilt. I have expounded the doctrine to save all the people of Japan from falling into the great citadel of the hell of incessant suffering for slandering the Lotus Sutra. Moreover, if the forces of the great Mongol empire attack this country, can even the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman remain safe and unharmed? When Shakyamuni Buddha expounded the Lotus Sutra, Many Treasures Buddha and the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions gathered, shining like so many suns and moons, stars and mirrors. In the presence of the countless heavenly gods as well as the benevolent deities and sages of India, China, and Japan, Shakyamuni Buddha urged each one to submit a written pledge to protect the votary of the Lotus Sutra at all times. Each and every one of the gods made this pledge. I should not have to remind you. Why do you not appear at once to fulfill your solemn oath?' Finally I called out: 'If I am executed tonight and go to the pure land of Eagle Peak, I will dare to report to Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of the teachings, that the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are the deities who have broken their oath to him. If you feel this will go hard with you, you had better do something about it right away!' Then I remounted my horse." (pp. 766-767)

Icon: A Japanese samurai with bow and arrows or a monk with a beggar's staff (a staff with iron rings at the top).

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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