Who's Who on the Gohonzon?

by Rev. Ryuei Michael McCormick

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

Namu Shakyamuni Buddha

Namu Nagarjuna Bodhisattva

Namu Great Master T'ien-t'ai

Namu Great Master Miao-lo

Namu Great Master Dengyo


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

The Lineage Chart

The following list of names which appear at the bottom of the Omandala provide a kind of lineage chart of the authentic teaching of the Lotus Sutra according to Nichiren. This lineage comprises the historical transmission of the Lotus Sutra which began with the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. Nichiren refers to this in the Kanjin Honzon-sho (Spiritual Contemplation and the Most Venerable):

"...I should say that during the period spanning the time the Buddha was still alive and some 1,800 years after His death, there appeared only three throughout the three lands of India, China, and Japan who perceived the ultimate truth, that is, the Lotus Sutra. They are Sakyamuni Buddha of India, Grand Master T'ien-t'ai of China, and Grand Master Dengyo of Japan, who are the three sages of Buddhism." (p. 142)

If Nichiren Shonin is included in this number, all of these teachers are known collectively as the "four masters in three lands," who comprise the outer or historical transmission as opposed to the inner or spiritual one from the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha to Bodhisattva Superior Practice who appeared in the Latter Age as Nichiren Shonin. Shakyamuni Buddha already appears at the top of the Omandala and it is he who originally transmits the Lotus Sutra and Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. Nagarjuna is added to the lineage chart because according to the T'ien-t'ai school he is one of the twenty-four patriarchs of Buddhism in India after Shakyamuni, and the honorary first patriarch of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism. The teachings attributed to him also contain praise for the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren stated that while he knew the truth of the Lotus Sutra in his heart he did not teach it to others because the time was not yet ripe. Chih-i, the Grand Master T'ien-tai, appears on the list as the founder of the T'ien-t'ai school and the one who proclaimed the true stature and meaning of the Lotus Sutra in China during the Age of Semblance Dharma. Chan-jan, the Great Master Miao-lo, appears on the chart as the ninth century T'ien-t'ai patriarch who revitalized the T'ien-t'ai school and wrote authoritative commentaries on the works of Chih-i. Next, Saicho, or Grand Master Dengyo, appears as the founder of the Tendai school in Japan. Nichiren's name appears, both in his capacity as the inheritor of the historical T'ien-t'ai legacy, but more importantly as the practicer of the Lotus Sutra and the envoy of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha in the Latter Age of Degeneration. Nichiren's name, in many ways, represents all of those who chant Odaimoku in the presence of the Gohonzon.

Namu Ryuju Bosatsu

Nagarjuna Bodhisattva ~ 2nd-3rd century CE

Little is known about the life of Nagarjuna. He was supposedly a brahmin from South India who converted to Buddhism and then to Mahayana Buddhism. Some sources say that he studied and later taught at the the Buddhist university Nalanda in what is now Bihar, India. He is also said to have recovered the Mahayana sutras, specifically the Prajnaparimita-sutras, from the nagas. Nagarjuna was the founder of the Madhyamika school of Mahayana Buddhism which emphasized the teaching of emptiness and a system of Middle Way dialectics which showed the untenability of holding substantialistic views.

Nagarjuna is considered the fourteenth patriarch after Shakyamuni Buddha according to a late 5th century Chinese work called A History of the Transmission of the Dharma Treasury. It was allegedly a translation from a
Sanskrit original, but this have never been proven. In that writing, a lineage of Buddhist patriarchs is given beginning with Mahakashyapa continuing with Ananda and ending with Aryasimha, the twenty-fourth patriarch. This list appears in the preface to Chih-i's The Great Calming and Contemplation (Jap. Maka Shikan) and became a part of the T'ien-t'ai tradition. In this system, the lineage ends with Aryasimha. Later, this became the basis for the legendary Zen lineage of 28 Indian patriarchs which extended to four more Indian patriarchs of which Bodhidharma was the last. Most schools of East Asian Mahayana Buddhism try to trace their lineages back to Nagarjuna or at least to find precedents for their teachings and practices in the works attributed to him. His most important work is the Mula Madhyamika-karika (Jpn. Chu Ron) which is the main basis for the Madhyamikan teaching of emptiness and the Middle Way between the views of existence and non-existence. This work inspired Chih-i's teaching of the Three Truths of emptiness, provisionality, and the Middle Way. The Mahaprajnaparamita-shastra (Jpn. Daichido Ron) was also of great influence in T'ien-t'ai Buddhism. It is a commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 100,000 Lines and only the Kumarajiva translation is still extant. Most scholars believe that it may have been written by Kumarajiva rather than Nagarjuna. In any case, it is a work which comprehensively describes Mahayana Buddhist teachings and practices, and also contained passages in praise of the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha.

Icon: Indian monk.

Namu Tendai Daishi

Great Master T'ien-t'ai, aka Chih-i, aka Chih-che 538-597 CE

Chih-i was the real founder of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism, but he is considered the third patriarch after his teacher Nan-yueh Hui-ssu (515-577) and his teacher's teacher Hui-wen. Some accounts make Nagarjuna the first patriarch, and Chih-i then becomes the fourth. In any case, Chih-i was ordained as a novice at the age of 18 after his parents died. He was fully ordained as a monk at age 20. From around 562 until 569 he lived at Mt. Ta-su studying with Hui-ssu (who would later leave to spend the rest of his life on his namesake Mt. Nan-yueh). There is a legend that when Chih-i met Hui-ssu, his teacher greeted him by saying that he had been waiting for him and that they had been together on Vulture Peak where they heard the Lotus Sutra from Shakyamuni Buddha himself. Hui-ssu was supposedly an earthly manifestation of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva and Chih-i was supposedly an earthly manifestation of Medicine King Bodhisattva. Chih-i, in fact, is said to have attained enlightenment while reading chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Previous Life of Medicine-King Bodhisattva." After studying with Hui-ssu, Chih-i moved to Chin-ling, the capital of the Ch'en dynasty. He spent eight years there at Wa-kuan-ssu temple. In 575 he moved again to Mt. T'ien-t'ai which would become his namesake and the name of the school of Buddhism that he founded. In 584 he was joined by Kuan-ting (561-632) who is also known as Chang-an after his birthplace. Kuan-ting is the actual compiler of the three major works of Chih-i, and he also wrote the introductions to them. In 585 he was persuaded to return to Chin-ling to lecture on the sutras. In 587 he delivered the lectures which would become the Fa-hua wen-chu (Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra).

In 589, Chih-i left Chin-ling for Lu-shan in order to avoid the invading forces of the Sui dynasty which was in the process of uniting all of China. In 591, however, he visited Prince Yang Kuang, who would become the first emperor of the Sui dynasty, and administered the bodhisattva precepts to him and gave him a Dharma name. In return, Prince Kuang bestowed the title Chih-che (Wise One) upon Chih-i. After that, Chih-i returned to his homeland, Chiang-ling. In 593 and 594 respectively, Chih-i delivered the lectures which would become the Fa-hua hsuan-i (Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra) and the Mo-ho chih-kuan (Great Concentration and Insight). In 595 he returned to Mt. T'ien-t'ai and passed away there in 597. Kuan-ting became his successor and the second patriarch of the T'ien-t'ai school.

Chih-i's most important works are the Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, the Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, and the Great Concentration and Insight. His most important teachings include the three truths of the empty, the provisional, and the Middle Way; the "three thousand existences contained in single moment of thought"; the five flavors (or periods) of the Buddha's teaching; the eight teachings consisting of the four doctrinal teachings and the four methods of teaching; and his analysis of the Lotus Sutra into the theoretical section and the essential section. These teachings and many others gave T'ien-t'ai Buddhists the ability to make sense of the vast collection of Buddhist sutras and put them to practical use in the cultivation of meditation practice. In particular, the commentaries of Chih-i enabled T'ien-t'ai Buddhists and others to grasp the essential points and subtle teachings of the Lotus Sutra.

Icon: Chinese monk.

Namu Myoraku Daishi

Great Master Miao-lo,

aka Chan-jan, aka Ching-hsi 711-782 CE

Chan-jan was the sixth patriarch of T'ien-t'ai Buddhism (if Chih-i is counted as the first, ninth if Nagarjuna is counted as the first). His birthplace was Ching-hsi, and he is sometimes given that name as well. He is named Miao-lo after the Miao-lo-ssu temple where he lived. He began to study Buddhism at the age of 20 under the fifth T'ien-t'ai patriarch, Hsuan-lang (673-754) but did not become a monk until he was 38. In his day, the T'ien-t'ai school had become moribund and was overshadowed by newer and more vital schools like Ch'an, Hua-yen, and the Consciousness Only teachings of the great traveler and translator Hsuang-tsang (602-664). Chan-jan revitalized the T'ien-t'ai school, refuted the claims of the rival schools, and wrote definitive commentaries on each of the three major works of Chih-i. Those commentaries are called: Annotations on the Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra, Commentary on the Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra, and Annotations on the Great Concentration and Insight.

Icon: Chinese monk.

Namu Dengyo Daishi

Great Master Dengyo, aka Saicho 767-822 CE

Saicho was the founder of the Japanese Tendai school. He was ordained at the age of 19 in 785 and immediately he retreated to Mt. Hiei. There he spent his time meditating, reciting and copying sutras, and studying the writing of Chih-i. In 804 he was sent by the Imperial court to China along with his disciple and translator Gishin (781-833), and there he was able to spend nine months studying T'ien-t'ai Buddhism with Tao-sui, the seventh patriarch of the T'ien-t'ai school, and Hsing-man, who was also a direct disciple of Chan-jan. Some of that time was spent on Mt. Hiei itself. Saicho also received the bodhisattva precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra from Tao-sui, some limited training in esoteric Buddhism, and a transmission in the Ox Head school of Ch'an Buddhism. He returned to Japan in 805 and set up two study tracks on Mt. Hiei - one for the practice of esoteric Buddhism and one for the practice of meditation. From 809 until 816, Saicho and Kukai exchanged teachings and assistance. But the relationship broke down when Kukai demanded that Saicho become his disciple if he wanted to study esoteric Buddhism in depth, and later when one of Saicho's disciples refused to return to Mt. Hiei because he preferred to study Shingon Buddhism under Kukai. Saicho is also renowned for the debate by way of letters and treatises that he conducted with the Hosso priest Tokuitsu beginning in 817. Saicho argued for the universality of the buddha-nature against the Hosso theory that people have different inherent natures, and that only some can attain buddhahood while others may not be able to attain enlightenment of any kind.

This debate only ended with Saicho's death. Starting in 818, Saicho began lobbying the Imperial court for the establishment of a Mahayana precept platform (kaidan) on Mt. Hiei based upon the Mahayana precepts of the Brahma Net Sutra. Permission was only granted a week after his death. Saicho died in 822. Gishin became his successor and the second patriarch of the Japanese Tendai school. In 823, the Emperor Saga renamed the temple on Mt. Hiei Enryakuji. In 866, the Emperor Seiwa bestowed the name Dengyo Daishi upon Saicho. This was the first time an emperor ever awarded the title Daishi (Great Master).

Icon: Japanese monk.

Nichiren (1222-1282 CE)

Nichiren Shonin is the founder of Nichiren Buddhism. He began to publicly declare and teach the chanting of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo on April 28, 1253 after many years of study and contemplation. His strongly worded critiques of those Buddhists who neglected or misrepresented the Lotus Sutra earned him the enmity of both the Buddhist establishment and the shogunate who patronized them. He suffered four major and several minor persecutions at their hands, but Nichiren never relented because he knew that it was the Lotus Sutra which could awaken people to the possibility of attaining buddhahood and seeing that this world itself is the pure land of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha. It was during his exile on Sado Island on April 25, 1273 that Nichiren wrote the Kanjin Honzon Sho which described the form the Omandala should take. On July 8 of that same year he inscribed the Omandala for the first time. The Shutei Mandala was inscribed in March of 1280, and it is the mandala that Nichiren chanted to before he passed away at the home of Munenaka Ikegami on October 13, 1282.

Nichiren's self-evaluation can be found throughout his writings. In the Kembutsu Mirai-ki (Testimony to the Prediction of the Buddha) he states that he is a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra (Hoke-kyo no gyoja). This means that he is the one who practices the Lotus Sutra just as it preaches and who experiences and thereby fulfills the predictions of the Buddha for the Latter Age of the Dharma found in the Lotus Sutra. Furthermore he states that he is an ordinary person at the second of the T'ien-t'ai's six stages of practice whereby one attains buddhahood. That stage is called "notional understanding" (myoji-soku) because it involves hears the Wonderful Dharma for the first time and takes faith in it. Nichiren equates this with the first of the five stages of practice to be undertaken after the Buddha's passing which is the stage of rejoicing at hearing the sutra. So on one level, Nichiren's sees himself as on the same level as all others who are hearing the Lotus Sutra and taking faith in it in the Latter Age of the Dharma. In the Kaimoku-sho (Open Your Eyes to the Lotus Teaching), Nichiren even states that he himself must have slandered the Lotus Sutra and persecuted its practitioners in his past lives, and that he was now making recompense for his sins in undergoing various persecutions for the sake of the Lotus Sutra in his present life. This would be the position of many of those who initially opposed him and then converted, or who were following him and also wondering why they had to undergo such hardships. So in many ways, Nichiren saw himself as the "every man" in the Latter Age of Degeneration.

After the Sado Exile, however, Nichiren also began to consider himself the appearance of Bodhisattva Superior Practice insofar as he was fulfilling the role of the Buddha's messenger in the Latter Age of the Dharma. Nichiren believed that in chapter 21, Shakyamuni Buddha specifically commissioned Bodhisattva Superior Practice and the Bodhisattvas of the Earth to spread the Odaimoku, the essential practice of the Lotus Sutra, in the Latter Age. Since no one else had appeared to do that, Nichiren concluded that he was either Bodhisattva Superior Practices' forerunner or perhaps the bodhisattva himself. In Yorimoto's Letter of Explanation, Nichiren writes in the persona of his own disciple Shijo Kingo who is trying to explain his faith in the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren's teachings to his feudal lord. In that letter, Nichiren says of himself: "...if the teaching in the sutra is correct, Nichiren Shonin is a reincarnation of Bodhisattva Visistacaritra (Superior-Practice), a practicer of the Lotus Sutra and a direct disciple of the Original and Eternal Sakyamuni Buddha (who attained Buddhahood in the remotest past, according to the essential part of the Lotus Sutra). Nichiren Shonin is a great leading master in the beginning of the fifth 500-year period after the Buddha's extinction." (The Shimoyama Letter, p. 184)

More often, however, Nichiren simply suggests the relationship to Bodhisattva Superior Practice and goes on to extend the relationship to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth to all those who practice Odaimoku. The Shoho jisso-sho (True Aspect of All Phenomena), provides a very good example of this: "Nichiren alone took the lead in carrying out the task of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. He may even be one of them. If Nichiren is to be counted among the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, then so must his disciples and lay supporters." (p. 385) Later in the same writing he says, "If you are of the same mind as Nichiren, you must be a Bodhisattva of the Earth, there is not the slightest doubt that you have been a disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha from the remotest past." (p. 385)

So Nichiren thought of himself as an ordinary person who was fulfilling the mission of Bodhisattva Superior Practice for the Latter Age, and as Bodhisattva Superior Practice appearing to demonstrate how ordinary people can uphold the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Age. His position on the mandala is indicative of the position of all of us who stand before the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha and take faith in the Wonderful Dharma thereby taking part in the Ceremony in the Air.

In addition, Nichiren also thought of himself as having received two transmissions - an outer or historical one, and an inner or spiritual one. The outer one is referred to at the end of the Kembutsu Mirai-ki where he states: "I, Nichiren, of Awa Province, graciously received the teaching of the Lotus Sutra from three masters (Sakyamuni Buddha, T'ien-t'ai and Dengyo) and spread it in the Latter Age of Degeneration. Therefore, I add myself to the three masters, calling ourselves "four masters in three lands.'" (Writings of Nichiren Shonin, p.178) This is the line of transmission that runs from the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, to the Madhyamika teachings of Nagarjuna, through the T'ien-t'ai teachings of Chih-i, Miao-lo, and Saicho, and finally to Nichiren Shonin who at first acted as a reformer who was trying to restore the authentic teachings of the historical T'ien-t'ai school. Nichiren's debt to this historical transmission of those who taught and transmitted the Lotus Sutra down through the ages is indicated by the "lineage chart" at the bottom of the mandala and it is perhaps significant that Nichiren's name is amongst them.

But there is also the inner one which is the direct transmission of the Wonderful Dharma from the Eternal and Original Shakyamuni Buddha to his original disciples, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth, in chapter 21 of the Lotus Sutra. In Kanjin Honzon-sho (A Treatise Revealing the Spiritual Contemplation and the Most Venerable One) Nichiren writes:

"The manifestation of the ten divine powers in the twenty-first chapter on the 'Divine Powers' is for the sake of transmitting the five characters of myo, ho, ren, ge, and kyo to the four bodhisattvas Superior Practice, Limitless Practice, Pure Practice, and Steadily Established Practice, representing the host of bodhisattvas who had sprung from underground." (p. 159) Later on in the same work he says, "Then for the first time those bodhisattvas from underground appear in this world attempting to encourage ignorant people to take the five characters of myo, ho, ren, ge, and kyo, the excellent medicine of the Latter Age." (p. 162) He also says, "After all, the task of establishing the true honzon was reserved for the bodhisattvas from underground who had been
entrusted to propagate the Lotus Sutra in the Latter Age." (p. 163)

Since Nichiren is the one who first propagated the Odaimoku and established the true honzon, one must conclude that Nichiren believed that he was able to do so because in his true identity as Bodhisattva Superior Practice the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha had directly transmitted the teachings to him so that he could act as the Buddha's messenger in the Latter Age. In this respect, Nichiren transcended the historical T'ien-t'ai school insofar as he was teaching what was reserved for the Bodhisattvas of the Earth in the Latter Age of the Dharma. In this sense, Nichiren is the first direct receiver and transmitter of Namu Myoho Renge Kyo to appear in the Latter Age, and it is perhaps significant that Nichiren's name is directly below the Odaimoku where it is in a position to directly receive and proclaim it.

Icon: Nichiren either sitting or standing with the rolls of the Lotus Sutra in hand and perhaps his juzu in another.

This Great Mandala was revealed for the first time in the world of Jambudvipa 2,220 odd years after the extinction of the Buddha .

March, the third year of Koan (1280)

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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