Basics of Practice
Importance of the Correct Object of Worship
Honzon is a shortened form of the term "konpon songyo"
(konpon: the basis; songyo: honorable respect). It signifies
the object of worship in which one takes faith and reveres
as the basis of one's life.
Generally speaking, each religion has an object of worship
in which its teachings, guidelines, and doctrines are embodied.
Religions differ because their objects of worship are based on
In Buddhism, faith is based on the mystic principle of a
mutual interaction between the living beings (believers) and
the object of worship. Faith is an act of worshipping the honzon
as the basis of one's belief and object of respect. This then
'causes the believer to directly receive the teachings presented
in that object of worship.
Taking faith in an object of worship is not just based upon
emotion, logic, or empirical thinking. Accepting faith gives rise
to the effort to unify oneself with the object of worship.
Regardless of the degree of superiority or inferiority of the
teachings, an object of worship becomes necessary to unite
those teachings deeply and directly with the believer's own life.
One's happiness or unhappiness is decided conclusively by the object of worship in which one believes. If one worships an incorrect object, one's life condition declines, causing suffering and eventual stagnation. The most important thing is to choose the correct object of worship.
Many people think all religions are good, saying, "Faith moves mountains." But the crucial point is what to base that faith upon. There is a great difference, for example, between worshipping a so called transcendental being and the teachings of a worldly philosopher. If we make a mistake in the choice of our object of worship, it will result in undesirable effects. Therefore, in the Gosho, the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin tells us to "choose the most superior object of worship." (Gosho, p.7275).
The correct religion that will truly benefit the people is the one that holds the supreme, true object of worship.
The Three Virtues and the Oneness of the Person and the Law
The Dai-Gohonzon that Nichiren Daishonin inscribed in the form of a mandala is the life of the True Buddha himserf, possessing the three virtues of sovereign, teacher and parent.
1. The sovereign works to protect all the people with absolute Power.
2. The teacher instructs and guides all peopre to attain enlightenment, the state of absolute happiness.
3. The parent manifests the compassion and mercy to nurture and support all living beings.
The Gosho states:
The Buddha is the lord of those in the worlds of humanity (nin) and heaven (ten), the parent
of all the people, and the teacher who enlightens them. A parent with lowly virtues lacks the
virtues of a lord. Lords are to be feared unless they possess the compassion of parents.
Even if some are both parent and lord they are not necessarily teachers. All Buddhas who are
respected are lords but since they did not appear in this world, they are not teachers.
(Gosho, p. 628).
The Gohonzon possesses all three virtues, and is the only true object of worship that can save all people from the sufferings of birth and death. It is important for us to be attentive to our attitude and posture in front of the Gohonzon. We must recite the sutra and chant Daimoku with sincere devotion. Then, enlightenment is possible, bringing the Buddha nature embodied in the Gohonzon and one's own nature into oneness.
The Gohonzon is the manifestation of the oneness of the person and the Law. Even though the most superior Law exists in the universe, it is impossible to prove its existence without the person (Buddha) who is enlightened to it. On the other hand, if a Buddha did not possess the enlightened wisdom to realize the mystic Law (Myoho) he would be only a common mortal. Nichiren Daishonin is the only one who is eternally enlightened to the true Law which can lead everyone to Buddhahood. He inscribed his enlightened life in the form of the Great Mandala, the Dai-Gohonzon. The Dai-Gohonzon embodies Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo of actual ichinen sûnzen (the Law) and the eternally enlightened life of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin (the person) which are, together, the entity of the oneness of the Person and the Law (ninpo ikka).
Nichiren Daishonin states in the Gosho:
This Law embodies ichinen sanzen, the life of the Buddha; even the most
intelligent scholar in the world cannot comprehend the Law.
(Gosho, p. 523).
Even if we don't understand the whole concept of the Law, it is, in fact, the life of the Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin. We must face the Gohonzon as if we were facing the living Nichiren Daishonin. Through various experiences and stucly of the True teaching, we will become convinccd that the Gohonzon is the living Buddha.
In Nichiren Shoshu, chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon is the basis of our Buddhist practice. We chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo every morning and evening as the primary part of our daily prayer called gongyo, which consists of this chanting and the recitation of the Lotus Sutra that precedes it. We strive to make our best effort to chant as much as we can outside of our morning and evening gongyo. This allows us to polish our tarnished mirror in our lives, through which we perceive the world around us, and transform our negative karma into the one that brings about positive effects in our present and future lives.
In "The Gift of Rice," Nichiren Daishonin explained:
Namu is a Sanskrit word. In Chinese and Japanese, it means, "to devote one's life."
Devoting one's life refers to offering our lives to the Buddha.
Nam means devotion, dedication, and commitment. "To devote one's life" is an expression of utmost reverence towards the supreme object of the true Buddha and our pledge to follow his fundamental doctrines.
"Reply to Lady Utsubusa" says:
The phrase "namu" expresses one's attitude to respect and to follow.
Here, "attitude to respect and follow" does not refer to an attitude that showcases reluctancy or that follows the Buddha's directions when we feel like it or when doing so suits our agenda. It represents full respect for the true Buddha and a willingness to follow him at all times by basing our lives on the Dai-Gohonzon no matter what difficulties we may encounter.
Myo means "mystic" and ho means the "law." The Chinese teacher Tien' tai said in his writing "Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra:"
Kyo (the teachings) signifies words which the Sage
shares with others of lesser understanding.
When the law, which the Buddha (Sage) possess, is expressed in words, it becomes the "teachings." The essence of this "teaching" is the "law." This "law" is the law of his enlightenment and is beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings, and thus, the "law" is mystic.
The Daishonin came into the world and revealed the mystic law to guide us along on to the portal leading to the supreme state of life called Buddhahood. The Daishonin states in "the Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra:"
Myo means to open.
It is the act of opening something that has been closed to gain access to its inside. Let us assume, for example, that there is a storehouse with a door. The door keeps the storehouse closed. If we want to reach the treasure that is contained within it, we simply must open the door.
When this analogy is applied to human life, it represents circumstances in which earthly desires, negative karma, and slander from the past have caused the Buddha nature within one's life to close up. We tend to forget that we possess this Buddha nature and continue to circulate through the delusions of the six paths of Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquility, and Rapture. Therefore, the passage "Myo means to open" signifies an opening or a revelation of this condition of inherent Buddha nature. Such a revelation can only be accomplished through actual practice of Myo, or "mystic."
Renge is a word that means "lotus flower." In Buddhism,
the lotus flower is typically used as a symbol that represents the
purity of the body, mind, and the law. One of the most important
characteristics of this flower is that, when it blooms, it also shows
its seeds at the same time. It analogizes the display of its flower
and seeds to the simultaneity of cause and effect.
Cause and effect in Buddhism is not restricted within the
domain of our present lifetime. It is an unceasing universal principle
that has been ever-present since the beginningless past into the
eternal future. It means the way we live our lives today was shaped
by our own hands due to the karmic causes we made in our past
lifetimes. Nichiren Daishonin teaches:
If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past,
look at the results as they are manifested in the present.
And if you want to understand what results will be manifested
in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.
The simultaneity of cause and effect is expounded only within
the doctrine of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. It allows us to
create the cause (chanting) and experience the effect (bringing
forth of the state of Buddhahood) simultaneously.
In Nichiren Daishonin's Gosho, words such as Shutara (修多羅) or Sotaran (蘇多覽) appear many times. These are transliterations of the Sanskrit word, sutra, which is traslated into Japanese as "kyo." It means "the Buddha's word,"and it also refers to the way his oral teachings are compiled in the form of scriptures. One meaning of kyo, thus, is to express the invisible (oral) truth into a more consolidated form that aids the practice of his followers for the sake of their enlightenment.
Nichiren Daishonin states in "On the Meaning of the True Entity of Myoho-Renge-Kyo:"
The ultimate truth was originally without a name. When the sage observed this truth,
and was about to give a name to everything, he was awakened to the mystic, single
Law that possesses the simultaneity of cause and effect. He named this truth Myoho-Renge.
This single Law of Myoho-Renge is a complete teaching that encompasses all phenomena
within the three thousand realms of the ten worlds. Thus , those who practice the Law of
Myoho-Renge can obtain both the cause and effect of attaining Buddhahood in the same
moment. As the sage revered and practiced this Law, he simultaneously received the cause
and effect of Myoho-Renge. For this reason, he became the Buddha who is endowed with
all the effects and benefits of his practice at the stage of enlightenment.
(Gosho, p. 695)
Myoho-Renge is the name given to this "ultimate truth that is originally without a name." Then, he became awakened to the truth of the "mystic, single Law that possesses the simultaneity of cause and effect."
Myoho-Renge-Kyo, in other words, was revealed by the Buddha, in order for him to allow all other living beings to be able to practice to and attain this invisible, fundamental mystic law in the reality of their lives.
Now in the age of the Latter Day of the Law, the true Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, revealed the Gohonzon as the embodiment of this profound mystic Law and as the ultimate object of worship, to which all future posterity should express their devotion, dedication, and commitment, and therefore, it is called Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
The Japanese word for benefit or blessing is kudoku, which is composed of two Chinese characters, ku, meaning "to practice," and doku, meaning "virtue." Within the context of Buddhism, ku refers to positive causes accumulated through Buddhist practice. Doku, or virtues, are the supreme effects with which our lives naturally become endowed through our Buddhist practice.
The Honorable Retired High Priest Nikken Shonin gave the following guidance about the benefits of chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
The seven characters of the Mystic Law of the Gohonzon encompass all cultures, all emotions
and all psychological states, and all the essentials of people's livelihoods; so those who believe
in the Gohonzon and practice this faith never fail to feel the protection of the Buddha's power
and the Buddha's law, as they experience benefits (kudoku) which are most appropriate to their
individual personal circumstances, both at the moment and on a comprehensive scale, and hence
wondrous. The Daimoku (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) emerging from your mouths to reverberate
throughout the heavens and earth without fail bring great benefits for yourselves and others.
He also said:
The Daishonin consistantly taught that chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is the true path
to attaining enlightenment in their present form for all people living in the Latter Day of the Law,
so whether we're having fun, are happy, are sad, or are troubled, and whenever we find ourselves
dealing with a problem, we should earnestly chant the Daimoku to experience how doing so
always opens the way for us. And we must be confident that this is how chanting the Daimoku works.
Nichiren Daishonin states in "Conversation between Sage and a Foolish Man:"
If only you chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, then what offense could
fail to be eradicated? What blessing could fail to come?
(Gosho, p. 406)
Nichikan Shonin, the 26th High Priest of Nichiren Shoshu, also states:
If you believe in this mandala and chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, no prayer
will go unanswered, no sin will go unforgiven, all good-fortune will be
bestowed, and righteousness will be manifested
("Exegeses on the "True Object of Worship"), Fuji Shugaku Yoshu, vol. 4, p.213)
The Daishonin also teaches that, since the Daimoku is the true nature of the Buddha, when we chant the Daimoku, the seed for Buddhahood inherent in all living beings begins to take root in ourselves and we can attain enlightenment. The benefit of chanting the Daimoku is also analogized in another way, as the polishing of a tarnished mirror:
Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if it is polished. A mind which presently
is clouded by illusions originating from the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished
mirror, but once it is polished, it will become clear, reflecting the enlightenment of
immutable truth. Arouse deep faith and polish your mirror night and day.
How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
("On Attaining Buddhahood," Gosho, p. 46)
Here, the Daishonin teaches that, once polished, even a clouded mirror comes to reflect forms and shapes accurately; and that likewise, we can transform our own delusions into the Buddha's enlightenment by exerting ourselves in chanting the Daimoku every morning and evening.
What is Karma?
When Japanese people become exasperated because things are not progressing the way they would like them to, they often use a phrase which translates as, "I'm boiling in my karma," in order to express their irritation. Although the Japanese incorporate the word "karma" into many phrases used in everyday language, such as "the fires of karma" and "karmic illness," these phrases do not always correctly convey the original meaning of the word "karma."
In our practice of Buddhism, it is important that we correctly understand the concept of karma. The word "karma" comes from Sanskrit, and means "action" or "deed." There are also times when the meaning of the word "karma" includes not only a person's deed, but also the deed's power to produce an effect. For example, if someone hurts another, even though the act itself may soon be over and done with, the regret, animosity and the like, which accompany the hurtful deed, will remain afterwards. Further, because of such remorse or ill feeling, there will eventually be suffering. In this way, while karma refers specifically to actions, those actions also leave behind their own repercussions.
Varieties of Karma
1) Three Karmas of the Body, Mouth, and Mind
All of human karma is divided into three kinds; physical, verbal, and mental. Physical karma results from activities of the body, while verbal karma derives from actions of the mouth, and mental karma arises from activities of the mind or will. On the Buddhist path, these three types of actions should correspond with each other. We are taught that it is important that out thoughts, words and deeds should be consistent, rather than allowing them to be separate or contradictory.
2) Common Karma and Individual Karma
Common karma refers to karma which people share and shoulder in common. For example, there are cases where all people share causes and effects, such as social development, or a case where an entire society was assailed by a disaster, would be called instances of common karma. In contrast, individual karma refers to the karma of an individual person. For example, a mother can not take the place of a child who is suffering from illness. Individual karma refers to personal pleasures and sufferings. Thus, while karma is a personal matter, it simultaneously possesses social and historical capabilities.
3) The Nature of Karma
Further, if we search deeply into the nature of karma, we can show that what a person does is what he receives (Jap: Jigo Jitoku), and that a karmic cause produces a karmic effect (Jap: Goin Goka).
Karma and Destiny
According to teachings other than Buddhism, views about humanity can be divided into three manjoy classifications:
1. The view that God controls the destiny of man.
2. The view that the destiny of man is determined by coincidence.
3. The view that man's life has been determined by destiny or fate since the eternal past.
From the viewpoint of Buddhism, each of three views is shallow and partial. Buddhism teaches that all human suffering or pleasure is based on a realistic law of cause and effect, and is determined by each individual's karma. We can not determine or choose our parents or country of birth. Further, each of us is born with different abilities and appearances. The causes that give rise to such differentiation are the deeds which each of us has committed before we were born, which Buddhism calls "karma" (Jap: Shukugo).
This view of karma is different from the theory of destiny or fate. The reason for this is that karma is the causal actions through which we receive our resulting fortune. Likewise, we are freely able to change our future lives through our causal actions in this lifetime. For this reason, the view of karma is totally different, both from the view which posits that our lives are determined by an absolute being like a god, and from the theory of destiny, which expounds that life is just coincidental.
Path to the Transformation of Karma
Although we all face various restrictions in our present lives due to karma from past existences, Buddhism explains that even though we are in the middle of karmic retribution, we can determine our future fortune by our own volition. The Daishonin expounds the path to karmic change in "the Letter from Sado:"
It is impossible to fathom one's karma ... It is solely so that I may expiate in this lifetime
my past heavy slanders and be freed from the three evil paths in the next.
Through the benefit of embracing the Dai-Gohonzon, we can change our evil karma from past lifetimes and construct happy lives, both in this existence and the life to come.
This refers to the fact that a person receives retribution for the deeds he has committed. A sutra states:
It is not likely that a person's deeds will be erased. They will return
without fail for the culprit to receive. If a foolish man commits a crime,
he will suffer for it in his next life.
It is further stated in the Hokku Sutra:
A man will be tainted by his evil deeds, while a man who commits
no evil will remain pure. Through their own deeds,
people will be pure or impure.
In short, because the effects of one's actions will return to oneself, we must ultimately take responsibility for our own actions. Foe example, even if we are influenced by the actions of others, the significance of Jigo Jitoku is lost if we think that our future will be determined by the actions of that other person. The fundamental concept of karma is that we are responsible for our own actions.
Karmic Cause and Kamic Effect
Among causes and effects that span the three existences of past, present and future, good and evil actions become the causes of karma, which eventually manifest as good or evil, painful or pleasurable effects. There are two facets to the causes and effects of karma.
First is the case where the natures of the cause and effect are the same. For example, through a person's greedy conduct (cause), his heart becomes more stingy and shameless (effect). In this case, there is a "flow of intimacy between the cause and the effect," which is known as Toru no Inga in Japanese. The other case is where the natures of the cause and the effect diverge. In this instance, a good cause produces a painful result. This is known as a "cause and effect of divergent maturing" (Jap: Ijaku no Inga). Thus, one's fortune is a result of the karmic cause that is made. However, the time when one will receive that karmic effect can vary. Buddhism explains that for karma created in the present lifetime, there are three periods for the retribution of that karma.
1. Jungen Jugo (Genpo) ... karmic retribution in this lifetime
2. Junji Jugo (Shoho) ... karmic retribution in one's next lifetime
3. Jungo Jugo (Goho) ... karmic retribution after two or three lifetimes
Cause and Effect
Buddhism teaches that human happiness is based on the law of cause and effect. As opposed to the concept of causality in the domain of science, the Buddhist concept of cause and effect concerns the dependent relationship between one's individual life and its environment.
A cause leads to an effect, and this effect becomes the cause for the next effect. Causality is a natural phenomenon that has no beginning and no end, and nothing escapes from the effect of this law.
While how this principle works may be explained by the relationship between a seed and a flower or a diligent study for an exam and passing of the test, it remains as a surface understanding to assume that these explanations suffice to know what the law of cause and effect truly means.
Cause and effect tends to be misconstrued to be limited to this present lifetime. We all have a deep-rooted tendency to believe only in what is superficially apparent and pay little-to-no attention to what is beyond our capacity.
For example, a seed is the cause of the flower. A closer examination, however, reveals that this seed contains all the past experiences with the countless cycles of cause and effect from the infinite past. Also, this seed, in this moment and in this tiny body, encompasses all the possibilities to produce the same cyclical process continuing into the eternal future.
The true Buddha, Nichiren Diahosnin, states:
If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results
as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to know what results
will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.
This passage means that this single present moment, in which we dwell, clearly indicates the actual fact that confirms the accumulation of the causes we made in the past. Buddhism does not hold a deterministic view or fatalism, because Buddhism teaches that it is completely possible for us to change the negative effects of our past causes and our futures through our present efforts. The only reason the Daishonin came into this world is solely so that he can open the eyes of all living beings to this fact of truth and guide them along on to the path of true happiness and enlightenment (Jap: ichi daiji in'nen) based on the principle of cause and effect and the practice of chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo to the Gohonzon.
The Ten Worlds
Our life condition determines how we face and handle each situation in life and the environments we create. It is a basic tendency to act in a particular way, make causes to stay healthy, acquire things, and enjoy life. Buddhism calls these life conditions “worlds,” and they number ten: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Tranquillity or Humanity, Rapture, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva (compassion, service to others), and Buddhahood.
The causes we make are conceived in our minds. Our bodies move to give these ideas a form, such as our homes, human relationships, our communities, cities, nations, states, and the world. Just as our body and mind are inseparable, people and their environments are also inseparable. We can only create a reflection of the life tendency or “world” that we are in. For example people who have a basic life condition of Hell will create an environment which reflects that condition. What do you see as you look at your own environment or at the world we have collectively created?
Regardless of our basic life condition, or of what “world” we are in, our emotions and experiences do not remain stable. Everyone will experience anger, joy, calmness, and learning something new. A person in Hell can experience Rapture when his pain is temporarily relieved. A person who is in the world of Bodhisattva feels Rapture when they are able to help someone but might be plunged into Anger when they see someone mistreat others and be plunged into Hell because they can do nothing about it. Each of the ten life conditions contains the potential for all ten within itself. It is a person’s interaction with his or her environment that determines which of the ten worlds will manifest in life at any given time.
The important point to remember is that just as we all possess the potential to manifest the worlds of anger, rapture, and learning, we also possess the potential to manifest the world of Buddhahood when we fuse our lives with the Gohonzon through strong and steady faith and practice.