The object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism, called the Gohonzon, takes the form of a scroll inscribed with Chinese and Sanskrit characters. SGI members receive their own Gohonzon that they enshrine in their homes and which they focus on when they chant.
The significance of the Gohonzon lies not in the literal meaning of the characters, but in the fact that it is was created by Nichiren as the physical embodiment, in the form of a mandala, of the eternal and intrinsic law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Nichiren" is written in bold characters down the center of the scroll.
Nichiren inscribed a Gohonzon for the happiness of all humanity on October 12, 1279, in this case with the letters carved into wood. In doing so, it was his sole purpose to help any person, regardless of gender, race or status, experience the same enlightened state of being that he had attained.
The Gohonzon is an embodiment of the Buddha state that exists within every one of us. However, for most of us, this state remains an unrealized potential; it is latent but needs to be "activated." Through daily practice in front of the Gohonzon we can reveal that latent Buddha nature. The Gohonzon is in a sense like a spiritual exercise machine--through using it we develop our lives; simply possessing it is not enough.
Nichiren encourages us, "when you chant myoho and recite renge, you must summon up deep faith that Myoho-renge-kyo is your life itself" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p.3). Nichiren teaches us, in other words, that one's life is the greatest treasure.
Our inner life-condition changes constantly as we come into contact with different external stimuli: people, the weather, a piece of music, the color of the walls . . . all create some kind of influence on us. A painting can cause the viewer to feel enraptured, calm or disgusted, and a letter can cause joy or shock and dismay. The Gohonzon is the stimulus that helps us draw forth this most enlightened state of life, perceive the Buddha state as the true nature of our life, and live in harmony with our environment.
To convey his message, Nichiren based the graphic image of the Gohonzon on a scene from the Lotus Sutra and on the theory of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds, which expresses that the world of Buddhahood exists as a potentiality in any given moment or life-condition of an individual. In other words, the world of Buddhahood does not lie outside of one's daily existence or being--it is inherent in one's life.
The large characters "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" down the center of the Gohonzon depict this realization. To the left and right of "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo," written in smaller characters, are various figures that represent the Ten Worlds in the life of the Buddha. Nichiren graphically indicated that all ten worlds are illuminated by Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, or the Mystic Law, and are contained within the world of Buddhahood and vice versa.
Simply stated, all beings are Buddhas. It is just a matter of awakening to this realization and living in a way that manifests this truth. In Nichiren Buddhism, chanting to the Gohonzon and taking action for the sake of others is the way to achieve this.
[Adapted from Soka Gakkai International (SGI) website]