Matsuoka Essay

6. No Need of a High Priest’s Involvement in the Conferral of Gohonzon upon Believers

We have thus come to the realization that the theoretical basis for the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws, which constitutes the central doctrine transmitted orally through the lineage of the successive high priests,has already been disclosed in modern times. This means that the Taiseki-ji school’s way of practicing faith needs to change.

The Taiseki-ji school expounds that one can instantly tap Buddhahood by chanting the Mystic Law of the time without beginning, and teaches that not only the high priest and some high-ranked priests but also all believers have the potential to achieve the significance contained in the object of devotion. As Nichikan writes in his “Exegesis on ‘The Entity of Life,’” “If one discards the provisional teachings and chants Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with wholehearted faith in the Lotus Sutra … one is able to embody the object of devotion” (CE, p. 683). As to how one embodies the object of devotion in terms of both the Person and the Law, Nichikan states, “By embodying the object of devotion in terms of the Person, one can manifest oneself as Sage Nichiren … and by embodying the object of devotion in the terms of the Law, one manifests oneself as the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary of the essential teaching” (CE, p. 683).

On the other hand, the Taiseki-ji school seems to have also considered that the high priest’s involvement was necessary for ordinary priests and lay believers to embody the object of devotion. In his “Exegesis on ‘Repaying the Debts of Gratitude,’” Nichikan writes, “Even if they belong to this school, the laymen and laywomen who lack wisdom are ignorant of the threefold secret teaching” and “These ignorant laymen and laywomen chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with wholehearted faith in the object of devotion of the essential teaching” (CE, p. 322). In this way, Nichikan described how the Fuji school’s ordinary lay believers were ignorant of the school’s transfer teachings in those days. Since it was impossible for the ignorant lay believers to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on their own volition with wholehearted faith in the object of devotion of the essential teaching — because they did not have any understanding of the threefold secret teaching — they needed to have the high priest who understood the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws or other priests who shared the same understanding as their guides in faith.

In those days, almost no lay believers of the Taiseki-ji school were so devoted to the practice of propagation and the study of the school’s doctrines. Takeharu Fukuhara, a lay believer in Kanazawa, was exceptional in this regard. However, even he seems to have been indirectly reprimanded by Nichikan for his distorted understanding of the Fuji school’s study.[1] It can be said that when it came to such topics as the transcription of the mandala Gohonzon or the righteousness of the Gohonzon, lay believers had no choice but to solely depend upon their high priests, who alone were in the possession of the school’s heritage. In other words, every Taiseki-ji believer was theoretically open to the possibility of embodying the object of devotion at that time, but in actuality, his or her attaining Buddhahood or embodying the object of devotion was dependent upon the involvement of the high priest, who alone was in the possession of the heritage of the Fuji school.

Things stand quite differently at the present, where the theoretical basis for the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws (that have been transmitted orally only through the sole lineage of the successive high priests) is now disclosed to the public. The lay believers of this era are different than the laymen and laywomen of the past who were ignorant of the transfer teachings. Rather, they are the type of the people who possess Nichikan’s Six-Volume Writings in their homes and study Nichiren’s writings every day—they are spontaneously devoted to propagating the Gohonzon of the Three Great Secret Laws. Even without guidance from the high priest, they are aware of the correct way of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, based upon their correct understanding of how to embody the object of devotion which based upon the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws that had been transmitted in secrecy through the lineage of the successive high priests of Taiseki-ji.

Furthermore, the high priest’s involvement is becoming even more unnecessary with regard to the transcription of the mandala Gohonzon. The modern-day lay believers who practice Nichiren Buddhism as Nichiren did, do so with a good grasp of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws that at one time only the successive high priests inherited. Thye also have the opportunity to view all Gohonzons that Nichiren inscribed in the periods of Bun’ei, Kenji, and Koan as Gohonzons that carry the same significance as the Dai-Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary.[2] In addition, all the Gohonzons transcribed by the successive high priests of Taiseki-ji are based upon the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary and are thus regarded as the dispersed entity of the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary. The modern-day priests and lay believers may be able to even identify mistakes that could be committed by a high priest in transcribing the Gohonzon, thanks to the publication of the Gohonzon transfer documents.

Here is an example: High priest, Nikkai Abe, inherited the heritage of the Taiseki-ji school in June 1928. In transcribing a Gohonzon, he mistakenly wrote “2220 and some years after the Buddha’s demise” instead of “2230 and some years after the Buddha’s demise.” When questioned about this mistake, Nikkai was forced to apologize for this error, with the remark that “I just wrote so absent-mindedly. I am so sorry.” One of the articles in “The Transmission of Seven Teachings on the Gohonzon” reads, “How about writing ‘after the Buddha’s demise’ on the Gohonzon? The mentor said, ‘This is a great mandala that is unprecedented 2230 and some years after the Buddha’s demise.’ Copying this statement by our mentor is in accord with the correct way of transcribing of the Gohonzon. Summarizing it in the transcription of the Gohonzon is a greatly erroneous view that is not based upon the transfer teaching of this school.” (EWFS, Vol. 1, p. 32). Thanks to the publication of the transfer document, other priests were able to call this error to the attention of Nikkai Abe and he apologized. This incident was unheard-of, especially before the publication of the transfer documents. The reason why the regular priests were confident in reprimanding the high priest, who had received the heritage of the Taiseki-ji school, was that they had the basic knowledge of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws and the “The Transmission of Seven Teachings on the Gohonzon.” This Nikkai incident was symbolic of the arrival of the times where the high priest is not the only person that possesses the expertise and authority for the inscription of the Gohonzon.

Moreover, we should never lose sight of the fact that, in modern times, the high priest does not necessarily transcribe the Gohonzon any more. The Gohonzon enshrined in the homes of Taiseki-ji believers is usually either a Gohonzon based on the Gohonzon of the High Sanctuary by the hand of apast high priest (this Gohonzon is called Joju-Gohonzon), or a Gohonzon reproduced through the use of a woodblock based upon an original Gohonzon transcribed by a high priest (this Gohonzon is called the “woodblock (okatagi) Gohonzon”). The “woodblock” Gohonzon, according to the Taiseki-ji school’s traditional view, was looked upon as a temporary Gohonzon. Only after the believer’s faith was recognized as solid, did the Taiseki-ji school made it a practice to exchange it for the Joju-Gohonzon, which, transcribed directly by the hand of the high priest, had its recipient’s name written on its face. After World War II, however, the Soka Gakkai made great efforts for the propagation of Nichiren Buddhismand millions of Gohonzons were conferred upon new believers. It became physically impossible for every individual with solid faith to receive the Joju-Gohonzon transcribed by the direct hand of the high priest. Under such circumstances, the formality of faith began to change, to the point where the printed “woodblock” Gohonzon was regarded as the genuine Gohonzon.Eventually, the idea of the creation of the “Special Okatagi (Woodblock) Gohonzon” was implemented at the time of the 66th high priest, Nittatsu.[3] The Special Okatagi Gohonzon is a printed Gohonzon with the same significance as that behind the Joju-Gohonzon. It is a Gohonzon that is mounted in a more dignified manner than in the case of a regular woodblock Gohonzon.

The woodblock Gohonzon that came into existence as early as in the Edo period was originally of so poor a quality (in terms of appearance) that it could not help but be regarded as a temporary Gohonzon. However, in modern times, the technology in the world of printing and mounting has made tremendous progress, and even the regular woodblock Gohonzon can maintain similar clarity and beauty as its original one. Therefore, even the regular woodblock Gohonzon looks quite dignified these days. When it comes to the special woodblock Gohonzon, we can say it looks as majestic as the Joju-Gohonzon. Not only that, the original copy of the woodblock Gohonzon can be kept almost permanently, which means we don’t have to ask the high priest to make another original one for the special woodblock Gohonzon. As early as before World War II, Nichiko Hori predicted in his “Comment on ‘On the Formalities,’” “When the time comes where the fortune of our school gradually opens up and we see the Mystic Law chanted all over the world, how could it be the case where we only depend on the high priest to confer the Gohonzon upon believers? What is written in this article may actually happen. Or we may have to use the woodblock Gohonzon” (EWFS, Vol. 1, p. 113). His prediction has basically come true within a period of less than one hundred years. We can now say that the age where the high priest’s transcription of the Gohonzon was indispensable has come to an end—which means that the existence of a high priest who can doctrinally understand the formalities of the transcription of the Gohonzon is no longer necessary or essential at all. Needless to say, the entity and appearance of the Gohonzon is, in essence, widely open to everyone, whether we give doctrinal explanations to them. I would dare to say that when the entity and appearance of the Gohonzon is copied in accordance with the way Nichiren Daishonin inscribed it and Nikko Shonin transcribed it, the priests and lay believers of the Fuji school can correctly and fully practice to this correctly transcribed Gohonzon with a correct grasp of the teaching of the Three Great Secret Laws. In addition, in modern times, the Gohonzon does not have to be transcribed anew any more. And transfer documents such as “The Transmission of Seven Teachings on the Gohonzon” have been made available to the public, which compels me to say that the high priest’s inheritance of the doctrine (in regard to the formalities related to the transcription of the mandala Gohonzon) has lost its meaning in faith.

As mentioned above, the contemporary priests and lay believers of the Fuji school, without the guidance of the high priest, base themselves upon the correct object of devotion of the Three Great Secret Laws, chant the Mystic Law of the time without beginning just as they are, embody the Buddhahood of the Gohonzon instantly, and confer and spread the woodblock Gohonzon that carries the same significance as a Joju-Gohonzon. We are living in times when the high priest’s involvement in the faith of the people and in their ability to embody the object of devotion has become unnecessary. In other words, posterity will recognize the time when we now live as the time when the role of the high priest in the transfer of the heritage of Taiseki-ji school came to an end.

  1. The Biography of High Priest Nichikan (Nichikan Shonin Den), pp. 64-65.
  2. The Basic Teachings of Nichiren Shoshu (Nichiren Shoshu Yogi, Nichiren Shoshu Administrative Office, 1978, p. 201) reads, “The profound significance of the object of devotion shall be transferred from one high priest to another, just as water in one vessel is transferred to another for the eternal propagation of the Law. Therefore, with the permission from the high priest of the time, any Gohonzon inscribed by Nichiren Daishonin in either format, comprehensive or abbreviated, during any one of the time periods whether in Bun’ei, Kenji, or Ko’an, is the Gohonzon that, based upon the ultimate Dai-Gohonzon, enables all people to attain Buddhahood as they are, for the present and for the future.” Since the theoretical basis for the Three Great Secret Laws (which constitute the core of the significance of the object of devotion) has been revealed to the public, the description within The Important Teachings of Nichiren Shoshu (Nichiren Shoshu Yogi), that is, “with the permission from the high priest of the time” may have to be replaced with the expression “in accord with our understanding of the Three Great Secret Laws that has been transmitted orally or through documents from one high priest to another.”
  3. “Tokubetsu Okatagi Gohonzon” was bestowed by Taiseki-ji upon the Soka Gakkai, and its conferral ceremony was conducted at the Gakkai’s facilities, instead of at Nichiren Shoshu temples. According to the Seikyo Shimbun, the first conferral ceremony of the Tokubetsu Okatagi Gohonzon was conducted at the Soka Gakkai headquarter building and Soka Gakkai Culture Center in Shinanomachi, Tokyo, on December 14, 1975.