Daily Care of the Gohonzon
The Meaning of the Water Offering and the Offerings of Flowers, Light, and Fragrance
Attitude When Serving the Gohonzon
The manner in which Gongyo is performed, how the Gohonzon is, enshrined and our conduct in the presence of the Gohonzon are called kegi or "observances which substantiate the Law." For brevity's sake, we can also refer to kegi as "observances"or "formalities." However, you should bear in mind that these words are not superficial: kegi entail more than cursory gestures or mere formalities.
Ninth High Priest Nichiu Shonin writes in "On Formalities" (Kegi sho)"Practice of observances evidences one's faith." This means that a person's conduct in the presence of the Gohonzon is a manifestation of that person's faith, as inattention in observance leads to slovenly habits, laxity in faith and eventually results in disregard for the teachings.
This ancient verse has been handed down among priests of Taisekiji, the Head Temple of Nichiren Shoshu, "The Lotus Sutra - all I have gained, I have gained in its service: gathering firewood, picking vegetables and drawing water."
In other words, physical actions such as gathering firewood, bringing offerings and drawing water from the stream for the Gohonzon are offerings made with one's body. Through pursuit of this practice we, ourselves, are able to attain the Buddha's spiritual enlightenment.
Nikko Shonin set an example for taking care of the Gohonzon through his actions in caring for the Daishonin. Nikko Shonin stayed by the Daishonin's side constantly to serve Him, following Him like a shadow.
In serving the Gohonzon, the most important element is to exhibit a respectful attitude arising from one's sincere wish to requite one's debt of gratitude to the True Buddha and one's recognition that one is in the presence of the True Buddha, Nichiren Daishonin, Himself. This was explained in the Kegi sho shoge:
They [priests of past ages] would place even the smallest offering on the altar in the sight of the Founder's image and pay the utmost respect to the True Buddha as if He Himself were there. (Summary)
The Daishonin quoted the words of the Japanese sage Dengyo in the "Orally Transmitted Teachings" (Ongi kuden):
Morning after morning, awaken with the Buddha; night after night, retire with the Buddha. (Gosho, p.1749)
In essence, we should constantly accompany, serve, believe in and submit ourselves to the Buddha by starting and finishing each day with the Gohonzon.
Offering Water and Other Material Objects
In India, where Buddhism originated, people treasure water as their most valuable resource because of the intense heat and dry climate. A water offering made to the Buddha is called aka. This Sanskrit word means "water of merit." Offering water to an honored guest - a custom later extended to offerings on a Buddhist altar and at tombs - was a common courtesy.
"On Formalities" (Kegi sho) states that, in Nichiren Shoshu, we traditionally offer fresh, cold water and never offer tea or heated water. Every morning, we set aside the first water run in the house for an offering to the Gohonzon. We offer water to the Gohonzon immediately before morning Gongyo and remove it from the altar right before evening Gongyo.
We may also make food offerings, including cooked rice, sake, candies, baked goods and fruit, on special occasions. In our tradition, we do not offer meat, fish or fowl, or foods with potent smells or strong spices such as onions, garlic or ginger. When we make these offerings, we normally chant Daimoku three times and silently offer this prayer:
I offer this (water or other item) out of my devotion to the Three Treasures of the Buddhism of the Sowing and express my gratitude for their beneficence, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.
When one has finished this prayer, one rings the bell three times, and chants Daimoku Sansho. Cooked rice should then be removed from the altar immediately.
Location of a Buddhist Altar
Set the altar in a clean place in your home. Be sure to set the altar so the Gohonzon will be a little higher than a seated person's eye level.
The doors to the altar should be open only when you are chanting or cleaning the altar. Do not put a picture or any ornament on the offering table in front of the altar, in or on top of the altar, or hang any decoration above it. Always remember to keep the altar and its surroundings clean.
Flowers, Fragrance and Light (The Three Accessories and the Five Accessories)
Three traditional offerings occupy the space on the altar in front of the Gohonzon. In general Buddhist tradition, these include a vase for flowers, an incense burner for fragrance and a candlestick for light. We make similar offerings in Nichiren Shoshu. These are called the three accessories (mitsu gusoku). They are also called the five accessories (go gusoku) when a pair of vases, a single incense burner, and pair of candlesticks are used.
In most sects of Buddhism, flowers are placed on the altar. In Nichiren Shoshu, however, the "flowers" used on the altar are branches from the shikimi tree, because it is an evergreen and symbolic of the eternity of the Buddha's enlightenment. Any native evergreen may be used if the fragrant shikimi is not available.
In the Hoben ("Expedient Means" _2nd) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, we find the following passage:
.... or with many kinds of wood, such as sandalwood, aloeswood, and agalloch ... (Kaiketsu, p. 115)
Evergreens symbolize the Buddha's virtue of constancy. Shikimi, specifically, is traditionally thought to ward off evil and have the power to purify. Shikimi is thus considered the most suitable evergreen to express the purity of the Buddha's enlightenment, serving as a solemn reminder of the supremacy of the Gohonzon.
There are references to fragrant powders, perfumes and incense in many sutras, including the "Teachers of the Law" (Hosshi-10th) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra. The fragrance of the incense offered to the Buddha purifies the
space in front of the Buddha.
Nowadays, stick incense is most often used. In the Nichiren Shoshu tradition, we place the burner in front of the Gohonzon and lay the burning sticks on their sides in the burner. We do not burn the incense sticks standing straight up. Laying the incense sticks down signifies serenity and prevents the scattering of ashes.
In the "Bodhisattva Medicine King" (Yakuo-23rd) Chapter of the Lotus Sutra, Bodhisattva Yakuo sets his own elbows alight to offer light to the Buddha. In a Buddhist parable, the meager light a poor woman offered the Buddha with utmost sincerity continued to burn long after greater lights offered by others were blown out by a storm.
In Nichiren Shoshu, we use white candles to create light for an offering to the Gohonzon. Normally, we use regular candles, but we may also use white or clear oil candles or white electric candles.
4) Family Memorial Book
At morning and evening Gongyo we pray for the lives of the deceased, using the family memorial book. You can obtain this book from the temple or the priest in charge of one's area.
The memorial book has 31 numbered pages-one page for each day of the month. We turn the page to the number of the following day just before evening Gongyo. In this book, significant events in the Daishonin's life and the names of the successive High Priests appear on the day of the event or the individual's death. Members request of their priests the additional inscription of the names of those individuals important to them who have died. Nichiren Shoshu believers will want to request and use family memorial books to repay their debts of gratitude through this continuous memorial
5) Oko Ceremony
An Oko Ceremony is the offering of a ceremonial meal. This offering is made on special occasions in order to repay our debts of gratitude and show our appreciation. At Buddhist memorial services, at Otanjo-e (the Daishonin's
birthday), the Oko Ceremony held near the thirteenth of each month out of appreciation for the Daishonin, the Higan-e ceremony, the Urabon ceremony and other occasions, these offerings are served before the beginning
of the sutra recitation.
Believers may perform memorial services for those deceased they wish to honor at home in much the same manner. What is served will vary depending on the region and the season. Generally, what is served is less important than the sincerity with which the offering is made. As a general rule, however, we do not serve fish, fowl, or, meat, and we avoid offering vegetables with potent smells, such as onion and garlic or strong spices like
When we make these offerings to the Gohonzon, we always recite the sutra.
6) Cleaning, Attire and use of the Bell
When cleaning the altar and presenting offerings, always put an evergreen leaf or a small piece of white paper between the lips to avoid breathing on the Gohonzon. The Gohonzon, itself, should only be cleaned by the chief priest of your local Temple, or the priest responsible for your geographic region.
One should be fully dressed and should pay attention to grooming to demonstrate respect when sitting before the Gohonzon.
At the beginning of each recitation of the sutra, we traditionally strike the bell seven times. After ending the Hoben Chapter, strike it three times and proceed to the Juryo Chapter. At the end of the prolonged (Hiki)
Daimoku, strike it five times.
This is the usual rule for ringing the bell during Gongyo. However, the number of times the bell is sounded is less important than how respectfully and deliberately the bell is struck. It is most essential to put your whole mind into the sound of the bell and to offer your faith to the Gohonzon with the sound.