Nature and Meaning of the Gohonzon

Offerings to the Gohonzon

Basic offerings of candles, evergreens and incense are placed in front of the altar where the Gohonzon is enshrined. One or two candles are generally offered to provide light (electric candles are also used). One or two vases of evergreen are arranged on the altar in lieu of flowers that in Indian tradition were scattered over the Buddha as an offering. One to three sticks of incense are burned as an offering of fragrance. In addition, a cup of fresh water is generally placed in front of the Gohonzon in the morning, water being highly regarded in the hot country of India where Buddhism started. It also has become traditional to offer fruit or other food, in the spirit of the Buddha's disciples who offered him food.

It is easy to imagine the practicality and significance of these offerings in an era when candles may have been the only source of light, incense was used to purify the air and the Buddha depended on his followers to provide subsistence.

Much symbolism has been attached to these offerings over the centuries, but none of it constitutes the essence of faith. Today many view these offerings as creating an environment conducive to chanting and as symbolizing basic human needs: water and food sustain life, candles and incense engage our senses, while evergreen reminds us of the eternity of life.

Naturally, the most important aspect of the altar is the object of devotion itself. The various accessories constitute some of the formalities in Buddhism that can be adapted to the times, the country and individual preference. Therefore, artificial, silk or potted plants have become common alternatives for evergreen cuttings. Also, parents of small children may prefer to avoid lighting candles and incense.

 Expression of Sincerity, Respect and Appreciation

To clean the altar and offer fresh water each day, to make offerings of greens and fruit, and to light candles and burn incense while doing gongyo and chanting daimoku are all forms of service to the Gohonzon. These actions serve to honor the Gohonzon and dignify the place where it is enshrined. Moreover, our sincerity, respect and appreciation toward the Gohonzon will be reflected in the form of benefit. Concerning this point, Nichiren in his writing, "On Attaining Buddhahood," stated: "Whether you chant the Buddha's name, recite the sutra or merely offer flowers and incense, all your virtuous acts will implant benefits and roots of goodness in your life. With this conviction you should strive in faith." The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p.4

You should not place other objects inside the altar, nor anything on top of it. Also, you should refrain from hanging anything on the wall above the altar.  Photographs should not be taken of the Gohonzon and should be destroyed if accidentally taken since they are, in a sense, a reproduction of the Gohonzon.

Naturally, the most important aspect of the altar is the object of devotion itself. The various accessories constitute some of the formalities in Buddhism that can be adapted to the times, the country and individual preference. Therefore, artificial, silk or potted plants have become common alternatives for evergreen cuttings. Also, parents of small children may prefer to avoid lighting candles and incense.