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THE EVERLIFE SANCTUARY

Welcome to the third part of the Inner Chamber — the Sanctuary. Here you have come face to face with the “blessings-field” that dwells within you — the Supreme Treasure of Everlasting Life. Inscribed in an objective form by Nichiren in 13th century Japan and distributed among his followers, the Supreme Treasure mandala reflected the definition of the storehouse of blessings as depicted in the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren offered that this object of veneration mirrored the enlightened identity hidden within one’s core self, and, as such, one who chanted before it would evoke that immortal identity to manifest in the mortal arena of one’s daily life. According to Nichiren, the all-encompassing mirror of eternal blessings hidden within every mortal being contained all the wisdom, joy and peace in the cosmos. As his mandala mirrored life’s enlightened essence, its veneration, he insisted, would cause your wishes, desires, dreams and hopes to emerge. Moreover, as this mandala constituted the essence of the Lotus Sutra and the wisdom contained in all the doctrines of Buddhism, it defined the “eternal cluster” of all potentials, powers, laws of existence, all causes, all lifetimes, all contents of the universe, as well as all that is yet to be.

How can such a limitless expanse exist within you? Buddhism contends that your life extends far beyond the boundaries of your skin-shell. The Lotus Sutra reveals that at the core of your existence is a Supreme Treasure — a fountainhead of limitless blessings — that defines the full scope, nature and essence of your total identity or whole self. Having entered this sanctuary you now stand inside the storehouse of blessings.

Inside the Sanctuary:

 • The Supreme Treasure (Jpn. Gohonzon)

 • An Altar of Blessings

 • Prayers

 

The Supreme Treasure (Jpn. Gohonzon)

Nichiren inscribed a mandala of unique design and motif — a depiction that introduced a dramatic new style to the art of Buddhist iconography. Instead of the surreal graphic delineations popular among Buddhist sects of his day, he created a mandala using words rather than pictures. This simpler version meant that ordinary folk could understand it. Using calligraphy inscribed upon a paper scroll he hand-lettered the names of principals assembled in the Lotus Sutra’s Ceremony in the Air — each figure symbolic of a universal facet of Life. Delineated in the top-down direction of Japanese character writing, the montage constituted the visual embodiment of the essential Lotus Sutra. Much as the attendees described in the scripture gathered around the lofty Treasure Tower, Nichiren’s calligraphic figures flank a dominant element at the locus of his depiction. The central focus of the mandala is inscribed down the middle of the scroll. There, in bold letterforms Nichiren etched the epithet: Namu-Myoho-Renge-Kyo [In Homage to the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life]. This quintessential expression defined the focus of his Life and reflected his eternal dedication to the Lotus Sutra. By placing his faith in the revered sutra title at the center of the mandala he proclaimed that this mandala actualized the Supreme Treasure alluded to in the Lotus Sutra through the metaphoric depiction of an the eternal treasure-trove of enlightened wisdom deposited in the grand Tower of Perfect Enlightenment.

Nichiren’s Supreme Treasure mandala (Jpn. Gohonzon) honors the revelation of Everlasting Life inherent within mortal beings. Moreover, it purports that one who chants Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo taps into the eternal Reality described in the climactic portion of the Lotus Sutra. The sutra’s depiction of a surreal Lotus-shaped gathering of buddhas and celestial bodhisattvas from throughout every direction of the universe, Sakyamuni’s disciples, and legions of eternally-enlightened Selfless Volunteers defined the nexus point of existence. Nichiren’s object of veneration epitomized this pinnacle cosmological vision as the source of eternal blessings. The mega-gathering, largest among all the sutras, formed a cosmic-sized Lotus. The monumental Tower of Abundant Treasures stood tall like a stalk. It represented the seat of eternal blessings. The innumerable buddhas extending endlessly from its center were like boundless petals filling every direction of time and space. This metaphor defined buddhahood as an all-pervasive blessings-field interpenetrating every speck, realm and facet of the 3,000-great-thousandfold universe. It proposed that Perfect Enlightenment would blossom forever, as every last scintilla of life in the cosmos was infused with fundamental enlightenment. The seedpod of this boundless Lotus was formed by the multitude of Selfless Volunteers who emerged from below ground level to pledge the future transmission of the sutra’s ultimate revelation. Therefore, the seedpod of the Eternal Lotus represents the inherent cause of Perfect Enlightenment.

Nichiren’s decision to inscribe the Supreme Treasure is confirmed in the postscript of the Threefold Lotus Sutra by the words of the Buddha: “For both gods and men, the three kinds of buddha-bodies constitute the blessings-field of existence and the supreme object of veneration.”

Nichiren encapsulated the eternal bounty inherent within life by objectifying the Supreme Treasure of Everlasting Life. Accordingly, one simultaneously views the venerable phrase praising the Perfectly Endowed Reality of Everlasting Life drawn down the center of the mandala, and correspondingly uses his voice to confirm it. By chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and focusing one's mind on the mandala's sacred template, the believer calls forth the eternal body of Everlasting Life to be mirrored in his mortal body, his state-of-being and his sphere-of-existence. This action causes innumerable blessings to arise from the underlying eternal bounty of Life onto the mortal surfaces of one's existence.

At the bottom of his depiction, directly below this focal designation, Nichiren signed his name. Its placement after the title of the Lotus Sutra, as if it constituted one continuous name, reflected Nichiren’s oneness with it. By writing his signature in that position Nichiren revealed his own essential identity to be the Declarer of the Truth of Everlasting Life. In addition, the signature suggested that a common mortal and his immortal identity were inseparable realities — depicting Everlasting Life and all mortal beings to be in essence one and the same entity. In a letter to one of his followers, Nichiren explained:

“No Treasure Tower exists [in this world] other than within the men and women who embrace the Lotus Sutra...those who chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, irrespective of social status, are themselves the embodiment of the Treasure Tower....[When you venerate the Gohonzon] you may think that you are making offerings to the Tower of Abundant Treasures Buddha, but that is not the case. In actuality, your offerings are to your essential self. [As one who embraces this faith] you are the Declarer of the Truth who possesses the three enlightened bodies.” — Nichiren (Abutsubo, c. 1272)

Across the top of the icon, Nichiren scripted the names of the buddha-figures featured in the sutra’s cosmic proceedings — Sakyamuni, Abundant Treasures, and the four noble luminaries leading the Selfless Volunteers. At each corner on the Supreme Treasure mandala, Nichiren inscribed one of the names of four Heavenly Kings. They assured the collective peace and harmony of the cosmos.

The mandala also included representatives of three sequential congregations to assemble at the Ceremony in the Air: (1) Sakyamuni’s disciples — a collection of humans, elemental spirits and deities. They constituted various mortal phenomena inhabiting the universe, including sentient and insentient beings, microcosmic and macrocosmic entities, powers and forces inherent in Nature; (2) the Buddhas from the Ten Directions — these buddhas implied that buddhahood was omnipresent in every state-of-being (i.e., Ten Worlds) throughout the universe. They conveyed that the wisdom of Perfect Enlightenment permeated the universe. They testified that its eternal blossom emerged from the buddha-seed revealed in the Lotus Sutra; and, (3) the Selfless Volunteers — their legions divined the germination of the seedpod of Everlasting Life ensconced below cognition. The surface they sprang through symbolized mortal desires; the air they alighted upon denoted absolute wisdom.

The Supreme Treasure mandala defined existence as a single eternal field — the 3,000-great-thousandfold cosmos — upon which countless manifestations of Life confronted ignorance and danger in a search for their origin. Nichiren declared that chanting the title-phrase would cause the blessings of this Supreme Treasure — the essential identity hidden in one’s inner being — to transform one’s mortal world.

 

An Altar of Blessings

Over the ages Buddhist artistry had evolved into religious media. Enshrined in temples and memorial towers (Skt. stupa; Chn/Jpn. pagoda), as well as home altars, sacred paintings, sculptures and ornaments had come to be regarded as vehicles for contacting cosmic powers and the deceased, and for raising divine consciousness. While the objects varied in style, size, complexity and form, typically they centered on a motif (Skt. mandala; literally, “cluster of blessings”) that featured the image of a buddha, one or more divine celestial forces, and/or cosmographic maps to transcendent realms. By focusing on a sanctified figure, symbol, scene or diagram during a meditation or recitation ritual the believer purportedly assumed a state corresponding with the subject of the mandala. Like a virtual door leading to a greater Reality, the motif presumably opened the way to a wealth of wisdom and joy. Consequently, one who succeeded in reaching the treasure hidden within would experience a symbiotic transference that invested him with the qualities, merits and powers embodied by the mandala.

Today, the remnants of Buddhist iconography may be found in temples and art museums. They include statues of buddhas and bodhisattvas, talismans and prayer objects, as well as geometric and painted depictions. Objects used for ritual worship are usually enshrined in altars. Some Buddhists belong to a sect where only meditation is practiced, others practice a form of prayer worship (sutra recitation and chanting), and some combine both. Buddhist temples, wherein prayers are directed at a sect’s object of veneration, feature altars that are brilliantly decorated to honor their sacred icon.

Nichiren inscribed the Supreme Treasure of Everlasting Life. This object of veneration is viewed by practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism at temples or prayer halls during their morning and evening sutra recitations and at chanting sessions. In addition, believers usually set up personal or family altars at their homes in order to facilitate their daily practice.

An altar of the Supreme Treasure mandala features the enshrinment of the sacred scroll in an appropriate cabinet (Jpn. butsu-dan). Altar accessories include 2 candle sticks and 2 containers of green leaf branches (set on either side of the mandala housing). In front, within comfortable access of the practitioner, sits a flat burning incense dish where 3 incense joss sticks are burned side by side continuously from the start of a chanting session to its end. Behind the incense burner is a vessel of fresh water that is changed daily. Next to the practitioner is a cushion-seated bell and a bell ringing rod that is used to signal the beginning or end of sutra segments or to guide a group of people chanting in unison.

 

Prayers

After reciting the sutra (see Changing Room) and repeatedly chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo (see Gateway) , it is time to face the Supreme Treasure in your life and:

• give thanks to the forces of the universe that help sustain existence,

• acknowledge the scope, nature and essence of the Supreme Treasure (of Everlasting Life),

• praise all who ever contributed to the survival and perpetuation of Buddhism's eternal legacy, and, as such, have enabled its blessings to exist in this day and age,

• vow to help all humanity find its way to fulfillment,

• reflect upon matters of utmost importance to you at this time and express your innermost wishes, whatever they may be,

• pray for the enlightenment of family members and loved ones who have passed on, ancestors, lost loves, former friends and admired persons,

• call forth the wondrous power of Everlasting Life to bless humanity and all living beings, whatever their circumstances, wherever they may exist.

 

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