Nichiren, the Japanese Buddhist preacher contemporary of Dante Alighieri and Thomas of Aquino, is today a well-known figure in the western world. Many are also the Buddhist Schools which base themselves on his doctrine and venerate the mandala he conceived, best known as the “Gohonzon”.
What does this mandala represent and moreover, how can one find orientation within a wide array of literature which is mostly sectarian and saturated with doctrinal issues? What are the answers to certain dogmas? What is actually this object of veneration?
The first “Gohonzons” crossed the oceans, arriving in the U.S. and Europe towards the end of the 1960s, followed by an exponential expansion of Nichiren devotees during the last two decades of the past century. With the advent of internet, advanced search engines and translation software, access to information has been made widely available, generating conversely more confusion than answers.
The idea of publishing an autonomous and objective research on Nichiren’s mandala, takes shape within this scenario. For many outside academic circles, the fact that more than 130 original scrolls are extant today may come to a surprise, even to those convinced to know a great deal about Nichiren and his works.
"The Mandala in Nichiren Buddhism" available here, explores the mandala starting from its primeval Indian origins, the evolution in Japan and the connection with Nichiren, within a wider and objective context than purely sectarian explanations. This book is the first comprehensive analysis of Nichiren's mandala in English. All the research by the Nichiren Mandala Study Workshop has been done in Japan, over the course of 10 years.
In order to provide the reader with an intense experience of almost touching the mandala, this book also describes how Nichiren’s “Gohonzon” was actually manufactured, describing the materials such as paper and how it was pasted together, the ink, brushes and inscription methods. Nearly half of Nichiren's extant mandalic corpus has been examined directly at over 50 sites, including temples, museums and organizations.
Methodologically, every mandala has been catalogued and described in great detail following a chronological order. Next to each mandala, original diagrams in Japanese and English are provided, in addition to detailed information about the recipient, if available. Correspondingly, the history of the temples where mandalas are stored and the patrons related to their establishment and development are also provided. The various relationships within the Nichiren Sangha are explained as a parallel narrative to each single mandala and recipient. In addition to the extant mandalas, the scrolls which were lost, but catalogued, are also analyzed. The evolution of Nichiren’s mandala structure and calligraphy are surveyed while briefly scrutinizing reproductions and forgeries.
The evolution of Nichiren’s work, the details of mandala inscriptions and how these scrolls were preserved up to this day, provide a realistic and detailed picture of the community which evolved around this monk within the socio-historical context of medieval Japan. The lasting image that emerges is Nichiren as a man, a friend and companion. Gentle while impartial to women, but also a pragmatic and charismatic leader to whom his followers would entrust even their children, who later took charge of the movement creating a powerful base that could withstand harsh persecutions resulting from the group’s uncompromising stance. Nichiren’s early Sangha was composed of the “middle class” of the times and could grow without receiving alms and protection from the imperial court and the nobility. The “Gohonzon” was a powerful banner symbol that united this group, in addition to its purely devotional significance. The Nichiren mandala can therefore not be analyzed separately from its recipients and socio-political environment.
As the total number of pages in a single volume would reach 620, the book has been divided into three parts. In the first volume, “The mandala in Nichiren Buddhism, Part One: Introduction, mandalas of the Bun’ei and Kenji periods”, the origin and evolution of Nichiren’s mandala are examined, while the extant works produced in the Bun’ei and Kenji eras (2.1264~4.1275/4.1275~2.1278) are analyzed in detail. The second volume "The mandala in Nichiren Buddhism, part two: Mandalas of the Kōan period" will thus look at the whole extant corpus produced in the Koan period (eras (2.1278~4.1288), while in the third the missing, but catalogued mandalas will be analyzed along with a study of Nichiren’s works from a holistic perspective, including the scrolls authored by his immediate disciples and later successors, within the various traditions. Together, these three volumes shall provide the reader with exhaustive information on Nichiren’s mandala.