Honzon | Object of Worship

Honzon | Object of Worship
Honzon | Object of Worship

1. Honzon

Honzon (fundamental honoured [one]), sometimes referred to as a Gohonzon, is the enshrined main image or principal deity in Japanese Buddhism.

The Buddha, Bodhisattva, or mandala image is located in either a temple or a household Butsudan (an altar).

The image can be either a statue or a small scroll and varies from sect to sect. It can be a singular image or a group of images;

The Honzon in the Main (Hondo) or Treasure (kondō) hall of the temple can be for that particular hall or the entire temple complex.

Sometimes Honzon is the central image of a cluster of 3 or 5 images.

The physical creation of an icon is followed by a consecration ceremony (known as Kaigen, literally 'opening the eyes' or 'dotting the eyes'). It is believed this transforms the Honzon into a 'vessel' of the deity which in its own right has power.

2. Butsuzō

Honzon Buddhist Statue

Honzon Buddhist Statue

A Honzon that takes the form of a Statue is called a Butsuzō, most likely crafted out of cypress wood or metal such as copper or bronze.

The Butsuzō is more common than other types of images.

Tori Busshi (the late 6th century) was an early and renowned creator of worship statues.

The Butsuzōzui (Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images), originally published in 1690, is a compendium of reproductions of 800 Butsuzō.

In Edo-period Japan (1603-1867) the Butsuzōzui compendium in 5 volumes was the most widely distributed source for information on Buddhist and Folk deities.

3. In various sects

Before the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century there is no evidence of Honzon in Shinto worship. Instead, its use was a cultural influence from Buddhism.

Each sect of Japanese Buddhism has its own Honzon which sometimes varies from temple to temple or even from hall to hall within a given temple. This is a practice that was criticized by Ekai Kawaguchi, a 20th century Japanese religious reformer.

Some images (Haibutsu, literally secret Buddhas) are considered too sacred for public presentation.

4. Shingon Buddhism

In Mikkyō practices such as in Shingon Buddhism, the term Honzon refers to the divinity honoured in a rite.

When Kūkai introduced Shingon Esoteric Buddhism and its Buddhist Pantheon to Japan in the 9th century, the statuary worship practices found in China were incorporated. Over the centuries this developed into the Japanese Buddhist pantheon.

The role of the tutelary figure is similar to that of the yidam in Tibetan Buddhism:

Tutelary deities in Vajrayāna Buddhism, including Mikkyō, Tangmi and Tibetan Buddhism, are crucial to many religious practices.

5. Pure Land Buddhism

In the Jōdo Shinshū school of Pure Land Buddhism, under the leadership of Hōnen and Shinran, the use of Honzon became more prevalent.

The Honzon took the form of inscriptions of the Nembutsu: Namu Amida Buddha, other phrases, images of the Buddha, statuary, and even representations of the founder.

Rennyo thought a Honzon in the form of the written Nembutsu was more appropriate than that of Statue.

6. Risshō Kōsei Kai

In the Risshō Kōsei Kai members receive and practice to a Honzon enshrined in their homes they label a Dai Gohonzon. The scroll consists of an image of Śākyamuni.

At the Risshō Kōsei Kai headquarters there is a Gohonzon that is a statue of Śākyamuni.

7. Zen Buddhism

According to Suzuki, the proper Honzon for the Zen altar is Śākyamuni Buddha.

He is often attended by other Bodhisattvas and Arhats such as statues of Kannon (Avalokiteśvara), Yakushi (Bhaiṣajyaguru), Jizō (Kṣitigarbha), or Miroku (Maitreya).

Sometimes there is a trio of Amida (representing the past), Śākyamuni (the present), and Miroku (the future).

There are other choices and combinations often influenced by the guiding philosophy of a temple.