Sunday, 16 September 2012

When my life opened wide. AKA The Gohonzon

Hello people, I'm back from the land of the dead, i.e. my holidays, survived my first two weeks in school and went to an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G Summer course.

The Summer course has been an important turning point in my practice, and really in my life. I will need a while to come to terms with all the things that happened there. I will, eventually, write everything up, but not now.

However, I need to get back into the good habit of writing this blog (even if noone answered my plea for help, me not happy >.<)

During the course, we had our first ever Gohonzon receiving (at a course). Two beautiful young women made the commitment to practise this Buddhism, and they inspired me to write this post.

Ages ago, I had decided to write about my Gohonzon receiving day and the Gohonzon in general, but never got round to it, until now.

There wouldn't be much point for me to explain what the Gohonzon is. There are excellent articles out there that do just that, and I mention the basics in my Short Glossary.

Pretty much, this quote summarises what my father taught me about it when I was little:
I, Nichiren, have inscribed my life in sumi ink, so believe in the Gohonzon with your whole heart. The Buddha's will is the Lotus Sutra, but the soul of Nichiren is nothing other than Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. (WND, 412)
What I would like to do is to talk about how I met the Gohonzon and how my relationship with it changed during my life, until the moment when I received mine.

It's very common, when buddhist people meet for the first time, to ask the question: "when did you receive your Gohonzon?". I find this question a bit odd to answer, because of my being a fortune baby. I mean, I could just say: "February 2009", but this doesn't really provide an accurate picture of my relationship with Buddhism at all.

The first time I had a Gohonzon in my house, I was three years old. My parents had already been practising for years, but they had to wait to receive their Gohonzon because of issues with the Priesthood (another thing that deserves its own topic... and lots of research on my part... please ask me to do it, so I will get off my lazy posterior and actually do it). I remember them chanting in front of an empty Butsudan, with a little scrap of paper stuck inside to have something to focus their gaze on. It was very clear to me that the Butsudan had to be filled with something, and at the time I just ascribed the absence to the fact that my family was different (you know, poor).

Then, when I was three, my parents went off to Rome to have a ceremony, called Gojukai, and receive their Gohonzon. They could have taken me with them and had me receive the ceremony as well, but they decided not to. They didn't want to be like normal Catholic parents that baptise their kids before they are old enough to actually understand. They wanted me to grow up free to decide which religion I wanted to follow.

I respect their decision and understand the rationale behind it. I'd probably do the same with my children (we don't do the ceremony anymore, btw, and you have to be 16 to receive membership now, so I will never find myself in that situation). That said, that decision did cause me suffering as a child. I was bullied in school for being "different" (I was the only non catholic person in my class, and as far as I know, school, for the entirety of my schooling), and when I started practising Buddhism at age 12, I faced a wait of six long years before I could receive membership. At the time not having membership severely limited the amount of things you could do (ie no Lilacing, no courses) and there were nigh on zero activities for children in Sicily, so it drove me insane that I could have been a member already, like some of my fukushi friends, if only my parents had taken a different decision.

When I was eight, my parents gave their Gohonzon back to the priesthood, to receive Nichikan Shonin's Gohonzon, inscribed by the 26th High Priest of the Fuji School in 1720.
This Gohonzon was offered to the SGI by Reverend Sendo Narita, chief priest of Joen-ji temple in Tochigi prefecture, Japan, who seceded from Nichiren Shoshu in November 1992, and in September 1993 SGI started conferring it upon its members. My memories of this change are oddly significant.
The child I was was just reacting to the beauty of the object, the prettier decoration on the backing and the lighter, more serene colour (green is my favourite colour), but I remember a strong feeling of light and lightness, as if when the new Gohonzon was enshrined in my house a heavy, dusty old curtain had been lifted to let the sun and fresh air in.

The Gohonzon was always a comforting presence in my house, and my way of looking at it changed as I was growing up. As a child, and in the first stages of my practice, when I was still a child, I remember finding myself staring at the green decorations for ages, almost ignoring the actual Gohonzon. As I was growing up, so did my awareness of the purpose and meaning of the Gohonzon.

(Our old family Butsudan. I should take a picture of the new Butsuma next time I go back to Sicily)

When I was fifteen, I realised two things. One, that going to discussion meetings with my mum was starting to annoy me, and two, that going to discussion meetings in my own house was way too easy.
All around me, I could see my friends struggling with their families and spouses, who didn't want them to receive Gohonzon, when I had it just in the living room, having done zilch to deserve it. Even though this is not the point, I decided that I needed to challenge myself a bit more, and started going to meetings somewhere else.

At sixteen I stopped the activity because (to make a log story short) they had disbanded my district and told me (after FOUR years of practice!) that I had to attend meetings with BOTH my parents because I was underage. That was sort of the Fukushi equivalent of a teenage rebellion. It took my mother three years to manage to drag me to a meeting again, and once again I got hooked.

Then I started going to meetings with my dad (I don't remember the rationale behind it, it just happened) and after a while they started talking about me receiving membership. Whenever the topic was brought up, my reaction was along the lines of "No effing way in a million years". Immature little sod I was. To think that I spent years yearning after membership and the perks of it, and now I was literally turning it down! So in the end they convinced me when I was 20 (almost 21).

Immediately after receiving membership, the following happened:
1. I looked at myself in the mirror, realised I had an eating disorder and found the strength to stop.
2. I had a moment of partial enlightenment and found a way out of Sicily and (as it turned out) of poverty.
3. I graduated with maximum marks (the first person ever to graduate in my subject in three years and with top marks. And the first to do the two together)

Not bad, I'd say.

For the next couple of years I lived at my grandparents', who are members themselves, so there was no talk of receving my Gohonzon.

Then I moved to London. I was happily going to meetings and doing Lilac, when people discovered I didn't have a Gohonzon and asked me if I wanted to receive it. The week after.

Yeah, right.

No, really.

My face looked a bit like this:

I mumbled some inarticulate stuff regarding the fact I didn't have the money for a Butsudan, to which the lady responded with a gleeful "Nonsense! We find spare Butsudan someplace!" (she was Japanese bless her).

And they did. Another lovely Japanese woman (a member of the original Kayo Kai as I later learned, with my face assuming the above expression again) gave me her daughter's spare Butsudan, picked me up on a windy Sunday morning in February and took me to Taplow, where I received my Gohonzon.

(My dad has this as his screensaver... if you don't know my dad you can't understand how crazy that is)

Nothing can top that feeling. I mean, I had my life, my entire life in my hand.
I had a lovely cake day with a lot of friends at my place for the enshrinement, lots of presents and cards (which I still have), and felt loved and pampered. Also, that for me was the final step towards adulthood. I don't mean to imply that someone is not a fully-fledged adult unless they have their Gohonzon, but as a Fukushi, having my own Gohonzon marked sharply the complete end of childhood and the start of my life as an adult, independent woman.

And amazingly enough, it was an end that I didn't begrudge, thanks to the new energy I found in myself after receiving my Gohonzon.

But the best feeling ever is waking up in the morning and opening it, and knowing that as I do that, I am opening my own life to the amazing opportunity to be absolutely happy.
(My most recent altar disposition)

What was your experience of receiving your Gohonzon? Did you have to wait for a long time or was it a fast decision?


  1. Hi Ewa,
    Lovely eperience of your long journey to receive Gohonzon.

    I had a rather shorter journey: Started practicing in May 1985, Gojukai and receiving Gohonzon in April 1986. The night before Gojukai was spent in an East-bound British Airways jumbo jet, in economy class stretched out across three seats. On the day I was a bit tired, not so that you'd notice jet lagged and totally wired for the ceremony.

    That was the start. I've made a couple of trips to Taiseki-ji (before the Nikken sect went ape) plus several courses in Trets and I forget how many other courses (in Taplow and elsewhere, over the years).

    I try and chant for at least 2 hours eveny day. I don't always manage so long; but on average I complete up to abour 2 million Daimoku a year.

    I've had high points. I've had challenging times. I read the following Gosho quotation when I need inspiration:

    "The hardships along the way were worse than I could have imagined, and indeed more than I can put down in writing. I will leave you to surmise what I endured. But I have been prepared for such difficulties from the outset, so there is no point in starting to complain about them now. I shall accordingly say no more of the matter." (Letter from Teradomare, WND 1.

    I started to practice when I lived in London, then moved to Berkshire and on to Wales in 1987. I moved to Ireland twelve years ago (almost).

    Not as exciting a story as yours, but I thought I's share it.

    Best regards

    1. What an amazing comment. I'm going to look for that quote, it really shows Nichiren's spirit and it's great guidance. I'm so honored you shared your story on my blog. Thank you so much. (btw, you started practising the year I was born!)


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